Olena Semenyaka: Why Glaukopis, Why Athena?

As this blog is titled after one of Athena’s epithets, “Glaukopis,” it would be natural to dedicate the opening English speaking post to the ways of this ancient Greek goddess. Athena has always been my favorite goddess, and her archetypal ascendancy over other goddesses’ trace in the structure of my self is easy to notice.To some extent, she’s the very opposite of Christ: she was motherless, he was fatherless; she is a patron of military strategy, he is a preacher of love and forgiveness; she is the goddess of wisdom and philosophy; he’s the god of blessed ignorance and holy fools; she embodies political (earthly) knowledge and handicrafts, he teaches Kingdom of Heaven and faith; the birds that symbolize them are a hunting owl and a “self-sacrificial” pelican, respectively. Their epithets are as strikingly different. However, this is not the opposition I would like to dwell on in this post.

For those who wonder, Glaukopis is not an easily translated term which is sometimes fallaciously rendered as simply “grey-eyed,” or “sea-grey eyed,” as the English translation of Homeric Hymn to Athena suggests. The latter, though, is remotely related to its original meaning in reference to Athena: “with a sparkling look” (from γλαυκός, glaukós) or “with flashing eyes.” Cold metal glitter of her helmet, spear and shield, in a sense, is also “grey.”Klimt_-_Pallas_Athene

Another possible meaning of glaukopis is “owl-eyed” (from γλαῦξ, glaûx, “owl”). Based on this, Athena is also sometimes attributed grey or blue eyes, although ancient Greeks paid more attention to dynamic descriptions conveying certain qualities of the character rather than purely anthropometric ones like an eye color. After all, at least in other parts of the world, owls may also be yellow-, red-, black- and so on eyed.

Hesiod’s and Homer’s epic verses eloquently connect this special feature of Athena’s eyes with her military genius and dislocation in the epicenter of the battlefield, which she observes as a strategist or simply enjoys as the goddess of war. Moreover, in ancient Greek epos and fragments of the pre-Socratics, both Athena’s owl and moon were portrayed as glaukopis, too, which confirms the “dynamic” interpretation of this epithet (flashing, darting, sparkling or at least glowing) [1].

Besides, I noticed that Athena-related titles (like Athenaeum) and symbols are very popular not only among philosophers. There is a Polish periodical since 2003 of the same title (Glaukopis), albeit dealing with historical topics. But Athena is especially venerated in various right-wing metapolitical circles. Again, on the one hand, it’s quite natural as she’s a patron of knowledge and war whose owl, in Hegel’s words, “spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” On the other hand, the contrast between feminine virtues which she represents and the ideal of womanhood promoted by the Right is striking. One could even go as far as to claim that she’s the goddess of all feminists, especially childfree.

Popular comic representation of Athena in “The Mundane Goddess,” the creative commercial starring Uma Thurman (Aphrodite: “Are you still jealous because Paris picked me as the most beautiful?” Athena: “Of course not. I have my wisdom and my successful career.”)

Johann Bachofen (who significantly influenced Julius Evola) explained the secret of Athena very simply: as “motherless paternity in the place of fatherless maternity” [2]. In spite of apparent similarity, she was not merely shieldmaiden Brynhildr unwilling to yield her virginity and thus lose superhuman strength. She was not even merely the goddess but rather the personification of the classical antiquity.

In Bachofen’s opinion, despite being a female deity, Athena embodied nothing but the total victory of the Apollonian principle over the Demetrian one throughout the historic development of the Hellenic world, the principle of spiritual heredity over blood kinship. In cultural terms, it was the triumph of the individual heroic endeavor on the path towards divinization over the free maternal gift granted by the Demetrian mystery. This is Orestes delivered from Erinyes, chthonic female goddesses of vengeance.

Although Athena was foretold to be more powerful than her father Zeus, according to this interpretation, she is the patriarchal values incarnate. An inferior status of women in Athens, the iconic polis of Greek antiquity patronized by Athena, in this context, also shows that she may hardly be seen as the “feminist” deity. In this respect, Athena as a guardian of a solar hero was not far off Christianity as the religion of individuation in terms of Carl Gustav Jung.

