t h e d i v i n e h u s b a n d o f A t h e n a
In a series of cultic artifacts and mythological traditions, another aspect of Hephaestus' relationship to Athena comes up to the fore: here he is not the consuming God of fire, but the bridegroom, husband, and father of a divine child. In the month of Pyanopsion the festival of Apaturia was celebrated, at which the youth of Athens, in phratries ("brotherhoods") and under the protection of Zeus Phratrius and Athena Phratria [Text and Views: Temple of Zeus Phratrius and Athena Phratia], received the initiation which they needed in order to get married. It was a kind of maturational ceremony. At this festival Hephaestus was particularly celebrated: men, dressed in their most beautiful garments, lit the torch at the fire of the hearth, sang in praise of their God, and sacrified to him. There is no report in the fragmentary evidence of a torchlight procession but such can safely be assumed, and for the Corinthian Hellotia a report of such is handed down explicitly. On the last day of the same month began the festival which Hephaestus and Athena shared in common, the Chalkeia. The secret of this festival was not given away, with the result that more stories were told about it, such as that Athena was given to Hephaestus and placed in a chamber for him, or that he followed her and embraced her [Image: Athena in Hephaestus' workshop]. All variations allow the Goddess to leave the embrace a virgin, but they also allow a child to originate from this same embrace, born from the semen of the God which was received by the earth, and then handed over to Athena [Image: Athena receives Erichthonius]. According to one version the sacred wool of the Goddess with which the divine semen was caught also played a role in the story.
Marriage, pregnancy, and victorious
maidenhood are the given elements, and the self-contradictory relations
among them is what the various stories seek to explain. A cultic epithet
of the Goddess seems to refer to the same episode, which was related in
so many variations and yet to a certain extent was kept secret. In Sparta,
Athena was called Chalkiolcus ("she of the bronze chamber"), and supposedly
she owned a temple there made of bronze [Image: Temple of Athena in Sparta].
Of what else could the wedding chamber have been made in which the smith
God Hephaestus locked himself with her? Greek mythology also knows of a
bronze wedding chamber in which the bridegroom appeared not as fire but
as golden rain [Image: Zeus and Danae]. This occurs in the story of Danae,
the mother of Perseus, a hero who was a special protégé of
Athena. This is also, however, a motif in the mythology of Athena: according
to a tradition on Rhodes, Zeus permitted golden rain to fall when the Goddess
sprang from his head [Image: Athena
born in a shower of gold]. Gold is also associated with a divine child
in the religion of Athena, and the simultaneity of the birth of this child
and the birth of the Goddess herself belongs to the mysteries of this religion.
Athena, Virgin and Mother in Greek Religion (1952)
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Copyright ©1999 Roy George