Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I do think it’s critical to look at stories as they were and are told (in all their polyphony and contradiction; almost nothing in myth is single-voiced), not just at the simplest or the most comfortable versions. Otherwise all you are seeing is a gloss or an illusion of familiarity: Oh, yes, just like us with different names. Alienation is important, if it’s what’s true. I die inside a little every I see Athene referred to as the Greek goddess of wisdom, because it makes her sound all judgment and prudence, a dispassionate encyclopedia. She is the goddess of μῆτις — cunning, tricky thought, creative intelligence; the ability to think around corners and into the future. Mētis is the reason Athene is associated with the technically intricate, metaphorically loaded craft of weaving; it is the shared trait that makes her so fond of Odysseus, the consummate trickster hero of Greek myth. You are far and away the best of mortals at designs and stories, while I am famous among all the gods for craft and cleverness. (Songs are woven; so are stories; so are lies.) Μῆτις makes Athene the goddess of war — not the blind berserker violence of Ares, but tactics and strategy. Take the shrewdness out of Athene and what’s left looks like white marble without the paint. It looks the way we all know Greek statues to have looked, abstract and austere, which they never did. Classical statues were loud with color. The idea is very off-putting to some people. Tough luck! You can still see the traces, especially under high-intensity and ultraviolet light. The past is inaccessible enough already; we don’t need to fuzz it out further with extra inaccuracy. That was a nonviolent example, but it goes toward the whole idea of romanticizing instead of accepting — brightly painted statues are gaudy and vulgar, virgin goddesses of wisdom are loftier than asexual female tacticians. (And who makes these judgments? What attitudes do they reinforce? What divisions do they uphold?) If the past is what you build the future on, you had better know what it really contained.

- Sonya Taaffe