However, is Athena really the inversed “masculine” deity? In the classic study “Athena, Virgin and Mother in Greek Religion” (1952) [3], Karl Kerenyi, as for me, fairly undermines the applicability of the vulgar distinction between chastity (which, in turn, did not coincide in the ancient Greek world with virginity) and fertility to this goddess. Pallas Athena, as a maiden, at the same time had a cultic epithet “mother,” the one which another divine virgin, Artemis, has never enjoyed, although in Asia Minor she coincided with Great Mother. Furthermore, Athena was a wedding goddess, too, but, unlike Hera, she, above all, secured the conception of a child (“father-right”), which, according to Kerenyi, was observed independently of Bachofen.

Chapter of Kerenyi’s work, “Athena – Mother, Mistress and Protectress,” reveals further astonishing details of the Athena cult in ancient Greece involving an opposite sex, marriage and maternity. First, Athena is intrinsically connected with the Serpent as a male symbol. Back in times of Athena and Poseidon’s contest for Athens, the city was governed by chthonic, half-serpent king Cecrops who supposedly established monogamy which allowed to determine the father of the child and name the latter after him. His tomb was located in Athena’s sanctuary in Acropolis, which, in turn, was titled the Erechtheum after serpent king Erechtheus who worshipped Athena. Her serpentine partner is said to have erected the first ever statue to Athena and have been the first to call Zeus “the highest,” that is, to found his patriarchal cult.

It is also well-known that Athena transformed Medusa’s hair into venomous snakes and, overall, once a beautiful maiden, who, as a priestess of Athena living in celibacy, was seduced by Poseidon in her temple, into Gorgon, a monster that turned to stone everyone who took a look at her. After Perseus killed Medusa, Athena has been bearing her image on a shield as one of her attributes. There are many other instances proving Athena’s connection with snakes and archaic stories of a wedding ceremony in a serpentine form.

The Gorgoneion by Filippo Negroli (1514), a Renaissance armorer from Milan, and “The Severed Head of Medusa” (2017) by modern British artist Damien Hirst (exposition “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” in Venice presuming that these objects had been laying at the bottom of the ocean for two millennia before being discovered)
Second, Athena, in fact, had mother – Metis, who was swallowed by Zeus before his mighty armor-clad daughter emerged victoriously out of his head.

Thirdly, it is said that Athena also had a husband (either her male counterpart Hephaestus, god of fire, volcanoes, blacksmiths, metalworking, carpenters, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, etc. who officially was Aphrodite’s spouse and, according to other anecdotes, unsuccessfully tried to win Athena, or the aforementioned serpent king) and even a child, Erichthonius. These stories comparable to Biblical apocrypha are encrypted in the Athena mysteries, myths and rites.

First and foremost, these were lesser and greater Panathenaea (marked annually and every fourth year in June as the traditional birthday of Athena and “her” polis), Plynteria (celebrated only in Athens in late summer and centered around cleansing the statue of Athena Polias, Protectress of Athens), Apaturia (the political festival of patronized by Athena male unions, Phratriae, which united almost all Ionian poleis and was celebrated in October-November), Chalkeia (the festival of Athena and Hephaestus which was celebrated on the last day of October or November, at which were held solemn preparations for weaving a sacred peplos, the one to be offered later at Panathenaea to this patroness of weaving, with the help of two young girls-arrephoroi) and Arrephoria itself (the ceremony in honor of Athena carried out by arrephoroi in June-July).

There is another legend explaining the “Apaturia” epithet, the deceiving one, which was given both to Athena and Aphrodite on different occasions. Athena led maiden Aithra astray, having ordered her to come to the island of Sphairia to pour a libation for a charioteer of Pelops where she was suddenly taken by Poseidon. After her forced marriage, Aithra renamed the island to Hiera, the holy, founded there a temple of Athena and launched the tradition of brides’ offering their girdles to Athena before the wedding. This rite was also performed in Athens. However, the fact that Athena, as mentioned above, secured the conception of a child proves that this hieratic legend was quite late, when the transition to patriarchal values has been already completed.

