Athena and Eve: The Real Meaning of Greek Myth

Ancient Greek religion, what we call mythology, tells the same story as the Book of Genesis, except that the serpent is the enlightener of mankind rather than our deceiver. Athena represents Eve—the reborn serpent’s Eve in the new Greek age. She and the Parthenon and the entire ancient Greek religious system celebrate the rejuvenation and re-establishment of the way of Kain (Cain) after the Flood. Though on one hand Greek idolatry violates the teaching of the Word of God, on the other, if properly understood, it reinforces the truth of the Scriptures.

Figure 1. The Parthenon as it appears today atop the Akropolis of Athens, from the north-west.

Figure 1. The Parthenon as it appears today atop the
Akropolis of Athens, from the north-west.

Athena’s magnificent temple, the Parthenon, is the national monument of Greece (Figure 1). From 447 to 432 BC, during the Classical Age, the ancient Athenians built for Athena one of the most superb architectural works of antiquity. Featuring more sculpture than any other Greek temple, the Parthenon dominated their Akropolis—the high place of the city. Inside stood her forty-foot-tall gold and ivory idol-image. Later in this article, we are going to take a close look at Athena’s famous Parthenon statue as it has been reconstructed in the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, from ancient replicas and descriptions of it. We are not going to be able to understand very much about Athena’s idol-image, however, unless we see where she fits into the history of humanity as the Greeks saw it. We need some background. Fortunately, the Greeks provided it in their myths and art.

The first couple

There is no Creator-God in the Greek religious system. The ancient Greek religious system is about getting away from the God of Genesis, and exalting man as the measure of all things. You may think to yourself that the Greeks are exalting gods, not man; but haven’t you ever wondered why the Greek gods looked exactly like humans? The answer is the obvious one: for the most part, the gods represented the Greeks’ (and our) human ancestors. Greek religion was thus a sophisticated form of ancestor worship. You have no doubt heard of the supposedly great philosopher, Sokrates. In Plato’s Euthydemus, he referred to Zeus, Athena, and Apollo as his ‘gods’ and his ‘lords and ancestors’.1 Greek stories about their origins are varied and sometimes contradictory until their poets and artists settle upon Zeus and Hera as the couple from whom the other Olympian gods and mortal men are descended. This brother/sister and husband/wife pair, the king and queen of the gods, are a match for the Adam and Eve of Genesis. Figure 2 is Hans Holbein’s Adam and Eve. This couple is the beginning of the family of man, and the origin of the family of the Greek gods, Zeus and Hera. Figure 3 shows us Zeus and his wife Hera, sculpted on the east frieze of the Parthenon, c. 438 BC. With no Creator-God in the Greek religious system, the first couple advances to the forefront.

Figure 2. Hans Holbeins’ Adam and Eve.

Figure 2. Hans Holbeins’ Adam and Eve.

Figure 3: Hera and Zeus
Figure 3: Hera and Zeus

Hera, the queen of the gods, is the primal Eve

According to the Book of Genesis, Eve is the mother of all living humans, and the wife of Adam. Since God is the Father of both Adam and Eve, some consider them to be brother and sister as well. After they had both eaten the fruit, Adam named his wife Eve ("living" in Hebrew) and Genesis 3:20 explains why: "… for she becomes mother of all the living." In a hymn of invocation, the 6th-century BC lyric poet, Alcaeus, refers to Hera as panton genethla, or "mother of all."2 As the first mother, the Greeks worshipped Hera as goddess of childbirth; as the first wife, the Greeks worshipped her as the goddess of marriage.

We are told in Chapter 2 of Genesis that Eve was created full-grown out of Adam. Before she was known as Hera, the wife of Zeus had the name Dione. The name relates to the creation of Eve out of Adam, for Dione is the feminine form of Dios or Zeus. This suggests that the two, like Adam and Eve, were once a single entity.

The attribute most often associated with Hera in ancient art was the sceptre. She is often depicted as enthroned and holding it in her right hand. She is, and always will be, the queen of Olympus. As the sister/wife of Zeus, Hera is a deification of Eve, the motherless mother of all humanity. She holds the sceptre of rule by birth.

† Bible quotations taken from the Concordant Literal Translation.

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