mbd_map 19: A Dedication homepage homepage forum lectures 1: A Word of Encouragement 2: Dar al-Hikma 3: Proclus' Elements 4: Reversion in the Corporeal 5: Mathematical Recursion 6: Episodic Memory 7: Mortality 7 Supplement: Classical Mortality Arguments 8: Personal Identity 9: Existential Passage 10: Precedent at Dar al-Hikma 10 Supplement: Images of Dar al-Hikma 11: Passage Types 12: A Metaphysical Grammar 13: Merger Probability 14: Ex Nihilo Probability 15: Noetic Reduction 16: Summary of Mathematical Results 17: Application to Other Species 18: Potential Benefits 19: A Dedication appendices works cited

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A Word of Encouragement


Dar al-Hikma


Proclus' Elements


Reversion in the Corporeal


Mathematical Recursion


Episodic Memory




Classical Mortality Arguments


Personal Identity
1   2   3   4  


Existential Passage
1   2   3  


Precedent at Dar al-Hikma


Images of Dar al-Hikma


Passage Types


A Metaphysical Grammar


Merger Probability


Ex Nihilo Probability


Noetic Reduction


Summary of Mathematical Results


Application to Other Species
1   2   3   4  


Potential Benefits


A Dedication


Works Cited

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Chapter 19
A Dedication

The statue cornicing each page of this essay is a reproduction of Athena Varvakion, itself a reproduction of the original, Athena Parthenos.  That original statue watched over Athens from its vantage in the Parthenon's sacred eastern chamber.
       Writers have long identified the goddess Athena with the civilized mind.[1]  The story of Athena's birth is readily interpreted as the irruption of Mind into the world.  It bears a playful reading:

So there was Zeus, father of gods and men, pacing beside Lake Triton in Libya.  Every step he took reverberated with the crashing headache that hammered inside his skull.  He thought his head would burst.  He roared.  It took Hermes to see what had to be done.  He called up Hephaestus the smith-god, or maybe Prometheus the Titan, or maybe both of them, so great was that headache.  And between them, they swung the axe and split Zeus's head right open.

And then
Out sprang Athene![2]
Full-grown, and fully-armoured too, shaking that golden spear of hers, a bellow of a war-cry on her lips, in a great shower of golden rain.

It was aweful, that birth.
The earth itself groaned and shuddered.
The ocean foamed up hugely and then stopped, just there.
The very sun halted his course across the skies.
Time stood still, waiting.
It was as if all creation held its breath.

And then,
Athene moved.
Her spangled gold armour glinted and her bright grey-green eyes flashed.  And she danced.  Her very first steps on this earth were a war-dance.

And then — enough.
The goddess took off that golden armour, put down her spear, shook her bright golden hair free from her helmet, eased her shoulders a little.

Ah!  The earth gave a great sigh and settled back into shape.  The ocean refound its rhythm and the sun moved on his accustomed course.

'O Lor',' said Ares, 'this one's going to be trouble.'
Zeus just laughed.[3]
What an entrance.
       Athena darts to center stage in Homer's Odyssey.  Here we see Athena coaching the youth Telemakhos; planting in his imagination the vision of a grand sea voyage, and helping him undertake it.  It's Athena as scoutmaster; very much a boy's mentor.[4]
       Here, too, we see Athena at Odysseus' side.  Athena holds council with her friend, spending patient hours in planning the battle he must fight if he is to recover wife and home.[5]
       And here we see aged Laertes.  Weak, spent, he must watch from a distance as Odysseus his son and Telemakhos his grandson withstand Eupeithes' murderous assault.  Athena takes pity, and lends Laertes a god's strength for one more spearcast.
       His spear drills Eupeithes' helmet through the cheek plates.
       At this shock the Ithacans flee, scattering before enraged Odysseus.  Merciful Athena steps in to staunch the bloodshed and broker peace.[6]

These scenes convey something of the early Greeks' reverence for the brave and civilized mind; a reverence they lavished on their champion, Athena.  With this literary history before us we can understand why philosophers have sometimes turned to Athena for inspiration.  Proclus counted Athena as his great muse, going so far as to write odes in her honor.[7]  More recently Sigmund Freud was known to keep a statuette of Athena always on his writing desk.  It was a favorite keepsake.[8]
       Freud's little muse is with us still.  It is on display in his home, now a museum.  But Proclus had the misfortune to lose his muse.  The rulers of Greece removed Athena Parthenos from Athens by force during Proclus' lifetime.  This sacrilege reduced the Parthenon to its present husk.  The loss to humanity grieved Proclus and the other remaining Hellenes beyond words.   Proclus' misery eased only when Athena's messenger greeted him in a dream, with an announcement:

"The Athenian Lady wishes to dwell with you."[9]
Athena's image is an apt talisman for those who would attempt metaphysical philosophy.  Dedicating this essay to Athena would be an act in accord with a good, though now lost, philosophical tradition.