The Arrephoria mystery is the most prolific in terms of detecting hidden archaic (matriarchal) motives in the Athena cult, as well as her connection with Aphrodite and partially Artemis. 4 girls from aristocratic families between the age of 7 and 11 were chosen to perform the ritual function as part of the Athena mysteries that were centered around the Acropolis. Only two of them, though, were involved in Arrephoria. It is believed that they correspond with 3 daughters of the serpentine king Cecrops: Aglaurus, Herse and Pandrosus.

This mystery, according to Pausanius, took place “the night before the festival,” meaning the Skira during which occurred a massive bull sacrifice and in which participated the priestess of Pallas, the priest of Poseidon and the priest of Helius. Nevertheless, it also happened on the eve of the Panathenaea, and the main intrigue of the Arrephoria consisted in carrying concealed sacred objects (Arreta) by two girls-arrephoroi out of the Acropolis into the sanctuary of “Aphrodite in the Garden.” In the cavern filled with monuments to Aphrodite and Eros, as well as his phallic representations, girls took another unknown burden and carried it back to the shrine of Athena Pallas. After the ceremony, other girls who did not have possible “aphroditic” experience in the grotto, were chosen to serve Athena as arrephoroi. Their preparation to the mature life through the participation in the mystery is the most self-evident and plain testimony of Athena’s patronage of marriage and family life.

Yet there is more about Athena’s own sexual nature, and it is encrypted in the strict prohibition to disclose those sacred objects which were kept sealed in a basket. The prohibition, as always, is reinforced by lethal outcomes for those disobedient who dared to look into the basket. According to the legend, these were two of three Cecrops’ daughters, Aglaurus and Herse. Aglaurus, who violated the ban and opened the basket, either was killed, or jumped out of the fortress in self-sacrifice or out of insanity when she saw the cultic content. This place on the north slope of the Acropolis, which is bypassed by the ceremony proceeding eastward to Aphrodite’s shrine, is called Aglaureum. Herse shared sister’s fate. Pandrosus, who remained faithful to the goddess, also had her precinct, Pandroseum, which is located on the Acropolis against the Erechtheum where the sacred olive tree grows. The sacred objects are believed to be, at least on the way down from the fortress, the divine child and, probably on the way back, genitalia and serpents made of dough, which explains their concealment in the light of the virgin goddess’ mystery.

There is a legend claiming that Athena only adopted “her” child Erichthonius from Mother Earth in order to feed him secretly. Hovewer, another archaic story attributes to Athena a child conceived by Hephaestus. His name was Apollo, and it is well known that this god was also associated with a serpent. The guess about Athena’s own child carried from the fortress via the underground route in a basket, does explain why there was such a strict prohibition to open it. Besides, the festival of Chalkeia, which was the joint festival of Athena and Hephaestus, was celebrated like a wedding, and it comes as no surprise that nine months later, during Panathenaea, was born, and concealed, Athena’s divine child.

All of these facts and guesses are highlighted in the aforementioned work by Kerenyi. Even a short glimpse into the darker side of ancient Greek myths confirms Friedrich Nietzsche’s intuition about the tragic Dionysian truth hidden beneath the veil of solar Apollonian forms that represent antiquity…

Additional example of this darker side may be found in another legend referring to the tragic figure of Aglaurus, this time her “Persephonian fate.” It was disclosed at the Plynteria mystery when the statue of Athena Pallas was cleansed. This day was called ominous, and the original form of maiden’s name, Agraulus, meant “the one spending night in the field,” probably at the Aglaureum where she sacrificed herself.

Furthermore, the one who took Aglaurus maidenhood, according to the hieratic stories, was her father Cecrops. This precedent opens a chain of further incestuous relations marking the transition from the matriarchal “mother-son” pattern, when the child’s father remained unknown, to the patriarchal “father-daughter” pattern which bound maiden first to her father as the representation of the patriarchal order, and then to her husband.

