War and Women: An Analysis of Athena’s Martial Role in Greek Mythology
This thesis explores the mythical and sociocultural justification for the worship of war goddesses by patriarchal societies, using the Greek goddess of war, Athena, as the main point of analysis. The analysis will consist of a broad overview of Athena’s association with warfare, as seen in ancient Greek poetry, prose, and histories. Athena’s major function in myth is to strengthen and support the Greek state and its institutions. This idea is reflected heavily in how she chooses to use her warlike character to ultimately protect Greek society and its traditions. For contextualization, this thesis also includes chapters on mortal women in Greek myth who participate in warfare and the actual historical roles for Greek women during the Archaic and Classical Ages. The chapter on mortal warlike women opens a discussion on mortal and immortal femininity, and how immortality allows goddesses more freedom to transgress into male-dominated realms of activity. The chapter on historical Greek women provides sociocultural information that is used to draw connections between female roles in society and Athena’s role in myth. To further broaden the scope of this work, a final chapter on war goddesses in other mythologies is included. This overview contextualizes Athena’s characterization with that of war goddesses in other mythologies, including Freyja and the Valkyries in Norse myth, Sekhmet and Bastet in Egyptian myth, and Durga in Hindu myth. These goddesses were included to find overarching similarities and differences between depictions of war and women in myth across different cultures.