Athena in Greek Mythology Essay
ii Outline Thesis: Athena is regarded as a powerful female figure within Greek mythology; however there are obvious contradictions between the perception of Athena and the reality of how the goddess is represented within Greek Literature and these contradictions need to be examined given Greek Literatures foundational role in molding our perceptions of a heroine. I. Description how women were viewed in Ancient Greece II.
Common perception of Athena in Greek Mythology a) Goddess of War b) Powerful c) Equal to Zeus III. Role that Athena truly played as Zeus’s daughter a) Non threatening: enable the end of Kingship of Heaven b) Virgin daughter, purity IV. Examples supporting the repositioning of Athena as a determent to women within Greek culture a) Athena and Poseidon clash over Athens b) Athena’s mothering role in Odyssey c) Athena’s role within Aeschylus’s Eumenides V.
Athena’s representation within Greek Mythology has proven to be a false icon for the empowerment of women. iii Abstract Athena is regarded as a powerful female figure within Greek mythology; however there are obvious contradictions between the perception of Athena and the reality of how the goddess is represented within Greek Literature and these contradictions need to be examined given Greek Literatures foundational role in molding our perceptions of a heroine.
The undercurrent of conflicting messages between Athena’s iconic state as a powerful goddess and the general oppression of Greek woman supports the notion that there might be more to Athena then first meets the eye. Common myth and two great works of ancient Greek literature are used to support the thesis that Athena may have been a tool of oppression used against the women of ancient Greece. 1 The Importance of Athena in Greek Mythology The foremost powerful female figure in Greek Mythology was Athena, the grey eyed goddess.
She is often hailed as being an icon for female power within Greek literature. This misperception adds to the mystic that Greek civilization was socially evolved beyond it’s time. By taking a closer look at how Athena was immortalized within the Parthenon, the role that the Goddess played in Homer’s Odyssey , and her role in Aeschylus’s Eumenides it quickly becomes clear that we have been romanticizing Athena’s power. By pulling back the curtain on the obvious and revealing what resides just below the surface a new pictures comes into focus.
Athena is regarded as a powerful female figure within Greek mythology; however there are obvious contradictions between the perception of Athena and the reality of how the goddess is represented within Greek Literature, and these contradictions need to be examined given Greek Literatures foundational role in molding our perceptions of a heroine. To begin with it is important to come to a agreement regarding the daily life of an Athenian woman in Ancient Greece. Based upon the reading that I have done, there is little dispute that the women of that time had virtually no rights.
The Ancient Greek society in many ways mirrors today’s modern conservative cultures of the middles east, as it pertains to women’s rights. The Greek culture was highly patriarchal. Ancient women were considered property of their fathers at the time of their birth, and then transferred to become the property of their husbands directly after marriage. Young women were often forced to marry men twice their age, whom they had never met. Women, of course, had no right to vote, no right to own property and oddly enough were not allowed to watch the iconic Olympic games.
However, the most mind numbing realization for me was that women were not allowed to leave the house without permission. Women were not permitted to wonder in public unless they had an explicit reason approved by their husband. It is suspicious to me that given all of these widely accepted facts that we would so easily accept that Greek men were creating characters of power as great as Athena’s perceived power. If anything, I do give these Ancient Greek author’s credit for being sly.
They created a goddess whom Greek men could idealize as the ‘perfect’ woman, fearing her power, while at the same time defining an all powerful goddess who was submissive to men. 2 A general definition of Athena provides us with an example to contrast against the “average” Athenian woman. Harris and Platzner provide a general description of Athena’s power in Classical Mythology Images & Insights. A powerful description is levied by the authors, “Athena, a potent manifestation of her father’s creative intelligence” (82).
Athena is widely known as the goddess of wisdom and war. She is hailed as the protector of Athens and the equal to the omnipresent Zeus. However, and this is a big however, that is only upon first glance. As we dig deeper into Athena’s story a new spin begins to present itself. First, the legend of Athena’s remarkable birth, which in actualization is only a reflection of Zeus’s greatness. Athena is said to have sprung from Zeus’s head. The depiction of her birth is on the east pediment of the Parthenon, which ensures its role in the daily lives of Greek men.
Zeus in an effort to deny the prophecy that Metis would someday bore a child who would overthrow his power; he ate Metis. By ingesting Metis he also ingests her powers and Athena his unborn daughter. In concept Zeus then gives birth, the ONLY uniquely female power that existed in Ancient Greece. Athena, now being directly ‘sprung’ from the body of her father is forever faithful, as he is now part of her. In this one sweeping myth Zeus outwits Metis, overcomes his fate, gives birth and creates an equal virginal partner whom has an undying faithfulness to her father.
