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- The entirety of Tirgatao’s story comes from one paragraph from Polyaenus (Latin for “many butts”) – it’s pretty short, you can read it here. I’ve expanded on her background as a steppe nomad, as it’s likely Polyaenus’s audience would have known all this about her just from saying where she was from. To be clear, it’s not 100% certain this was the sort of background she had – nobody knows – but given her tribe and her actions later in the story, I found it pretty likely. ↩
- Also, her name likely means “Strong Arrow.” ↩
- Most writeups refer to her as part of the Maeotians, but best anyone can tell, the Maeotians — like the Scythians — were a larger classification of people living in this area. Hecataeus was probably Maeotian too. So I’ve chosen here to associate her with the Ixomatae, which Polyaenus identified as her father’s tribe. ↩
- You may also note some similarities between her appearance and that of Tomyris. That is because the Ixomatae and the Massagetae (Tomyris’ tribe) both fell under the loose classification of “Scythians.” The so-called Scythians were exoticized by the Greeks for their egalitarian nature towards the sexes, and they are almost certainly the inspiration for the Amazon myths. The key difference is that in Amazon myths, the women always lose. In the Scythian tales, they usually win. For more on this, I highly recommend Adrienne Mayor’s amazing book on Amazons. Notably, in one origin myth for the Maeotians, they are founded by a society of warrior women. ↩
- Polyaenus says nothing of her affection for him, but he does make a note of saying that Hecataeus really loved her – which is uncommon for these sorts of texts, so I felt it important to emphasize somewhat. ↩
- This whole part is very weirdly worded in the original. Hecataeus is mentioned as being in exile, and Satyrus is the one to put him back on the throne. How he came to be in exile – whether it was Satyrus, the Ixomatae, or his own people (the Sindi) that cast him out – is unknown. Historically speaking, the Bosporans did war against the Sindi in this era, so I found it most likely that Satyrus was behind his exile, and I worded the entry to hint at that. But again: don’t know. ↩
- Here’s where Polyaenus mentions Hecataeus loving Tirgatao — enough to not kill her, and imprison her instead. ↩
- I REALLY wanted to have this reveal in the art. It’s historically accurate for the Scythians/Maeotians to have tattoos, and in fact, this set of tattoos is taken verbatim from those found on a Scythian corpse. Her Hellenic outfit is less historically accurate, as almost all women had bare arms, but I cheated it to make this reveal better. Herodotus mentions Greek society not being down with tattoos, so I thought it only sensible that she would have her arms covered. ↩
- Her purple toga, notably, is the first thing she uses in her makeshift rope. Her sleeves can be seen wrapping around her legs to create trousers of a sort. ↩
- It’s a little unclear from Polyaenus’s text- which, I should mention, is backed up by a similar oral history passed down amongst the Circassians – whether they were worried because she was popular among the Sindi or the Ixomatae (or both). I chose to interpret it as the Ixomatae, given the later events of the story. ↩
- The deserts are only mentioned in one translation and not in others. There are deserts in the general area she could have walked — about 500 miles, from the Taman Peninsula (Abkhazia) to north of the Sea of Azov. I just thought it was poetic, so while it’s debatable if she crossed deserts, I wanted to toss it in. ↩
- Her outfit here is a mishmash of Scythian styles — part archer, part captain of the army. Similarly, her outfit at the beginning of the story was a mishmash of female royalty clothing and archer clothing. ↩
- This actually happened somewhat differently — Satyrus offered up his son Metrodorus as ransom. Excised him for streamlining purposes. ↩
- Satyrus even made a show of asking for her to turn them back over, and she refused. Cut that for streamlining purposes. ↩
- Polyaenus doesn’t mention her beating them down, merely that the assailant struck her girdle and it deflected the blow, and that guards detained them after. Artistic license! ↩
- She actually tortured them into confessing — I portray them in this way to build the an echo throughout, as you’ll see. ↩
- Just says he dies of despair in the original. I interpreted that to mean suicide. Now, this is a murky historical claim. Assuming this story is talking about Satyrus I of Bosporus, he is claimed to have died in defense of another city from another tribe. Now, it’s possible that he was losing on both sides and decided to end it because of that, so it would make sense. ↩
- This was Satyrus’s other son, Gorgippus. Again, there’s trouble making this work with the other historical records — Gorgippus is not mentioned as having ruled after Satyrus in other texts. ↩
- These “cinematic” entries, I’d found, need an organizing principle, a question driving this. And looking at the original, I was struck by how merciful Tirgatao had been — to forgive both Satyrus and his son, and to allow defectors in, and defend them! It didn’t square up totally with her kicking their asses repeatedly. Many, many other people I’ve written about would have burnt everything to cinders the first time and been done with it. So I decided to make that central enigma of her personality the organizing principle for the entry, and shuffled things around to emphasize it. I hope you enjoyed! ↩
Check the footnotes — they’re sprinkled throughout!
As for the poster image, I wanted to emphasize her dual natures, and have a callback to her extending her hand out — either for death or for mercy. Except in this case, she’s helping herself.
As a final note, her skin coloration is darker than most depictions of Maeotians. Although their ethnicity is a bit of a question mark (much like Tomyris’s), I reasoned that if she was outside that much, being a steppe nomad, she’d probably at least have tanned significantly — and possibly had darker skin to begin with, who knows.
Massive thank you to Adrienne Mayor for answering my questions over Twitter! Seriously, y’all, check out her book, it’s SO GOOD.
Next Time on Rejected Princesses
The worst of the ten muses.