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Dr. Martin

World Literature I

1 May 2010 Notice how this student paraphrases the sources instead of directly quoting them (also notice the integration of the paraphrases)

Athena: Mother Hen

Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, craft, and battle, had a special bond with one particular Greek Hero, Odysseus. It is spoken in The Odyssey “For never yet have I seen the Gods so manifestly showing love, as Pallas Athena did to him, standing manifest by his side (III.222-3). Athena was known for aiding men along in their ambitious journeys, however, with Odysseus it seems there is a little something more (Tripp). Some scholars say it could be because Athena sees many of the same qualities of herself in Odysseus. Athena even aids Odysseus’ son and wife in his absence, reassuring them he was indeed still alive and would someday return to Ithaca to be reunited with them. Although, Athena pays special attention to Odysseus and at times his family, even aiding them above others, she still expects Odysseus, as a hero, to triumph over each battle himself. Athena will guide Odysseus along his way and she will even give him the tools he needs but Athena never simply guarantees Odysseus a victory.

Athena, the daughter of Métis and Zeus, was described in Homer’s The Odyssey, by one of Penelope’s suitors by "her skill in fine handicraft, her excellent brain, and that genius she has for getting her way. In that respect, I grant, she has no equal, not even in story" (II.17-9). Athena is also a master of disguises, and she played a large part in Odysseus’s story as a whole (Kershaw). From the battle at Troy and throughout Odysseus’s epic journey back to Ithaca, Athena aids him whenever it seems he will finally fall. Athena will all but win the battle for Odysseus, in that she expects him to prevail by himself in the end.

Athena first sides with Odysseus after the infamous, ‘Judgement of Paris’. After Paris chose Helen and thus Aphrodite instead of Athena at the battle of Troy, Athena switches to side with the Greeks, primarily Odysseus (Tripp). Athena admires Odysseus’s wit and cunning, qualities she herself is also known for. Athena quickly forms a sort of friendship or bond with Odysseus, which in turn, is arguably what keeps her near and always willing to aid Odysseus along on his voyage.

When Athena spoke to Odysseus’s wife Penelope, it was almost always through her dreams. This was in large part, to ease Penelope’s mind with Athena’s knowledge of Odysseus’s state, and part to encourage Penelope to avoid her suitors and continue to wait for Odysseus. Athena is preventing Odysseus from returning from his twenty-year wearisome journey, to a kingdom taken over by another man; a man who would seem to have stepped into his shoes. Athena, like with Odysseus, does not directly prevent Penelope from surrendering to any of her suitors, but rather gives her the knowledge and encouragement to choose wisely and not to succumb.

Just as Athena guides Penelope’s courage, she also inserts herself into Odysseus’s son’s, Telemachus, life. Rather than simply telling Telemachus his father is still alive and he should ward off the suitors until Odysseus’s return, Athena leads him on his own expedition to find himself. Athena even tells Odysseus Telemachus’s journey is for him to gain “courage” and “strength” (Belmont). Athena rarely addresses Telemachus as the goddess herself, but rather always in a disguise. Athena is again doing so in order for Telemachus to realize his own strength and abilities and conquer the mission himself rather than by the will of the gods alone. Athena guides Telemachus in his odyssey just as she guides Odysseus through his. Athena believes she can test Telemachus, just as she does his father Odysseus, which is shown when she speaks to Telemachus and says, “if something of your father's goodly spirit has been instilled into you, such a man was he to fulfill both deed and word. So then shall this journey of yours be neither vain nor unfulfilled” (II.270-5). Athena is explaining to Telemachus not to be nervous for his journey, for he may not attain exactly what he believes he should, but he is his father Odysseus’s son and some of Odysseus’s wit must have been passed down. Athena will not tell Telemachus exactly what he should discover on this journey, however, she believes Telemachus can and will discover his own potential in himself. By doing so, perhaps it will be more rewarding than if it was simply the will of the gods. Thus, the heroes of Greek times aided by Athena will transform and become more superior heroes than if she simply manufactures the more desirable outcome for them.

Athena and Odysseus’s connection begins in Troy. As stated before, after Paris does not choose Athena she decides to side and form and alliance with the Greeks, Odysseus in particular. Athena disguises Odysseus as and old beggar in order for him to infiltrate the city walls of Troy (Kershaw). Also, many scholars believe it is with the help of Athena that Odysseus comes up with the epic Trojan horse. Whether she gives him this idea or not is irrelevant. If indeed Athena does minister to this idea she does not simply present Odysseus with a large wooden horse. It is up to Odysseus himself to rally his men, find the means necessary to build such an unthinkable device, and execute this brilliant plan to storm the gates of Troy. Athena realizes Odysseus is not like most warriors but is much wittier than the typical Greek hero. She expects great things to come from him and thus, Athena begins to invest much of her time to Odysseus and his journeys over the next twenty years.

