Truth, like a summer’s breeze, washes over the internet

Yesterday my Google News Feed felt I would enjoy an article by Princess Weekes, assistant editor of something called “the Mary Sue.”

It was wrong. Very, very wrong.

The article, entitled 5 Greek Mythological Figures Who Are Actually the Worst, Besides Zeus starts much as you’d expect, with the same tired anti-Zeus boilerplate found on numerous Neopagan and Christian sites:

We all know that Zeus sucks. He’s a rapist, a terrible husband, father, son, and grandson—an all around toxic douchebag who creates a lot of problems with his dick. 

This kind of invective almost makes one think Plato had a point about poets in the Republic and Laws

Almost. 

But then, as Princess Weekes continues her e-theomachia, the true solution becomes apparent: we need to read more, not less. 

Equal opportunity douchebag call out. Athena is kind of the worst. Hera and Aphrodite get called out a lot for victim blaming and being petty, but Athena is hella petty. She’s pretty much the kind of woman who only has male friends because she’s “one of the guys” and wonders why other women don’t like her. Despite being the goddess of wisdom and a champion of heroes, I challenge you to find a myth where she helps a woman. I’ll wait. 

Challenge accepted! 

So, Athene has no female friends? Clearly you have not read about her relationship with Semele:

Such is the tale told of the fair-throned maids of Kadmos, who suffered mightily, but heavy woe falls before greater good. With the immortals Semele of the flowing locks lives still–who died in the roar of thunder–and Pallas loves her ever, and Zeus no less, and dearly too the ivy-bearing god, her son. (Pindar, Olympian Ode 2.2)

So her new body bathed in the purifying fire ((lacuna)) Semele received the immortal life of the Olympians. Instead of Kadmos and the soil of earth, instead of Autonoe and Agave, she found Artemis by her side, she had converse with Athena, she received the heavens as her wedding-gift, sitting at one table with Zeus and Hermes and Ares and Kythereia. (Nonnos, Dionysiaka 8. 413 ff)

Or the love of the Sicilian Nymphs (not to mention Kore and Artemis) for Athene:

And both Athena and Artemis, the myth goes on to say, who had made the same choice of maidenhood as had Kore and were reared together with her, joined with her in gathering the flowers, and all of them together wove the robe for their father Zeus. And because of the time they had spent together and their intimacy they all loved this island above any other, and each one of them received for her portion a territory, Athena receiving hers in the region of Himera, where the Nymphs, to please Athena, caused the springs of warm water to gush forth on the occasion of the visit of Herakles to the island, and the natives consecrated a city to her and a plot of ground which to this day is called Athena’s. (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 5.3.4)

She’s never helped a woman out? How about Nyktimene:

Nyctimene, daughter of Epopeus, king of the Lesbians, is said to have been a most beautiful girl. Her father, Epopeus, smitten by passion, embraced her, and overcome by shame, she hid herself in the woods. Minerva out of pity changed her into an owl, so that she might avoid the light and find solace in night. (Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 204)

Or Metioche and Menippe:

In Boiotia Orion, son of Hyrieos, had as daughters Metioche and Menippe. After Artemis had taken him away from the sight of mankind, they were brought up by their mother. Athena taught them to weave the loom and Aphrodite gave them beauty. (Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 25)

Or Eurynome:

Eurynome the daughter of Nisos, Pandion’s son, to whom Pallas Athene taught all her art, both wit and wisdom too; for she was as wise as the gods. A marvellous scent rose from her silvern raiment as she moved, and beauty was wafted from her eyes. Her, then, Glaukos sought to win by Athena’s advising, and he drove oxen as a bride gift for her. (Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragment 7 from Berlin Papyri No 7497 & Oxyrhynchus Papyri 421)

Or the Pandareïdes:

The daughters of Pandareos were reared as orphans by Aphrodite and received gifts from other goddesses: from Hera wisdom and beauty of form, from Artemis high stature, from Athena schooling in the works that befit women. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 10.30.1)

