Athena, Defender of Cities

“Athena bellowed her stunning war cry – standing now at the edge of the deep-dug trench outside the rampart, now at the thundering cliffs she loosed her vibrant cry.” — From The Iliad, translation by Robert Fagles.

After the death of Patrokles in The Iliad, Achilles, the greatest of the Greek warriors, donned his battle gear. Before leading his fearsome Myrmidon fighters back into the fray, he stood on the ramparts of the Greek encampment and roared his rage and grief and defiance. Homer tells us that the “Olympians merged with the mortal fighters.” It was Athena, born full-grown and armored, who stood within and behind the terrible Achilles. It was her war-cry issuing from his throat that struck terror into the hearts of the Trojans.

I was a squishy, inept young woman. I had no clue about how to set or maintain boundaries, and I was pathetically desperate to please. In my desire to be seen as strong and competent I would go along with all manner of terrible ideas lest I seem fearful. My fearfulness of not being liked caused me to agree vehemently with whomever I spoke to, resulting in being disliked for being a Yes-girl.

I wanted to be my own woman but had no guidance or inner wisdom as to how to make that happen. All that I was taught was to be nice, be sweet, be agreeable, be easy to get along with.

Now that I’m in upper middle age it’s exciting to find myself surrounded by young women of an entirely different stripe. The fierce bright laughing Amazons in my life are brilliant examples of the sort of young woman I longed to be. Their beauty is in their strength. They stand on the ramparts of the world and loose their world-rattling challenge at any who would deny them their power and their agency.

They are my Athena Archetype League.

There’s the artist with the arresting grace of a startled fawn and the direct gaze of a sharpshooter. She takes my garbled inarticulate ideas and turns them into images of power and terror and beauty. Athena, goddess of the loom and the arts, dwells within her.

There’s the equestrian and young mother who has a gentle touch and a steely strength. She knows intuitively what a horse is thinking and feeling. Communicating confidence, reassurance, and joy, she gets my wary young mare to dance with her. Athena, who created the bridle and rules over the guidance and control of wild power, resides in her.

There’s the girl who understands cats and dogs so deeply that she sometimes has to remind herself how to communicate with humans. She purrs when she’s warm and content, and hisses and yowls with feral ferocity when aggravated. Athena, whose sacred animals include the big hunting cats, stares out through her eyes.

There’s the focused young professional who sets her personal bar so high that she stresses herself out. She’s a walking Platonic ideal of brilliance, ambition, and drive, with a tender side that peeks around the edges. Bright-eyed Athena, goddess of wisdom, civilization, justice and good counsel, motivates her.

There’s a restless sea of others who surge in and out of my life, creating and provoking and stirring and challenging. They will not be put in the corner, boxed in, trapped under any sort of ceiling, or tolerate their wings being clipped.

This is their time.

This is Athena time.

They are young women who can pick up a loom or a spear and wield either with casual expertise. They have the bone-deep wisdom of their mothers and the fierceness of their fathers. They are not one bit afraid to mix up their sexuality, gender roles, and archetypal expectations into new and brilliant patterns.

In the myth of Medusa Athena turned a violated girl into a monster. Raped by Poseidon at the doors of Athena’s temple, Medusa was transformed by Athena into a Gorgon whose snaky locks and basilisk stare would turn anyone who looked directly at her into stone. She had to leave her family and society and dwell in the wilderness with two other Gorgons amidst the stone statues of those who had trespassed into their territory.

Or did the goddess give that girl the ferocity and power to protect herself utterly, to dwell with her savage sisters where no one would ever dare approach her uninvited again?

The myth of Arachne tells of the goddess turning a rival into a loathsome insect. When the talented young mortal weaver challenged Athena to a contest, the goddess was at first amused and then taken aback at the prowess of the girl. In fury, goes the traditional telling of the myth, Athena shrunk the impudent Arachne, giving her eight legs and spinnerets and condemning her to a life of toil, everyone fearing and despising her.

Or did Athena elevate a talent beyond that of mere mortals and give her a universe in which to spin her webs of endlessly unique and fantastic creativity?

The daughter of wise Metis and loud-roaring Zeus, the clear-eyed goddess who laughed at Odysseus’s intricately woven deceptions, the armed warrior maiden who thundered Achilles’ war cry over the bloody beaches of Troy is striding through the modern world wearing combat boots and a bronze breastplate, or strappy stiletto sandals and a glittering LBD. Depends on her mission, and her mood.

Join her or get the hell out of her way.

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