Posts Tagged by Athens
|July 10, 2020||Posted By Gregory Nagy listed under By Gregory Nagy||
2020.07.10 | By Gregory Nagy
§0. I have run into a problem in trying to come up with an adequate translation of Pausanias when he talks about the Eleusinian Mysteries. Part of the problem, I think, is that Pausanias himself is mystifying in his language about the Mysteries. He seems guarded about giving the impression that he is in any way about to reveal to his readers whatever was periodically being revealed to initiates in the Great Hall of Initiation at Eleusis. My purpose in this brief essay is not to attempt a reconstruction of what was actually revealed. Nor do I aim to solve the mystery of what Pausanias thinks is the essence of the Mysteries—any more than I would hope to understand the Eleusinian Mysteries as represented by Dirck van Baburen in his painting Mistérios Eleusinos, dating from the seventeenth century of our era, a suitably dark copy of which is featured as the cover illustration of my post here. No, all I intend to do here, as I already said, is to produce an adequate translation of the mystifying language used by Pausanias in his reference to the Mysteries. But I must add that my translation is not meant to be mystifying: rather, it is meant to convey the actual language of mystification that is being used here by Pausanias.[Essay continues here…]
A variation on the theme of Athena: The Palladium, as viewed by Pausanias on the Acropolis of Athens
|June 19, 2020||Posted By Gregory Nagy listed under By Gregory Nagy||
2020.06.19 | By Gregory Nagy
§0. This excursus is a commentary on a passage in Pausanias, 1.28.9, where our traveler, while visiting the Acropolis of Athens, refers to a statue of the goddess Athena there. He is referring in this case not to Athena Parthénos, that is, to Athena the ‘Virgin’, who was housed in the Parthenon. Nor is he referring here to Athena Poliás, that is, to Athena as the Lady of the Citadel, who was housed in the old temple of the goddess. Rather, the referent here is an ancient wooden statue known as the Palládion, conventionally latinized as Palladium. There were many divergent myths about the Palladium, but there was general agreement on at least one convergent detail: originally, myth has it, the Palladium was housed in the temple of Athena, situated on top of the acropolis of ancient Troy. In the lead illustration for my comments, I show a picturing of a familiar scene involving what I think is this very same Palladium. In this picture—and I could show many other such pictures, some of which are considerably more ancient than the one I have chosen—we see the lesser Ajax, son of Oileus, in the act of violating Cassandra after the capture of Troy by the Achaeans. Seizing her by the arm, he is about to drag her away from a statue of Athena to which she is clinging as a suppliant. The goddess, fully armed, with spear in the right hand and with shield in the left hand, is just standing there, statue that she is. Now, it goes without saying here that the goddess will have her vengeance, since she will ultimately punish the sacrilegious violator. But that is another story. My concern here is different: the question for now is, how did the Palladium find its way from the citadel of Troy to the citadel of Athens? And the answer has to do with the power of the Palladium in the scene that we see pictured in the illustration that we are considering. The Palladium is so much more than a static statue—if I am right in thinking that the statue that we see in this and other such pictures is in fact the Palladium. I have to say “if” for now, since I cannot simply assume that this statue, as represented in such pictures, can actually be identified with the Palladium. As I will argue, however, such an identification becomes most likely when we consider an Athenian myth, as reported by Pausanias, 1.28.9, about the appropriation of the Palladium by the Athenians.[Essay continues here…]
|May 22, 2020||Posted By Gregory Nagy listed under By Gregory Nagy||
2020.05.22 | By Gregory Nagy
§0. In the previous posting, Classical Inquiries 2020.05.15, I highlighted details that I described as signatures of a Minoan-Mycenaean phase in the evolution of the figure known in classical and post-classical times as Athena. In that posting, I concentrated on the ancient acropolis of a city by the name of Phrixa(i) in the region of Triphylia in the Peloponnesus. When Pausanias, who lived in the second century BCE, visited that city, which was mostly in ruins by his time, he found that the local population was still holding on to an ancient practice of worshipping the goddess Athena as the personification of their acropolis, and I argued that this personification could be traced back to a distant Minoan-Mycenaean past. For the illustration in that posting, I showed what I think is a relevant picture dating from that same distant past. We saw in that picture what I would describe as a Minoan equivalent of an acropolis. That is, we saw an elevation fortified and crowned by a palatial building. We also saw a male figure standing on top of the elevation, whom I would describe as a Minoan equivalent of a hero known in classical and post-classical times as Hēraklēs. But what about Athena, patroness of Hēraklēs? As I will argue, the Minoan equivalent of Athena is really present in that picture: she is there, though she is not yet visible. She becomes visible, however, in the picture I show as the main illustration for the posting here.[Essay continues here…]
Questions while viewing Greek myths and rituals through the lens of Pausanias, IV: Is Athena, viewed theologically, a person?
