Friday, July 18, 2008

Horse-Crazy Girls in Ancient History



I discovered this Amazon on Horseback at Indiana University's Art Museum, special exhibit on horses in classical antiquity. The terracotta statue has never been fully 'published' - which for works of ancient art means a full scholarly article written about it and official photos taken by people who know what they are doing and don't reflect themselves and their camera in the pictures! It is part of IU's permanent collection, and I fell in love it with it on sight. If you click on the picture it will enlarge so you can see details.

Amazons! Great topic for mythology professors like me: women warriors who loved their horses and had horse-related names like Hippodameia ("tamer of horses") and Hippolyte ("freer of horses"). Maybe they were based on some historical reality, maybe they were entirely mythical, but the image of a wild woman on horseback set the ancient imagination on fire.

This Amazon is from southern Italy, 3rd century B.C. and horse people: isn't she doing a levade? Notice the parallel forelegs, the rider's balanced posture and leg back as if to cue, this does not look like a rear but something more requested and controlled.

Here's levade rendered in a digital painting by Stacey Meyer:



What do you think? I fully believe that the classical moves of dressage had ancient roots. I'm working on an article on Xenophon's treatise "On Horsemanship", trying to fill out the view of equine psychology that it presents, and the deeper I get into it the more I believe that an ancient form of dressage was developed for Greek war horses and had a practical side as well as the beautiful goal: "Nothing beautiful can be forced", Xenophon wrote. So true. So that's a little about my 'day job' and you see I manage to work horses into that area too!

9 comments:

Grey Horse Matters said...

Wonderful picture of the statue. It always amazes me that some of the artifacts found from so long ago are in such great shape.
I would definitely say the Amazon and her horse are performing an upper level move. I also believe that Xenophon was one of the first truly great horsemen in history. What an interesting 'day job' you have.

Flying Lily said...

Greyhorse, so you see it too! This object is not made of valuable material so although someone stole the metal off her shield, the clay part of the statuette was left. It has been expertly repaired in a few spots you can barely see in person even. But yes, amazing these things last so long! Will our art works last 2 millennia plus?!

jme said...

i have never seen or heard of this statue before. thanks for posting it! i was an archaeology student and my main interest was/is eurasian steppe nomads...

there is actually a good amount of archaeological evidence in support of the existence of real 'amazons.' iron age scythian - and more specifically sarmatian - burials from across the eurasian steppe have revealed female skeletons not only buried with their own well-used weapons, but with bowed legs from riding and sometimes even obvious war wounds like arrowheads embedded in their bones.

of course, the nomadic tribes to the north and east were seen as the embodiment of everything the classical world was not, and the 'amazon' myth was used to drive the point home. these amazon representations were popular across the classical word because the concept of a woman who was equal to a man, could ride and fight, (and wear trousers!) etc. was in such stark contrast to the greek/roman view of women that they were both repulsed and fascinated by them.

in those legends, amazons were famed for their abilities as horse trainers, and their horses were much sought after - and i have no doubt these so-called 'classical' dressage movements were well known to the horse nomads who spent their lives on horseback and relied on well-trained horses for their survival.

so, i think you're right; the artist may well have been depicting something based in reality, even if through an entirely 'classical' lens. i'd like to think there's some truth to it, anyway :-)

Flying Lily said...

Wow JME, great information. I was surprised to come around a corner in the museum and be faced with this figurine. From hoof to head she is about 14 inches tall and just perfect looking. I'm so interested in the women warriors; such a contrast to the indoor life of the classical-era woman (non-slave). The IU Art Gallery newsletter did a short article on the figurine; I'll try to track down the reference. Author is Adriana Calinescu, curator of the museum and arranger of this special exhibit. I wrote to her about this levade business and she was interested, asked for a photo of levade, which I duly sent...

Momma / Cowgirl said...

I am sure you are right about dressage used in war horses. When hubby and I took a class on horse training, he had us read many things, one of which mentioned how they trained soldier horses.

Thank you for sharing this topic!

Happy Horsin’ Around from
www.anunfinishedproject.com

Debra said...

How gorgeous she is! Thanks for sharing her...and thank you for your recent comment on my blog. As a longtime martial artist and a fairly new but obsessive horsewoman, she certainly resonates in me and inspires. I'd like to add you to my sidebar list of interesting blogs! Also enjoyed my first trail ride with your recent video. Looking forward to savoring more entries here!

Mrs Mom said...

Hey Flying Lily! This is fantastic. The statue gave me goose bumps, as well as your study of Xenophon. Dear Husband and I both feel his work has been so lost in many areas of "horsemanship" these days...

Thats quite the day job you have there. Wonderful that you can share a bit of it with us here as well as working horses into it!

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Wow-just WOW!!!

I love, love, LOVE this kind of stuff and totally believe that there were warrior tribes that not only included women but that women were responsible for the training of war horses.

I'm so glad you followed up with the with the curator in regards to the levade reference. I'm with you-I see a trained, controlled maneuver depicted. I wonder how old the reference is about horseback statues and the position of the horses legs? Isn't it one leg off the ground and the person didn't die in battle and two legs off the ground and they died in battle? I can't ever remember-I just know that in horseback statues of war heroes, there is a reason the horses legs are positioned the way they are.

Train Wreck said...

OHHHH ! I will have to go through my emails I have the most amazing video of this beautiful grey dressage horse! It is simply the most amazing thing I have EVER seen!! I am going to go find it and Post it as my first video!!! CHeck in you will love it!