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A goddess, Grecian women and ruins

I groaned when I saw it was a long way uphill from the gates to the citadel’s ruins. At least, the path was lined with trees on both sides. And the stone benches under the trees were reassuring. But once I began climbing, I realised it wasn’t too steep after all.

I was glad when I made it to the top. Not simply because I was done with the climbing, but because it was almost as if I’d stepped into the settings of Troy. The rough and slippery pathway, the stone monuments and their pillars, all seemed straight out of the epic movie! The morning sunshine was bright enough to make the Acropolis glow against the clear blue sky.

I’d heard a lot about the Parthenon, the main temple of the Acropolis in Athens. And there it stood–tall, with pillars. That was about it. But the descriptions on the placards were more than enough to intrigue me. This ‘temple’ wasn’t really a temple, even though it was dedicated to Athena, the goddess of warfare, battle strategies and skill. It was used as a treasury. While the goddess herself seemed like an embodiment of all things traditionally considered masculine, the name of the temple she presided over–Parthenon–means ‘virgin/maiden women’s apartments’.

Acropolis contains 21 important sites within its premises. Like the Parthenon, some of these sites were dedicated to virgin goddesses. I wondered if it had something to do with the fact that women used to take refuge in citadels during wars. After all, I’d read enough Greek mythology to know that virgin women were treasured and protected as ‘assets’ during times of war.

So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that several parts of this citadel were meant to be lodgings for the important women of ancient Athens. For instance, the Arrephorion is a tiny building beside the Acropolis, which was meant to serve as quarters for noble Athenian girls who would fashion peplos (long garments) for use in the Panathenaic Games. Pandroseion is yet another part of the citadel, which was supposedly a refuge for Pandrosus, daughter of Cecrops I, the first king of Attica Greece.

In the evening, I visited the top-floor café at the Acropolis Museum. It was the perfect spot to catch a night view of the ancient citadel. Out the glass windows, the Acropolis glowed pale gold.

They say there used to be a giant bronze statue of Athena in this citadel, way back in 400 BC. Supposedly, it depicted Athena as a goddess who fights in the front line–she held a spear and a shield. The statue was huge enough to have been visible from the sea, they say. I found it odd that they’d have a warrior (Athena) for a goddess at a time when women could only be priests, wives, lovers, mothers or war prizes. While I could picture women hiding to avoid being taken as slaves, I found it rather hard to place the goddess who stood for her fierce warrior spirit.

Still wondering about the duality of Grecian women’s status, I made my way to the Erechtheion. This temple was built to honour both Athena and the sea-god Poseidon. I didn’t find anything related to Athena or Poseidon here. However, I found six pillars sculpted as peplos-draped women, supporting the roof of the Erechtheion on one side. Called ‘Porch of the Maidens’, this part of the temple is probably most representative of the Grecian women’s plight.

The heads of these caryatids were bulky. Apparently, they were built this way to support the heavy roof. It would have otherwise crushed their maiden necks under its weight. I found that rather symbolic of women’s true status in those times: they seemed to bear the staggering, imposed weight of their maidenhood.

The Grecian women were on my mind even as I descended the hill that evening. They had reminded me of Briseis, priestess of the Temple of Apollo, in the movie Troy. A woman of god, she might have been, she was taken as a war prize nonetheless. It’s been several thousands of years since her era. Yet, I wondered if things have changed at all.

Having walked through history to my heart’s content, I made my way downhill. In the evening, I visited the top-floor café at the Acropolis Museum. It was the perfect spot to catch a night view of the ancient citadel. Out the glass windows, the Acropolis glowed pale gold. I wondered what the bronze Athena would have looked like had she still stood there. What would the goddess have made of modern women? I imagined she’d be reassured–there were at least a few solo women travellers like me, who’d flown across seven seas and made it to her citadel.


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