A question from Elijah, the ten-year-old who recently read Zeus: King of the Gods: Who is your favourite Olympian?
I’m not good at favourites. Sometimes the idea of Hermes, god of thieves, tickles my fancy. Or Poseidon the Thunderer. Overall, however, no matter how hot Hephaistos can get, no matter how elegant Aphrodite can be, no matter how mad Ares gets, or how mighty Zeus reveals himself to be, I like Athena.
Well, if you’ve read Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, you’ll have seen an interesting portrayal of Athena as the goddess of wisdom: the absent-minded professor of the Olympian Gods. She can see perfectly everything that’s going on around her, but through the diminishing of her power (as all the Olympians were experiencing in that novel), she was incapable of expressing her ineffable thoughts to the other Olympians in a comprehensible way.
Kind of like me sometimes. When I’m finally a Classics/Theology prof, I’ll be that sort of ruffled, absent-minded type. So I identify with that reading of Athena’s character.
But Athena, traditionally, is truly wise. She is the goddess of wisdom and planning. She favours the likes of wily/crafty/sly Odysseus in The Odyssey. She takes on multiple forms to achieve her ends. She can see the path necessary to achieve her desire outcome. Wisdom the practical application of clear knowledge. Grey-eyed Athena, owl on her shoulder, is wise.
Since Athena is wise, her other attribute, goddess of war, means that she is the goddess of clever wars you can win. She is the goddess of good strategy and smart moves on the battlefield. This in contrast to her brother Ares who is the wild, crazy, ill-advised, destructive side of war. Ares is kind of like the god of violence. Athena will have what you need to win the day.
Why else Athena? She’s the goddess of the Parthenon, and it’s pretty sweet. Also the goddess of Athens, and ancient Athens rocked pretty hard. She led the Olympians to victory in the Gigantomachy. That’s gotta count for something. And she was self-generated out of Zeus’ head. SWEET! So many reasons to like Athena.