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Fighting Women in Period Literature


The Aeneid by Virgil, translated by John Dryden 
Greek 19 BC.
The Volscian warrior princess Camilla appears in Book XI

from BOOK XI
Last, from the Volscians fair Camilla came,
And led her warlike troops, a warrior dame;
Unbred to spinning, in the loom unskill'd,
She chose the nobler Pallas of the field.
Mix'd with the first, the fierce virago fought,
Sustain'd the toils of arms, the danger sought,
Outstripp'd the winds in speed upon the plain,
Flew o'er the fields, nor hurt the bearded grain:
She swept the seas, and, as she skimm'd along,
Her flying feet unbath'd on billows hung.

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The Fall of Troy by Quintus Smyrnus, translated by A. S. Way  
Greek, 4th century AD
The story of the battle for Troy, including the appearance of Penthesilea and the Amazons.

from BOOK I, lines 417-425
That day the beating of full many a heart,
Trojan and Argive, was for ever stilled,
While roared the battle round them, while the fury
Of Penthesileia fainted not nor failed;
But as amid long ridges of lone hills
A lioness, stealing down a deep ravine,
Springs on the kine with lightning leap, athirst
For blood wherein her fierce heart revelleth;
So on the Danaans leapt that warrior-maid

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The Epic of Kings (the Shahnamah) by Ferdowsi, translated by Helen Zimmern.  
Persian, 1010 A.D.
A Persian epic of kings and heroes, featuring the battle of Gurdafrid, a warrior maid, and Sohrab

from Rustem and Sohrab
But when those within the castle learned that their chief was bound they raised great lamentation, and their fears were sore. And Gurdafrid too, when she learned it, was grieved, but she was ashamed also for the fate of Hujir. So she took forth burnished mail and clad herself therein, and she hid her tresses under a helmet of Roum, and she mounted a steed of battle and came forth before the walls like to a warrior. And she uttered a cry of thunder, and flung it amid the ranks of Turan, and she defied the champions to come forth to single combat. And none came, for they beheld her how she was strong, and they knew not that it was a woman, and they were afraid.

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The Saga of the Volsungs translated by William Morris and Eirikr Magnusson  
Icelandic (Old Norse) c. 1200
A story of heroes, especially Sigurd, who slays a dragon, and woos Brynhild, a valkyrie cursed by Odin.

from CHAPTER XXIV: Sigurd sees Brynhild at Hlymdale (Brynhild answers Sigurd's proposal).
Brynhild answered, "It is not fated that we should abide together; I am a shield-may, and wear helm on head even as the kings of war, and them full oft I help, neither is the battle become loathsome to me."

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Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto, translated by William Stewart Rose  
Italian, 1516
Bradamante, a (female) knight of Charlemagne's court, rescues her beloved, Rogero, from various perils.

from Canto 3, verse XX (Bradamant is battling an enchanter)
This truth by him with fictions was combined,
Whose sleight passed red for yellow, black for white:
But all his vain enchantments could not blind
The maid, whose virtuous ring assured her sight:
Yet she her blows discharges at the wind;
And spurring here and there prolongs the fight.
So drove or wheeled her steed, and smote at nought,
And practised all she had before been taught.

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Jerusalem Delivered (Gerusalemme Liberata) by Torquatto Tasso, translated by Edward Fairfax.  
Published 1581 in Parma, Italy.
A story of the Crusades. Tancred, a Christian knight, falls in love with Clorinda, a Pagan knight and princess.

from the Third book, verse XIII
Against their foes Clorinda sallied out,
And many a baron bold was by her side,
Within the postern stood Argantes stout
To rescue her, if ill mote her betide:
With speeches brave she cheered her warlike rout,
And with bold words them heartened as they ride,
"Let us by some brave act," quoth she, "this day
Of Asia's hopes the groundwork found and lay."

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This page last updated 03/21/02

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