Whether it is Lemnos or Limnos, the north Aegean island has a certain significance to Australian history as a place of  rest and support for Anzac forces engaged in the Gallipoli campaign to the north.

For academic, Lemnos historian and now novelist DrTony Whitefield the island has even greater significance. His wife’s family hails from the island and the couple go there every year.

Dr Whitefield, whose grandfather, Henry Norman Whitefield, fought in Gallipoli and received medical treatment on Lemnos, co-wrote  with Roger Hawthorn: A Lemnos Odyssey; From Jason and the Argonauts to the Anzacs at Gallipoli published in 2016.

“I have a passion for the island and its people, wonderful history, archaeology and mythology, which is why I wanted to write a story about Hypsipyle,” he told Neos Kosmos.

His self-published novel, The Queen of Limnos, draws inspiration from one of the remarkable queens from the island’s remarkable ancient history .

The story of Queen Hypsipyle is a strange one and she features in several great tales of ancient Greece, including in the Illiad, Jason and the Argonauts, in Aescyllus play Seven Against Thebes, among others. She inspired the Roman poet Ovid and appears in Dante’s Purgatory as one of the virtuous pagans.

Euripides devoted an entire play to the Lemnian queen but only part of his Hypsipyle has been recovered.

“We have Homer and Hollywood to thank for the list of A-graders, but a closer inspection of Hypsipyle’s life leads me to conclude that between 2500 and 2000 years ago, she was an important mythological and literary character, worthy of the attention of major playwrights and authors,” said Dr Whitefield.

The historical timeline for this story is set at least a generation before the Trojan War takes place. Hypsipyle is the island’s queen.

When the island’s men refuse the women permission  to celebrate a festival dedicated  to Aphrodite the women protest by refusing to wash or clean themselves and soon become known as the “Smelly Women”.

When the men turn their attentions to the female slaves taken from Thrace, Lemnos’ women plot a terrible revenge. They invite their men to a party, get them all drunk and kill them all. Except for Queen Hypsipyle who hides and then sends her father Thoas in to the safety of exile.

Lemnos women keep the androcide very quiet from the rest of the world. When Jason and his Argonauts began their journey to get the Golden Fleece, Lemnos is their first port of call and a sailor’s dream destination. The find no men and they soon become acquainted with the women.

READ MORE: The mysterious beacon of Lemnos – and its Australian connection

Their stay lasts two years and it is only when Hercules reminds them of their quest that they finally leave. To this day, the islanders s maintain the boast that they are descended from the best men of Greece.

Jason himself marries Hypsipyle, they have two sons and he promises to return once the Golden Fleece is in his hands. He never does. For this betrayal, Dante sets Jason in the eighth circle of hell.

Hypsipile is forced to flee the island with her children when the women discover that she had spared her father. She is taken by pirates and sold as a slave to King Lycurgus of Nemea.

In Aeschylus’ play Seven Against Thebes, Hypsipyle is made responsible for Lycorgus’s young son Archemorus. When she is forced to show an invading Argive army where to get water, she leaves the boy unattended and he is killed by a snake. Adrastus, the leader of the Argives, protects her from the vengeance of Lycurgus.

The Nemean Games were held to commemorate the boy’s death. They were a real athletic event that was held in the year after and before each Olympic Games, with the first games conducted in 573 BCE. June 2020 marks the Seventh Nemead, a modern, less formal revival of the ancient games, where the athletes run clothed.

READ MORE: Jim Claven’s ‘Lemnos and Gallipoli Revealed’ captures the ANZAC spirit

“For my part, The Queen of Limnos started out as a collection of thoughts, ideas and research from many sources over quite a number of years,” said Dr Whitefield. “Many of the characters in this book come from mythological literature, and many are derived from people I know. “

The Queen of Limnos by Dr Tony Whitefield is a self-published novel which can be obtained through his email: whitefield.tony@gmail.com. Cost $25.

William Russel Flint’s painting (circa 1924) “The Lemnians” on display at the art gallery of NSW. A copy of the painting was sent to Limnos to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign.
Queen Hypsipyle saves her father from death. Detail from De mulieribus claris de Boccace. Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France /WikiCommons
A 1473 woodcut depicting the slaughter of the men of Lemnos and Hypsipyle’s rescue of her father. Photo: kladcat: WikiCommons