Athenian Wisdom & Medusian Hubris
“Control the Eye.” — Delphic Maxim 102
One of the central tenets of Hellenismos is moderation, namely, through the rejection of hedonism and hubris. Numerous examples throughout the mythos illustrate the fatal consequences of embracing arrogance, the characteristic that is so thoroughly despised by the Gods: Icarus and Bellerophon both fell from great heights to their own destruction; Narcissus drowned due to his infatuation with himself; Arachne was transformed into a spider after she pompously insisted that she was superior to the Goddess of Wisdom.
This theme persists throughout various tales, but the most notable is that of Medusa. The notorious Gorgon who was transformed into a serpentine monstrosity due to sexual engagement with Poseidon while in Athena’s temple serves as the subject for much discussion; while Ovid’s Roman account of this myth differs from the original Greek account as discussed by Apollodorus, the prominent thesis behind it remains similar- that of the virtue of vision.
Athena possesses various epithets, as do all of the Olympian Gods: Athena Parthenos, Athena the Virgin; Athena Promachos, Athena that stands upon the frontline[of warfare], and, as pertinent to this essay, Athena Glaukopis, Athena the Owl-Eyed. These three characteristics are integral in understanding the foundational traits of the Warrior of Wisdom & Virgin of Virtue. The feature of being “Owl-Eyed” describes the Grey-eyed Goddess’ piercing perception, that penetrates any and all forms of deception, manipulation, ambiguity or obscurity. All intentions and inclinations are revealed according to her divine discernment; this trait proves significant in the Medusa myth.
The Gorgon, in contrast, causes all who meet her fatal gaze to turn to stone; her vision is the inversion of that of Goddess Athena’s; it is the obstruction of sight due to hubris and hedonism, and the inability of mortals to possess the capacity to perceive life with clarity, should they be blinded by their own arrogance. Accordingly, all meaningful relationships are paralyzed and rendered ineffective; the arrogant damn themselves to isolation, misunderstanding and misery.
This theme is likewise consistent in Perseus’ encounter with the Graeae[the Grey Sisters], the sisters of the Gorgons, whose one flaw Perseus would prove able to successfully take advantage of to provoke them to disclose the location of Medusa: the three of them possessed only one eye with which to pass between them, and see. They illustrate a lack of sight, discernment and wisdom.
Perseus, after having been tasked with the endeavor of bringing back the head of the Gorgon as a prize, was provided the Aegis of Athena and warned that if he were to be able to successfully slay her, he would have to fight her while looking to the reflection within the shield; his own mortal sight would provide insufficient in battling the monster of hubris. Only through wisdom would he prove capable of completing the task provided to him; to see not with his own eyes, but through the eyes of wisdom.
The heroic archetype of Perseus, like that of Heracles, in his twelve labors to pay recompense for his immoral actions, Theseus, in his determination of the right of the Athenians to lead themselves, and Achilles, in the sacrifice of his own life in the pursuit of glory, acknowledges the necessity of sacrifice, the confrontation of one’s own egotistical pursuits, and the acceptance of one’s own ignorance in order to provide fertile ground for the cultivation of Wisdom.
The severed Gorgoneion head placed upon Goddess Athena’s Aegis illustrates an eternal reminder of Wisdom’s victory over hubris, hedonism and materialism, and every Hellenist bears this moral responsibility within themselves, in the confrontation of their own Gorgon. This myth, like the tragedies of Narcissus, Icarus, and Arachne, act as a warning against the deification of one’s own mortal fallibilities and arrogance; the acknowledgment of one’s own ignorance is the first necessary step in the pursuit of virtuous Wisdom, and integral in walking within the path of Hellenismos.