Athena in The Odyssey

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  • 0:05 Athena and Odysseus
  • 1:45 Athena as Advocate
  • 2:22 Athena as Mentor
  • 3:33 Athena as a Genius of…
  • 4:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

The character of Athena in Homer's iconic poem, 'The Odyssey', is far more than some remote goddess making playthings of frail mortals. She is a guide who helps Odysseus learn what a man, husband, father, and king should be.

Athena and Odysseus

Imagine that you are a young, powerful king of a thriving Greek kingdom. You have a beautiful wife and healthy son to inherit the throne. On top of that, you've managed to win the favor of a goddess, Athena, the daughter of the supreme Greek god, Zeus. That's exactly the situation Odysseus, king of Ithaca, finds himself in at the beginning of Homer's ancient poem, The Odyssey. It sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? But everything isn't as perfect as it's cracked up to be: Odysseus has been away from home for more than 10 years, fighting in the Trojan War. Troy has finally fallen, and Odysseus and his men can return home at last, but they do the one thing that makes that seemingly impossible: they tick off the god of the sea, Poseidon, by blinding his son, the one-eyed Cyclops, Polyphemus.

Enter Athena. Unlike so many of the other members of the Greek pantheon, or family of gods, Athena is the child of Zeus alone. She sprang fully-formed from Zeus's forehead, dressed in the full armor of battle. She was never a child. She was not the product of desire or sexual consummation. She is literally the brainchild of the supreme Greek god, and this is why she is considered the Goddess of Wisdom. But Athena is not only wise, she is also associated with innovation and tactical skill. Athena is a warrior goddess in a profoundly patriarchal, or male-dominated, society, and she is a friend to humanity, particularly to her favorite, Odysseus. Though an immortal goddess, in her role as advocate, guide, and protector, Athena teaches Odysseus--and the rest of us--how to be human.

Bust of Homer
Homer

Athena as Advocate

Odysseus has a pretty tough row to hoe once he makes an enemy of Poseidon, but Athena is a fierce and potent advocate. She uses her supreme intellect to advocate on Odysseus's behalf before the council of the Gods on Olympus. She demonstrates the power of language and of rational argumentation, a capacity not often attributed to women in the ancient world. Because of Athena's persuasive arguments before the gods, she saves Odysseus from the full force of Poseidon's wrath. This goddess, daughter of Zeus, saves a human life where no other mortal or immortal, man or woman, could.

The birth of Athena
Athena

Athena as Mentor

Athena doesn't just allow Odysseus to get off scot-free for his actions. Athena believes in free will, learning from your mistakes, and in evolving into the best version of yourself. This is why Athena appears before both Odysseus and his son, Telemachus, in the form of Mentor, a wise old man offering sage advice in times of trouble and conflict. Whether they choose to take Athena/Mentor's wise advice, however, is ultimately up to them.

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