These things never happened, but are always

These things never happened, but are always

( Saloustios, Of Gods and of the World)

 

 

is the preface to Roberto Calasso’s book: The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, 1993, translated from Italian into English by Tim Parks.

 

 

 

 

The Reign of Jupiter, marble, northern France, 1550-70.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

It was reported in the US today that Roberto Calasso died on July 28, 2021 in Milan.

He was always with the Immortals and he is with them now, still.

So grateful to him for making sense in prose as clear as a summer sky of the lives of the Olympians.  Not that he stopped there, either:  he crossed into Sanskrit thereafter.

 

 

 

 

 

Marble Head of Athena, Greek, 200 BCE.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

Here is a little of what Roberto Calasso says of Athena in the book mentioned above.

 

 

 

Marble Head of Athena, Greek, 200 BCE.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

“….Athena  was the only being who, at birth, did not grab at something but took something off.  Helios’ chariot had stopped in the sky when the goddess emerged from Zeus’ head. 

 

“The air on Olympus was tense, breathless, as Athena slowly began to strip off her weapons.

 

“She put down her shield, her helmet, her javelin, she undid the aegis, and then, just before she slipped off the tunic that hung down to her ankles, a group of Libyan Heroines, clad in red-dyed goatskins thickly decorated with fringes, crowded around to hide her.

 

 

 

Marble Head of Athena called the Athena Medici.  Roman, 198-92 BCE, thought to be a copy of  a statue attributed to Pheidias.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

 

“Unseen among them, she set off toward Lake Tritonis in Libya. 

 

“There she immersed herself in the water, as if to renew a virginity she would never lose.

 

 

 

 

Marble Head of Athena called the Athena Medici.  Roman, 198-92 BCE, thought to be a copy of  a statue attributed to Pheidias.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

“But she had a far deeper intimacy to break away from:  the fact that she had been mingled with the body of her father. 

 

 

 

 

Marble Head of Athena called the Athena Medici.  Roman, 198-92 BCE, thought to be a copy of  a statue attributed to Pheidias.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

 

 

Athena came out of the water into the dry African air, her body glistening and strong.  The Heroines handed her her clothes and weapons one by one.

 

Now Athena could begin her life…”

 

 

 

 

Views of a marble statue of Athena Parthenos

 

Greek, 170 BCE, after the mid-5th century BCE cult statue of chryselephantine (ivory and gold) by Pheidias in Athens. 

The goddess is presented as the goddess of knowledge and arts and dominated the library at Pergamon.

Dedicated in 438 BCE, this statue lacks certain attributes: the sphinx, winged horses of her helmet; and a curled snake on her shield.

Discovered at Pergamon at the Sanctuary of Athena, 1880.

Loan by Antiken Sammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

 

 

 

 

from The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony:

 

“And Triton left (Athena) with his daughter Pallas all day.  Shut away in their playground, they saw no-one else.  Violent and brazen, they often came to blows.  And they already had their own weapons, child-sized but lethal.

 

 

 

 

“One day they found themselves face to face, spears quivering in their hands.  It would have been hard to say who was the mirror of whom.  Zeus saw the danger:  he threw down his aegis from the sky to form a screen between them. Pallas was dazzled, spear in hand.  

 

“And a moment later, Athena’s spear plunged into her.  It was Athena‘s greatest bereavement…”

 

 

 

 

 

Athena was to slay many a man and monster after this episode, but always knowing what she was doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“One of these victims was a giant who was also called Pallas and who, like other giants, was partly covered by scales and feathers.  He claimed to be Athena‘s father.  He attempted to rape her. 

 

“So Athena killed him

 

and, with the skill of a woodsman, skinned him from top to toe.  She was always on the lookout for scales and feathers:  they would go to improve her aegis. 

 

 

 

Marble head and torso of Athena, Roman Imperial copy of a Greek original of the end of the 5th century BCE.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

“But the little girl Pallas, her warrior friend had prompted the one involuntary action of her life: the action with which she had done to death her own image. 

 

“What happened that day in Africa was to be Athena’s secret.  Few would get to know this story of her childhood…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “These things never happened, but are always

    1. Thaks for reading!…….I never read this book at one sitting because it is as dense as the lives of the gods. I have been dipping into it, in and out, for more than 20 years and it is so pleasurable! Sarah

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