Okay, recent events have gotten me—and lots of other people—thinking about women. Their place and condition in society, their empowerment or disempowerment.
Being who I am, these pondering led me to think of the Goddess Athene. Because, in the myths that lie at the roots of Western culture, she is the primary figure of a powerful, independent female, complete within herself.
According to the myths, Athene (or Athena) was not born in the normal sense, but sprang fully grown and armored from the forehead of Zeus. She comes into the world strong and compete in herself from the start.
Athene is a multifaceted goddess. As the armor indicates, she is a fighter. But she is also the patroness of artisans and philosophers.
According to the main article on Wikipedia, she was originally the Aegean goddess of the palace and presided over household crafts and protected the king. Hence the appellation “Pallas Athene.” The article goes on to quote Cratylus, a dialogue by Plato, which traces the roots of Athene’s name to the words for mind, intelligence, and divine intelligence.
In Homer’s Iliad, she is of course a fierce goddess of war and allied to the Greeks. In The Odyssey, she serves as guide (tutelary deity) to the hero, Odysseus.
Athene was also the patron deity of Athens. A well-known myth relates how she competed with the sea-god Poseidon for that honor. While Poseidon gifted the Athenians with the first horse, Athene won the contest by presenting them with the first domesticated olive tree. (To the ancients, this gift represented not only olives, but oil and hence light for their lamps.)
Things you might not know
A few lesser-known facts about Athene:
- You can visit her temple right here in the USA! Nashville, Tennessee has an exact replica of the Parthenon, including a copy of her statue from ancient times
2. The asteroid (or minor planet) Pallas is named for her. First discovered in 1779, Pallas is one of the largest asteroids in the solar system. It is also notable because of its highly eccentric orbit, inclined nearly 35% from the plane of the asteroid belt. (Athene goes her own way, folks.)
3. As Goddess of Wisdom, she is associated with both owls and snakes.
4. As noted in Wikipedia, in contemporary Wicca, Athena is venerated as one aspect of the Great Goddess. Some Wiccans believe that she may bestow the “Owl Gift” (the ability to write and communicate clearly) upon her worshippers.
(Always, I pursue the Owl Gift.)
In Conjurer of Rhodes
I was inspired to write about Athene in the Conjurer of Rhodes series, In both The Lights of Alexandria and The Treasure of the Sun God, she appears as a guide to the protagonist, Korax, inspiring him to heroism and service.
At one point, she counsels him to leave Egypt and return to his home island…
To which I can only say, “So may it be!”
Here is a praise poem I wrote for Athene some time back…
Let us now praise glorious Athene
Paradoxical granddaughter of Time
Placid in counsel, fearsome in war
Teacher of reason, patroness of rhyme.
Virgin complete in her Goddess body
She loves philosophers and heroes best
Showed Socrates how to delve for causes
Guided Odysseus home to his rest.
Her house is the paragon of temples
Her gifts are the oil, the lamp and the light
She is the just protector of cities,
The brightness of air, the owl in the night.