The Bath of Athena
(written ~ 3rd century BCE)
Note: The "Bath of Athena" describes how Teiresias went blind after seeing the Goddess Athena naked but was given prophetic vision. The speaker of this hymn is an officiant at the Temple of Athena of Argos, preparing for the ritual bath of the statue of the Goddess.
All you that are companions of the Bath of Athena, come forth, come forth! I heard just now the snorting of her holy horses, and the Goddess is ready to go. Hurry you now, O fair-haired daughters of Pelasgus, hurry! Never did Athena wash her mighty arms before she drove the dust from the flanks of her horses - not even when, her armor all defiled with filth, she returned from the war with the lawless Giants; but far first she loosed from the car her horses’ necks, and in the springs of Oceanus washed the flecks of sweat, and from their mouths that champed the bit: cleansed the clotted foam.
O come, daughters of Achaea, but bring not myrrh nor alabaster (I hear the whir of her axle now!); bring not, you companions of the Bath, for Pallas myrrh, nor alabaster (for Athena does not wear perfume), neither bring you a mirror: she is sure of her beauty. Not even when Paris judged the contest on mount Ida; the great Goddess looked not into orichale nor into the transparent flow of the river Simois, nor did Hera. But Aphrodite took the shining bronze and often altered and again altered the same lock. While my Goddess, after running a two-hundred stade course, like the twin Spartan stars on the banks of Eurotas, then did her simple annointments: oil from her olive tree, applied with skill; and the blush, my dear maidens, that ran up her body was like the color of the morning rose or the seed of the pomegranate. Therefore now also bring you only this masculine virgin oil, with which Castor and with which Hercules anoint themselves. And bring her a comb all of gold, that she may comb her hair, when she had anointed her glossy tresses.
Come forth, Athena! This company pleasing to your heart awaits you, the maiden daughters of Acestor’s mighty sons. Athena, come, the ancient rite is begun, the shield of Diomedes is carried to Inachus, an Argive rite taught by Eumedes, your beloved priest who on a time, when he knew that the people were plotting and planning his death, fled with your holy image to the hill called Creion - and set you in rocks, you, O Goddess, on the rugged rocks, whose name is now the Pallatid rocks.
Come forth, Athena, Sacker of Cities, Athena, helmeted in gold, Athena, who rejoices in the crash of horses and shields. Come. Today, the city will drink from small springs and fountains, but not from the river; girls will dip pitchers in Physadeia today, maidens will bear water from Amymone's pool where the daughter of Danaus lives. For, mingling his waters with gold and with flowers, the river Inachus will flow from his pastoral hills, bringing fair water for the Bath of Pallas Athena. But beware, O Pelasgian river, brim your eyes to the Queen: the man who sees Pallas, Keeper of Cities, naked, shall look on Argos for this the last time. Come, Lady Athena, and meanwhile I shall say somewhat unto these. The story is not mine but told by others.
There was a time in Thebes, my dears, Athena loved a nymph, loved her to distraction, loved her more than any other, the mother of Teiresias, Chariclo by name, and was never apart from her. When Athena drove her horses towards ancient Thespiae or towards Coroneia or to Haliartus, riding through the farmlands of the Boeotians - or toward Coroneia where her grove is heavy with incense, and her altars lie close to the river Curalius - often did the Goddess set the nymph upon her car and there was no dalliance of nymphs nor sweet ordering of dance, where Chariclo did not lead.
Yet even Chariclo did many tears await in the after day, even though she was a comrade dear to the heart of Athena. One day these twain undid the buckles of their robes beside the fair-flowing Spring of the Horse, on Helicon, and the two were bathing; and noontime quiet held all the hill. Those two were bathing together and it was the noontime hour and a great quiet held that hill. Only Teiresias, on whose cheek the down was just darkening, still ranged with his dogs the holy place. And, thirst beyond telling, he came unto the flowing spring, wretched man! And unwillingly saw that which is not lawful to be seen: “Which God, son of Everes, has led you on this rough road? hence shall you never more take back your eyes!”
Athena spoke and night seized the eyes of the youth. And he stood there, speechless; for pain glued his knees and helplessness stayed his voice. But the nymph cried: “What has you done to my boy, Lady? Is such the friendship of you Goddesses? You has taken away the eyes of my son. Foolish child! you has seen the breast and thighs of Pallas Athena, but the sun you shall not see again. O me unhappy! O mountain, O Helicon, where I may no more come, surely a great price for little has you exacted. Losing a few roe and deer, you has taken the eyes of my child!”
With that the mother hold her beloved child in both her arms and, mourning over him like a nightingale, led him away. But the Goddess Athena pitied her friend and said this to her: “Divine woman, take back all the words that you has spoken in anger. It was not I who struck your son blind. For no sweet thing is it for Athena to take away the eyes of children. But the laws of Cronus order demand that whoever sees any of the immortals, when the God himself chooses not, at a heavy price shall he behold. Divine woman, the thing that is done can no more be taken back; since like this the thread of the Fates span when you brought him to light; but now, son of Everes, accept like a man what is only your due. How many burnt offerings shall the daughter of Cadmus burn in the days to come? How many Aristaeus, her husband, to see their son Actaeon merely go blind? And yet he shall be companion of the chase to great Artemis. But him neither the chase nor comradeship in archery on the hills shall save in that hour, when, even though unwillingly, he shall behold the beautiful bath of the Goddess. No, his own dogs shall then devour their former lord. And his mother shall gather the bones of her son, ranging over all the hill. She will think you lucky and a fortunate woman to have your son home from the hills - only blind.”
“Therefore, darling, you mustn't grieve so. Your son - for your sake - shall remain many other honors from hereafter, yes, more excellent far then any other. He shall know the birds - which is of good omen among all the countless birds that fly and what birds are of ill-omened flight. Many oracles shall he give to the Boeotians and many to Cadmus, and to the mighty sons of Labdacus in later days. Also I will give him a great staff which shall guide his feet as he had need, and I will give him a long term of life. And he only, when he dies, will walk among the dead having understanding, honored by Agesilaus, host of the dead.”
So Athena spoke and bowed her head; ensuring fulfillment of all that she said; since to Athena only among his daughters has Zeus granted that she should win all things that belong to her sire, O companions of the Bath, and no mother bare that Goddess, but the head of Zeus. The head of Zeus bows not in falsehood, and in falsehood his daughter has no part.
And now comes Athena in very deed.
O maidens, whose task it is, receive you the Goddess with pious greeting
and with prayer, and with the voice of thanksgiving. Hail, Goddess, and
preserve Inachian Argos! Hail when you drive out with your horses, and
may you drive them home again with joy, and preserve all the estate of
the Danaans forever.
Copyright ©1998-2001 Roy George