For millennia pilgrims have made the trek up to the Acropolis, the mythological citadel of Athens. Heeding the whispers of an ancient deity, my feet wandered off the beaten tourist track to find their way to the doorstep of the Goddess Athena.
Many centuries have come and gone since the Athenians ascended the Acropolis to seek the guidance and protection of Athena, the maiden goddess of wisdom, war and divine intelligence. Her status as the favorite daughter of Zeus, and powerful patron deity of the city of Athens, remains evident to this day. Expecting to be mostly drawn to the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus, when I visited the Acropolis of Athens in Greece, I was instead keenly aware of the omnipresence of Athena’s legacy.
My undergraduate education in literature and drama afforded me a reasonably good understanding of the role of the god Dionysus in ancient Greek culture. I knew about the festivals and plays, and as a student I often imagined visiting the remains of those historic open-air auditoriums.
But when my friend Sandra and I reached the Theatre of Dionysus, I did not hear the echoes of the choruses of long-forgotten Greek tragedies, or the murmur of the 17,000 spectators who came to see them lament. Instead I heard the resounding, reassuring voice of Athena only – a goddess I never paid much attention to before. She called to me, inviting me higher up to her sanctuary.
Millions of feet have made this trek up to the architectural marvels awaiting on top of the Acropolis. One can feel its power underfoot. Expecting to encounter Athena at her most famous and impressive temple, the Parthenon, I was once again surprised to hear her voice coming from the more humble Erechtheion. This temple on the northern side of the Acropolis was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon, the god of the ocean, earth-quakes and horses.
Poseidon competed in a contest with Athena for the position as patron and protector of the city of Athens below. But the people chose Athena, because she created the first olive tree as a gift to the Athenians. Poseidon gave them a spring, but it ran salt water and it was of no use to them. According to an archaeologist we spoke to at the Acropolis Museum, there are various myths about what exactly happened at that contest. One version has it that Poseidon neglected to bring a witness to his miracle of bringing forth water from the mountain, so nobody believed he was responsible. Another version has it that the people were asked to vote. All the women then voted for Athena, and since there were more women than men… Athena won by a landslide!
A visit to the new Acropolis Museum is highly recommended when you visit Athens and the Acropolis. Athena’s presence is also very much dominant here and I especially appreciated the close-up view of the original Koira (maidens) from the Erechtheion. Statues of Athena are everywhere in the museum in various shapes and sizes. Many of them reminded me of the Virgin Mary. One cannot help but notice the similarities in her depiction, right down to her headdress resembling a halo.
© 2013 Anthon St Maarten