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Last of the Amazons (2002)

af Steven Pressfield

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494836,718 (3.67)7
Roman efter myten beskrevet af Plutarch, hvor Theseus, konge af Athen ca. 1250 år før Kristus hjembringer amazonedronningen Antiope efter et besøg i amazonernes land Kyrte og dermed bliver årsagen til en blodig krig.

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***Includes Spoilers***
Once again, Steven Pressfield dazzles with a masterful account of antiquity. His prior works have focused on classical Athens or Alexander's empire. For this venture, he takes us back further, to roughly 1300 BCE--a generation before the Trojan War. His subject matter represents a clash of cultures--that of Athens vs the Amazons--and a series of dichotomous conflicts: The confrontation between patriarchy and matriarchy, of urban vs rural, or that of city vs steppe; also, of group vs individual combat, and ultimately, the discord between the cultures of guilt and shame.

The Amazon call themselves tal Kyrte--ironically, the free people (wasn't that the Athenians?)--and the book shines when describing them, fleet of foot, lithe of limb, and unmatched on the hoof. Interestingly, the book slows and has a tendency to grow stodgy, whenever the Amazons dismount.


Pressfield describes the Amazons and their culture in lyrical terms. The beauty of their lives is sharply contrasted with the destruction they wrought on any who trespassed against them. And make no mistake about it: They absolutely destroy anyone who challenges them on the steppe. Even fellow horse folks, the Scythians, are no match for them.

One-on-one, the Amazons cut the Athenians to pieces. When forced to fight dismounted, or in urban terrain, the Athenian group tactics are more effective. Ultimately, the attrition of urban warfare, takes such a toll on the Amazons that they cannot recover.

Moreover, as Pressfield describes Athenian democracy, it does not come off better than the Amazonian matriarchy. And yet, the Athenians are heroic in their own way, even though refusing to meet the Amazons on the open plain. The heroines of the story, unrivaled Antiope, vengeful Eleuthera, and yes, the dogged hero, Theseus, are all larger than life. The humanity of the story is provided by the more down-to-earth Damon, Selene, and Bones (our narrators)--not to mention the aptly-named "Stuff."

Thus, Pressfield describes the long slow transition from the heroic age of Herakles--the first to defeat the Amazons--to that of the early classical polis. The victims of that transition were the Amazons and Theseus. Pressfield captures the poignancy of the transition brilliantly, when Theseus confronts Eleuthera again, decades after their horrific single combat. Eleuthera remarks, "Hate is a bond, Theseus. And I have hated you for a long time...The time of the free people is over. And here is the irony my friend. You who have destroyed us, you of all, Theseus, understood us best and loved us most deeply. You are one of us, and have always been (p. 377)."

The real irony is that Eleuthera was wrong: The Amazons destroyed themselves. First they cast of their greatest leader, Antiope. Then, when she left for Athens with Theseus, they decided against letting her go. Eleuthera, who's name means freedom, was the prime architect of this Athenian war. And so, the elite cavalry of the Amazons pounded themselves to dust against the Acropolis. ( )
  Teiresias1960 | Feb 24, 2018 |
Stars? Have the Milky Way.

This is about the city and the steppe. It’s a subject I read non-fiction on, avidly, and fiction when I can. So I was engaged; I was joining in the argument; I wanted to stand up and say ‘you left this out’ when we have a great debate (for eight pages) between Theseus of Athens and the Amazon queen on the worth of civilization and of savagery - or the wild life, the free life, as self-defined by the savages. Amazons’ own name for themselves is ‘the free people’. A few of the Greeks who travel with Theseus fall half in love with the wild and free and argue its case with half their hearts; Theseus does himself; and the Amazon queen too finds herself torn. Whether you think she’s a traitor when she abandons her people, is up to you. It’s not an easy question, in the terms stated here; Pressfield states it as almost an impossible question. There is real loss when we face the ‘last of the Amazons’, and the city’s most stalwart defenders feel a grief. This isn’t a one-sided book, and the great debate wasn’t one-sided.

I think I liked the first half most, where the battle-lines are drawn; the second half consists of the Great War of the steppe nations on Athens. I love to have half a book devoted to one seige – it works as a pressure-cooker - but give me the novel of ideas. Nb. that he explores savage/civil questions within a rivetting story, is what I most admire. (If these matters interest you, I kept wanting to quote at Theseus from Jack Weatherford’s Savages and Civilization.)

