. . . . . . . .
“I thought I saw it all when I went to Phrygia and saw thousands of soldiers and gleaming
horses … that fated day when the Amazons swept down to fight against men.”
King Priam (The Iliad)
The Romans were experts in the art of warfare.
They waged war against the Sabines,
the Gauls, the Macedonians,
the Carthaginians, the Amazons –
not the one-breasted warrior goddesses of Hellenic myth
who maimed their bodies to become better fighters –
but real, flesh-and-blood women:
Queen Boudicca of ancient Britain,
who is flogged, her daughters raped by their Roman captors;
Queen Zenobia of Palmyra,
who, once defeated, is taken to Rome as a spoil of war.
Here they are immortalized –
both the Romans and the Amazons –
locked in perpetual mortal combat
in the smooth silence of the stony sarcophagus.
Standing in the museum, admiring the piece in hushed awe,
we cannot hear the valiant war cries,
the wind that blows their cloaks about their shoulders,
the clash of two-headed axe against Roman shield,
the wails of anguish as their sisters-in-arms lie
trampled beneath the hooves of their own steeds.
The Romans leave no doubt as to the victor in the tableau –
the legion’s soldiers are portrayed larger than life by the sculptor
who shaped the sharp corners of alabaster white
with images of the Amazons on their knees in obeisance –
as women have been bowed for millennia –
their weapons melded into trophies of war.
We do not know the stories of these glorious warriors,
captured in cold marble in ignominious defeat.
History, after, all is told by the victor.
The Romans have the last word,
and it is written in stone.