But a discrepancy bothers me.  The discrepancy stands out when we consider the design of Proclus' Elements:  two hundred and eleven propositions in all, going astray early on at Proposition 15.  In Proposition 15 Proclus turns his back to the corporeal, denying corporeal nature those powers of life which men knew even in his time to be self-evident.  Perhaps Proclus willed himself to "look past nature."   If he petitioned Athena for the strength and wisdom to compose metaphysical philosophy, never did Proclus' Athena direct him to study nature, or to incorporate nature's simple truths into his philosophy.
       The classicist Jane Harrison has shed light on this failing of Athena myth psychology.  As cited by Ann Shearer:

The circumstances of Athene's birth have defined her as the very image of the father's girl.  'To the end she remains manufactured, unreal, and never convinces us.  We cannot love a goddess who on principle forgets the earth from which she sprung.'  Thus the classicist Jane Harrison passionately sees Athene as 'a sexless thing, neither man nor woman', and her birth from her father's head as 'a desperate theological expedient to rid an earth-born Kore of her matriarchal conditions', 'a dark, desperate effort to make thought the basis of being and reality'.[10]
Harrison has issued a harsh indictment.  Not of the Athena myth per se — every myth tells a story; no myth can tell them all.  What Harrison has really denounced is a trait common among men:  the desire, or talent, that drives men to fashion worlds of their own.  Historically, men have cultivated this trait in order to wrench civilization out of nature, with the result that civilization is now estranged from nature.[11]
       Proclus is a case in point.   Proclus fought mightily to justify the metaphysics he'd fashioned; justifying it not within nature, but through pure reason.   His was a well-intentioned but "desperate effort to make thought the basis of being and reality."
       And that is why I cannot in good conscience dedicate this essay to the Athena Proclus knew.  The premises of this essay are naturalistic, whereas Proclus' grey-eyed Athena was blind to nature.

This discrepancy hinders the dedication, but needn't block it.  Proclus' Athena was not the only one known to the Greeks.  There were several Athenas, actually.  All were truly the invincible goddess, but each moved in a different milieu.  Listing a few of the incarnations:

  • Athena Areia:  goddess of war.
  • Athena Nike:  Athena victorious.
  • Athena Hygieia:  the healer.
  • Athena Polias:  goddess of the city's life.
  • Athena Ergane:  patroness of the arts.
Athena's attributions matured as they tracked Hellenic civilization.  Her transformations are recorded in the progression of titles; titles which drift towards a dedication fit to the present work.
       In fashioning the required dedication we will need to extend the Athena myth in two directions simultaneously:  towards the present — and also towards the ancient past, back to the verdant pre-history which antedates Athena's classical titles.  This should be done, not to slight the Athena myth or the classicists who've recovered it for us, but only so that we might inaugurate a new Athena:  one exempted from Harrison's indictment.
       What, then, should we add to Athena's attributes?  Any addition must lift the Athena myth closer to what is ultimately true and good.  And as mature souls value natural truths, the qualities of spirit most needful are those by whose aid we may end our blood feud with nature.
       Those qualities of spirit are within reach — our good naturalists are everywhere our exemplars.  They garland Athena with their metiers.  If we will consent to learn life from the naturalists, they will seal our diplomas with a temperance sufficient for lasting peace with nature.
       Such temperance Athena granted Odysseus.  His implacable countenance belied a heart that was glad for peace with Eupeithes' vanquished clansmen.

Greek mythology accommodates this innovation.  A small shift in emphasis works the necessary change, and in just this way:
       Athena's birth from Zeus was a birth of Mind.  Yet Zeus was, we should remember, grandson of Gaia — Mother Nature to the Hellenes.  In consequence, Mother Nature holds rights over all the Olympians; even over bold Athena.  Nature can reclaim Athena as Her own.
       That wish coins the dedication.

I dedicate this work to a new Athena, icon of Mind at peace with Nature.

To Athena Gegenetes .

To Athena Gegenetes.[12] 

To Athena, Earth-born.

Athena Gegenetes

End of essay.

Significant Addendum — May 2009

Or... that was the end of the essay.  Something's come up, and I've added a postscript chapter to address the issues raised.  Please see:

Chapter 20:  Proof and Speculation   

Chapter 19 Endnotes

[1] For two recent surveys, see Lee Hall, Athena: A Biography (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1997); Ann Shearer, Athene: Image and Energy (London: Viking Arkana, 1996).  See also: Encyclopaedia Britannica article on Athena.
[2] Here Ann Shearer is using an alternate spelling, "Athene."  See Jane Harrison, "Athene" Section, Prolegomena to Greek Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991) 300-07. (First published in 1903 by Cambridge University Press.)
[3] This quotation is from Shearer 1-2.  Shearer has compiled this version of the story from three separate sources.  For details, see Shearer, Prologue, note 1.
[4] Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fitzgerald (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1963).  Book Two, "A Hero's Son Awakens."  Athena adopts a common guise with Telemakhos, taking the form of a trustworthy seafarer, comrade in arms to Odysseus.  The seafarer's name is Mentor.
[5] Homer, Book Thirteen, "One More Strange Island."
[6] Homer, Book Twenty-four, "Warriors, Farewell."
[7] Hall 244.  A translated ode is available online.  See also Ernestus Vogt, ed., "Procli Hymni," Klassisch-Philologische Studies 18 (1957): 31-33.  Hymn VII [Greek].
[8] Shearer 224.
[9] Al. N. Oikonomides, trans., Marinos of Neapolis, The Extant Works, or The Life of Proclus and the Commentary on the Dedomena of Euclid (Chicago: Ares Publishers, 1977) 69.
[10] Shearer 3.  Harrison's quotations are from Harrison, Prolegomena to Greek Religion 302-03, 648.
[11] Harrison saw this trait as a common failing of the Olympians.  Jane Harrison, Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, 2nd edition (London: Cambridge University Press, 1927) 446. Quoting:
"The Greek Gods, in their triumphant humanity, kicked down that ladder from earth to heaven by which they rose.  They reflected, they represented the mood of their worshippers, which tended always to focus itself rather on what was proper to humanity than on what was common to man and the rest of the universe."
[12] Pronunciation: "gay-ge-NE-tays" with all "g's" hard and all "e's" soft, as in "get."  Etymology: ge = earth; gene = born; tes = one who is.  The appellation is taken from the pre-Olympian Greek gods, known also as Titans.  They were the children of Gaia.  For a spirited (and graphic) re-telling of the relevant myths, see Hall 7-16.
Copyright © 1999

Wayne Stewart
Last update 4/19/11