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From Greek and Roman Mythology & Heroic Legend, by Professor H. Steuding, Translated from the German and Edited by Lionel D. Barnett. The Temple Primers, London: J. M. Dent; 1901; pp. 26-35.


Greek Religion from the Beginning of the Homeric Age :

III.  Athena, Hephaistos, Prometheus, Hestia.   § 53.  Athena (θήνη,θηναία, Ἀθνηᾶ), was from earliest ages worshipped almost everywhere in Greece and the colonies; her cults cannot be traced emerging one from another. More than any other deity she appears from the beginning as a fully developed moral personality; she is goddess of the battle and council, as well as of all skill in art (Ἀ. ἐργᾴνη), but especially of weaving and navigation, and hence is protectress of cities in which these arts were tended (Ἀ. πολιᾴς, πολιοῦχος). In the Aiolic and Ionic stocks she is often connected with Poseidon, among the Dorians with Zeus. Most of all she was worshipped in the city bearing her name, Athens, on whose citadel Poseidon-Erechtheus stood by her side as an almost equally respected god of the land. Here was shown the olive-tree which in the contest for lordship she had made to shoot forth as her gift from the earth by a blow of her spear, near to the salt spring raised up by the trident of her rival. Above the latter arose later the Ionic building of the Erechtheion; and immediately by its side, over against her olive-tree, stood the old temple of Athena Polias with her wood-carven statue, which legend declared to have fallen from heaven.

§ 54.  This statue, like all old representations of the goddess, was a Palladion, that is, an upright wooden figure with the spear brandished for assault (Ἀ. πρόμαχος), and was clothed with a real garment (peplos) made every year anew by the noblest women of Athens. On the same citadel, by the road leading up to it, Athena had as Nike a small Ionic temple, now almost built up again from its ruins, and an altar as Hygieia. In worship these places always stood in the highest respect; but in outward splendour and artistic value they were far surpassed by the mighty Doric Parthenon, the 27
building of which was begun in the year 447 B.C. at the order of Perikles by Iktinos, and which was adorned with sculpture by Pheidias.

§ 55.  Erechtheus, who later is also called Erichthonios, appears as a by-name of Poseidon; in the Iliad however he is still an earth-born king of the Attic land. Athena takes him as a child under her care from his mother, the Earth, and hands him over, concealed in a basket, to the charge of the Dew-sisters Aglauros, Herse (‘Dew’), and Pandrosos (‘All-Dew’). Despite the prohibition of the goddess the two former open the basket, but are seized with madness at the sight of the snake-shaped babe, and hurl themselves down from the rock of the citadel (a reference perhaps to springs and watercourses). Later Erechtheus-Erichthonios was believed to be incarnated in the sacred snake of the Akropolis kept in the Erechtheion — a proof that he was originally a god dwelling in the depths of earth, and causing both the fertility of the land and death (compare § 3 f.).

§ 56.  His father was reputed to be Hephaistos, who was venerated in the same place. To the latter and to Athena in common were held the exceedingly ancient Chalkeia (‘Smith-feast’), in which the invention of the plough and the birth of Erechtheus were celebrated. Athena again was thanked at the Procharisteria, in company with the goddesses of Eleusis, for the germination of the seed; and in the same way she was entreated to avert the heat of summer at the Skirophoria, in which the priest of Erechtheus held over himself a large white sunshade. At the same season young girls at the Arrephoria (Errhephoria or Ersephoria, ‘festival of dew-bearing’) carried veiled statues from the temple of Athena Polias down into the ‘Gardens’ of Aphrodite and took others thence back into the citadel.

§ 57.  The Kallynteria was a festival of temple-purification, while at the Plynteria the garments and the wooden statue of the goddess herself were brought down to the sea and washed. As tutelary goddess of husbandry Athena was also 30 honoured by solemn ploughing at the foot of the citadel in the beginning of sowing-time, and above all by the ancient harvest-festival of the Panathenaia from the 24th to the 29th Hekatombaion (beginning of August), which from the age of Peisistratos was celebrated with especial splendour every five years. A torch race, competitions of musicians and dancers, and races of warships were held in it. The chief day of the festival was on the 28th, the birthday of the goddess; on it she was presented with the new robe (peplos) embroidered by Athens’ noblest women, which during the solemn procession through the city was fixed like a sail on a car made in the shape of a ship. Priests, old men, women, maidens, and the whole male population capable of bearing arms accompanied it with a display of the utmost pomp up the Akropolis to the goddess’ old temple. The magnificent reliefs on the frieze of the cella of the Parthenon even at this day bring this procession before our eyes.

§ 58.  As old and widespread as these religious conceptions is the tale of Athena’s birth from the head of Zeus, which Hephaistos or another god split open with the blow of an axe. With a loud shout of victory she springs forth from it fully armed. This is plainly a representation of the storm-cloud split asunder by the lightning; in Crete Athena was actually reputed to have sprung forth from a cloud burst open by Zeus.

