Although this blog post may seem a little untraditional, there’s one topic I am extremely interested in diving into: Athena and her role in the actions of the characters.
In Greek mythology, the Gods played an immense role in the lives of mortals on earth. One may feel that the Gods toy and manipulate humans solely for the fun of it. Athena, the daughter of Zeus has a large role in controlling Odysseus’s fate. After observing her rather spotty appearances through out the Odyssey, it seems that she presents herself at times to help Odysseus, such as saving him from drowning after Zeus struck down his ship. Athena plays a major role in controlling the actions and decisions of the characters in the Odyssey as seen in books 17 and 18. She mainly focuses on controlling Odysseus’s fate by directing the decisions of Odysseus himself and the people around him. Behind every twist and turn in the progression of the story, Athena seems to be right behind the source of the action. But why is Athena so invested in the happenings on earth if she is so far disconnected from mortal life? Is it simply because she enjoys controlling the actions of the mortals, because she enjoys pawning them around in her own game, or is there really such a thing as “fate”. Are the Gods the enforcers of “fate” or the creators, what is their purpose in interacting with life on earth?
Examples of this:
-Athena gives Odysseus strength to fight the beggar Iros on page 337: “Athena/ stood nearby to give him bulk and power” (XVIII, 283-284)
– Could Odysseus not fight him and win on his own?
– Athena suggests that Odysseus should try and meet the suitors individually on page 22: “try the suitors./ you may collect a few more loaves, and learn/ who are the decent lads , and who are vicious” (XVII, 470-473)
– This action seems ridiculous given that Odysseus’s mission is to slaughter all of the suitors, wouldn’t talking to them personally create more conflict?
– Athena binds Amphinomos to death after Odysseus sees the good in him, page 340. “Now his heart foreknew/ the wrath to come, but he could not take flight,/ being by Athena bound there./ Death would have him/ broken by a spear thrown by Telemakhos.” (XVIII, 194-198)
– How did Athena bind him there? Are the Gods able to completely control the actions of the mortals? What influence did she have over him to prevent him from leaving?
– Athena gave Penelope grace, confident, and great beauty to speak to the suitors on page 342: “the grey-eyed goddess had her own designs.. the goddess/endowed her with immortal grace to hold/ the eyes of the Akhaians… grandeur she gave her, too, in height and form,/ and made her whiter than carved ivory” (XVIII, 236,241-242,256-257)
– Athena seems to be “designing” her own plan for Penelope, does that mean she is creating her fate for her? Or is it already set and Athena’s just taking the necessary steps to get her there?
I think that Athena’s invested interest in the mortals is a bit more specific than simply mortals; I think that she cares most about Odysseus. We discussed this a bit in class on Tuesday, about how Odysseus is the one mortal who is most like her. He is crafty and clever, two traits that Athena prides as the Goddess of Wisdom.
I do think that you raise a valid question about the gods though: Why do they take an invested interest in the lives of mortals? Is there another reason Athena takes an interest in the life of Odysseus?
There does seem to be an interesting dualism between the idea of Fate and the gods. We mentioned at the beginning of the year how Fate is kind of the first and last word on the course of the universe, and not even the gods are above it; but now we see plenty of examples of gods altering circumstances to fit their own desires. So is Fate a more fluid concept than it appears, or are the gods themselves being controlled by their Fates to have these desires? Maybe it’s like a trickle-down effect: Fate directs the gods, who direct the mortals, and thus the universe moves forward.
Or maybe the bards telling these stories just needed an excuse for convenient plot twists.
I agree with Kaitlin and what was said last class that a large part of Athena’s motivation may be because of her fondness of Odysseus. However, I also think that it’s more than that. I think that fate may be “created” by the gods and meddling in the lives of mortals could possibly be one of the tasks that goes along with controlling fate. Undoubtedly, Athena has played a tremendous role in Odysseus’s fate and without her, Odysseus’s return would have been in jeopardy. But beyond helping Odysseus she put all of her effort into getting him home. Why would she have put SUCH care into this?
Although it was probably possible for Odysseus to beat Iros without Athena’s help, I think there were other instances throughout the book that Athena was essential for Odysseus’s success. Maybe helping Odysseus was simply entertaining for her?
As we all know, divine intervention is an everyday occurrence in the Odyssey. In book XVIII especially, Athena steps in to assist the “royal” family of Ithaka, whether it’s strengthening Odysseus for a fight or enhancing Penélopê’s beauty. In regards to Amphínomos, the moral suitor, Athena seems to be able to bind him in Odysseus’s house because, as Odysseus says, “Of mortal creatures, all that breathe and move, / earth bears none frailer than mankind” (XVIII, 164-165). This passage directly precedes the instance when Amphínomos is bound by the grey-eyed goddess, and so it displays the natural hierarchy from a Greek perspective- Athena willed it, so it came to pass. Amphínomos is not necessarily bound by supernatural chains, as the doomed man is powerless in the hands of the gods. The suitor’s bondage seems to be more of the mental variety. The event has parallels in the Bible, such as when God hardens the heart of the Pharoah in Exodus to seal the destruction of the Egyptians. Even though the Pharoah and Amphínomos appear to possess free will, their actions in these particular cases are governed by supreme beings. It is as if a mental wall is erected that prevents either man from making any decision other than that which the gods or God willed. Rather than a physical bondage, they are locked in to making a particular decision. Amphínomos is not incapacitated by Athena, he is just made stubborn in judgment.
After having read Books XXII and XXIII, I would like to add one more idea to this conversation concerning Athena’s role. In Book XXII, we see her indirectly controlling Odysseus’ fate, as she motivates him through Mentor’s disguise to fight against the suitors. She waits to interfere though because “father and son must prove their mettle still” (XXII, 264). The fact that they “must” prove their glory and capabilities seems to hint that it is fated for them to achieve glory. In this sense, Athena would not be allowed to cut down the suitors until Odysseus faced the true threat of death (since he is not fated to die either). If she killed them without Odysseus truly contributing, he would not have achieved full glory. Overall, fate seems to be a system of checks-and-balances; sometimes the smaller details of fate can be controlled by the gods (such as Athena’s discretion to all of the suitors being killed rather than just a few), while the general picture must stay the same (suitors must be killed).