Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature (Interdepartmental Program)

First Advisor

Robert J. Edgeworth


This dissertation identifies and evaluates the ways in which the Amazon myth has functioned. The Amazon myth functions within broader discourses about the Orient, Africa, and women. It has implications for the ways we define "self" and "other." Because they are often represented as a threat to the border from long ago and/or far away, Amazons can serve both as an excuse for fortifying the center against the margin, and as a way of projecting fantasies into the void. The Amazon myth has incited men to action as they have searched for adventure and Amazons abroad. Intended in part as a warning to women of what they could become and of what could happen to them if they rebelled against traditional roles, it has also provided an alluring model to women searching for more power and autonomy. The Amazon myth projects onto foreign soil tensions felt in the home society and provides a safe sphere for the expression and resolution of those tensions. As a breach of the Great Chain of Being, usurping Amazons can serve either as a critique of that idea or as a call to arms for heroic men to defend it. The first chapter develops the theoretical framework for the dissertation. This framework is derived primarily from Michel Foucault, Edward Said, and Christopher Miller. Foucault devised what he termed the three axes of genealogy: the axes of truth, power, and ethics. The uses of the Amazon myth reflect the interplay of these during different eras. Said and Miller have shown how Foucault's theory applies to discourses about the Orient and Africa, respectively. Interpretations of the Amazon myth have tended to reflect each era's thought about the "other", whether other-as-foreigner or other-as-woman or both. The subsequent chapters follow a chronological order. The second chapter is an investigation of Amazon myths in Greek and Roman societies; the third, an analysis of medieval treatments of Amazon myths. The fourth is an examination of uses of Amazon myths during the Renaissance, and the fifth is an analysis of Amazons during the Romantic and Victorian eras.