In Greek mythology
(Greek: Πενθεσίλεια) or Penthesileia
was an Amazonian
queen, daughter of Ares
, and sister of Hippolyta
. Quintus Smyrnaeus
explains more fully than pseudo-Apollodorus
how Penthesilea came to be at Troy: Penthesilea had killed Hippolyta with a spear when they were hunting deer; this accident caused Penthesilea so much grief that she wished only to die, but, as a warrior and an Amazon, she had to do so honorably and in battle. She therefore was easily convinced to join in the Trojan War
, fighting on the side of Troy
Penthesilea in the Epic Cycle
, who summarized the lost epic
, the Aethiopis
of Arctinos of Miletus
, of which only five lines survive in a quotation, gave the events of Penthesilea's life. The story of Penthesilea segues so smoothly from the Iliad
in the Epic Cycle
that one manuscript tradition of the Iliad
- "Such were the funeral games of Hector. And now there came an Amazon, the great-hearted daughter of man-slaying Ares."
According to Diodorus Siculus
- "Now they say that Penthesileia was the last of the Amazons to win distinction for bravery and that for the future the race diminished more and more and then lost all its strength; consequently in later times, whenever any writers recount their prowess, men consider the ancient stories about the Amazons to be fictitious tales." (Diodorus Siculus, ii. 46).
Alongside Penthesilea were twelve other Amazons, including Antibrote, Ainia, and Cleite. The rest were Alcibie, Antandre, Bremusa, Derimacheia, Derinoe, Harmothoe, Hippothoe, Polemusa, and Thermodosa.
However, Cleite's ship was blown off course and she never reached Troy.
Death of Penthesilea
In the Pseudo-Apollodorus Epitome of the Bibliotheke
she is said to have been killed by Achilles, "who fell in love with the Amazon after her death and slew Thersites
for jeering at him". The common interpretation of this has been that Achilles was romantically enamored of Penthesilea (a view that appears to be supported by Pausanias
, who noted that the throne of Zeus at Olympia bore Panaenus' painted image of the dying Penthesilea being supported by Achilles). Twelfth-century Byzantine scholar Eustathius of Thessalonica
postulated a more brutal and literalist reading of the term loved
, however, maintaining that Achilles actually committed necrophilia on her corpse as a final insult to her.
The Greek Thersites jeered at Achilles's treatment of Penthesilea's body, whereupon Achilles killed him. "When the roughneck was at last killed by Achilles, for mocking the hero's lament over the death of the Amazon queen Penthesilea, a sacred feud was fought for Thersites' sake": Thersites' cousin Diomedes, enraged at Achilles' action, harnessed Penthesilea's corpse behind his chariot, dragged it and cast it into the Scamander, whence, however, it was retrieved and given decent burial, whether by Achilles or by the Trojans is not known from our fragmentary sources.
A different tradition, attested in a lost poem of Stesichorus
makes Penthesilea the slayer of Hector, seen as a son of Apollo.
Theme of Penthesilea
The subject of Penthesilea was treated so regularly by a sixth-century BC Attic vase-painter, whose work bridged the "Severe style" and Classicism, that Adolf Furtwängler
dubbed the anonymous master "The 'Penthesilea Painter
". A considerable corpus for this innovative and prolific painter, who must have had a workshop of his own, was rapidly assembled in part by J.D. Beazley
Heinrich von Kleist's Penthesilea
The treatment of Penthesilea that has received most critical attention since the early twentieth century, however, is the drama Penthesilea
by Heinrich von Kleist
, who cast its "precipitously violent tempo in the form of twenty-four consecutive scenes, without formal breaks into acts
. The Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck
wrote a 90' one-act opera, Penthesilea
(Dresden, 1927) based on Kleist's drama.