A new week, as always, means a new Women's Wednesday! During the course of this column, we repeatedly had the chance to talk about the Amazons and their queens: this time, our Mulier Clara of the week is yet another Amazon Queen, Penthesilea.
According to the myth, Penthesilea was an incredible warrior queen surpassing all her predecessors in both skill and strength. Fighting in the Trojan war with several of her women, she only died by the hand of Achilles himself, who reportedly fell in love with her upon taking off her helmet. In Medieval Europe, however, the original legend transformed: Achilles gradually faded into the background, and the transformation eventually culminated in Boccaccio's account of the story.
Boccaccio, in fact, reports that Penthesilea was in love with Hector, the Trojan Prince. In contrast with Amazon traditions, Penthesilea wanted to marry Hector and leave an heir to her throne: she thus decided to join in the Trojan War just to try to impress her beloved thanks to her skills in combat, and not her beauty. Hector was in fact struck by Penthesilea and her fierceness; the queen, however, was killed by the enemy before having the chance to make her love dream come true. Boccaccio also raises Penthesilea as an example of how experience can mean more than natural disposition, as the queen was far a better warrior than most men.
“Penthesilea”, illumination from the manuscript “Cas des nobles hommes et femmes”, ms. Français 12420, f. 46r, 15h century, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Paris.