views updated May 17 2018

Amazon a member of a legendary race of female warriors believed by the ancient Greeks to exist in Scythia or elsewhere on the edge of the known world; in extended usage, a very tall and strong or athletic woman.

The Amazons, who appear in many Greek legends, were allies of the Trojans in the Trojan War, and their queen, Penthesilea, was killed by Achilles. One of the labours of Hercules was to obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons.

The name comes (in late Middle English, via Latin) from Greek Amazōn, explained by the Greeks as ‘breastless’ (as if from a- ‘without’ + mazos ‘breast’), referring to the fable that the Amazons cut off the right breast so as not to interfere with the use of a bow, but probably a folk etymology of an unknown foreign word.

The Amazon river in South America, which initially bore various names after its discovery in 1500, was finally called Amazon after a legendary race of female warriors believed to live on its banks.


views updated May 11 2018

Amazon World's second-longest river (after the Nile), draining the vast rainforest basin of n South America. The Amazon carries by far the greatest volume of water of any river in the world: the average rate of discharge is c.95,000m3 (3,355,000ft3) every second, nearly three times as much as its nearest rival, the Congo. The flow is so great that its silt discolours the water up to 200km (125mi) into the Atlantic. At c.7 million sq km (2.7 million sq mi), the Amazon River basin comprises nearly 40% of the continent of South America. Its tributaries include the Xingu. Length: c.6430km (3990mi).