Greek Hero

Antiope

Antiope was one of the queens of the Amazons, a race of warrior women who lived near the Black Sea. After she was carried off by the Athenian hero Theseus, the Amazons sailed across the sea and invaded Athens in order to get her back.

By Avi KapachLast updated on Nov. 20th, 2021
  • Who were Antiope’s parents?

    Like most of the Amazon queens, Antiope was usually said to have been the daughter of Ares, the god of war. Her mother’s identity is less clear but may have been either Otrere, Ares’ Amazon consort, or the Amazon Hippolyta.

  • Did Antiope love Theseus?

    In some traditions, Antiope did fall in love with Theseus and willingly gave up her place as queen of the Amazons to be with him. But in other traditions, Theseus carried off Antiope by force.

  • How did Antiope die?

    In most versions of the myth, Antiope was accidentally killed in battle when the Amazons attacked Athens in an attempt to bring her home. But there were other versions in which Theseus killed her.

Antiope, daughter of Ares, was a great warrior and an Amazon queen. She is best known for being carried off by the Athenian hero Theseus (though whether she went willingly or not varies by the tradition and source). The Amazons did not appreciate losing their queen: in response, they assembled a huge army, sailed across the sea, and invaded Athens to get Antiope back. The bloody war that broke out only ended when Antiope herself was killed.

Etymology

The etymology of the name “Antiope” is relatively straightforward. The first element is the Greek preposition or prefix anti, meaning “like” or “against,” and is found quite frequently in Greek names (for example, “Antipater,” “Antilochus,” etc.). The second element is seemingly derived from the Greek word ops, meaning “voice.”

Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek

    Antiope

    Ἀντιόπη

  • Phonetic
    IPA

    [an-TIE-uh-pee]

    /ænˈtaɪəpi/

Alternate Names

In some sources, the Amazon queen carried off by Theseus was named not Antiope but rather Hippolyta,1 Melanippe,2 or Glauce.3

Family

Antiope’s parentage is rarely mentioned in surviving sources, but when it is, her father is named as Ares.4 This suggests that Antiope’s mother would have been Otrere, Ares’ Amazon consort. But in other traditions, Antiope’s mother was Hippolyta, another Amazon queen, most famous for her role as one of Heracles’ foes.5

Some of the other Amazon queens—including Hippolyta, Penthesilea, and Orithyia—may have been regarded as Antiope’s sisters.

Unlike other Amazons, Antiope took a husband: the great Athenian hero Theseus, slayer of the Minotaur. Their only child was Hippolytus (or, according to one author, Demophon6), a virtuous follower of Artemis who was cruelly destroyed by Aphrodite.

Family Tree

Theseus und Minotauros Meyers konversationslexikon

Illustration of Theseus killing the Minotaur from Myers Konversationslexikon (1888).

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Mythology

Theseus and the Attic War

The myth of Antiope begins with the hero Theseus. When Theseus arrived at the faraway land of the Amazons (somewhere in the neighborhood of the Black Sea), he fell in love with a beautiful Amazon queen, whom most sources called Antiope.7

The abduction of Antiope by Theseus, 5th cent. B.C.

5th century BCE statue of Theseus abducting Antiope. Archaeological Museum, Eretria, Greece.

George E. Koronaios / CC BY-SA 4.0

As for what happened next, the details are fuzzy. Some ancient sources insisted that Theseus’ feelings were reciprocated and that Antiope willingly followed the hero back to Athens.8 But other sources were more ambiguous, suggesting she was carried away by force.

In either case, the Amazons resolved to retrieve their queen. They gathered a large army of both Amazons and their allies, sailed across the sea, and attacked Theseus. 

The Amazons devastated Attica (the region ruled by Theseus) before besieging Athens itself. The ensuing war—sometimes known as the “Attic War”—nearly destroyed Athens and ended only after Antiope was killed in combat. According to many authors (including Diodorus of Sicily, Plutarch, and Pausanias), Antiope fought at her husband Theseus’ side and was tragically killed by one of the Amazons she had once ruled over.9 In the wake of her death, the Amazons made peace with Athens and returned home.10

Wounded Amazon relief, 2nd cent. A.D.

Detail from a relief depicting a Greek warrior pursuing an Amazon and grabbing her by her hair. Archaeological Museum, Piraeus, Greece.

