This example reveals something of the original meaning of human sacrifice to Pallas Athena. It seemingly belongs in continuity with those initiation rites through which young boys -- and maidens, too, as brides -- were taken into patriarchal organizations. The oath of arms of the Athenian Ephebes was sworn, after all, in the sanctuary of Aglaurus; among the Gods mentioned in the oath, the war God appeared twice. In the Cyprian cult, Diomedes substituted for Ares. The shaven heads of the Locrian virgins, who were priestesses of Athena, were characteristic of initiated boys and girls. The shaving off of hair belonged to the rites of initiation. In accordance with the traditions mentioned above, it is probable that in completely archaic circumstances a male or female representative of the total group being initiated would be sacrificed, while for the others the shaved head signified having been sacrificed. This barbaric-archaic practice took place only in a few locations and more toward the periphery of the Greek world. It provided the opportunity for stories such as the slaying of Pallas by Athena, or the similar story of Iodama which will be mentioned shortly. The association of the Ephebes to Pallas became especially clear at one point: they accompanied a statue of the Goddess, appropriately called "Pallas" in the sources, which for some reason was in need of cleaning, to the sea at Phaleron and, after the washing, back again to the city. In the mysterious happening through which "Pallas" became unclean, which has been kept completely secret, Aglaurus most likely played the passive role. One is able to get a glimpse only at the portion of the ceremony which occurred during the open procession of the statue the darker, mystery-enshrouded portion is more attached to specific maidenly figures.
One such maiden appeared in the Athenian story of Aglaurus, who was a being in between the Great Goddess and one of her human servants. The cited festival of the washing of the cultic image, the Plynteria, was associated with her death. One of the methods of slaying transmitted to us is turning the victim into stone, for which the already mentioned fate of Iodama is the parallel. In the cult of Athena Itonia, near Koroneia, which also has already been referred to because the Goddess shared a common worship with Hades there ("for some mystical reason"), Iodama played a role which again reminds us of the Locrian virgins and their service. She was a priestess of Athena who entered the sanctuary at night. Once, the Goddess appeared to her with the Gorgoneum on her breast, and at the sight of it she was turned to stone. For that reason a woman places fire on the altar of Iodama every day and calls out three times: "Iodama lives and wants fire." Athena Itonia, who turned the eternally living, fire-desiring Iodama into stone, is the Goddess of Alalcomena, the neighboring town to Koroneia, and as Alalcomenai she is a Pallas figure. The wish of Iodama to have fire accords with the significance that she asks in the name of "Athena" as though it were her own, and it shows also the difference between this Goddess and a "Hestia": fire does not glow eternally on the altar of Iodama but must be rekindled daily, just as is naturally the case with a coal pan, an eschara. The sanctuary lay on the river Coralius or Curalius, presumably so named because the Goddess received the hair offerings of boys and girls there; for this characteristic she bore the epithet Coria or Coresia.
Aglaurus and Iodama, the sacrificed,
slain, annihilated -- but nevertheless living -- represent the one aspect
of the Goddess that stands over against the other aspect called "Pandrosus"
among the sisters of Aglaurus but can also have the names "Pallas"
or "Nike" or "Victory." Should Nike represent the Goddess, she could
also be carrying the pomegranate and thereby imply the concealed other
side. Neither of the two poles can exist without the other; always the
two together, in their opposition, are Pallas Athena. It is not merely
that a martial and a maternal existence are bound together and opposed
to each other, but a defensive virginity, keeping at bay hostile
aggression by the menace of death, and a virginity that falls victim
to attack and death, whereby conception and motherhood come into being.
Athena, Virgin and Mother in Greek Religion (1952)
Back to the top
Copyright ©1999 Roy George