Women. His ‘free women’... I’d better describe them as first seen by a Greek. “As a domestic dog looks a certain way and acts a certain way and yields in a certain way to a man, so does the race of domesticated women look and act and yield. These females, the ones before us now, were as wolves to such dogs. They were wild. That was the difference.” As of another species, people think frequently. Set against this for contrast, the state of Greek women is slavery, as Pressfield makes no bones about. And is the city to blame, or agriculture? They are chief suspects. It’s hard to imagine a free woman. I think he manages bloody well. She’s as strong as a Native American found himself next to an import from Europe (habits of life).

In his creation of Amazon culture, I thought he draws on actual cultures, widely, to put together a savage lifestyle that comes across as real and cogent. When he talks of the closeness, the identification of the Amazons with their horses, I was reminded of what I’ve read about reindeer herders. The torture practices he attributes to Scyths – the significance and psychology of these, I equated with a book I’ve just read, William T. Vollmann’s Fathers and Crows, about other ‘savages’ in Canada. And I’m fairly sure he’s consulted Mongol history, for analogy. I sense a lot of groundwork, beneath his imagined culture.

But Scyths were hard done by. It’s as if he needed a villain, and Scyths drew the short straw; of the steppe peoples, Amazons hog the glory.

On the love bits. That Amazon friends are lovers is mentioned but not seen. The loves focused on are between Greeks and Amazons, with the conflict that entails. –This is fine, I’m just saying.

I like his writing. It’s more individual than I’d have expected in a bestseller (I have a prejudice against bestsellers; I expect the conventional, the safe). I’d swear he has words that aren’t words, and his grammar is his own; alliteration can lead him astray. He’ll make up a phrase never used before for a moment never seen before. But warrioresses? I can’t say that comfortably in my head. Maybe when we’re in a Greek’s head, because the concept is awkward to Greeks; but in an Amazon’s head, why would she? One stretch of battle-scene was a straight steal from Homer. True, the whole march on Athens was the Trojan War in reverse, as he brings out. But that’s a key scene, and for my emotions’ sake, I might have liked a more distinctive telling - not Homer, even if Homer lends grandeur.

I need a gag; I could easily go on about this book. ( )
  Jakujin | Oct 19, 2012 |
It started so well, and I was enjoying it, and then.....I've realised I'm not good at reading the epic boasts of people and their multi page, single paragraph tellings of how great they are and how many people they killed in the most blood thirsty ways. (I suspect this is why I have also not read The Iliad recently).

Lots of detail in plenty of different "voices" telling different versions of events. I just lost interest about 2/3rds of the way through and couldnt face going to the end. I suspect those that can muster through the epic stories would enjoy this book to the end, it's just not for me.
  nordie | Feb 4, 2011 |
The first of Steven Pressfield's books I have read.I shall certainly work my way through the others. I am doing a Masters in Classical Studies and I cannot fault the accuracy and detail pertaining not just to the Amazons but also to everyday life and habits in Classical Greece. Pressfield has certainly done his homework.
The descriptive work is excellent - enough detail to make you believe you are there. Lots of twists and turn - right up to the end. A thoroughly remarkable read - recommended. ( )
  Amw100 | Nov 4, 2010 |
His usual detail -- and gore -- but the ending cannot be in doubt from the first page. ( )
  picardyrose | Aug 3, 2008 |
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PRIAM: Once before now I travelled to Phrygia where the vines grow, and there I saw a host of Phrygian men with thier quick horses ... I too was numbered among them on the day when the Amazons came, women the equal of men.
--Homer, The Iliad
This was the origin of the Amazonian invasion of Athens, which would seem to have been no slight or womanish enterprise. For it is impossible that the Amazons should have placed their camp in the very city, and joined battle close by the Pnyx unless, having first conquered the country around about, they had thus with impunity advanced to the city. That they encamped there is certain, and may be confirmed by the names that the places thereabout yet retain, and the graves and monuments of those that fell in the battle ... For indeed we are also told that [a number] of Amazons [who] died were buried there in the place that is to this time called Amazoneum.
--Plutarch, Life of Theseus
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When I was a girl I had a nurse who was a tame Amazon.
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Roman efter myten beskrevet af Plutarch, hvor Theseus, konge af Athen ca. 1250 år før Kristus hjembringer amazonedronningen Antiope efter et besøg i amazonernes land Kyrte og dermed bliver årsagen til en blodig krig.

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