Monday 14 December 2015

Grey-eyed Athene, goddess of wisdom, protector of heroes

Having greatly enjoyed OGAM, I decided that what I really needed (truly), was an Athene/Athena model to serve as an alternative patroness for my Greco-Macedonians.

Athene, daughter of Zeus and Metis (personification of forethought) was the virgin goddess of wisdom and just war - as in, the good sort of war. As such she was often thought of as the protector of cities, and the helper of heroes. In Macedon she was worshiped specifically as Athena Alkedemos, the defender of the people. Many useful inventions and knowledge came to man through the patronage of Athena - olive growing, the plow, the rake, horse taming, chariots, weaving, the flute, and even the production of fire.

Although the patroness of most female arts and crafts, Athene walked the line between male and female attributes and is most commonly shown wearing a helmet, carrying a shield and armed with either a spear of one of papa Zeus' thunder bolts.

She could also be shown in the company of, or be represented by, an owl, specifically the Little Owl (Athene noctua). In popular culture, thanks entirely to Ray Harryhausen's classic 1981 Clash of the Titans, her owl sometimes appears as a little automaton. As I have stated previously, this little chap, known as Bubo, was the best thing about the 2010 Clash... remake.

As a backer of the Wargods of Olympus Kickstarter back in 2013, I received a little mechanised Bubo as a reward and he's been kicking about by bits box ever since. I thought it was time to make use of him, and so a few days ago I ordered myself a Northstar Figures 28mm 'Amazon'. 

Now, although she's called an Amazon, she is really just a modestly dressed Greek female with helmet, spear and shield. How could I not try to convert her into Grey-eyed Athene? So a little cutting filing later, plus the simple raising of Athene's left arm resulted in this.

But what to so with the shield? Athena often borrowed the aegis, a goatskin shield from Zeus, and this is sometimes shown (as in the archaic black-figure vase above) as the mount for the gorgoneion, the head of Medusa. As such, it could be carried like a shield or worn (as above) as body armour. 

However, in other depictions, the gorgoneion was shown directly incorporated into Athene's own shield. I thought I would hazard a go and try to paint Medusa's ugly face free hand on the shield, but I knew I wouldn't be able to handle anything too complex.

The earlier depictions (like the classical red-figure tondo of a cup above) tend to show a very stylised, monsterous face, and its that sort of image that I hoped to be able to mimic.

Here, Athene is handed Medusa's head by Perseus. Interestingly, it also already appears on her shield. Internal chronology was never a strong suit in Greek mythology!

This Macedonian coin from the late 4th-early 3rd century BC interregnum shows a gorgoneion on a Macedonian shield.

On this late 2nd century BC coin of the Seleukid king Antiochos Sidetes, the shield can be seen resting in profile at Athene's side. The profile of the grogoneion can also be made out, jutting out from the shield.

And so here she is. My Athene, much more understated than the Wargods of Olympus deities, but appropriate I think for a more modest and controlled god. I'm never hugely comfortable painting white clothing, but I think she turned out well. Looking forward to getting her on the table and seeing how she handles.


  1. Fantastic work. The white looks perfect and you've done a great job with the Gorgoneion.

  2. Brilliant. Really nice conversion.

  3. Great job! Excellent concept and exicution.

  4. Wonderful work, who sold the owl?

    1. That was a Crocodile Games kickstarter miniature from quite a few years back. I'm afraid I don't know if it ever became available through their shop.