|May 8, 2020||Posted By Gregory Nagy listed under By Gregory Nagy||
2020.05.08 | By Gregory Nagy
§0. In the previous posting, Classical Inquiries 2020.05.01, I asked this question: is ‘Athena’ the name of a person or of a place? And my answer was: ‘Athena’ is the name of a place that we know as Athens. I backed up that answer by arguing against the assumption that the city of Athens was named after a goddess who was already named ‘Athena’. Rather, I argued for a different idea: that the goddess Athena was named after Athens—or, to be more precise, after the citadel or acropolis of Athens. But that is not the same thing as arguing that Athens came first, as it were, and that the goddess named Athena came second. I was making an argument about the name of Athena, not about her identity. And, as I argue more fully in this posting, it is only the naming of the goddess as Athena that came second, but the idea of the goddess came first: she was already there, if we view her theologically. The goddess seems secondary only if we make the mistake of equating her name with who she is as a goddess, as a divinity who is worshipped by her people. As a goddess, Athena is her own person, whatever her name may be. It is only when we view her name etymologically, that is, from the standpoint of linguistics, that Athḗnē can be explained as the name of a place. Yes, the name is a place-name, as I showed in the previous posting. But she is not the name. As I just said, she is her own person. And, as a person, as a divine persona, she personifies whatever is mentally connected with her. In the painting I have chosen for the lead illustration, we view the solitary goddess looming over her acropolis. Her bronze statue, no longer extant, is seen here in the eternal role of this goddess as guardian of her city and her people. That is how she connects with her own space, and with everything that she personifies in that space.[Essay continues here…]
Questions while viewing Greek myths and rituals through the lens of Pausanias, III: Is “Athena” the name of a person or of a place?
|May 1, 2020||Posted By Gregory Nagy listed under By Gregory Nagy||
2020.05.01 | By Gregory Nagy
§0. In asking myself whether the Greek proper noun Athḗnē is the name of a person, that is, the goddess known to us as Athena, or the name of a place, that is, the city known to us as Athens, I venture into a way of thinking about the goddess and her city that has never occurred to me before. In all my research till now, I had assumed that the city of Athens—or, at least, the citadel or acropolis of Athens—was named after the goddess Athena. What has changed my mind is my overall reading of Pausanias, a traveler whose detailed reportage about the many different ways of worshipping gods and heroes in the many different places he visited during his travels in the Greek-speaking world of the second century CE has led me to a different way of thinking. On the basis of relevant evidence attested by Pausanias I no longer think that Athens was named after Athena. Rather, I think that Athena was named after Athens—or, to say it more accurately, the names of goddesses known as Athena were based on the names of the places where these goddesses were worshipped. Such a rethinking of Athena can lead to a fuller understanding of ancient ideas centering on divinities as personifications of places sacred to them, and one way to get a close look at these personifications is to view them through the lens of Pausanias, who carefully focuses, one at a time, on each one of the many different Athenas he encounters in each one of the many different places he visits.[Essay continues here…]
Questions while viewing Greek myths and rituals through the lens of Pausanias, II: In Mycenaean times, was Athena a goddess who was worshipped only in Athens?
|April 24, 2020||Posted By Gregory Nagy listed under By Gregory Nagy||
2020.04.24 | By Gregory Nagy
§0. In classical Athenian visual art, we find representations of the goddess Athena in the act of conveying the hero Hēraklēs to Olympus in her chariot, as we see in the illustration that I have chosen as the cover for this essay. At first sight, it seems as if such an Athenian visualization of the hero’s apotheosis derives from an exclusively Athenian myth: after all, Athena is the goddess of the city of Athens—she is, as it were, Our Lady of Athens—and her very identity defines the identity of her city. In this essay, however, I argue that such a myth involving both the goddess Athena and the hero Hēraklēs is not uniquely Athenian—and that the goddess herself, in her role as charioteer of the hero and in other such roles, is not uniquely Athenian either. In other words, Athena was multiple, not unique to Athens. And one of the easiest ways to get a good sense of this multiplicity is to read through all of Pausanias, who conscientiously keeps track of the many different Athenas that are still being worshipped even in his time. Traveling around so many different locales of the Greek-speaking world in the second century CE, Pausanias finds different versions of myths and rituals linked with a goddess who is generally but not exclusively known by the name of Athena. And for me the only viable explanation for such multiplicity, as it survives into the first millennium CE, is to posit a pre-existing multiplicity of Athenas in Mycenaean times, that is, already in the second millennium BCE. Thus I have a negative answer to the question I pose in the subtitle of this essay: In Mycenaean times, was Athena a goddess who was worshipped only in Athens?[Essay continues here…]