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Sacred Virtues: Athena and the Defense of Civilization - Essay Example

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Sacred Virtues: Athena and the Defense of Civilization

It is perhaps symptomatic of the aggressive Mycenaean civilization that Athena, the worship of whom may have begun as a fertility rite, morphed into the Olympian warrior goddess. Yet hers is not the persona of the bloodthirsty and vengeful immortal. In this paper, I will characterize Athena as a goddess whose civilizing inclinations emphasized intellect and wisdom and, as such, established her as the archetypal Greek deity. II. Defender and preserver We see the representation of Athena as restorer of social order in The Odyssey, which culminates in the destruction of Penelope’s suitors. Athena plays a key role in this denouement, lending her wisdom to the proceedings and bringing equilibrium to Odysseus and his kingdom. Name 2 Through everything, her overriding concern is to ensure Odysseus’ restoration as king and to pacify the kingdom of Ithaca (Clarke, 81). To that end, she becomes profoundly involved in the overthrow of the suitors, aiding Odysseus with her cunning, changing his outward form to deceive his enemies and ordering events to his benefit. Balance and civilization are her concern; Athena is not only concerned with returning Odysseus to the throne but to ending the threat of vendetta from the suitors’ families and followers, to “replace anarchy with justice in Ithaca” (Ibid). ...
In this form, she stands aloof from the sensuous pursuits of her fellow Olympians, such as her father Zeus and Aphrodite, the very image of purity and civilized rectitude. Zeus personified male virility, recklessly engaging in sexual relations with mortal women, identifying him as the supremely powerful life force but flawed and given to temptation. Conversely, though she personally “inspired male heroes to deeds of valor and discovery,” Athena remains chaste, preferring to avoid subsuming her identity to some male partner through the act of sexual union (Kinsley, 139). This image of Athena stands in direct contrast to earlier iterations of her fertility goddess divinity, a change that likely reflects the evolution of early Greek culture and its affinity for learning, intelligence and civilization in a barbarous, warlike world. Name 3 III. Divine contrast – Athena and predilections of the Olympians Athena’s civilizing orientation sets her apart from her arrogant, controlling fellow Olympians. For a civilization that came to embody the virtues of culture and invention, Athena had a special meaning and purpose. Whereas the most powerful denizens of Olympus were elemental gods, Athena stood for something that the people of Athens and other city states could understand and appreciate, something other than fear of Olympian retribution. It is no accident that there are more sanctuaries devoted to the worship of Athena than to Poseidon in population centers. “Poseidon…was never closely associated with the high achievements of the polis-society, and dissociated from moral values, intellectual advance or technology” (Schumacher, in Marinato & Hagg, 65). As Schumacher explains, the contrast between the mighty sea god ...Show more


Name 1 Name Class Instructor Date Sacred Virtues: Athena and the Defense of Civilization I. Introduction Homer’s characterization of Athena is the prevailing view of the goddess that has come down to us from antiquity. In The Odyssey, Athena acts as guide, adviser and shield to Odysseus…
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