This transition, according to Kerenyi, was quite sharp and aggressive, just like the odds of ancient Greek women’ status and Roman patriarchate were a reaction to the extremities of the matriarchal values and archaic religion in general.

Mythologically and ritually, the triumph of the patriarchal pattern corresponded with the story of Zeus devouring Athena’s mother Metis and vanishing of the moon. However, the rise of the lunar crescent after the period of moon’s disappearance and presumable conjunction of sun and moon, which reflects the motif of Athena’s emergence out of Zeus’ head, gives an impression of certain revenge of the female principle.

Archaic consciousness does not know the notion of total chastity and ascetism, that is why Kerenyi argues that Athena’s refusal, and inability, to succumb to the power of man (also absent in the case of Artemis) is rooted in an archaic incestuous connection with the father (Zeus) who stands out in complete superiority over other male connections.

Anyway, the invocation of the young moon after the “wedding” of sun and moon, as well as devouring the moon by the sun, on the 28-29th day of the lunar cycle, which is the key to Athena mysteries, only partially confirms Kerenyi’s conclusion about the crucial role of Athena in Greek religion as an embodiment of patriarchal and heroic values. More presicely, this fair interpretation does not exhaust the richness of her archetype, in relation to the female in particular.

To cut a long story short, these mysteries reveal not only Athena’s archaic maternal facets but also an idea of the female restoration after pregnancy and birth giving, which is directly associated with sexuality, apparent Aphrodite’s domain. The latter, in turn, is symbolized by the moon’s disappearance and reappearance, the motif which we also encounter in Hera’s cult. It included ritual aspects of three sanctuaries correlating with three periods in woman’s life (and represented by Hera’s surnames: Child or Maiden; Complete or Fullgrown; Widow, when Hera was separated from Zeus), three seasons (spring; summer and autumn as a single harvest season; winter, which resembles Demeter’s mourning for the abducted daughter) and, finally, moon phases (growing moon; full moon; waning moon). The focal point of Panathenaea was a new moon’s invocation. The crescent rising in the evening sky after respective ritual actions that lasted for several days is the symbol of Artemis which was regarded as the moon goddess along with Selene.

In other words, after a short investigation, Athena’s cult turns out to be quite syncretic and encompasses elements of Aphrodite, Athena, Artemis, Hera, Demeter and Persephone. Parallels with Astarte, one of the most ancient female deities of war, sexuality and fertility who wore the crescent, seem to be rather sound. It is widely believed that in Astarte’s case we deal with the same deity known under different names across Middle East and beyond (Europe, North Africa) since the Bronze Age: Anat (Ugaritic); Tanit (Punic, Phoenician), later Dea Caelestis, Juno Caelestis or simply Caelestis (Carthaginian); Ashtoreth and Asherah (Canaanite, Hebrew); Ishtar (Akkadian, or Assyro-Babylonian); Inanna (Sumerian); Isis and Hator (Egyptian); Sauska (Hurrian-Hittite); Uni-Astre and Turan (Etruscan), and more. She is also often paralleled with Kali, Hindu goddess of death, destruction, sexuality, time and doomsday (but also motherly love) who embodies female energy Shakti and, as an incarnation of Parvati, is normally depicted dancing on Lord Shiva.

Indeed, Violence and Passion go hand in hand, so it comes as no surprise that Aphrodite also preserved the relation to war and violence. At the same time, in her case it was extrapolated. I mean Aphrodite’s love affair with Ares (Mars), which produced Harmony, in contrast to a barren union with her husband Hephaestus. Ares, with his constant satellites Deimos and Phobos, Terror and Dread, rather stands for an impulsive, instinctive and elemental dimension of war, whereas Athena is the goddess of intelligent, strategic action, and her superiority over Ares is demonstrated by an unequivocal outcome of all their conflicts and competing encounters. In some respect, Athena is to Ares, what Aphrodite Urania is to Aphrodite Pandemos. However, the pathos of war is not unfamiliar to her, too.

