Who Were Amazons? Myth About One Breast
Everyone knows the story of how the Amazons cut off their right breasts so they wouldn’t interfere with the use of the bow. Trouble is, the story is a crock–an old crock, but a crock nonetheless. This element of the Amazon myth was invented in the 5th century B.C. The poor Amazons had to start mutilating themselves because some big boob thoughtlessly dabbled in the dark art of etymology without the proper equipment. Hellanicus of Lesbos imagined the name was derived from the Greek prefix a- (“without”) and mazos, a variant of mastos (“breast”). He was surely wrong, but his folk etymology is still firmly embedded in the collective consciousness after more than two dozen centuries. There was no hint before his time, either in writing or art, that the Amazons had anything other than usual complement of breasts, so we can safely assume that the one-breasted image we have of them flowed from the (false) etymology and not vice versa.
This proposed “breastless” etymology was widely known in the ancient world after the 5th century B.C. but its supporters did not agree on its exact significance. Did the Amazons destroy one breast or both? Did they cut off the breast after it developed, or cauterize the area before puberty to prevent its growing? Was it done so the breast wouldn’t impede drawing a bow or rather throwing a javelin? Or was it so the magical life-force of the breast would be diverted to making the arm stronger?
The ancients couldn’t agree on any of it. The most common explanation was that it was done so the breast wouldn’t get in the way of drawing the bow, but the presence of the right breast doesn’t seem to be an insuperable impediment to female archers today. Some have suggested “Monomazons” as a more appropriate name since (they believe) the women were one-breasted rather than breastless. This misses the point that the true origin of the name almost certainly had nothing to do with breasts. Even in ancient times, the “breastless” etymology was not universally accepted even if it was almost universally known. Even after the ideas of Hellanicus were widely disseminated, Amazons were always depicted with the standard number of breasts in art, such as paintings on vases known as amphorae.
“The Armenians, like the Celts, are now few in number. They belong once to a longer extent of a country where they spread westward from Armenia to Italy under the names of Phrygians, Thracians, Pelasgians, Etruscans and also spread to other locations”. ( The Armenian Origin of the Etruscans by Robert Ellis, London, 1861.)
“Under these circumstances it is impossible not to come to the conclusion that the Phrygians were Armenians.” (Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) William Smith, LLD, Ed. )
Mithraic (Mihr) Religion according to Hittite inscriptions originated in Armenia and naturally the head gear symbolic of the Sun God Mithras worn by Armenians ( known also as Phrygians and Amazons).
In the text of a Middle-Irish tract In Tenga Bithnua (‘The Ever new Tongue’, hereinafter TB) there is an intriguing passage echoed also in a poem ‘The Works of the Sixth Day’ which contains some material clearly dependant on TB. The TB text has come down tous in three recensions. Below I shall quote the passage in questionfrom the first two recensions of TB– TB1 and TB2 and from the poem on ‘The Sixth Day of Creation’.
TB1 Bantracht file i slebib Armenia, moo cacha doeinib andelbha. Nocho berat acht ingena dogrés. Andso cacha feraib a bhferga 1 a ngala oc dula do chath.
Eirgit asa suan medon aidche; arosclaicet toidli teined assa mbelaib:doacmongat a n-ulchi conicce a n-imlinda. Ór as chainiucach forloscud arrecar inna ndornaibh dessaib iarnangeinemain dogrés.
The women that are in the mountains of Armenia, greater are their forms than (those of) any humans. They bring forthdaughters only. Harder than (those of) any men are their angers and their valours in going to battle. At midnight theyrise from their sleep: out of their mouths they loose flashesof fire; their beards reach as far as their navels. After their birth, gold that is brighter than every blaze is always foundin their right hands.2
TB2. Bantrocht Slebe Armenia, ni beraid acht ingena do gres. Erged asa codlad a medon aidchi co sceet slamraigitened as a mbelaib. Ro-soichet a n-ulchada a n-imleannadoib. Or as caime d’oraib in betha fogabar ana ndornaib
desa iarna n-ec. The women of Mount Armenia bear only daughters. Theyrise from sleep at midnight and spew masses of fire fromtheir mouths. Their beards reach their navels. The finest goldof all [kinds of] gold in the world is found in their right fistsafter death.3
(‘The Works of the Sixth Day’:) Mna Sleibi Armenia, gan meing,barr a n-ulcha go n-imlind,amhlaidh tuismhid, ro feasaid,or ’na lamhaibh laechdhesaib.The women of the Mountain of Armenia without deception the tips of their beards reach their navels. This is how theyare born, let you know, with gold in their warrior right hands(Carney 1969: 153 (text), 160 (translation)) .
Undoubtedly, the women described here are the Amazons.Moreover, Armenia and the Amazons are mentioned in a passagefrom the Táin Bó Cuailnge relating to the deeds of Cú Chulainn:
Dochúaid-sium turus ba sía | go ránic slébi Armenia. Ralá ág dara aiste | ra chuir ár na Cíchloiste . For Cú Chulainn went a longer journey than this,as far as the mountains of Armenia. He waged combat beyond his wont. He slaughtered the Amazons (O’Rahilly 1967: ll. 1290-1294 (text); 174 (translation)). It should be remembered that cíchloiscthi ‘burnt breasted’ is a rendering of one of the numerous etymologies offered for the Greek Ἀμαζόνες.
It is worth noting that in this case the image of CúChulainn is modeled after that of Heracles, a hero who surpassedall the other Greeks just to the same degree as Cú Chulainnsurpassed his Irish clansmen. Heracles was famous for his victory over the invincible women-warriors and this fact was very wellknown to the Irish, as this quotation from the Irish Alexandria shows: is e ro bris for bandtracht na cichloiscthe cath cruaid calmacurate, Er (Herkules) ist es, der eine harte, tapfere, helden hafteSchlacht über die Frauenschar der Amazonen gewann(Peters 1967: 487b, ll. 39-40). But the question remains: how could it happen that the Amazons appear to be associated with Armenia?
This detail seems to be peculiar to the Irish, for, to my knowledge, this association has never been mentioned by the Classical authors, although they occasionally indicate their Caucasian ties.4
The possible explanation may be that in thegenealogical and cosmographical lore the Armenians are constantly placed near the Magogians,5 and a dim echo of the contacts between the Magogians and the Amazons is discernible as late as inthe middle of the fourteenth century: for instance, in The Pricke of Conscience we read that Gog and Magog closed beyond the Caspian mountains are ruled over by the queen of the Amazons.6
By the way, Armeni and Amazones are named one after another in the list of tribes from the Liber Generationis published by Migne . 7