After Athena convinces the other gods it is time to relieve Odysseus and help him finally leave Calypso’s island Poseidon, god of the sea, earthquakes, and horses, becomes furious for the gods decision without his consent. Poseidon then creates a terrible storm, which nearly drowns the hero Odysseus. However, as always, Athena is there to drape a cloak of protection over Odysseus. She does not just deliver him to safety, “But when, as he swam, he came to the mouth of a fair-flowing river, where seemed to him the best place, since it was smooth of stones, and besides there was shelter from the wind, he knew the river as he flowed forth, and prayed to him in his heart” (IV.440-4). Athena leads Odysseus here not by force but rather by putting thoughts in his head. Although it is through her will that Odysseus finds the safety of this river, it is not supplied to him. Athena still drives Odysseus to fight for his own life. It is possible that as a goddess she believes a hero is not worth aiding if he does have immeasurable abilities himself. If Athena, or any god or goddess, simply furnishes a hero with every ability needed for success, are they, the immortal, not the hero themselves then? Athena believes Odysseus must swim and fight the torturous seas of Poseidon himself, with merely her guidance in order to be the real hero she sees in him.

Furthermore, Athena does not always put the thoughts and courage into Odysseus’ mind, but at times into those he encounters, such as when Odysseus comes upon the daughter of Alcinous and is to ask her to give him clothes and take him to her city so he may ask for help to return to his home in Ithaca from her father.: “Alone the daughter of Alcinous kept her place, for in her heart Athena put courage, and took fear from her limbs” (VI.139-140). In this situation had Athena not calmed the princess’s mind Odysseus’s naked body would certainly have caused her to flee. In consequence, when Odysseus meets Alcinous, the fact that his daughter has trusted such a man leads him to believe he must be honorable and trustworthy. Rather than Athena providing Odysseus clothes, she intervenes in another way. In doing so, she not only solves Odysseus’s need for the obvious clothing, but the princess’s trust immediately opens the door to an introduction and relationship to precisely the man Odysseus needs in order to continue his wearisome voyage home. Athena’s guidance for Odysseus is more than just immediate contentment, for she is able to see what will come down the road for Odysseus if she marginally assists him rather than granting him instantaneous success.

In addition to aiding Odysseus through inserting thoughts into his mind and others’ minds, Athena comes to him in a vast array of masquerades. Athena is known as a master of disguises. In Book VII, Odysseus approaches Athena, disguised as a maiden in the palace of Alcinous, and she leads him to the house of the King. Another example is when Odysseus finally arrives back in his home, Ithaca, he does not know where he is because the goddess Athena has concealed it with a grey mist from him temporarily. She has done this so “that she might render him unknown, and tell him all things, so that his wife might not know him, nor his townsfolk, nor his friends, until the suitors had paid the full price of all their transgressions” (XIII.191-3). Athena decides to meet him in the disguise of a shepherd, pretending not to know who he is, and then reveals not her identity, but that he is actually in Ithaca. It is here that Athena’s wit is matched by that of Odysseus’s. Odysseus decides to take on a false identity until Athena reveals hers. Odysseus and Athena continue their disguises, though not to each other, throughout his final stretch of reclaiming his kingdom. Again Athena has simply tested Odysseus’s own abilities before aiding him completely.

In the final steps of Odysseus reclaiming his kingdom, Athena is by his side and uses the same various forms of help. Athena aids Odysseus through idea, physical strength, and disguises. Odysseus continues his disguise as an unnamed Cretan, just as Athena advised him to after his lie to her, and he used it to test the people of his kingdom as well as his family. Odysseus is analyzing their loyalty to him and to his kingdom, just as he tested Athena’s shepherd disguise, before he graciously allows them to continue their lives along side him, rightfully back as king of Ithaca. Athena very well could have banished the suitors from his kingdom herself. After all, she above anyone, knows just how treacherous Odysseus’ epic journey back to Ithaca has been. However, Athena sees that Odysseus has made it this far and he is capable of completing these tasks in repossessing his kingdom. It can also be assumed, that had Athena challenged Odysseus throughout his entire journey only to hand him his kingdom so easily at the end, Odysseus would surely have questioned why she put him through so much turmoil when she could have saved him the last ten years of his journey. Athena knows that Odysseus as a man, and as a hero must conquer every mission himself or he will not feel as if he has succeeded in anything. If she simply hands him something, rather than making him work for it, it is not as sweet a victory. Athena knows a hero must feel success on his own in order to truly fulfill his life.

“Two of a kind, we are, contrivers both. Of all men alive you are the best in plots and story telling. My own fame is for wisdom among the gods- deceptions, too” (XIII.350-4). Athena reveals here to Odysseus that she sees them as one in the same. He is the mortal match to her goddess. This is perhaps why Athena sticks with Odysseus over a twenty-year period supporting him in assorted ways on his harsh journey home. Although Athena knows in order for Odysseus to fulfill his life he must conquer things on his own, she is always there to lend a hand; or a simply just a thought.




Works Cited

Belmont, David E. “Athena and Telemachus.” The Classical Journal 1969 .December: 109-116. Web. 24. April 2010.

Homer. The Odyssey. The Norton Anthology; World Masterpieces. Ed. Maynard Mack. W.W. Norton and Company Ltd: New York, 1995. 96-336. Print.

Kershaw, Stephan P. The Greek Myths; Gods, Monsters, Heroes, and the Origins of Storytelling. New York: Avalon, 2007. Print.



Tripp, Edward. The Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology; An Alphabetical Guide. New York: Penguin Books Ltd., 1970. Print.

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