An unsatisfying Cook’s tour of Amazon legends.
Filmmaker and broadcaster Wilde suggests that the Amazon myth is not so mythical after all. The women of the Amazon, legend has it, were powerful, fierce fighters who lived without men—once a year they sought out male company in order to reproduce, but for the other 364 days they were fine on their own. They do not, it turns out, come from the river Amazon in South America; rather, the Amazon women first appear in ancient Greek writings. Wilde begins her survey with etymology, examining the two theories about the origin of the word “Amazon”: it is either Greek (“without breasts”) or Armenian (“moon-women”). Wilde then turns to the ancient Greek sources. Herodotus, the “father of history,” claims that Greeks took Amazon women captive and put them aboard ships to bring them home as slaves. In the middle of the Black Sea, however, the women rose up and overcame their captors, and they eventually landed on the shores of the Sea of Azov and settled down with the Scythians who already lived there. The 17th-century Jesuit Cristobal de Acuña claimed that he encountered Amazon women in South America. It was said that men visited them at certain times of the year and had sex with them in hammocks; the Amazons raised the daughters that resulted from these couplings, but they were rumored to kill their sons. Wilde examines 20th-century commentators, too: Eva Meyerowitz, a scholar of the matriarchal society of the Akan people, claimed to have met real Amazon women in her African travels. Though some feminists and lesbians have reclaimed the legacy of the women, most feminists are put off by their “masculine” penchant for violence. The most satisfying section of the book is the last few pages, where Wilde turns her attention to the legacy of the Amazons.
Wilde will not convince readers that the Amazon existed—at best, she will leave them wondering why they plowed through her anticlimactic, derivative survey.