It makes more sense why she chose me
In this passage from the Orphic Hymn to Athena, note the attributes of Athena - athletic, destroyer of the [Gorgon] Medusa, virgin, artist par excellence, warrior, progressive, and androgynous. Few of these attributes are traditionally feminine:
"Athletic Maiden with a heart sublime,
Slayer of the Gorgon, fugitive of the bridal bed,
Mother of Art in all your abundance, catalyst of progress!
You bring folly to the corrupt and a sense of purpose to the pure!
Indeed, you are male and female in one,
Patron of war and wisdom,
You are fluid of form, a dragon,
Infused with inspiration of the Gods!”
Elsewhere, I have pointed out how the androgynous warlike Athena was a friend to Greek heroes, but she wasn’t so helpful to women. Deborah Lyons, in Chapter 3 of Gender and Immortality, details Athena’s bias against her own sex, but even without reading Lyons’ interesting essay, in the passage above, you can see Athena destroying the feminine Medusa and eschewing her own sexuality. In what follows, we will look at some of the ways Athena hurt or destroyed mythological women.
The story of Arachne told in Book 6 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses is one of the most familiar stories about Athena. Its theme is a familiar one: Comparison of mortals with gods tends to land the mortals in serious trouble. When Agamemnon couldn’t sail from Aulis, the seer Calchas deduced that the reason the winds wouldn’t rise was because Agamemnon had offended Artemis with a boast about the superiority of his hunting skills. Artemis, the goddess of hunting, took herself and her skills very seriously. A sacrifice appeased the goddess. Aphrodite’s specialty was beauty. The comparison of the beauty of the mortal Psyche with the goddess Aphrodite formed the background for the story of Cupid and Psyche familiar from the Metamorphoses (aka Golden Ass) of Apuleius. While ultimately there was a happy ending, to avert Aphrodite’s wrath, Psyche’s family abandoned their daughter to a lonely death. That sacrifice and the fulfillment of a series of impossible trials reconciled the goddess Aphrodite with the mortal Psyche.
The comparison of Arachne with the ultimate artist and craftswoman, Athena, had more enduring consequences.
Arachne had bragged that she could spin and weave as well as the goddess. Athena heard about it and challenged Arachne to a contest to prove her skill. Arachne had not boasted vainly, but that only inflamed Athena more. As Arachne superbly wove a depiction of the gods’ debaucheries, Athena decided to get revenge by making Arachne a permanent weaver. She turned her into a spider and from the name of the hapless mortal, we have the scientific name for spiders — arachnids.
One at the loom so excellently skill’d, That to the Goddess she refus’d to yield, (Ovid, Metamorphoses VI)
This the bright Goddess passionately mov’d,
With envy saw, yet inwardly approv’d.
The scene of heav’nly guilt with haste she tore,
Nor longer the affront with patience bore;
A boxen shuttle in her hand she took,
And more than once Arachne’s forehead struck.
Iodama and Medusa
Athena killed Iodama, a mortal woman who was either her sister or her priestess. According to Pausanias, Athena turned Iodama to stone by means of the severed head of Medusa.
Medusa was another mortal who had suffered at Athena’s hands. For whatever reason, the goddess Athena, displeased with Medusa, turned her into a monster who could turn people to stone if they chanced to look upon her eyes or face. Not content with making Medusa into an anti-social monster, Athena helped Perseus decapitate Medusa. Since Perseus couldn’t directly cut off Medusa’s head without risking being turned to stone, Athena held a mirrored shield for Perseus to look into while he worked. Perseus gave the lithifying head to Athena as a reward for her help.
When Iodama glanced at the head of Medusa, it turned her to stone.
[9.34.2] The following tale, too, is told. Iodama, who served the goddess as priestess, entered the precinct by night, where there appeared to her Athena, upon whose tunic was worked the head of Medusa the Gorgon. When Iodama saw it, she was turned to stone. [Pausanias]
Pallas vs Athena
From Deborah Lyons: Gender and Immortality
Another similar story is told about Pallas, the daughter of Triton, whose death Athena caused indirectly while they were practicing martial arts. In Apollodorus’ account Pallas is also a sort of stepsister of Athena, who is being raised by Pallas’ father Tritonos. These sibling relations between goddess and mortals are extraordinary, not least for the genealogical and theological difficulties they would create if taken seriously. Nothing similar is found between gods and heroes, nor for any other goddess.
Original (1999) Online References
Identification of the symbol with which Athena was associated.
- [ www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/3449/athena.html ] Athena
Subtitled “The adorable goddess of the Athenians,” page explains Arachne, Pegasus,Athena’s accoutrements, and her epithets.
- Athena, Goddess of Wisdom
From Perseus Project’s Hercules pages.
- Encyclopedia Mythica entry on Athena
- The Encyclopedia of the goddess Athena
Epithets, etymology, cult, functions, representations, birth, temples, relations with heroes, and quarrels with Poseidon. Also see Athena timeline.
Identification of Athena’s companion. IXION suppliant to Athena.
- Pheidias: Sculptor to the gods
The Athena Parthenos, by Colin Delaney. An article on what the statue — full of mythological scenes — must have looked like.