Panel 3: about coming of age
Otrere, teaching a group of maidens in Themiskyra, speaks of Amazon culture and the affirmation of a female future. She explains that temperance and moderation are characteristic of the Amazon even in the use of pleasures. She talks of lovemaking as pleasure and as a means to procreate. She describes childbirth and the fate of male children. She explains that Amazons collectively raise and educate their children and finally she relates the Amazons’ relationship to men and tells of their seduction.
After a week of rain the sun was finally warming the group of young Amazons in the square. It was damp and overcast most of the time in Themiskyra, but that was why the grain grew so well and the cherries were abundant. The warmest days were in August and whenever the skies cleared the Amazons moved outside. The weavers, the millers, the potters and the metal merchants were out today and from them came a comfortable sound of activity.
The queen was also outside working with the future leaders of her people. She had overheard her daughters who, in denial of their absolute ignorance, expounded wisdom in the ways of man by repeating every whispered fairy tale that they had ever heard. Otrere began to speak. “Ares was the father of all the Amazon women but at a disparaging cost to our people. To be women born to the war god was not an acceptable way of living. The men would choose from among our women whomever they wished and whenever it pleased them. In such an environment all relations, even consensual sex, could be considered as an act of violence against us.
“That is not to say that all sexual relations between man and woman are rape. We Amazons have never held that, now or ever, however, the whole issue of intercourse as the penultimate expression of Ares’ dominance was and still is of interest to us as Amazons. We must approach the subject as a social practice, material reality.
“This is our history, but I think that when we hear that all sex is rape it is probably a simplification and misunderstanding. For one thing, you should know that most men and women experience sexual pleasure in inequality. For Ares the paradigm for sex has been one of conquest, possession, and violation, consequently we think that many men believe that they need an unfair advantage, which at its extreme we call rape. I personally don’t think they need it. I think that intercourse and sexual pleasure can eventually be experienced on an equal basis among all.
“To create and preserve a less violent world, our culture had to affirm a female future. To this purpose, the responsibility of children had to be returned to us and the proportion of men had to be reduced and maintained at a serviceable minimum. As your queen I do not think it is a bad idea. If we were to survive as a people, there had to be a decontamination of our lands. The implication was a drastic reduction of the population of males, including male children. We must never be afraid to say these things. At this moment, I am totally joyous to have a great community of women. It is not important to me whether men are somewhere out on the periphery or not. We as Amazons do not share a goal of reconciliation with men. From our history and experience that does not seem to be a very promising future for our kind. So why would we even think about it? I think that it is obvious that men are not central to us.”
Bremusa exhibited an almost disappointed expression and then she moved closer to Penthesilea, extending her arm around her. “I told you that we didn’t need men,” she whispered.
Otrere smiled and said, “The sons of Ares still do visit our city but they cannot live here. We return them to their fathers and wives because they are not accustomed to our ways. Our customs exist to preserve the Amazon way of life in Themiskyra and our sister cities.”
Otrere continued, “For example, you must all know by now that temperance and moderation are virtues characteristic of the Amazon. We also practice this moderation with our use of pleasures. We are said to be beautiful and strong if we are able to conquer and tame our desires.”
She glanced at the wide-open eyes around her and continued, “Men can taste unpleasant and look perfectly alarming but we love them anyway. There are places on a man’s body, like the delicate covering of his shaft, where the outer skin is softer than anywhere on a woman’s and there is no part of a body so vulnerable as the testes. We are taught to always say of his “membrum virile” that it is huge, wonderful, larger than any other .... and then we must say, “Come fill me, O my wonder!” and other compliments of the same kind. Men are always afraid that we will laugh at them so we never mention the size of their member in public... and never, ever let them know that anyone else knows or you may find it shrivels up and disappears.”
The girls giggled at the direction that the talk had turned. Otrere continued, “And here is one of the ways that we are quite different. For a man the essence of sexual performance is concrete. The physical excitement is apparent and perceptibly expended. For women, artifice has been the essence of performance but our sexuality is more easily understood as a transferable, mobile fluid.
“No matter what each of us may think in terms of lovemaking we are, on the whole, swiftly aroused when we observe men with men, women with women or women with men. We respond much more to the exercising woman than to the strolling man, and our blood flow rises quickly - and markedly, though to a lesser degree than with humans, when we hunt animals.
“For the Amazon woman, the mind and genitals seem to scarcely belong to the same person. When watching women make love to women we report disinterest but our bodies respond cordially; when watching men with men, we articulate little but are as aroused as when we see a man and a woman making love. Among our women who love each other, there is a vehement denial of interest when observing men with men but the acorn is moistened nearly as much as when watching women.”
Otrere looked directly at the Amazon maidens. “Of course this kind of talk when committed to action brings us children, which is a serious responsibility for our race because with half the people of neighbouring tribes we cannot afford mistakes. For this reason we begin to be fully engaged in parenting even before we think of having children. First our mothers and sisters explain to us what it is to have a child. They teach our customs and prepare maidens for the grieving and pain that we sometimes bear as Amazons.
“All through the swelling of our bellies and the months of waiting, our sisters tend to us and we learn of childrearing and the beauty of being a mother and a family and then when the time comes that Eileithyia helps deliver the child, our sisters are there to encourage and to soothe pain and, if necessary, to take the stillborn away, and comfort his grieving mother who for nine months has suffered in fear of this moment. This fear is so powerful that we have invented all kinds of herbs, incantations and medicines to assure the safe arrival of a daughter, but let me warn you now, my children,” Otrere’s eyes were serious now, “none of these work! They are but foolish lies that some, in pity, use to attempt to make our labour less difficult.”
