Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuesdays With Phineas Redux

Woman Warriors in Real History

There have been in reality some very famous Goddesses and woman warriors who, no doubt, may have contributed as role models to ‘Xena; Warrior Princess’. I expect the earliest example is the Egyptian goddess Nuit, or Nut, Goddess of the Sky. Then come the Greek Goddesses Athena and Hera. The latter of whom has received a bad press in our favourite TV series; but, Hades, I’m sure she wasn’t as bad as she was painted. After which come some heroines of early Japan. I’m thinking of Tomoe Gozen and Hangaku, here. These are the sort of women Xena and Gabrielle could easily have been mixed up with. In Britain I suppose the most famous woman warrior of old must be Boudica, Warrior Queen of the Iceni. The Iceni being the local tribe of the region over which she ruled (modern Norfolk/Suffolk). Then comes Maid Marian of Sherwood Forest; although she is obviously more of a Gabrielle role model than otherwise. In fact I’m surprised no-one has had the idea of transplanting Xena and Gabrielle to the shaded glades of the Forest, and making a wholly female characterisation of the Robin Hood stories. Xena would make a perfect Robin, with Marian by her side. Maybe they could have a friendly rivalry with the real pair? That would be fun.

Nuit was originally the Egyptian Goddess of the night-time sky, but eventually became simply the Sky-Goddess. One of her major functions was to protect the dead after they entered the after-life. She was generally portrayed as leaning forward arching over the earth and its people, protecting them; and was also shown as a night sky with many stars. Her portrait was placed on the inside of sarcophagus covers, or on the ceilings of tomb chambers, in her over-arching persona, protecting the dead person.

Hera, wife of Zeus, was the chief Goddess of women & marriage. It does appear, however, that she did have a jealous and vengeful nature; mostly against those myriads of Zeus’s lovers, but also any mortal who crossed her. She had a particular antipathy for Aphrodite. In the famous ‘Judgment of Paris’, Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite were judged for their beauty by the Trojan Prince Paris (who, you’d have thought, really ought to have known better!). Aphrodite won, to Hera’s undying enmity; she (Hera, that is) then going on to take out some of her spite by causing the Trojan War, as you would in similar circumstances.

Athena is altogether a nicer sort of person. Someone you could associate with your favourite aunt; if you visualize your aunt as a tall blonde Warrior-Woman wearing a Corinthian war-helmet and grasping a long spear, ready to take on all comers for the safety of Athens. The Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens is built in her honour. Inside there used to be placed a giant seated statue of Athena which was famous throughout the Ancient world. Several statues of lesser size and quality, mainly Roman copies, remain to show the sort of aspect the original had. In the image shown above, her eyes would originally have been ivory insets, probably with brightly painted pupils.

Tomoe Gozen was a long-lived (90!) female samurai warrior of the late 12th-early 13th centuries AD. She survived involvement as a fighting warrior in at least one major war, and was the concubine/wife of the famous Minamoto no Yoshinaka. According to one historical account, “Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.” — The Tale of the Heike.

The image above, showing Tomoe in action on horseback, is a woodblock Ukiyo-e print by the Japanese artist Chikanobu Toyohara.

Hangaku Gozen lived in the late 12th century AD, being another female samurai warrior. She was most active around the year 1201 when she raised an army against rebels. Wounded in battle by an arrow, she was captured and taken to the Shogun. Here she met a young warrior whom she married, ultimately having a daughter.

The image above, of Hangaku on her rearing horse, is a woodblock Ukiyo-e print by the Japanese artist Yoshitoshi Tsukioka.

Boudica is famous for being the first British rebel against the might of Rome. She initiated a rebellion after she and her family were ill-treated by Roman officials and Generals after the death of her husband Prasutagus; who was the King of his tribe, the Iceni. Boudica raised an army and swept through the Roman defences; having great success initially. Finally, however, she was defeated and disappeared from history; it being generally assumed she was killed in battle. The only images I could find were of various actresses giving of their best by screaming savagely to camera. The only authentic artistic image available seems to be of the famous statue in London, which by chance I use as my icon. So I have no hesitation in giving a variant image of this monument as her portrait here.

Maid Marian is the most mythical of all the woman warriors. There is very little, or no, evidence to show anyone like her ever actually took part in the adventures of Robin Hood. In fact Robin himself is more myth than real person. But the stories have spawned a continuing romantic conception of the pair which still has power to enthrall the imagination. The image of her I give here, surprisingly, is the only one of even near-artistic quality I could find. All the others ranged through variations of either the childish, cartoon character, manga, to the simply erotic or ridiculous. Which, I suppose, at least proves her enduring popularity!


There are, no doubt, many other worthy contenders for the position of woman warrior throughout history, but this is a selection of the most famous. It shows, if nothing else, that the idea of a woman breaking the bounds (and bonds) of Society and thereby making a place for herself in a male world is not a modern notion but goes back to the Classical period of History. There have been many woman warriors; and there will, assuredly, be many more.

~Phineas Redux~

'A Series of Cyphers' by Phineas Redux
This is an Uberfic set in Great Britain in 1943. Zena Mathews and Gabrielle Parker, both pilots and members of SOE—Special Operations Executive, are on a mission to transport a mysterious object from the North Atlantic to Southern England. On the way they hit various problems and dangers.

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