For Homer, Athena is the coming together of every force necessary for heroic action to conquer the moment at hand. She is an ethical approach to life, one unburdened by a necessarily moralistic conformity to Form and Tradition. She is life in all of its glorious natural perfection, in direct opposition to the universal law of God that seeks its servitude. She is creative, caring little for the trivialities of a meaningful existence. She is action, pure and affirmative – the inspiration to push a human body to the limits of its possibilities. She is force without reserve – instincts in all of their aggression, precision, and perfection – leading the charge on Troy, Ithaca, Crete, and the Underworld.
For Plato, she is instead a closed window keeping at bay the tempests of life. She is the diminution of heroism, instead the patron of the patient and mild; and even, if our eyes do not deceive, the bureaucrat! She is the guardian of morality, Form, and Tradition: the keeper of Truth and proper erudition: patron to the man of the State – a lion reduced to raging at tics and flies, filled to the brim with guilt, ressentiment, and the power of judgment – concerned not with the active potential of force but with separating what it can do from what is best for the herd. She is a reactionary, sitting on a wall in night patrol, guarding the State, work, authority, and order from the freedoms of the barbarians.
For Lee Hall, Athena is a reaction to the oppressive nature of Classical gender relations. She is a forlorn woman forced to immolate her seductive and reproductive capabilities so as not to offend her weaker and tyrannical male counterparts. She is a scorned lover, anxious to spite each and all that so mistreat women. She is a woman who knows better than to adventure with heroes and fighting men, seeking instead the safety and security offered by the women of the State and marketplace. She is a woman who gladly forgoes the danger of high places, for she has learned that danger no longer offers opportunities to overcome reactive Platonic forces but instead that it merely tempts fate.
For Martin Bernal, Athena is an Afrocentric princess fighting against racist epistemologies. She is revenge against one unique expression of racism, and the affirmation of another. She is a Platonic bulwark against injustice and God’s Law. In this endeavor she is given back to the barbarians, as it is, but only insofar as this gift aspires to ensure the capture, or becoming-bourgeois, of the once-furious horde.
From Homer to Hall and Bernal we see that Athena has undertaken quite a journey. She has left behind the heroes and warriors for bourgeois politics and institutions. But our critique falters if it holds these mediocre bourgeois thinkers responsible for Athena’s descent – even if we all get the Athena we deserve. Instead, the break on Athena’s power must be located at the tip of Plato’s fragile pallid fingers; for it is Plato who separates Athena from what she can do, creating of her a policeman in the service of merchants, politicians, the State, and the iron rule of God. Gone are the irrational glories of Perseus, Achilles, Odysseus, and Ajax – cast adrift with wills and weapons to do what mortals had never done before – and the will to perfection in danger. Instead she finds herself toiling in dank offices, filing the paperwork on the various criminals who dare to break with morality, Form, and Truth.
Indeed, it is Plato’s Athena who equates virtue with wisdom, and who understands that these can only be found in the company of slavish priestly men. But the truth of Plato is not found in what he says, but in what “what he says” does; and what he says creates a bourgeois man of anyone who longs to hear truth in his words. Better yet, just as Athena thrilled in unleashing the heroic in mortal men, Plato thrills in unleashing the bourgeois, knowing full well that his republic is safer without warriors and barbarians at its gates. He thus captures their war machines, allowing them ample space to learn a trade that is well suited for a careful life of leisure. And just as these men of the steppes had to be corralled and broken in order to become useful to the republic, so to did Athena have to become meaningful to a herd in order to become useful to bourgeois men.
This is the price of heroes.