Saturday, June 2, 2012

PBP: Athena and 'think as a mortal'

Taken from: A. Lamb

I admire Athena. She's compassionate, wise, just, strong and feminine. She's a warrior, a fighter. Like Ares, she was born to fight. But unlike Ares, whose rage has its own merits, Athena tackles fighting from a different perspective: wisdom and tactics. Kill fairly and spare the just. Minimize casualties if at all possible.

Athena didn't earn the respect of the Gods simply by fighting. She gives them counsel and settles disputes. She holds every God to the same standard as she does herself and has been known to go up against other Gods if her conscious calls for it. On top of that, she is a master craftswoman; a beautiful part of womanhood. Now, I am useless at any kind of crafts while I have seen men make the most beautiful knittings, sculptures and whatnot. 'Womanhood' is not meant as a guilt trip or insult to anyone, but in Olden Days, it was a women's art and Athena was (and is) it's queen.

Mortals like(d) Athena because she usually treated them fairly and could be addressed to settle disputes. Yet, Athena doesn't always come off as a loving, caring Goddess. Just ask Arachne (see how I sneaked in another A?).

As the myth goes; Arachne boasted her weaving skill topped that of mortals and Gods alike. Specifically, she called out Athena. So Athena came to her door, disguised as an old woman, and warned her against her insolence. Anyone who challenged the Gods would eventually suffer the consequences. But Arachne didn't recant her claim. Instead she told the old woman that if Athena wanted to prove her wrong, She should just show up Herself. And so Athena threw off her disguise. Arachne didn't back down and so they held a weaving contest. Athena created a beautiful scene of Her contest with Poseidon for the rule of Athens. It was breathtaking. And so was Arachne's weaving. But Arachne wove a very different scene; she wove in the affairs Zeus had with mortals. When Athena saw this, She got so mad, She tore up the tapestry and pressed a hand to Arachne's forehead. She opened Arachne's eyes to the guilt and shame she should be feeling by defying and shaming the Gods. Arachne, overwhelmed, hung herself after which Athena took pity on the woman and brought her back to life as a spider, allowing her to live out her life as one of nature's most skilled weavers.

Think as a mortal (Φρονει θνητα). It's one one the Delphic Maxims. It's embodiment, for me, is Arachne's story. Arachne thought herself greater than the Gods and thus forgot her place amongst mortals. The Gods, infinitely more powerful, cursed her with a burden too heavy to bear for a mortal and when she became aware of her mortal nature once more, she realized that what she had done was unforgivable. But the Gods are kind. They forgive, eventually. But so much pain can be avoided when you remain aware of your life as a mortal. You need to eat, to sleep, to be productive in a society created of those of like mind. We are not Gods and we need not bother ourselves with issues only fit for the minds of Gods.

Yet, Athena reminds us that we need to keep using our minds. Respect the Gods and think as a mortal. Think. Make sound judgements. Choose your battles wisely, but choose your battles none the less.


Hawthorne said...

I have to be honest, Athena is my least favorite of all the Olympians. I can't get passed her actions in the Medusa myth and though I realize the myths aren't supposed to be taken literally, I still find
Athena's actions deplorable, worse even than Poseidon's.

Elani Temperance said...

A very specific epithet of Athena was the one who eventually convinced me to commit to Hellenismos. She's always been one of the Greek God(desse)s that spoke to me most. I understand your problems with Her, though. She's notoriously anti-women, and her punishments are as severe as her father's. I am pretty sure I wrote about my take on that myth before but I can't find it. So, in short:

In the older versions of this myth, it's clear that Medusa consents to the sexual acts. As she is a priestess of Athena, she was supposed to remain a virgin. Failing this, she was punished. In my opinion, and I state no sources for this because I have none, Athena also punished Medusa for the desecration of Her temple instead of Poseidon (who was equally to blame) because She wasn't in a position to punish another God.

One can also argue that Athena transformed Medusa into what she is so she would never have to deal with the violation of her body again (i.e. giving her the power to take care of herself--something much more in line with Athena's persona), should the sex have been non-consensual. It has happened before, with Poseidon changing Kaineus' gender from female to male to make sure she was never raped again. That was Kaineus' idea, by the way.

I see Athena as someone who will go to extremes to stick with Her ideals, values and ethics, and I can appreciate that. Still, I understand having trouble with her mythology.

Maya M said...

I find the story unfair at so many levels. First, the contest should not have been judged by one of the participants. Second, it was the perfection of work, not the nature of its content, to be judged. Third, why was it OK for Athena to shame her uncle and fellow god Poseidon but not for Arachne to shame Zeus? If his numerous affairs were indeed shameful, then Athena should have told Zeus to stop them, instead of lashing against Arachne.

Maria DeLaNoche said...

Hi Elani Temperance great article. Athena is one of my favorite Goddesses I admire her strength, warrior nature and wisdom. However one comment I can't truly agree on is Athena being anti-Women. Now in one play Athena was depicted as anti Women but in other sources she was actually shown as being pretty Pro Women. Like in the Iliad she favors Penelope and favors her staying in power instead of having to marry and give her power over to another instead of Odysseus ruling beside. She was known to favor many Women and in fact her Priesthood was exclusively Female. I tend to not accept the idea that Medusa was raped and Athena punished her because in another instance when Ajax the lesser raped the Prophetess Cassandra Athena was so furious she sent a lightning bolt and destroyed the ship he was on. It makes more sense that like in some myths that Medusa consented to sex with Poseidon or in other myths where she feigned beauty with Athena.