§ 59.  This physical meaning is further implied in the legend of a demi-goddess who originally was very closely akin to her, the Gorgo Medusa (‘the observant one with awful glances’), to whom later legend added two immortal sisters. The Gorgon’s garb is black as the storm-cloud, her fiery glance petrifies, as the lightning’s stroke stupefies or slays man; her roar is the rumble of thunder; wings bear her through the air. When Medusa’s head is cut off, there springs from her body the giant Chrysaor (‘Gold-Sword’), the golden-glistening lightning, and the winged horse Pegasos, the thunder-cloud, the blow of whose hoof (lightning) makes to gush forth on Helikon the Muses’ spring Hippokrene (‘Horse-Fountain’)

Black and white engraving of the head of the Rondanini Medusa from Munich.

31 that inspires all poets. After having served Bellerophon, Pegasos carries in heaven the thunderbolts of Zeus. The Gorgon’s head Athena wears on her aigis (§ 30), which belongs to her as well as to her father Zeus.

§ 60.  As inventor and guardian of the crafts of spinning and weaving she transforms the skilful Lydian webster Arachne (‘Spider’), who dares to enter into contest with her, into a spider. Once she had come to be accounted the inventor of this craft, which is of such importance in a simple society, many other discoveries of the same kind were also ascribed to her. This is probably the reason that she has developed into the goddess of wisdom generally, and thus into the patroness of science; hence in Hesiod Metis (‘Shrewdness’) appears as her mother. But this idea may also have been helped into life by the conception of her brightly gleaming glance (γλαυκοῶπις),1 — a property betokening 32 in man intellectual life, and no doubt belonging to her originally from her connection with the lightning — and perhaps also by that of the soul’s fiery nature; for on the same ground the divine smiths and fire-gods, Prometheus and Hephaistos, were credited with having moulded men and inspired them with life.

§ 61.  Her ideal representation in art was the creation of Pheidias, who modelled not only the type of the so-called Athena Promachos in the colossal bronze statue2 set up in the open air upon the Akropolis, but also that of the Athena Parthenos (‘Maiden’) in gold and ivory, holding Nike (‘Victory’) in her right hand, for the Parthenon. She appears always as severe and grave, calm and with an expression of clear intelligence, regularly in a long garment, and often characterised by the aigis worn over it.

Black and white engraving of the Varvakeion Athena from Athens.  She is wearing the aegis on her on her shoulders.


1  For the same reason the owl (γλαῦξ ) is her sacred bird.

2  The design was probably carried out by one of his pupils.

§ 62.  Hephaistos, who in worship and legend was closely connected at Athens with Athena, is a god of fire, who is at times completely identified with this his element. He is the patron of smiths and all metal-workers in general, and it was evidently their guild which raised him to such high esteem in the busy industrial city of Athens. From this guild undoubtedly arose also the ward of the Hephaistiadai, where he had a sanctuary. Beside the Chalkeia (see § 56), he and Athena were honoured in Athens by the family festival of the Apaturia; and for him alone were held the Hephaisteia with a torch-race in the Kerameikos, the artisans’ quarter, a custom that was also practised elsewhere. He was further invoked as protector against conflagrations.

§ 63.  His second and perhaps his oldest place of worship is Lemnos, where the earth-fire blazing on the top of mount Mosychlos gained for him universal adoration. He was here accounted incidentally a god of healing; but he is above all a smith-god. By his side stands his teacher or comrade Kedalion; when later his smithy was localised in the volcanoes of Sicily and the Lipari Islands, the Kyklopes were 32
also joined with him as assistants. As the lame often practised the smith’s craft, its god was conceived as lame and possessed of powerful arms and feeble legs. In general he was completely equipped with the costume and attributes of this craft, and hence depicted in a workman’s short garment with hammer, tongs, and cap.

§ 64.  Legend related that Hephaistos was born of Hera in a quarrel with Zeus (i. e. in the storm), but that owing to his lameness he was thrown down by his mother into the sea and there tended by the sea-goddesses Thetis and Eurynome; or Zeus was said to have hurled him down upon the island of Lemnos because he supported his mother in a dispute. Both stories signify the descent of the heavenly fire upon the earth; and indeed flame may actually have become known to man in the first instance as lightning-fire. Led back by Dionysos into heaven, he forges weapons and ornaments for the gods. In accordance with the idea that love is a fiery power, his wife in the Iliad is Charis, the goddess of grace and of spring, and later always the love-goddess Aphrodite herself.

§ 65.  Prometheus (‘Forethought’), very closely akin to Hephaistos himself, was worshipped in his company at Athens, by the side of Athena. He embodies the skill, shrewdness, and cunning which naturally develop in the handicraftsman. Thus he stole fire from Zeus, designing as πυρφόρος to quicken into life with it the men he had moulded of clay, and to give it as a boon to them. Though earlier he had been a friend of Zeus, he was chained in punishment of this offence to a rock in the Caucasus, and tortured by an eagle eating out his liver. Hephaistos again moulded the first woman Pandora (‘One with gifts from all gods’), through whom all evils came upon the men created by Prometheus.

§ 66.  Hestia (‘Hearth’), the representative of the hearth-fire, is still more closely identified with her element; hence in her worship she is scarcely distinguished from it. She indeed takes part in all sacrifices in which fire is needful, but it is seldom that she is actually represented as a veiled maiden in long robes, with a bowl or sceptre.

Olympian Deities :

III.  Apollon, Artemis, and Hecate.

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