Or the Danaïdes:

Danaus, son of Belus, had fifty daughters by as many wives, and his brother Aegyptos had the same number of sons. Aegyptos wished to kill Danaus and his daughters, so that he alone might hold the paternal kingdom; he asked his brother for wives for his sons. Danaus, realizing the plot, with Minerva’s aid flew from Africa to Argos. Then for the first time Minerva is said to have built a two-prowed ship in which Danaus could escape. (Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 168)

Or Koroneis:

‘My father was the famous king of Phocis, Coroneus, as the world knows well enough, and I was a princess, and I was wooed (you must not laugh) by many a wealthy man. My beauty doomed me. One day on the shore, pacing across the sand with long slow strides, as I still do, the Sea-God saw me there, and fell in love with me. In my flight I left the hard firm beach and soon, in the soft sand, was quite worn out–in vain! I cried for help to gods and men. No human heard my voice; a virgin’s anguish moved the Virgin’s heart and Minerva brought her aid. I raised my arms to heaven; along my arms a sable down of feathers spread. I strove to throw my cloak back from my shoulders: that was feathers too, deep-rooted in my skin. I tried to beat my hands on my bare breast and had no hands nor bare breast any more. And then I ran, and found the sand no longer clogged my feet; I skimmed the surface; in a trice I soared high up into the air; and I was given to Minerva, her companion without stain.’ (Ovid, Metamorphoses 2.569 ff )

Or the women of Elis:

The women of Elis, it is said, seeing that their land had been deprived of its vigorous manhood [following the war with Herakles], prayed to Athena that they might conceive at their first union with their husbands. Their prayer was answered, and they set up a sanctuary of Athena surnamed Meter (Mother). (Pausanias, Description of Greece 5.3.2)

Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera. 

And these are just figures of myth and legend – what of the countless score of unfamous women who knew the Goddess as their helper in craft and protector in times of war, who prayed to her in their homes, brought sacrifices to her temples, faithfully kept her civic festivals and participated in her sacred mysteries over the long centuries of her active cultus, and after? 

What, you don’t know anything about that? Just what you’ve gleaned from the comic books, video games and movies you “review” on your little blog?

Well here, let me help you:

That’s a good place to start. When you’re done with those, I have plenty more to recommend. Then, perhaps, we can have an intelligent and informed discussion on the subject. 

I’ll wait.  


19 comments

  1. a second rate writer and pop culture junkie. What do you expect? May Athena, Zeus, and all the Gods ever and always be hailed. May we steep ourselves in piety and devotion and may those who slander Them fade away, less than dust.

    Liked by 6 people

    • True, and I probably shouldn’t have bothered responding – but seeing Athene, a Goddess whom I deeply respect and reverence called a “douchebag” and besmirched in that way – I just couldn’t let it go without saying something.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I completely agree with you, Sannion, and I would have probably responded too. Such things should not go unchallenged. Also, I learned things about Athena from your post that I never knew :) and that was cool.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I wrote a defense of Zeus back when Agora came out, but it may well be time for another as I’ve seen several hit pieces directed at him of late. Funny how they never consider the Zeus of cultus (or the Orphics and Stoics, for that matter) in their ignorant and impious little diatribes.

          Liked by 4 people

          • The argument of my Agora piece was basically: even if we take the poets as literal truth, a God who likes to fuck and turn himself into strange things is still vastly preferable to a God who commands ceaseless religious warfare and actual and cultural genocide.

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          • Good–keep at it. Some of these radical feminists often have the mistaken idea or premise that some Neolithic Mother Goddess was simply replaced by the male Gods of “patriarchal” societies. It’s an old theory that has been disproven. There is certainly some truth to patriarchy and misogyny (as in the allegorical story of Pandora), but it was a socio-cultural rather than a mythological thing. Even taking the Homeric Zeus, before any Stoic or Orphic theology, it’s easy to see how female Goddesses challenged him and had equal power (both for benevolent and sinister purposes), all things considered.

