Panel 5: the stag hunt 2
This is the telling of the grievous accident that took the life of Princess Hippolyte, daughter of Ares and Otrere and beloved sister to great-hearted Penthesilea who with her loyal sisters went to battle for the great Priamos of Troy, for purification and to appease the Erinýes. Chaste Artemis, the great hunter and protector of the wilderness and the animals, can also portend sudden death and disease. Although the daughter of Leto honoured Hippolyte from birth, affinal relationships tied in blood condemned the princess to an ancient vengeance. The bloodlust of daughter-slaying Ares deflected the bronze-tipped spear to darken the eyes of Hippolyte, a crime that the awful ones, the Erinýes now seek to avenge.
Hippolyte stands and with all her might hurls the spear at the animal and then everything slows in time. Penthesilea sees the stag stop foraging. His antlers turn toward the movement and then, acting only from his senses, knowing that danger is near, the beast dodges the spear with ease and vanishes.
Most hateful Ares lusted after his half-sister, chaste Artemis. Father to the Amazon queens, he considered them his and as such worthy of their honour, but when Ares looked at Themiskyra from the mountain he saw the Amazons shamelessly contemptuous of the Dodekatheon. It was Ares who had constructed this furtive apparition that so tempted the young Amazons.
From chaos came Gaia and Eros and their children Erebus and his sister Nyx. Nyx gave birth to the sky Ouranos. Ouranos and Gaia had many children because of Eros. Their eldest son, Kronos of the Titans, in fear that his offspring would usurp his authority, swallowed his children whole but his wife, fair Rhea, hid her youngest child Zeus, who matured to overthrow his father. Gaia eventually became life on the Earth and Ouranos transformed into the stars that still fill the sky.
The Titans, Prometheus and Epimetheus, were left with the task of providing nature with qualities that would permit mortal life to revere Gaia and share a portion of eternity. Epimetheus graced each animal with a gift but when he came to man he had none left. In the morning, when the sun rose, his brother Prometheus, fearing the wrath of Zeus, stole some light from Helios and gave man fire so that he would have some defence from the shadow of Erebus.
Man, however, was the sole animal that had been made in the image of the gods themselves and when Zeus discovered the error of the Titans he was furious. After great arguments and discussions, the gods could not agree on an adequate punishment. For the theft of fire, Zeus sent Prometheus among the animals who would inflict eternal punishment on his body. He then ordered Hephaestus to mold Pandora from the clay of the earth as a companion for Epimetheus. Pandora would possess all of the qualities of Gaia with all of the human attributes that the Titans had neglected.
Epimetheus was overtaken by Pandora’s beauty and charm and realised that he could never live without her. All of the Immortals were invited to the marriage. The couple were presented with a sealed jar in which had been placed the wedding gifts. Since a Titan could provide Pandora with all that was necessary, the jar was to remain sealed as a symbol of generosity. Epimetheus sat late into the evening pleased to be drinking and celebrating among the gods. Finding herself alone on the evening of the wedding feast, Pandora, with human curiosity, unsealed the jar, thus revealing all of the horrors of pain, sickness, envy and greed. She quickly replaced the seal, but only hope remained trapped within the vessel.
The gods had indeed devised a treacherous punishment. Epimetheus now was destined to be forever alone because the only way to alleviate the suffering that tortured his bride was to release Pandora to man in the form of hope. Ares, having witnessed all these events, held that man, created in the image of the gods, did not come from woman but rather woman was created for man and, through Pandora, all women were to be held accountable for the errors of the Titans. To this end Ares took pleasure in the clamour of war and the vain cries of women and children.
Now here in Themiskyra the war god saw the Amazons behaving in a manner contrary to their feminine disposition. Queen Lysippe had taken Artemis and Ares as her protectors but now, under this queen, Ares had received nothing to bring him joy. After seven years of waiting for sacrifice he decided to put an end to peace among the viragos.
Ares believed it rational to undertake extreme acts. He obeyed no law, so why persevere if it was only to please the Olympians with their own designs. The Amazons had always enraged Ares. They nurtured the advantages of women, including beauty, endurance, sensitivity and longevity, while seizing for themselves those of men. They practiced athleticism and fought as equals to men thanks to their lineage from him. They drew fish from the estuary, grew and harvested barley in their fields, and hunted like men, yet they still swelled their wombs and suckled their daughters.
To Ares it was an obvious truth that if the Olympic Games removed the separation between men and women, women would prevail only in the graceful events, but it seemed that the Amazons had no intention of removing that barrier. They were so opportunistic that they neglected the fact that they profited from the knowledge accumulated by men through the ages, misrepresenting males as they did it. And so, when Ares heard that the gods were honouring both men and women at Troy he was angered. How could one explain it thus when there had been no warrior women at Troy? How could the gods entertain stories of female heroes? How could women occupy half the ranks of history, when no such warriors ever went to Priamos? Ares saw this as a real occasion for war. The die was cast, for there would be women at Troy and the outcome would not bring fortune to the city on the Thermodon.
The evening of the second day, the sisters Penthesilea and Hippolyte came back to Otrere with accounts of a stag of perfect symmetry and unusual instinct that grazed by the river, on barren land. He was of such beauty that surely this was a gift and omen from Artemis. They asked that Otrere would send sisters, with a pack of dogs this time, to bring the prize home as a suitable offering for a festival in the city. Otrere consented to send the tracking dogs and maidens to help Penthesilea in her expedition but insisted that Hippolyte remain in Themiskyra, explaining that her sibling’s time and attention were employed on other things. If Hippolyte were to inherit the responsibilities of Otrere she would be obliged, on occasion, to assume her duties.