The queen spoke in a softer tone. “The male child is never shown or spoken of and he may be returned to his father or to the family of his father or, if he no longer has a family, he may be sent to his home country to be raised by neighbours. If war and strife has lain waste to their lands, then he might be traded to the sea merchants. Rarely, and only after profound deliberation by all the community,” the queen turned her eyes away and stared into space for a moment, “is he placed in the arms of Morpheus with potent herbs.”
Otrere gestured around her and continued, “Our cities are built according to our customs. Our homes have more than one entrance, to permit escape from danger. They are often south-facing, with good visibility from the main entrance, and are usually constructed on dry, sandy soil to help keep them clean. Families build their houses close to each other. We move our children from one house to another as if any one of us could take the role of mother, although at other times we do it for no apparent reason except to amuse the children.
“Our sisters remain close to us as we educate our daughters and try to relate to all the children, however unique their interests, orientations and preferences. Keeping a happy and satisfying relationship with your mothers helps you later to assume the responsibilities of a mature woman. We choose to speak gently and guide rather than strike in punishment, for we know that all of us can make poor decisions at times. We have also learned that children sometimes turn to delinquent behaviour as a means to ask for guidance.”
The queen turned around and looked at the work being carried out all around them. She turned back to the maidens and spoke. “Of course we still cannot have children without men. Because of our history we have learned to be self-sufficient and cautious but we maintain a relatively civil relationship with foreigners. Generally we live side-by-side, respecting each other’s territory but keeping to ourselves and never revealing how many people we have in our cities.
“At times this relationship has been mutually beneficial, especially when we were confronting invaders. On those occasions we left the city and fought alongside our neighbours, protecting their lands and destroying the enemy before they even reached our cities. It is for this reason that we have been called mercenaries. Although we are trained warriors, we prefer to fight away from our land because we have learned that men make easy alliances even with enemies and that we would be quickly outnumbered in such an invasion.
“Individuals from neighbouring tribes have chased and sometimes killed an Amazon when the opportunity presented itself. This, however, should never spark revenge killings that could provide an excuse for a general invasion. These occurrences are usually sexually motivated crimes and the perpetrators are punished as murderers by their own tribe. We accept payment for the loss of our sisters and foreigners appear to be satisfied with the arrangement. We mourn our sisters at home but outside it is wiser to appear to be heartless.
“These are our ways and we know that through these customs our daughters have excelled at being as sociable with their friends as with foreigners. Amazons are unmatched in the skills of riding, archery and sports, and of course we seldom have problems with rule-breaking, aggressiveness, and blaming others.”
The maidens were curious about this discussion. So far they had only experienced farming and fishing, which were rooted in the reality of the land and the sea, and play, rooted in their imaginations. They knew of the Amazon practice of taking warriors in battle and bringing them to their city in triumph. They were now beginning to understand that there was a relationship between being mercenaries and having children.
“I have seen men here and they were not slaves,” said Penthesilea. “We have always wondered why they did not run from Themiskyra.”
“This is an excellent question,” continued Otrere. “There is a misconception among the Hellenes that because we are as men we hate men. Nothing is further from the truth. To be an Amazon is to be a woman. We have always enjoyed being independent and not following the foreign ways but that does not mean that we do not adore men. For most occasions we prefer our tunics and trousers to the chiton and peplos and women who work and ride cannot wear heeled footwear. We have no husbands to tend our animals or glean our grain. We are not raised to sit by a spindle and distaff, although we are certainly able to spin our thread. It is because we do our work well that men fear us. We also know that even though we can take men as prizes, we also desire and expect love from the men that give us our daughters.
“It might seem that seducing a man is easy work and it may very well be so but Amazons believe that our daughters should be conceived by willing partners. Our ancestors, as concubines, cut the throats of their captors as they slept. Why should we expect our prizes to behave differently? Seducing is a means to temporarily divert a man from his usual intentions.
“So how do we communicate desire without threatening? Before we begin to think about perfuming ourselves and dressing our hair, we must make a man aware of why we have spared him. When we are attired as warriors, men naturally conspire to escape or even to kill their captors. Our prizes are dangerous because we as warriors are always attracted to the ones who could be lovers of Aphrodite, those who also happen to be the bravest and the strongest. We must not respond cruelly, for Adonis is attracted to the woman with a softened demeanour. It is certain that as Amazons we can and do prevail over men despite their physical abilities, but in our homes we court our prize with our femininity and his weakness is that he is naïve when faced with these charms. If we change our behaviour just enough to show him that we are serious about getting his attention, he might imagine his release.
“Sensuality is the graceful movement of a feline. Those who are not confident in their womanhood might flaunt themselves blatantly and that will indeed get the attention of a man but will not render him less dangerous. If you desire something more substantial, then you must seduce him. Sensuality is having confidence in your womanhood. There is nothing more intoxicating to any man than confidence. It is a state of knowing what you desire and what you reject.
“When you mirror a man you are engaging with him. Seduction is the ability to understand the captive’s arrogant demeanour and to return the same arrogance without anger or remorse. The better you play these games, the more fun they become. So let your body speak for you. Let your lips and tongue speak of your desire. Let your movements and the ways you gently touch yourself communicate. Men are interested in all of your body.”
The girls laughed nervously as Otrere continued, “Acknowledging his attention by the way you stand and carry yourself without being blatant or timid will make you irresistible. The youth who talks of his conquests has none to speak of and can be returned to his camp with little fear of reprisal. Amazons never seduce with words! Seduction is only about you and your body. It is touching your neck with your fingertips, it is the way you move and the unspoken confidence that you carry.”
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