In my previous post, I noted how, in Greek mythology, the goddess Athena helps guide that culture’s heroes, serving as a model of the feminine influence young men need in order to “fulfill their role as responsible adults.” In The Iliad, she restrains Achilles who, in his anger, wishes to kill his fellow Greek Agamemnon, telling her strapping favorite that she comes to “check” his rage, promising him that if he holds back, “one day glittering gifts will lie before you,/three times over to pay for all his outrage.”
With this action, the gray-eyed goddess demonstrates two of the qualities she seeks to instill in her male favorites: restraint and strategic thinking. For it often seems that without such feminine influence, we men might be more inclined to focus on the present without considering the long-term consequences of our actions. Had Achilles fulfilled his desire to kill Agamemnon, a civil war would likely have broken out among the Greeks, preventing them from accomplishing their (and Athena’s) ultimate goal — defeating Troy. His restraint in the crisis at hand will lead to his glory later in the conflict.
In his rage, Achilles lost sight of the real goal. And it’s not merely in our martial endeavors where we men have difficulty restraining ourselves. It’s also in our sexual pursuits. Too often, we want to gratify our immediate urge for carnal pleasure without considering the long-term consequences of our actions.
For all too long, I was swayed by the arguments of my fellow gay men (including nearly all my gay male friends) that it was okay to “hook up” for casual sex. But, then I began to wonder if my occasional hookups compromised my chances to find what I was ultimately seeking — a long-term monogamous relationship with one man. I resolved that it would serve me better to ignore their advice. And that has not always been easy. For the appeal of the carnal is strong, particularly among us men.
Only in thinking about what I really wanted — and calling to mind the subject of my dissertation — was I able to hold myself back. Once again, this is not an issue of judgment, but of my own personal choice. If others have different goals, it is not for me to decide how they should meet them.
It’s how I came to realize of the importance of Athena — and the principles she represents — to the conversation on gay marriage. For traditional marriage is based upon uniting individuals of different genders, with the woman usually serving as the force of restraint, preventing the man from straying. The issue for gay man becomes how to incorporate the qualities that women bring to marriage to unions which lack a female presence.
With their high regard for that often armor-clad Olympian, the Greeks recognized that a female force was often necessary to help civilize men. Perhaps, we gay men who do not seek to connect with a woman in our romantic (and sexual) lives can, by understanding how Athena served Greek men, find a means to bring those qualities into our lives that women have traditionally brought to marriage.