The Homeric Hymns are a collection of 33 poems that were sung to the Greek Gods. Some, like the one to Apollo, are relatively long; however, poem 28, which is dedicated to Athena, is relatively short.
However, let’s consider Athena’s name: Here’s what Plato had to say:
That is a graver matter, and there, my friend, the modern interpreters of Homer may, I think, assist in explaining the view of the ancients. For most of these in their explanations of the poet, assert that he meant by Athena “mind” [νοῦς, noũs] and “intelligence” [διάνοια, diánoia], and the maker of names appears to have had a singular notion about her; and indeed calls her by a still higher title, “divine intelligence” [θεοῦ νόησις, theoũ nóēsis], as though he would say: This is she who has the mind of God [ἁ θεονόα, a theonóa). Perhaps, however, the name Theonoe may mean “she who knows divine things” [τὰ θεῖα νοοῦσα, ta theia noousa] better than others.
Nor shall we be far wrong in supposing that the author of it wished to identify this Goddess with moral intelligence [εν έθει νόεσιν, en éthei nóesin], and therefore gave her the name Etheonoe; which, however, either he or his successors have altered into what they thought a nicer form, and called her Athena.— Plato, Cratylus 407b
I begin to sing of Pallas Athena, the glorious goddess, bright-eyed, inventive, unbending of heart, pure virgin, saviour of cities, courageous, Tritogeneia.
So here we have our first intrigue:
Why is she called Pallas Athena?
There are several accounts; the word itself means ‘maiden’; however the most common tale involves Athena killing her childhood friend in sport; she adopted her dead friend’s name in grief.
What then is Tritogeneia?
Here sources differ: it could refer to lake Tritonis in Libya, or the stream Triton near Alalcomenae in Boeotia; sites where she was worshiped and nourished after springing forth from her father’s head…
It could refer to Zeus’ cranium…
Yes, Athena came out of Zeus’ head, no mama to speak of, as described next:
Wise Zeus himself bare her from his awful head, arrayed in warlike arms of flashing gold, and awe seized all the gods as they gazed.
So not only did Athena pop out of her daddy’s cranium, but she was dressed to kill.
But Athena sprang quickly from the immortal head and stood before Zeus who holds the aegis, shaking a sharp spear: great Olympus began to reel horribly at the might of the bright-eyed goddess, and earth round about cried fearfully, and the sea was moved and tossed with dark waves, while foam burst forth suddenly:
Yes, Athena knows how to make an entrance.
the bright Son of Hyperion stopped his swift-footed horses a long while, until the maiden Pallas Athena had stripped the heavenly armour from her immortal shoulders. And wise Zeus was glad.
So who is Hyperion, and who is his bright Son?
Of Hyperion we are told that he was the first to understand, by diligent attention and observation, the movement of both the sun and the moon and the other stars, and the seasons as well, in that they are caused by these bodies, and to make these facts known to others; and that for this reason he was called the father of these bodies, since he had begotten, so to speak, the speculation about them and their nature.
- — Diodorus Siculus (5.67.1)
What else do we know about Hyperion? Precious little.
He did revolt along with his brother Cronus/Saturn against their Father, Uranus.
This made him one of the twelve Titans, who were in turn overthrown by Zeus and his siblings, eventually resulting in the twelve Olympians.
So who then is his Son?
He would be the Sun.
Better known as Helios (which is where we get the word helium).
Yes, Athena was so so awe-inspiring that the Sun himself stood still in his tracks.
And so hail to you, daughter of Zeus who holds the aegis! Now I will remember you and another song as well.
Now, the aegis is tricky; Homer makes a point to tells us that both Zeus and Athena carried them, but whether it was goatskin shield, or breastplate, or even a shield with a Gorgon’s head is left up to the reader’s imagination.
Finally, there’s the last line, which may be the most important:
Now I will remember you and another song as well.
Athena was the patrons of poets and bards. It was customary to start with an invocation to Pallas Athena, which is why I don’t know why it’s located towards the end of the collection. Regardless, Athena, as muse, certainly deserves the praise.
And that’s take-away:
Remember your muse(s), and another song as well.
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