Even the focus on her virginal state, associates her with the traditional concept of ‘ownership’ by a woman’s father until she is married. Athena’s very birth contributes to increasing Zeus’s greatness and defining women as submissive. The second key piece of important information regarding why Athena was born a woman, is simple and calculated. The fact that Athena is a woman ends the tradition of The Kingdom of Heaven, and ensures Zeus’s dominate rule. If she were born a man, there would be threat of usurpation. Ss a woman; with no husband she serves no threat.
Again, a myth calculated to support the greatness of Zeus. 3 The west side of the Parthenon serves as another example of how a myth, at first glance, appearing to support the great wisdom of Athena but in the end this myth serves the purpose of Greek men, and serves to repress Greek women. The west pediment depicts the contest between Athena and Poseidon for the ‘sponsorship’ of Athens. Athena is said to have won the favor of the Greeks by offering an olive tree to the people of Athens. Poseidon offered the city a salt water spring which was rejected, thus offending Poseidon.
Multiple points jump from the life of this myth. First, the obvious, by choosing Athena over Poseidon the Greek men have a direct link to Zeus. She is chosen because she is well connected! Secondly, and more manipulatively, in order to appease Poseidon’s wrath Greek woman are continued to be punished and not given the right to vote. The first advancement of a woman into a powerful position generates a backlash that will ensure that no woman is ever given any REAL form of power within Greek Culture (Harris and Platzner 9).
The irony in this is so deep that it is almost comical. We have now established that the two key myths used to define Athena’s power are in actuality undermining her power. If anything, we begin to view her as Zeus’s public relations consultant. Now by looking at the way that Greek writers have translated Athena’s powers into actions, we can see that these nuances did not go unnoticed by Greece’s creative thinkers. A subtle example exists within Homer’s depiction of Athena in The Odyssey. Athena plays a motherly role to both Odysseus and Telemachus.
She never gets directly involved in any conflict, she only provides guidance and support for the men. She is fulfilling the nurturing traditional role of a mother. In the stories opening when Athena disguises herself as Mentor (a man) to gain the trust of Telemachus her purpose is only to guide him on his path to manhood. She encourages him to take a stand on the issue of his mothers’ disrespectful suitors and to go on a rite of passage journey to find his father. The book is riddled with examples of how Athena provides a soft touch is supporting the advancement of Odysseus’s cause.
She organizes the ship for Telemachus’s journey. She pleads with Zeus on their behalf in Book 5, she appears in a dream to Phaeacian urging her to be at the river to help Odysseus when we washes to shore. The list goes on and on, in Book 20 Athena helps Odysseus in his plot to overtake the suitors by ensuring the suitors antagonize the disguised Odysseus, which feeds his desire to win back Penelope. All of these actions mirror that of a mother, trying to encourage the best for and from her children.
This further supports the notion that women in Athens are supposed to be the household support, and support the success of their fathers, and then their husbands. 4 The most glaring example of misuse of Athena’s perceived power occurs in Aeschylus, Eumenides. A jury is organized to judge Orestes for killing his mother and his father’s murder, Aegisthus. It is agreed that if the jury cannot come to an agreement of Orestes’ guilt then Athena will make the final decision. Athena’s ultimate verdict reads as follows, “The final judgment rests with me, and I Announce that my vote shall be given to Orestes.
No mother gave me birth, and in all things Save marriage I commend with all my heart The masculine, my father’s child indeed. Therefore I cannot hold in higher esteem A woman killed because she killed her husband. If the votes are equal, Orestes wins. Let the appointed officers proceed To empty the urns and count the votes” (H & P 636). Athena says she is the servant of her father in this speech. Here is a son who has killed his own mother, and Athena explicitly states that she values the life of Orestes’ father greater than the life of his mother, Clytemnestra.
Even when the literature explicitly gives Athena power, she only uses it to further confirm the dominance of men within Greek society. I am positive that there are numerous other examples that support my notion of a dual sided Athena. Every example that I found of Athena within Greek literature allows for a theoretical positioning of Athena as a Greek tool of female oppression. Athena is the Ancient Greek’s version of the women in the girdle commercials in the 50’s, Cindy Brady in the 70’s, or even more accurately the 5 Britney Spears of today.
At first glance one thinks it’s nice to see positive imagines of women, but when you begin to look a little closer one can clearly see the shackles. 6 Working Bibliography Graham, Casey, “Ancient Athenian Women. ” http://www. angelfire. com/ca3/ancientchix/ Harris, Stephen L, and Platzner, Gloria. Classical Mythology Images and Insights. 5th Edition. McGraw-Hill. 2008. “Role of Women in Ancient Greece. ” http://www. factsmonk. com/role_of_women_in_ancient_greece Stebbins, Elinor. “Pallas Athena, Goddess of Wisdom. ” < http://www. arthistory. sbc. edu/imageswomen/papers/stebbinsathena/athena2. html>
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