1902 Encyclopedia > Athena

Greek goddess

ATHENA (_____), in Greek Mythology, goddess who, from being originally a personification of the clear, bright upper region of the sky, had, as early as the time of the epic poets, changed, or advanced, so as to embody under a divine form a conception of the clear in-sight of the human mind in its various functions. This upper air or ether seemed to be a distinct element in the universe. From it came the light of morning before sun-rise and of evening after sunset, reminding us of the light which, in the Mosaic account of the Creation, existed before the sun and moon were placed in the sky. In the first stage of her character, in which, like the other deities of Olympus, she was directly identified with an element of nature and supposed to act as it acted, Athena bore the name of Pallas, and was thought of more in connection with the storms than with the serenity or light of the heavens. The obvious counterpart of a storm was a raging battle, and, accordingly, she became a goddess of war, armed with spear and helmet, and with the aegis, or storm-shield, of her father, resistless among men, hurling to the ground the giant Enceladus, and even superior in might to Ares Mmself, the god of war. The storm sweeps sorest round high citadels, where also the storms of war rage fiercest; and on such places was her favourite abode. But a storm is followed by serenity brighter than before, more enjoyable, and more exciting to activity of every kind; and then the goddess lays aside her armour to encourage and foster skill and industry. Her title is then Ergane. To her was ascribed the invention of spinning and weaving ; of taming horses, bridling and yoking them to the war-chariot; of the flute, and in some way of the healing art. This is the second stage of her character, which the myth, agreeably to its principle, explains in a different fashion, when it says that she sprang into existence from the brain of the all-wise ruler of the world, Zeus, and that he had before swallowed his wife, Metis (intelligence). She must therefore have been in a measure a complement of him, created for the purpose of carrying out among men what was in his mind, but what yet he could not himself, as the supreme and impartial ruler, execute. As his substitute, she lent hei aid to Heracles in all his hardships and adventures; to Theseus under similar circumstances; to the Greeks in their war against Troy; to Perseus in slaying the Gorgon Medusa, whose head she afterwards bore upon her cegit, from which she obtained the name of Gorgophone; and to the Argonauts on their expedition to Colchis. She main-tained always her character of a virgin, and, to express this, bore, at Athens in particular, the name of Parthenos. Her birth took place in Olympus, in presence of the other deities, Hephaestus aiding it, as it is coarsely said, by splitting open with his hatchet the skull of Zeus, a subject often represented on the ancient painted vases. This was also the subject of the sculptures in the front pediment of her greatest temple, the Parthenon at Athens. From the fact that in the other pediment the sculptures represented her contest with Poseidon for divine supremacy over Attica, it might perhaps seem that the first act of her existence was to claim this sovereignty. Foremost in her character always is her protection of high citadels, like that of Athens. Yet it was not for this, but for her causing an olive to grow on the bare rock of the Acropolis, that she was chosen rather than Poseidon, whose claim was that he had raised on the same rock a spring of brackish water. The olives of Attica were a source of great wealth, and the light supplied by their oil may have seemed not unlike the light of the ether. As the defender of citadels her title was Polias.

There is, however, a different account of her origin hing-ing on her name of Tritogenea or Tritonis, and describing her as a daughter of Poseidon and the Triton lake in Libya. But this is obviously a late invention, founded, apparently, on traditions handed down in Libya from the early Minyae colonists, in whose original seat at Orchomenos and Alal-comenae in Bceotia was a very early form of the worship of Pallas as a goddess in some way connected with lakes and streams. In this district, in Arcadia, and in Crete also, were found rivers bearing the name of Triton, and associated in very early traditions with the birth of Athena.

At one time, therefore, her relation to or control of the watery element must have formed a considerable part of her wor- ship. To this also is traced her ancient name of *Oyya or "Oy/ca at Thebes. How she came by the name of Glaucopis, i.e., " owl-eyed," by which she is so frequently addressed in the Iliad, is not satisfactorily explained, least of all by the recent theory, which, interpreting it as " owl-he&ded," maintains that the goddess had originally the head of an owl, and appeals to certain rude clay vases and figures found on the supposed site of Troy, with faces intended to be human, but yet not much unlike the face of an owL As the goddess of victory she was called Nike, and it was to her in this capacity that the edifice known as the Temple of the Wingless Victory was erected on the Acropolis of Athens. Hippia was her title as the tamer of horses. Erichthonius, at Athens, was the first mortal whom she taught to yoke horses. For Bellerophon, on the Acropolis of Corinth, she bridled the winged horse Pegasus. Besides Corinth, the chief seats of her worship outside of Attica were Argos, Sicyon, Trcezen (in Arcadia, where, with the title of Aka, warm, fostering, she had a celebrated temple), Laconia, Elis, and in Asia Minor, at Hium, where it survived after her image, the Palladion, which had fallen from heaven, had been removed to Athens or Argos, both of which claimed to have received it. At Athens an ancient image of her existed in the Erechtheum, and was regarded with peculiar sanctity, even in the times when men were familiar with the splendid statue of her by Phidias in the Parthenon. Except at Athens, little is known of the cere- monies or festivals which attended her worship. There we have—(1.) The ceremony of the Three Sacred Ploughs, by which the signal for seed-time was given, and, apparently, dating from a period when agriculture was one of the chief occupations of her worshippers; (2.) The Procharisteria, at the end of winter, at which all the magistrates oflertd sacrifice; (3.) The Skirophoria, with a procession from the Acropolis to the village of Skiron, in the height of summer, the priests who were to offer sacrifice to Athena walking under the shade of parasols held over them; (4.) The Oschophoria, at the vintage season, with races among boys, and a procession, with songs in praise of Dionysus and Ariadne; (5.) The Ghalkeia, with rites referring to her as a goddess presiding jointly with Hephaestus over industrial arts; (6.) The PlynUria and Callyn- teria, at which the ancient image in the Erechtheum was cleaned, with a procession in which bunches of fi_ were carried; (7.) The Arrhephoria, at which four girls, between seven and eleven years of age, selected from noble families, brought during the night certain sacred objects from the temple of Aphrodite by an underground passage to the Acropolis; (8.) The Panathenaea, at which the new robes for the image of the goddess were, before being placed on it, carried through the city, spread like a sail on a mast. The last festival was attended by athletic games, open to all who traced their nationality to Athens. As to artistic representations of Athena, we have first the rude figure which seems to be a copy of the Palladion ; secondly, the still rude, but otherwise more interesting, figures of her, as, e.g., when accompanying heroes, on the early painted vases; and thirdly, the type of her as produced by Phidias, from which little variation appears to have been made. (A. S. M.)

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries