Penthesilea (Greek: Πενθεσίλεια) or Penthesileia was an Amazonian queen in Greek mythology, the daughter of Ares and Otrera and the sister of Hippolyta, Antiope and Melanippe. 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's defenders.
Penthesilea arrives in Troy at the start of Posthomerica the night before the fighting is due to recommence for the first time after Hector's death and funeral. She came to Troy for two reasons: firstly, to prove to others that her people, the Amazons, are great warriors and can share the hardships of war and, secondly, to appease the Gods after she accidentally killed her sister, Hippolyta, while hunting. She arrived with twelve companions and promised the Trojans that she would kill Achilles. On her first, and only, day of fighting, Penthesilea kills many men and clashes with Telamonian Ajax, although there is no clear victor, before she comes face to face with Achilles, who had been summoned by Telamonian Ajax. Prior to Achilles' entrance, Penthesilea had tried to fight Telamonian Ajax but he had merely laughed off her attempts, thinking her unfit to face him. Achilles eventually kills her, needing only one blow to her breastplate to knock her over and leave her begging for her life. He is unmoved by her pleas, however, and kills her. He mocks her corpse until he removes her helmet: at which point Achilles feels strong remorse.
Proclus, 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 ends
According to Diodorus Siculus
Alongside Penthesilea were twelve other Amazons, including Antibrote, Ainia, and Clete. The rest were Alcibie, Antandre, Bremusa, Derimacheia, Derinoe, Harmothoe, Hippothoe, Polemusa, and Thermodosa.
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 an act of necrophilia on her corpse as a final insult to her.
The Greek Thersites mockingly 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.
In Robert Graves' homonymous poem, Penthesilea is "despoiled of her arms by Prince Achilles". Yet, Achilles slays Thersites for his disrespect towards 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.
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.
Penthiselea (a variant spelling of Penthesilea) is the name of a character in the BBC radio series ElvenQuest, a comic fantasy which aired in 2009. Penthiselea is a warrior princess, and a member of a band of adventurers sworn to put an end to the reign of the evil Lord Darkness. The character of Penthiselea was played by Sophie Winkleman and Ingrid Oliver.
Penthesilea, though a fairly minor character in the story, is central to one of the plots of Dan Simmons' novel Ilium where her death by the hands of Achilles prompts the hero to begin a journey in search of the then-lost Zeus.
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