Alexandre Charles Guillemot, Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan (1827)

Classic Athena Pallas, in turn, was “cleansed” of another aspect of the ancient syncretic cult of Great Goddess, sexuality. Yet Athena’s mysteries retained this interplay in the form of the prohibition to disclose a sexual nature of the war goddess (“to open the basket”). The militant patroness of Athens and the guard of Zeus’ ascendancy, over Poseidon in particular, as if kept locked within herself and thus perpetuated archaic maternal religiosity of the Cretan-Mycenaean period.

In terms of Julius Evola’s metaphysics of sex, one could argue that Athena in the veil of hieratic rumors about her marriage and child represents the third option between the types of Lover and Mother, Aphrodite and Demeter. On the one hand, armor which she wears unmistakably points to Athena’s “bracketed” Aphroditic sexuality (“active,” self-sufficient, driven by the pleasure principle). On the other hand, Athena’s mysteries do not deny the Demetrian maternal fertility (“passive” sexuality for the sake of procreation); they only focus both on the transition from the maidenhood to marriage and on the restoration after pregnancy, thus symbolizing the Athenian eternal maidenhood or the Persephonian eternal youth (springtime) within each woman who may become a “crescent” again. Anyway, it is not an overinterpretation to assume that an underlying motif of these mysteries is the power of female energy, Shakti, which brings the meaning of scholarly “wisdom,” normally associated with Minerva, to a whole new level.


Renaissance of my interest to Athena was triggered by these novelties in the МЕТЕЛЬ ТИГЛЯ jewelry workshop

Photographs of Athena rings uploaded in the report on my trip to Olbia, the ancient Greek colony in the south of Ukraine, attracted readers’ attention as well. Indeed, this is another noteworthy testimony of the genre-surpassing ability displayed by the master of Scandinavian reconstruction Ivan Mikheev: a ring depicting ancient Greek goddess of war and wisdom, Athena, at full length is the next step towards antiquity in the repertoire of his jewelry workshop МЕТЕЛЬ ТИГЛЯ (literally, “the crucible’s blizzard,” which is a poetic metaphor standing for silver).

The first Athena ring in its only copy now is mine and shows a profile view of the goddess wearing a helmet. Both versions reproduce ancient Greek originals and are addressed to modern females who feel affinity with Athena’s archetype.

Interestingly enough, it was my birthday present, but not the only one inspired by Athena. I was also lucky to receive an owl-shaped metal box for jewelry (right for the ring, as it turns out). The bird sits on a pile of books which symbolize knowledge and wisdom and are covered with an unfolded scroll mentioning it as Athena’s attribute. There is nothing surprising given that I am historian of philosophy, and I treat my specialty with passion. After the given research, a spontaneous childhood choice of the favourite Greek goddess, different from that made by Paris, seems to be deeper than I’ve expected…

Athena-inspired birthday gifts presented tome by different people

References and further reading

1. Read about the meaning of glaukopis in more detail here:

1) http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/brill-s-new-pauly/glaukopis-e425030

2) http://gazeinancientgreekreligion.blogspot.nl/2011/12/what-is-glaukopis.html

2. Myth, Religion, and Mother Right: Selected Writings of J.J. Bachofen. Princeton University Press, 1992 – 309 p.

3. Karl Kerenyi. Athena, Virgin and Mother in Greek religion.

Original - https://helenasemenyaka.wordpress.com/2017/10/08/why-glaukopis-why-athena/

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"... Надо обновить идею эллинизма, так как мы пользуемся ложными общими данными... Я наконец понял, что говорил Шопенгауэр об университетской философии. В этой среде неприемлема никакая радикальная истина, в ней не может зародиться никакая революционная мысль. Мы сбросим с себя это иго... Мы образуем тогда новую греческую академию... Мы будем там учителями друг друга... Будем работать и услаждать друг другу жизнь и только таким образом мы сможем создать общество... Разве мы не в силах создать новую форму Академии?.. Надо окутать музыку духом Средиземного моря, а также и наши вкусы, наши желания..."
(Фридрих Ницше; цит. за: Галеви Д. "Жизнь Фридриха Ницше", Рига, 1991, с.57-58, 65, 71-72, 228).