Questions While Viewing Greek Myths and Rituals Through the Lens of Pausanias, III: Is ‘Athena’ the Name of a Person or of a Place?
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CitationNagy, Gregory. 2020, May 1. Questions while viewing Greek myths and rituals through the lens of Pausanias, III: Is ‘Athena’ the name of a person or of a place?. Classical Inquiries.
AbstractIn asking myself whether the Greek proper noun Athḗnē is the name of a person, that is, the goddess known to us as Athena, or the name of a place, that is, the city known to us as Athens, I venture into a way of thinking about the goddess and her city that has never occurred to me before. In all my research till now, I had assumed that the city of Athens—or, at least, the citadel or acropolis of Athens—was named after the goddess Athena. What has changed my mind is my overall reading of Pausanias, a traveler whose detailed reportage about the many different ways of worshipping gods and heroes in the many different places he visited during his travels in the Greek-speaking world of the second century CE has led me to a different way of thinking. On the basis of relevant evidence attested by Pausanias I no longer think that Athens was named after Athena. Rather, I think that Athena was named after Athens—or, to say it more accurately, the names of goddesses known as Athena were based on the names of the places where these goddesses were worshipped. Such a rethinking of Athena can lead to a fuller understanding of ancient ideas centering on divinities as personifications of places sacred to them, and one way to get a close look at these personifications is to view them through the lens of Pausanias, who carefully focuses, one at a time, on each one of the many different Athenas he encounters in each one of the many different places he visits.
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