Athene, daughter of Zeus alone, represents the ability, within a ruling structure, to work in such a way as to allow the prevailing order to remain while still finding new interpretations and modes of behavior which allow for life to run seamlessly on. Since it is the natural tendency for an order to dry-up and to stop reflecting the values which established it, Athene represents the tendency, counter to Ares, not simply to erupt into violent conflict, but to find a way to integrate into the new order the reality of a changing world or consciousness. She therefore represents the pliancy in life, and the inability of an order without fluidity of thought and innovation to maintain itself (without conflict) without such liquid and creative solutions.
Interestingly, in our article before, we noted that Zeus, the principle of order, hates “two-faced” Ares because Ares represents the mortal nature of all rules and the duplex process of reigning and falling as a ruler. Athene, however, is also a War-Goddess, and Ares, perhaps rightly, claims that she too “stirs up strife”, but why is it that she does not earn the ire of Zeus, or how is it, then, that she represents something so radically different from the undiscerning conflict of Ares? Homer gives us a brief glimpse into Ares’ perception of his stronger sister:
“Father Zeus, are you not angry looking on these acts of violence? We who are gods forever have to endure the most horrible hurts, by each other’s hatred, as we try to give favor to mortals. It is your fault we fight, since you brought forth this maniac daughter accursed, whose mind is fixed forever on unjust action. For all the rest, as many as are gods on Olympos, are obedient to you, and we all have rendered ourselves submissive. Yet you say nothing and you do nothing to check this girl, letting her go free, since yourself you begot this child of perdition.” (Homer, Iliad Bk V 872-880, Lattimore tr.)
Ares, typically, is incapable of looking past the fact that both his actions (as a warrior on the battlefield) and Athene’s actions (also as a warrior) appear to be the same. He has no conception of the fact that intention, favor, side of the battle, and pre-existing relationship might play into one’s judgment of a situation. It is precisely because Athene, cunning as she is, does understand not only the situation on the ground, but the situation on Olympos, that she may act in such sly and undermining ways. But undermining is not quite right–for to undermine is to consciously work against the established order. No, whereas Ares’ conflictual nature might undermine an order, but unconsciously, Athene acts in a way which might conflict with the usual practice of obedience to an order without conflicting with the spirit or nature of the order in actuality. She is the weapon of divine order on earth; here Karl Kerenyi will support us with his work on the subject:
“She is the rescuer from every danger and peril, the advisor for every tight spot, and the highest wisdom. The people’s chiefs and leaders, as well as the whole people itself, are advised by her; she presides over all local, tribal, and national gatherings. She maintains life and health [my ital.]. She is the gracious, gentle nurse who takes the children of mankind to herself, who makes mothers fertile and children grow and develop, who increases the stock of the people through a strong younger generation. She preserves the divine order in nature [my ital.], protects the seedlings and fruits from damage, sows and tends the noble and nourishing olive trees…” (Karl Kerenyi, Athene: Virgin and Mother in Greek Religion, P. 18)
Just as her father, Zeus, establishes the royal and divine order of things, so does Athene, as the active agent of her father’s authority, ensure that his will be done on the earth. Whether she is pulling the hair of Achilleus (Iliad, Bk I 194-200), or imploring Zeus to release Odysseus from his ignoble captivity on Ogygia (Odyssey, Bk I 45-61), or crying out to end the madness of further conflict after the brutal slaughter of the suitors (Odyssey, Bk XXIV 529-534) she is always enacting the will of her Father and maintaining order, in some fashion or another, on the mortal plane. She is the matron of heroes, journeyers, and cunning liars (Ibid, 18). But her pride of rank makes her more demiurgic than any of her siblings of the generation of her father. Kerenyi here expands:
“But she is also righteous, strictly recompensing Providence: seated beside Zeus, she is the only one who knows where the lightning bolts lie hidden, has the full right and power to use them, and also employs the aegis, the terrible shield of her father Zeus. With him she has many traits and epithets in common, and she is frequently worshipped jointly with him, especially in the most ancient sites of her cult.” (Ibid, 18)
In the ancient Greek religion and mythology, Athene, therefore stands as second only to Zeus, and is something of the πνεῦμα τοῦ πατρὸς or πνεῦμα ἅγιον of Zeus. But the purpose of this series is hardly a simple exposition of mythology and Greek mythology; the purpose, however, is to recognize in the figures of the gods their archetypal figures and how they work in the world along cultural and personal lines. Might Kerenyi, then, help us one more time with this?
“Although it was the religion of a Goddess, it actually existed side by side with the victorious father religion, in no respect subordinate to it as was the naturalistic Hera religion, but in all practical respects equal to it, yet without overthrowing the general patriarchal order. Is this not really an accidental product of history? But then one must also ask whether history could have produced such a thing without there being some foundation for it in the structure of human beings [my ital.].” (Ibid, 19)
Kerenyi therefore contends, as we have all along, that Athene, as a figure of mythology and religion, reflects some inborn capacity or archetype within man, the archetype of Athene, which after the order of the kosmos (or whole) is set by Zeus, continues and maintains that order, in direct collision with the strife-filled and aggressive motions of her weaker brother, Ares. So, just as her brother Ares, and his archetype, are activated in absence of a ruling order and before a new “king” or dominant of consciousness is established culturally or personally, so does Athene, as archetype, reflect the action which maintains and expresses the will of the healthy and rich order of a healthy and vivid dominant of consciousness. Just as it is clear that the process of “individuation” does not end the life of a person or culture, so is it necessary that, on occasion, the will of the gods (or the intentions of the unconscious and reality) be expressed in order to cultivate, cull, and right an existing order without overturning it entirely.
Just as Zeus begat Athene from his head without help from Hera (though perhaps from Metis), so does the new established order, whether cultural or personal, birth from its new ordering principle the capacity to maintain, extend, and alter itself to fit the demands of the world. For an order without malleability and agency would quickly become stagnant, dull, and fail to meet the demands of the world and reality, and thus without this active agency, the process from Prometheus to Ares, would have to start again anew, forever repeating itself. If one pays any mind to the state of Nietzsche’s health at the end of his life and his philosophy of the eternal recurrence (so like the Hindu concept of reincarnation), one might see there prima facie evidence of this process gone wrong, or rather, this process completed, over and over, devoid of the recognition and realization of the archetype of Athene, the principle of action in accordance with the principles and laws of the world and reality as a whole, the one who connects the mundane with the spiritual, and maintains the coniunctio oppositorum.
“The greatest weight.— What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!” Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?… Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal? (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, s.341. tr. Walter Kaufmann)
Just as Nietzsche’s philosophical statement above showcases the failure to integrate the contents of the archetype of Athene, so below will Kerenyi indicate the proper relation of Athene to herself and of one, be it culture or person, to Athene.
Just as the archetype itself maintains internal tension and therefore vitality and health, so then does a person or culture who adequately integrates its contents. Athene, as archetype, therefore expresses the full and vivid life, lived in accordance with divine and mundane providence, and filled with energy, meaning, and purpose, culturally and individually. Though, of course, it is persons who comprise a culture.