|To scale replica of Athena Parthenos. Nashville, Tennessee|
Imagine for a moment that you live in 430 B.C. Athens. You walk into the dark interior of the Parthenon, located on the Acropolis plateau. Stepping out of the bright sunlight, you leave day behind and enter the interior, known as the cella. Darkness enfolds you; in the distance you see a flicker in the gloom. A little further into the sanctuary and suddenly you are aware of a figure made of gold and ivory; towering above you, over 40 feet in the air, is the legendary statue of Athena made by the master sculptor, Phideas. This is the crown jewel of a temple dedicated in her name, and it is an honor to be standing where you are at this moment in time.
Until recently, I never felt much of a connection with Athena. She seemed boring to me, the goddess of war and wisdom. I was always more attracted to goddesses with deep pathology, like Persephone, of course. All that death and life transition stuff, that was where it was at. And Artemis. Always shunning men, or being chased by them, but preferring her animal consorts and fellow female companions as they ran through the forest, following their own lights.
But I have new found respect for Athena. After all, I've been traveling to the city named after her for 30 years. It's about time I got to know her better.
According to Robert Graves, the great mythologist, Athena was born fully formed from the forehead of her father, the king of all gods, Zeus. This event is the subject of the sculptural group on the western pediment of the Parthenon (the pediment refers to the triangular portion of sculptural decoration located at both ends of the temple), the remains of which are located now in the newly-opened Acropolis Museum in Athens. Makes you wonder about what kind of psychological motivation provoked the ancient Greeks to come up with this story......it has a bit of an Adam and Eve ring to it -- that the male came first and out of him the female could then emerge.
Athena takes center stage on both the eastern and western pedimental sculpture of the Parthenon, named for her aspect as Athena Parthenos - the Virgin goddess. The eastern pedimental frieze, above, depicts the battle that took place between Athena and Poseidon, the god of the sea, over who would control the city. Naturally, Athena was victorious. Kudos to the Greeks for having the presence of mind to elect a goddess to reign supreme throughout one of history's most enlightened periods of development in art, architecture, literature and science.
Athena is mostly widely known from literature as Gray Eyed Athena in The Odyssey by Homer, the goddess who watches over the hero Odysseus, giving him advice and assistance in his journey back to his beloved Ithaka after the Trojan War. The owl is closely associated with her, and represents wisdom.
And what of the gold and ivory statue mentioned above? It disappeared in the years following the Golden Age of Athens, when the temple was ransacked, its precious materials disassembled then bartered or sold off, and ultimately destroyed in a later fire that engulfed the sanctuary. All we have left are records that tell us of its glory. To add insult to injury, the temple itself survived intact until 1687. At this point in time, the Ottoman Turks had occupied the temple, using it as an arsenal for gunpowder. In an attempt to take the citadel, the Venetian army lobbed a direct hit on the structure, blowing out the southern flank of the building and destroying its integrity forever.
|Room with a view. Athens, November, 2010.|
She lives on in the voice of the Great Horned owl I've been hearing on my walks through the frozen winter nights of our small neighborhood. I feel blessed by her presence, making her haunting call from the heights of a frozen chestnut branch. She is here with us, as long as we honor her, as long as we don't forget her importance and place in our lives. She is telling us to remember our essence, remember our wisdom, to remember whooo we are.....
On a recent journey to Greece, I purchased two necklaces, one for myself, and one for my daughter. My older sister has an Athena necklace - a replica of an ancient coin - and for many years I had always admired it. She was with me on this trip, and purchased one for her daughter as well, and together we bought another for our younger sister. On all these necklaces, Athena's portrait is stamped on the obverse, her sacred owl on the reverse. Before I took them home to give to my daughter and sister as Christmas presents, I wore the necklaces to the Parthenon to gain the full blessing of the goddess.
|Alone with Athena's temple|
|At the edge of the Acropolis plateau, overlooking the Herod Atticus theatre|
May the wisdom of Athena live on with you all.
Photos from Stoa and Google images