Mythology Monday: Athena

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“He could know something useful that could save time, possibly even save lives,” Athena argued. “Despite your low opinion of me, I take no joy in my creation’s sufferings. But it must be done. The demigods made their stance clear when they relocated the island. That wasn’t an exchange you witnessed, it was a coup. We have a window of instability when we can strike, but it is rapidly closing. The time for deliberation is at an end.”

Spending this much time with the Pantheon was skewing my perspective. I couldn’t afford to start thinking like them. “Hades would wait. My mother—” my voice caught, but I cleared my throat with a harsh cough and soldiered on “—would have waited.” Not forever. I wasn’t that naïve, but they’d give it some time. Just in case.

“Yes, they would wait.” Athena crossed her legs and plucked an imaginary piece of lint off her tan slacks. “Because they’re cowards. I had better hopes for you, but I see I was mistaken.”

“You want to talk cowardice?” I snorted. “What do you call forcing a teenage girl to fight your battles for you? Sorry, no. You lost the right to complain about me being inexperienced or naïve or whatever the hell else you think you’re insulting me with the second you voted to use me instead of stepping up. You will damn well take me as I am.”

Athena opened her mouth to argue, but I railroaded right over her.

“Oh, and you don’t get to claim sympathy for ‘your creations,’ either.” I put her phrase in air quotes. “Not when you enabled the monster tormenting them for centuries because it benefitted you. That is why we’re in this mess right now. You know that, don’t you? Because you didn’t care about what Zeus was doing until it threatened you. You joined in. I know all the stories, all the facts. The things you did to people just because you could. It is no wonder they want us all dead. My mother wasn’t perfect, but at least she didn’t participate. Hades either.”

“We didn’t all have the luxury of disappearing into our own realms! Some of us had to live with him.” Athena snapped to her feet, almost tripping over the floral rug in front of the couch. Her voice cracked with more emotion than I’d ever heard from her, but no power accompanied the outburst. The air didn’t charge or shift or smell of a stuffy old library or whatever her power signature would taste like.

For a moment, I admired her self-control, then I realized that self-control had nothing to do with it. Athena didn’t have to struggle to hold her powers back, because she barely had enough to get by. I kept letting myself forget how much stronger I was.

“We had to live with him,” Athena continued, her voice thick. “Day in and day out, whispering in our ears, telling us how the world owed us. Telling us how much the humans hated us, despised us, didn’t respect us enough. Driving us to action. People worshipped us, sacrificed to us, prayed to us, deferred to us. And we drank it in like wine. Zeus was a psychopath, but everyone who disagreed with him sat upon their high horses, judging us for living in the only world we’d ever known.

“You think you’d be any different? You think there’s nothing you’d look back upon and regret? Wait a few generations, infant. Wait until time and values have shifted. Wait until some child looks at you with judgment in their eyes and asks how you could have done that, thought that, allowed that.”

I lifted my chin, glaring at her. She knew nothing about me. Nothing about what I regretted. What I would or wouldn’t do.

Athena gave a bitter laugh at my expression. “Time marches on, even for us immortals. The world is ever-changing. One day, you’ll grow old enough to look back and wonder how you could ever have been such a monster for something you wouldn’t think twice about now. And you’ll have two choices. Cling to your outdated beliefs or change. But what you cannot do is go back and reverse the damage you’ve done. No matter how much you wish to.” Her gray eyes met mine. “Move on. I know you hate me and everything I stand for. I don’t blame you. But we are all in this mess together, and we are never going to get out of it unless you listen to someone other than yourself.”

~@~

Athena is possibly the best example in mythology of when religions absorbing each other does not work. She, and her Roman counterpart Minerva, are two entirely different goddesses with different strengths, weaknesses, and personalities.

Athena is best known as The Goddess of Wisdom, but that’s only because as her ancient myths were was absorbed and modernized into more patriarchal societies, they downplayed some of her biggest strengths.

Athena was the Virgin goddess of War. That’s why she carried a shield and spear. She was also the goddess of  defense; heroic endeavors’ protector of agriculture, science, and industry; good council; weaving, pottery, and other crafts; and women’s work. Three guesses why you only hear about the latter half of her equation.

Athena was born fighting. Zeus was terrified to have children after what he did to his parents, so when he learned from Athena’s mother, Metis (her mother is Metis in my mythology as well, but since this was early in Hera and Zeus’s relationship, Hera pretended that she was hers to preserve her reputation as the goddess of marriage. She got over that eventually), that she was on the way, he ate Athena before she could be born. But Athena was too strong willed so she burst out of Zeus’s cranium in the world’s worst migraine, and demanded her place among the Olympians.

An alternate version of the myth makes her the daughter of the Winged Giant Pallas, whom she immediately killed for attempting to rape her. She striped him of his skin and attached his wings to her feet for speed.

Less frequently, she’s a daughter of Poseidon or Triton or Tritonis who got tired of being their daughter and asked to be adopted by Zeus.

She played a pivotal role in the creation of man and in most heroes journeys, including The Odyssey , Jason and The Argonauts, and The Twelve Labors of Hercules, and the creation of Medusa. She and Poseidon fought bitterly over the naming of the city of Athens. She won naming rights by creating an olive tree and a horse. She fought admirably in the war of the giants, and fought off an attempted rape from Hephaestus. She blindest the prophet Teiresias for daring to look upon her while bathing, and she played huge part in The Trojan War by siding with the Greeks in battle, then attacking their ships with a storm when they failed to punish Ajax for violating her Trojan shrine (though in most retellings, her role is reduced to the Divine Beauty Contest).

She did all of that and so much more. She’s a super prominent figure in Greek Mythology, but I bet I can guess which myth you’ve heard her featured in most.

The weaving contest. The story goes that Arachne was a talented young weaver who dared to brag that her skills rivaled even Athena’s. Athena challenged her to a weaving contest, sometimes in disguise (Athena really enjoyed disguises), sometimes not. Depending on the story she won or lost but the outcome is the same. She was so offended at Arachne’s claim, that she cursed her by turning her into a spider so she and her descended could weave their webs for all eternity.

Because of this combination of myths and personalities, Athena comes across as a bit bi-polar. One moment, she’s the goddess of wisdom, perfectly rational and calm. The next she’s flying off the handle, cursing people into God-Killing-Monsters and arranging epic quests to clean up her mess.

Fortunately, this works for my universe where every god is their own foil. Persephone, goddess of spring, fears change. Ares, god of war, is a pacifist, Aphrodite, goddess of love, doesn’t understand relationships, and Athena, goddess of wisdom, is rash and impulsive.

In my universe, Athena is an adult goddess (not a teen like Persephone and Aphrodite), who works at The University of Georgia as a professor in psychology. She’s asexual and Machiavellian to the extreme. She and Persephone got off on the wrong foot and are constantly at odds with one another, but she and Aphrodite understand one another on a very deep level. She’s integral to the Pantheon, and as the series progresses, she and Persephone are forced to work together more and more.

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