George E. Koronaios / CC BY-SA 4.0

However, there were other versions of what happened between Antiope and Theseus. In one tradition, recounted in the lost epic the Theseid, Theseus soon decided to leave Antiope so he could marry the Cretan princess Phaedra instead. When Antiope found out, she called on the Amazons, who were still loyal to her, to avenge her. Theseus then recruited the help of his friend Heracles, who killed Antiope and defeated the Amazons.11 

In another variation of this myth, Antiope decided to take matters into her own hands: while Theseus was celebrating his wedding to Phaedra, she crashed the feast with a few of her loyal Amazons. But Theseus and the Athenians locked them inside the hall and managed to kill them all.12

There were still other traditions in which Theseus was the one who killed Antiope. Some sources stated that Theseus slew her in battle (presumably in a version where Antiope fought with the Amazons, rather than with Theseus), while others stated obscurely that he killed her “because of an oracle of Apollo.”13

Hippolytus

Before she died, Antiope gave Theseus a son named Hippolytus (or Demophon, according to Pindar). This Hippolytus would grow up to be a devotee of the goddess Artemis, whom he honored by vowing to remain a virgin. Unfortunately, this brought him into conflict with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who felt that Hippolytus was neglecting her worship by refusing to have sex.

Aphrodite punished Hippolytus by causing his stepmother Phaedra to fall in love with him. When Hippolytus did not respond to Pheadra’s advances, she convinced her husband (Hippolytus’ father, Theseus) that Hippolytus had tried to rape her. In a rage, Theseus called on the sea god Poseidon to kill Hippolytus. Though he eventually discovered that his wife was lying, it was too late: Poseidon had already answered Theseus’ prayer, and Hippolytus was dead. Theseus was thus responsible, directly or indirectly, for the death of both his Amazon wife and their son.14

Jozef Geirnaert - Phaedra and Hippolytus

Phaedra and Hippolytus by Jozef Geirnaert (1819). Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, UK.

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Pop Culture

The two best-known modern adaptations of the myth of Theseus and Antiope are Mary Renault’s The Bull from the Sea (1962) and Steven Pressfield’s Last of the Amazons (2002). Renault calls Antiope by her alternate name, Hippolyta. Both Renault and Pressfield turn the myth into a doomed love story, with Theseus and Antiope (or Hippolyta) struggling against their respective societies for the sake of love.

Antiope also appears in DC’s Wonder Woman comics, where she is the sister of the Amazon queen Hippolyta and the aunt of Wonder Woman.

Further Reading

Primary Sources

Greek

  • Euripides: The tragedy Hippolytus (428 BCE) tells the story of Hippolytus, the son of Theseus and Antiope (who is not named in the tragedy).

  • Diodorus of Sicily: There are references to the myth of Antiope in Book 4 of the Library of History (first century BCE).

  • Plutarch: The myth of Antiope is summarized in the Life of Theseus (first century CE).

  • Pausanias: There are some references to Antiope in the Description of Greece (second century CE).

  • Apollodorus: The myth of Antiope is briefly summarized in the Epitome (first century BCE or first few centuries CE).

Roman

  • Ovid: There are references to Antiope and her death in Heroides 4 (late first century BCE). 

  • Seneca: The tragedy Phaedra (first century BCE/first century CE), like Euripides’ Hippolytus, deals with the downfall of Hippolytus, the son of Theseus and Antiope.

  • Hyginus: There are references to Antiope in the Fabulae, a mythological handbook of the first or second century CE.

  • Justin: Antiope features in Justin’s second-century CE summary (or “Epitome”) of a historical work by Pompeius Trogus (second century BCE). She is described as ruling the Amazons alongside her sister Orithyia.

  • Orosius: Antiope appears in Book 1 of the Histories against the Pagans (fifth century CE) in a section summarizing the history of the Amazons. 

Secondary Sources

  • Block, Josine H. The Early Amazons: Modern and Ancient Perspectives on a Persistent Myth. Leiden: Brill, 1995.

  • Devambez, Pierre and Aliki Kauffmann-Samaras. “Amazones.” In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, Vol. 1, 586–653. Zurich: Artemis, 1981.

  • DuBois, Page. Centaurs and Amazons: Women and the Pre-History of the Great Chain of Being. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991.

  • Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. 2 vols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

  • Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin, 1955.

  • Harder, Ruth Elisabeth. “Antiope.” In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, and Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e124830.

  • Kauffmann-Samaras, Aliki. “Antiope II.” In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, Vol. 1, 857–59. Zurich: Artemis, 1981.

  • Kerényi, Károly. The Heroes of the Greeks. London: Thames and Hudson, 1974.

  • Man, John. Searching for the Amazons: The Real Warrior Women of the Ancient World. New York: Pegasus Books, 2018.

  • Mayor, Adrienne. The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

  • Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo. “A Story of Five Amazons.” American Journal of Archaeology 78 (1974): 1–17. https://doi.org/10.2307/503751.

  • Rose, H. J. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Methuen, 1929.

  • Smith, William. “Antiope.” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed August 23, 2021. https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aentry%3Dantiope-bio-2.

  • Tyrrell, William Blake. Amazons: A Study in Athenian Mythmaking. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.

  • Von Bothmer, Dietrich. Amazons in Greek Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957.

  • Wilde, Lyn Webster. A Brief History of the Amazons: Women Warriors in Myth and History. London: Robinson, 2017.

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