Athena and Athens- some meditations…


“Hearken to me, You from whose face holy light flashes forth.

Give me, as I am roaming around the earth, a blessed harbor,

give my soul the holy light from Your sacred myths,

and wisdom and love. Breathe into my love

a power so great and of such a kind that it pulls me up back again

from the vaults of matter to the Olympus, into the abode of Your father.”

“You who guarded the unconquerable girdle of your virginity

by fleeing the desire of the amorous Hephaistos…

You who obtained the Acropolis on the high-crested hill,

a symbol, Queen, of the top of your great series;

You who loved the man-feeding land, mother of books,

strongly resisting the holy desire of your father’s brother,

and granted the city to have your name and noble mind-

there, under the top edge of the mountain, you made an olive tree

sprout up as a manifest sign of that battle for posterity too,

when an immense gulf stirred up from the sea

came upon the children of Cecrops, directed by Poseidon,

lashing all things with its loud-roaring streams.”

We have first a myth about the Divine love of Ephaistos toward Athena: this episode is well known, of how the God wished to join Her in love, because “Hephaistos is always and in a general way enamored of Athena, of which He imitates the intellective character through His material creations”, but She’s the one “who guarded the unconquerable girdle of your virginity”, thus not allowing the desire of Ephaistos to become true. Thus, from His semen, fallen on the Earth- Ge- was born Erichthonios, the ancient ruler of Athens, father of Pandion I and founder of the Panathenaic Festival in the honor of Athena. Proclus offers a very clear symbolic interpretation of this myth, In Tim. in the chapter which explains the word “Ges”: Hephaistos, when He produces the Athenians, imitates by means of sensible products Athena’s noeric character. He also produces the material vehicles for the souls that belongs to the series of Athena, when they descend into the bodily existence (“and the ‘Athenaic’ souls receive mostly from Hephaistos, by virtue of His creating activity, their ‘vehicles’ and they come to dwell in bodies came forth from the creative principles of Hephaistos and of the Earth, these creative principles having also acquired the characteristic signs (synthemata) of Athena”). This clearly refers also to the process of causation, as Athena, being the Demiurgic, undefiled Thought, plays a very important role in the causation of the universe: She and the Demiurge arrange all things without defiling Themselves; Ephaistos in His turn, on a lower level (because Ephaistos is among the Demiurgic Gods of the lower level of the Hyper-Encosmic Gods- lower in respect to the noeric Home of the Father in which Athena dwells) creates material objects after the noeric forms furnished by Athena. It is because She keeps Herself away from defilement by matter and does not mix with, that She is called Parthenos, the Virgin Goddess. This is the double explanation of why Proclus recalls here this myth, as to point out again the cosmogonic role of the Goddess and, at the same time, to enlighten Her special relation with Athens and the Athenians (through the ancestral king Erichthonios), as they really are from the series of Athena and She grants them Her helping hand and Her gentle ear.

“You who obtained the Acropolis on the high-crested hill, a symbol, Queen, symbolon akrotates megales seo, potnia, seirês– of the highness of your ‘series’ emanations”. Plato explains that Athena received Athens as her allotted property, and Proclus discusses at length about the meaning of such a statement. The God/Goddess to whom a place belongs exercises a special providence and care toward that region: this Divine care takes the form of illumination. The illumination depends on the aptitude of the region receiving it, and this aptitude is determined by the course of the celestial bodies, according to the cosmic divisions or lots, and by the universal Nature that places divine symbols (synthemata theia) in each illuminated region, by means of which they partake in the nature of the God/Goddess: ” In each one of the illuminated places, Universal Nature puts certain divine symbols by which such places spontaneously partake in the Gods”.

The same principle of symbolism that underlies theurgical practice comes into action in the case of entire regions, too. The symbol of Athena presiding over Athens is the Acropolis, and it is a very fit place as a symbol for this Goddess: Athena occupies a very high rank in the process of causation and has the highest position in Her own series of causation, just as the Acropolis is the highest place of Athens. Athena is the Queen/Lady (potnia) of Her series and of Athens as well; often She is called Potnia and Despoina, which has, generally speaking, the same meaning of Mistress or Queen. Proclus often says “despoina emòn“, “our Lady”.

After the symbol, the myth: how Athena won Attica as Her lot “strongly resisting the holy desire of Your father’s brother”, i.e. the contest for the possession of Attica between the Goddess and Poseidon, beautifully represented on the Parthenon’s west pediment. Proclus gives an allegorical explanation to this myth, saying that it stands for the struggle between the intelligible realm and that of generation: “Even now the victory of Athena is celebrated by the Athenians; they have a festival because Poseidon has been surpassed by Athena, because the order of generation has been overpowered by the noeric one and because the inhabitants of that region, after the necessary things had been taken care of, rushed toward the intellectual life. For Poseidon is considered to be the Leader of generation, while Athena is the Guardian of the noeric life.” The flood that ensued after Her victory clearly indicates that the realm of genesis – especially in the allegorical form of roaring gulfs and flooding – is always a threat, even after we turned towards the philosophical life.

So, She “granted the city to have” Her “name and noble mind”. As explained above, Athena illuminates the areas that have been allotted to Her, so a city that consecrates itself to a Deity, by means of theurgy or legislation or both, will show a life that is in character with its patron Deity and will better perform great and awesome works than cities that do not take the nature of their patron Deity into consideration, or those who neglect the Deity at all.

The Athenians consecrated the city to Athena, so Athens must resemble Athena, ‘lover of war and wisdom’, producing friends of wisdom and war, excellent philosophers and strong warriors, noble-minded people.


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