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.
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.
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)
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)
‘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:
- Oliver R Brookes, Athena: The creation of an iconography, and its representation on Attic Red-figure vases in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E
- Joanna Davis, Interpreting Athena: Ancient Times and Now
- Susan Deacy, Athena and Ares: War, violence and warlike deities
- Susan Deacy, Athena Past and Present
- Annette Goldmacher, Athena in The Mediterranean: A Comparative Analysis of the Evidence for Cult Worship of Athena in Athens and the South Italian City-States of Magna Graecia
- James Mark Shields, A Sacrifice to Athena: Oikos and Polis in Sophoclean Drama
- Alexandra Claudia Villing, The Iconography of Athena in Attic Vase-painting from 440–370 BC
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.