In Greek mythology, Hippolyta was a powerful woman who ruled the Amazons, a tribe of warrior women who raised only daughters. The Amazons were objects of fear in Greek culture, and many myths describe them as extremely fierce and powerful. Numerous stories are told about Hippolyta, and they have conflicting endings; for example, she has been killed by Theseus, his son, Hercules, and even her companion Penthesilea in various stories. Some mythologists have suggested that “Hippolyta” was actually several different women, and this explains the varied endings in the stories told about her.
Most myths do agree that Hippolyta was the daughter of Ares, the god of war. Ares gave Hippolyta a special girdle to signify her power and authority over the Amazons. As the leader of a tribe of powerful women, Hippolyta was involved in several battles, including the Amazonomachy, a legendary battle which raged between the Greeks and the Amazons. In many stories, the Amazonomachy is meant to serve as a metaphor to describe the domination of barbarians by Greek culture.
According to some stories, Hippolyta was at one point kidnapped by Theseus. She bore Theseus a son, named Hippolytus, and was eventually cast aside in favor of a more appealing bride. Some legends state that Hippolyta stormed in when Theseus was sealing the vows to his new wife, vowing misery to all those present, and she was slain in the ensuing battle, either by Theseus or accidentally by another Amazon.
Hippolyta also appears in the legends about the labors of Hercules. According to the stories, Hercules was asked to retrieve the girdle of Hippolyta for Admete, the daughter of Eurystheus. When Hercules reached the Amazons, Hippolyta was so intrigued by him that she gave up the girdle willingly. In some stories, the goddess Hera was so enraged by this easy victory that she snuck in among the Amazons and claimed that Hercules was planning to trick them, leading the women to attack the ship of Hercules. During the ensuing struggle, Hercules kills Hippolyta and takes flight in some tales.
Hippolyta and her Amazons are interesting characters in Greek mythology. It is entirely possible that a fierce tribe of women really did exist at one point, inspiring people to memorialize them in myths and legends. Lest one jump to conclusions about Greek attitudes toward women, it should be pointed out that Greek culture and mythology venerated many powerful women like Hera, Athena, and Artemis. The ultimate triumphs over the Amazons in Greek mythology may have more to do with the concept of the Amazons as a primitive tribe than with their gender.