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            • The thing that annoys me the most is their unnuanced interpretation. Just because a story circulated among the ancients doesn’t mean that they automatically saw it as laudable, let alone as something to emulate. One also needs to take these stories in their entirety – for instance, Zeus is directly descended from the Titans, and has that ferocious, primordial and destructive energy about him, especially in his youth. He secures his rule through the same violence that his predecessors did – and yet, over the course of his reign he becomes increasingly more wise, civilized and accommodating of others, thus eschewing the mistakes – and brevity – of his father’s and father’s father’s reigns. It’s a process, and like all processes tends to be messy, complicated and not always linear. As one of my personal heroines Anaïs Nin said:

              “We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”

              Liked by 4 people

              • That’s a fair theological explanation that any sensible person outside the tradition would understand. It’s not as if we need to justify anything that Zeus or other powerful Gods (and Goddesses) did: He is the king of the Hellenic Gods and is not “perfect” nor “all-good” in the monotheistic sense. Shouldn’t these radical feminists, who probably worship some form of “Mother Nature”, attributing all power to her, understand similarly how cruel she can be sometimes? But by avoiding the same negative terms about her that they use about Zeus, they expose their own bias and ignorance.

                Liked by 1 person

          • My assessment of fantasy/scifi Twitter is that people almost never read about material culture sources, and they heavily favor mythology. The way much of this gets transmitted into listicles like the one you linked has its roots in the way the gods are portrayed by cultural workers in the lit mags, commentaries, and longer-length fiction. I have an essay about this that I want to get published in one of said lit mags, but they all keep turning it down lol.

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            • I’m not surprised they keep turning it down, but that sounds like a really interesting and important essay – is there some other venue you could publish it in?

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  2. Without stopping to look it up, I’m pretty sure Athene appeared or sent a dream to Penelope as Odysseus was returning home–and if she didn’t directly inspire the weaving and ripping it out at night ploy that Penelope used to hold off the suitors, it was certainly her style.

    Rita ________________________________

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  3. The monograph on Athene in Gods & Heroes of the Ancient World was also, shall we say, not the best. The writer kept comparing Athene to Thatcher and talking about her as a traitor to women. It was the first time I realized that many modern women hate Athene. I’m honestly not surprised she appeared in this roundup.

    It’s very telling, IMHO, that some of Athene’s vengeance against mortals was done on behalf of working-class women whose clients tried not to pay them, and the ones whom she punishes in the mythology are very similar to women I have interacted with in modern times who think that those of us who are unmarried and childless beyond the age of 28 aren’t good at womaning.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hera and Aphrodite get called out a lot for victim blaming and being petty

    Excuse me while I LOL at the idea of some silly PC millennials “calling out” a god or goddess. Hello, they are not remotely a part of your species or human society, you have no input on how they behave.

    She’s pretty much the kind of woman who only has male friends because she’s “one of the guys” and wonders why other women don’t like her.

    What exactly is so bad about this? How does this make her petty? As a woman who has historically had far more male friends than female and generally doesn’t get along with other women, I take exception to the implication here. You know, a *real* feminist can be anything she damn well wants or naturally is, including “one of the guys.”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This post had me in my backyard praying and pouring wine out on my olive and oak trees.
    I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or rage.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for this wonderful information on Athene! She was my first love–I saw a statue of Her in the World Book Encyclopedia when I was in 2nd grade at an awful little Christian day school, and I was smitten with the idea of a Goddess of wisdom. It turned out that I belong to Brigid instead, but I will always have affection and respect for Athene. That image planted the seed that grew into a true yearning for the gods, and I am grateful to Her for the gift.

    I have not read the article in question yet, and I don’t think I will. I’ve had a stressful month and I don’t need that kind of irritation on top of it!

    Liked by 2 people


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