To our Queen Athena- some meditations…

“Hearken to me, child of aegis-bearing Zeus, sprung forth

from the paternal source and from the heights above your emanations

male-spirited, shield-bearing, of great strength, from a mighty sire,

Pallas, Tritogeneia, who brandishes the lance and wears the golden helmet,

hearken: accept this hymn, o Queen, with a kind spirit,

do not just leave my words at the mercy of the winds”

Proclus never uses words haphazardly. Quite the contrary: the phrase at the beginning of a prayer to Athena “klythi meu, aigiochoio Diòs tekos“, “hearken to me, o child of aegis-bearing Zeus” is clearly a Homeric formula. We find this same invocation, for example, in the prayer of Odysseus to the Goddess in the Iliad (X, 278) and in the invocation by his beloved wife Penelope in Odissey (IV, 762). In all the ancient authors, beginning with Homer, this description always and only refers to Athena, and reflects the special relationship between Zeus and His daughter. Although the Father and Demiurge is well known for having abundant offspring, in Homer and elsewhere Athena appears as Zeus’ favorite child, since He is not merely Her father – She appeared directly from Him. In fact, the two opening verses refer to the Neoplatonic allegorical interpretation of this myth in terms of causation and series: Zeus the Demiurge contains all the causes in Himself in a unified way. These causes emanate from Him separately from each other, and the first phase of emanation as separate entities is the group of the Leading Gods to whom Athena belongs. These Leading Gods stand each at the head of Their series, while the Demiurge Himself is the pegè, the royal Source of Them all. We can easily grasp this idea about Zeus by reading this quote from the commentary to the Timaeus: “In fact, as Timaeus (29 A 6) says, the Demiurge is ‘the most excellent of all Causes”‘… because “the One who is the most excellent among the Demiurges” represents the highest eminence in the demiurgical series. That is to say that, in all the series, the highest one has the role of Source, not of Leader, as the Principle in the rank of Leaders is always inferior in respect to Their own Source”.

Athena has “sprung forth” (ekprothorousa) from Zeus. We find this same verb in the commentary to the Parmenides, 800, 23, in a quotation from the Chaldean Oracles: “the Intellect of the Father (Nous or Kronos as the top of the paternal triad) shoots forth the Forms. They all spring forth from this one source (pegès dè mias apo pasai exethoron)”. This verb is much stronger than the more neutral proienai (“to emanate”), as also indicated by the fact that in the Oracle the Intellect of the Father “shoots forth”  the Forms that spring from Him. So, in the case of Lady Athena, the idea of a very powerful causation is very appropriate as She was born as a highly energetic, fierce warrior from Her Father’s head.

In the third verse She is invoked first as arsenothyme, “man-spirited”. This adjective is attested only once more, in Nonnus, in connection with the Maenads who in their fury do not behave like women at all. In the Orphic Hymn dedicated to Her, She is said to be “both of a male and female nature” (arsen mèn kai thelys ephys) and in the same verse She is identified with Metis. Now, we should remember that Metis is one of the many names of the androgynous God Phanes: that explains why the Goddess has both these characteristics. Another Goddess strictly related to Athena, Artemis, is addressed in the Orphic Hymns with a name very similar to this – arsenomorphe, of “male appearance”. The Moon, too, is invoked as thelýs te kai arsen, “woman and man” (at the same time). This concept is connected to the idea of Time (as the Sun and Moon) and we can say that Athena holds the key to the Riddle of the Ages because She was there at the beginning of the cycle of time. Another secret connection is quoted by Proclus as mentioned by Porphyry: “considering that Athena is in the Moon, he (Porphyry) says that that is the place from which the souls endued with both irascibility and sweetness descend, and because of this, those who are initiated into the Mysteries of Eleusis become friends of wisdom and friends of war.”

About Her weapons: Proclus (Commentary to the Timaeus, 156, 31 ff) offers, with the approval of divinely inspired Iamblichus, the interpretation on the fact that Athena is usually depicted with a shield and a spear. According to Iamblichus, the shield represents the powers by means of which the Divine remains unaffected (apathés) and pure (achranton): “in fact She conquers all in battle, and according to the Theologians She dwells in an unshakable (aklitos) and purest way in the Father”. Lances or spears are the powers by which the Divine spreads through the cosmos and acts upon it without being touched by the material pollution.

The name Pallás is of unclear etymology, and the ancient authors offer a variety of explanations. For example, in the Cratylus Plato says that this name comes from pallein, pallesthai, that he explains as “to raise oneself or something else from the ground or in the hands”, connecting it with the armed dance and to Athena as the leader of the Kouretes. Another etymology is linked to the Orphic doctrines: when Dionysos was torn to pieces by the Titans, only the heart was saved by this Goddess and therefore She took this name of Pallás (ek toŷ pallein tèn kardian). According to Proclus, the names Pallás and Athena refer to two different powers (dynameis) of the same Deity. As a protective (phrouretikós) power, She prevents matter from mingling with the immaterial universals, while as a perfecting (telesiourgós) power, She fills everything with noeric light and turns everything toward its cause. This is why Kritias, quoting the words of the Egyptian priest, celebrates Her in the Timaeus with the words: “lover of war and wisdom”. In Orphic mythology, Proclus notes that the protective power Pallás is armed with “fiery weapons”; Proclus further explains that “Athena is a lover of war, in so far as She maintains the oppositions in the universe and She is an inflexible and relentless Deity. Therefore She keeps Dionysos undefiled, fights against the Giants by siding with Her father Zeus, moves the aegis of Her own accord and without orders from Zeus, and throws Her lance, ‘by means of which She overcomes the rows of heroes, against whom the daughter of a mighty sire bears a grudge’.” (This last quote is found, in an identical form, in Iliad 8, 390 and Odissey 1, 100). Most elements of Pallás as the warrior recur in the first part of this hymn of Proclus, as the myth of the first Dionysos, the battle against the Giants, Her weapons and the fact that She is a daughter of a mighty father (obrimopatre as in the Homeric poems): that is why Proclus invokes Her here as Pallás, and nowhere else in the hymn he calls Her as Athena, just as in the Orphic Hymns where She is always invoked as Pallás.

Tritogeneia is a traditional epithet for Athena (Homer, Hesiod, Orphic Hymns etc.) Scholars have argued that this name may mean “first born” (the meaning of trito having changed over time from “third” into a synonym with “oldest, first”), because Athena is the first and only child of Zeus from Metis, so She is Zeus’ first born child. However, I prefer the explanation given by Proclus himself in his commentary to the Timaeus: “Now, because it is necessary that Athena progresses until the second and the third divine classes, She reveals Herself to Kore by the unpolluted heptade (series of seven emanations). From Herself She gives birth to all the virtues and to all the elevating powers, and from intelligence and uncontaminated life She radiates upon the beings of the second rank: that is why Kore is called Tritogeneia and from the specific personality of Athena, She partly received this same purity (tò korón) and this absence of contamination which characterizes Her”.

One thought on “To our Queen Athena- some meditations…

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