Had I first encountered Athena in the Iliad, I would likely be writing my dissertation on another deity–or mythological theme. While in the Odyssey, she appears as a noble figure, eager to help her favorite Odysseus home and to facilitate his reconciliation with his son, in the epic of the Trojan War, she is a real bitch, hardly sympathetic.
And the cause for her outrage seems rather petty. She felt slighted when the Trojan prince Paris chose Aphrodite over her and Hera as the “fairest” of the three.* In a rare alliance with her stepmother, the gray-eyed goddess resolved to destroy the city of Troy for its prince’s choice, even preventing a truce which would have ended the war and stopped the slaughter.
In many ways, the role of Athena and Hera in the Iliad is an illustration of William Congreve’s maxim “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Now that Eliot Spitzer’s scandals have drawn his wife into the spotlight, let’s hope that Silda Wall embodies the qualities that Athena and Hera manifested in the Trojan War, initiating divorce proceedings against her husband. And not those that Hera embodied throughout her life, trying to get back into her consort’s good graces.
I feel for Mrs. Spitzer — and her three daughters. It’s a strike against her husband — and a severe one at that — that he didn’t consider how his indiscretions would harm his family should they become public — as they often do for public figures.
Reflecting on how the soon-to-be former Governor, just like another disgraced Democratic governor (Jim McGreevey) confessing his sexual indiscretions, had his wife by his side when he acknowledged his guilt, Maggie Gallagher asks:
But can we at least end this barbaric practice of dragging your wife before the cameras while you confess your shameful guilt? If she wasn’t there in the hotel room when you did your crime, don’t ask her to do your time.
Athena may have overreacted during the Trojan War, but at least she refused to be complicit in a man’s shaming of her. Let us hope that women learn from her (in attitude but not in scale) in responding to the humiliations they suffer from men who don’t honor their obligations — marital and otherwise.
*In many ways Spitzer’s prostitutes are modern incarnations of Aphrodite, the Olympian ever eager to disrobe and bed her fellow deities (and even a mortal or two).