With the dawn of the Hellenistic period, in which Alexandria became an important centre, the myths were mainly interpreted allegorically. For instance Chrysippos (280-206 B.C.) saw in Athena the personification of wisdom, coming forth from the head of Zeus, in the shape of a Voice. Diogenes the Babylonian (c. 240 B.C.) thought the goddess to be identical with the aither which crowns the head of the mountainous all-father. And Aristokles decided that the myth was the allegory of another one, viz. the story of Athena's birth in Crete, where she remained hidden in a cloud till Zeus cleft it in order to bring her to light.
Stoicism is scarcely to be considered a product of Greek intellect, but rather the firstfruits of the interaction between West and East which followed the conquest of Alexander. Reason, λογος, was the Stoics' leading ethical conception. In literature the myths now simply form the illustrations, the motives and the raw material for the romantic and rethorical works of Alexandrian authors, causing many stories and legends to have become known till now. Later on this genre finds its culmination in the Roman poet Ovidius (43 B.C. - A.D. 17). In Fasti, III, 835-842 he gives a conventional account of the birth story, with of course Minerva starring instead Athena.
In Fast, V, 229-258, he only superficially alludes to Athena's birth, but develops in detail the psychological reaction of Juno (Hera) to the miraculous birth, thus putting her in the foreground when she complains of the fact that Jupiter did not need her and relates how by means of an artifice, by smelling a magic flower, without Jupiter she gave birth to Mars.
When the apostle Philippus came to Samaria he noticed, that there was a sorcerer, Simon, praticing(Acts 8:9-24). From other sorces we know this Simon was supposed to be the founder of a gnostic sect. He is told to travel together with a woman, Helena. The first author about this Helen is Justin Martyr; he says (Justin apol.1.26,64): Imaginem quoque Simonis habent factam ad figuram Jovis, et Helenae in figuram Minervae; et has adorant. Also Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, says that the followers of Simon Magus worshipped images of Simon in the form of Zeus, and of Helena in the form of Athena (libros V,1.23,2). Both, Helen and Athena are designated as προτη εννοια, the first thought, of God. The philosophers interpreted Athena, emerging from the head of Zeus, as Gods Purpose, his Intelligence. In Sapientia Salomonis (18,15), a hellenistic- jewish scripture of the first century B.C. we read:Your all-powerfull word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior carrying the sharp sword of your authentic command..... Without any doubt this is a description inspired by the myth of the birth of Athena.
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Birth of the goddess Athena
© A.E.J. Kaal