When Hippolyte heard this reply, she remonstrated very earnestly against it, and begged her mother to allow her to go. “What will the world think of me,” said she, “if I shut myself up to domestic pursuits and enjoyments, and shun the dangers and toils of a hunt which other women consider it their highest honour to share? What will my fellow citizens think of me and how shall I appear in the eyes of my sisters? They will despise me.”
Otrere explained to her daughter the reason why she had been so careful to avoid exposing her to danger on this day. She related to her the dream that had greatly alarmed her as she woke. She dreamed that Ares had come to her bed to tell her that his daughter Hippolyte was destined to die of a wound received from the point of a bronze-tipped spear thrown by a child of Ares. The queen was made very uneasy by this ominous vision. She determined at once to take every precaution in her power to avert the threatened danger.
“It is on that account,” said the queen, “that I am so anxious about you.
Hippolyte said, in reply, that she was not surprised, under those circumstances, at her mother’s anxiety; but she maintained that this was a case to which her caution could not properly apply. “You dreamed,” she said, “that I should be killed by an Achaean weapon; but a stag has no such weapon. If the dream had portended that I was to perish by antlers or a fall from a cliff, you might reasonably have restrained me from going to hunt; but iron-pointed instruments are weapons of war, as you have explained many times and we are not going, in this expedition, to contend with war, rather to lunge a bronze hunter’s blade into the prize.”
The queen, partly convinced, perhaps, by the arguments that Hippolyte offered, and partly by the urgency of her request, after careful consideration allowed her eldest daughter to go with her sisters. She consigned her, however, to the special care of Princess Penthesilea, who was likewise to accompany the expedition, charging Penthesilea to keep constantly by her side, and to watch over her with the utmost vigilance and fidelity.
The band of hunters was organized, the dogs prepared, and the train departed. Very soon afterward, a messenger came back from the hunting ground, breathless, and with a countenance of extreme concern and terror, bringing the dreadful tidings that Hippolyte was dead. It was her beloved sister Penthesilea who had killed her. In the ardour of the chase, while the hunters had surrounded the stag and were each intent on her own personal danger while in close combat with the animal, and while all were lunging darts and lances at their prey, the bronze-tipped spear of Penthesilea missed its prey, and entered the body of the unhappy princess and pierced her heart. Despite all the frantic attempts to save her, she bled to death on the spot.
Soon after the messenger had made known these terrible tidings, the maidens, transformed now into a funeral procession, appeared, bearing the dead body of the queen’s daughter, and followed by the wretched Penthesilea herself, who was wringing her hands, and crying out incessantly in accents and exclamations of despair.
Hippolyte’s eyes were closed on a strangely peaceful face. Except for a slight tear in the centre of the linen corselet she appeared untouched. Tormented, with her face covered in tangled hair wet with a mixture of blood and lamentation, Penthesilea begged the queen to kill her at once, over the body of her sister, and thus put an end to the unutterable agony that she endured. This calamity was more, she said, than she could bear for she had murdered her dearest sister, her greatest benefactor and friend.
Otrere, though overwhelmed with anguish, was disarmed of all resentment at witnessing Penthesilea’s suffering. She turned to embrace her young daughter, running fingers back through soiled copper hair. She endeavoured to soothe and quiet the agitation which the unhappy maid endured, but it was in vain. Penthesilea would not be calmed, her eyes incessantly flashing from the face of her sister and back to her mother while screaming for forgiveness. Otrere finally released Penthesilea into the arms of the mourners and turned back to Hippolyte. In a practiced composure befitting her office Otrere ordered the body of her daughter to be buried with proper honours.
The Amazons washed Hippolyte’s body and anointed it with the oil of the halinda plant that grows close to the river and then perfumed it with the essence of violets. She was clothed in a new white tunic and her dark hair was carefully held in place with a finely carved ivory comb. Her face was painted rose and decorated with the charcoal lines of a warrior. She was then laid on the finest woven cloth with her arc, some arrows and her Achean spear and all was covered with early summer flowers. When her tearful mother came to see that all had been properly done, she added a doll that the princess had hidden amongst her few personal possessions.
The funeral services were performed with great and solemn ceremonies in the city but only the queen, her consort, her children and her servants were present for the interment. The body was wrapped tightly in cloth and lowered into the earth at a place not far from Themiskyra. A wooden marker identified the place where a stone column would be erected at a later time.
The household of Otrere returned to the palace, which was now, in spite of all its splendour, shrouded in gloom. That night at midnight, Penthesilea, finding her mental anguish insupportable, retired from her apartment to the place where Hippolyte had been buried, and desired at that moment to kill herself over the grave. But Artemis appeared with a stag and warned her that an ignoble death was not worthy of an Amazon princess and certainly not one who was to be a mighty queen. The chaste princess feigned agreement but nevertheless decided in her heart that she would offer herself one day to fight and die a warrior.
After these events, Otrere was plunged into inconsolable grief and into extreme dejection and misery. Penthesilea was not given another occasion to contemplate these calamities for the Amazons had long recognized the abilities of the young princess and expected her to assume responsibility in the queen’s period of darkness. In the summer of her seventeenth year, Penthesilea was the youngest warrior since Lysippe to be made queen.
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