Powers of Goddesses in Ancient Greece

In the Odyssey, Athena states plainly that the powers of a goddess are well beyond a mortals, Book 20, line 55,

"Oh impotence of faith! (Athena cries,)
If man on frail unknowing man relies,
Doubt you the gods? Lo, Pallas' self descends,
Inspires thy counsels, and thy toils attends.
In me affianced, fortify thy breast,
Though myriads leagued thy rightful claim contest
My sure divinity shall bear the shield,
And edge thy sword to reap the glorious field."

One of of a goddesses’ special powers is the ability to change her
shape and appear in a disguise Book 7, line 27:

“His step a virgin met, and stood before:
A polish’d urn the seeming virgin bore,
And youthful smiled; but in the low disguise
Lay hid the goddess with the azure eyes.”

Again in Book 13, line 222,

“And Athena drew near him in the form of a young man, a herdsman of sheep, one most delicate, as are the sons of princes. In a double fold about her shoulders she wore a well-wrought cloak, and beneath her shining feet she had sandals, and in her hands a spear.”

A not so subtle change involves becoming a bird. In this form the goddess can fly around and spy on mortals. The connection between flights of birds and goddesses is used in augury, Book 3 line 371

“So spoke the goddess, flashing-eyed Athena, and she departed in the likeness of a sea-eagle; and amazement fell upon all at the sight, and the old man marvelled, when his eyes beheld it.”

Not only can a goddess change her shape but she can also make
transformations in the lives of mortals, book 10, line 233:

“She brought them in and made them sit on chairs and seats, and made for them a potion of cheese and barley meal and yellow honey [235] with Pramnian wine; but in the food she mixed baneful drugs, that they might utterly forget their native land. Now when she had given them the potion, and they had drunk it off, then she presently smote them with her wand, and penned them in the sties.”

All goddesses perform transformations, not just Circe. But each
goddess is limited by the realm over which she rules. This realm is
assigned to her by her parents who determine the realm at conception.
This realm is intimately tied to the personality of the goddess and the
total being of the goddess is devoted to the rule of the realm. To
know the goddess is to know the realm. In the previous quote a drug seems part of the transformation. The knowledge of the drug is what the goddess posseses. How is works is a matter of the laws of Nature as set up by Zeus or some other lesser deity. The drug then gives Circe access to the nature of another realm.

Unlike mortals goddesses receive their personality and powers at
conception and have no period of education to acquire power. But they are born physically small and quickly achieve their larger stature. Hera was born small as a baby but she was quickly swallowed by her father. This did not kill her, but confined her powers to his body. When she was released from her father’s body she was full-sized but still naked. Some suggest that she was born twice. During the time she was in her father’s body her realm was
unaffected by her powers. But when she was released she had full control of her realm.

A goddess lives beyond time and perceives all time at once. A goddess is not allowed to reveal her knowledge of the future except on special occasions and in encrypted form. Zeus enforces this rule so that gods maintain their divinity and men cannot get hold of it.

The question of who sets the fate of man is not easily answered. The most common answer is that Zeus sets this fate in his divine plan. The fates do not set fate but only interpret the fate and structure it for the particular individual. They do not weave a path for every action and event in the life of an individual. Rather they seem to weave numerous possible threads of life that are connected at special knots that must occur and that tie the disparate
threads together. What the goddess does is know what the possibilities are. she can then change the thread that the individual follows.

A goddess rules her realm a a mortal monarch would rule. Within the boundaries of her realm she learns what happens by flying around and viewing events. She has issued rules for her realm and watches our for when those are broken. Some transgressors must be punished. She must also hold court and listen to petitions from her subjects. These come in the form of prayers. She must decide if the petitions have merit and what retribution is appropriate. Laws may be changed or the thread of life of a subject may be changed.

The goddess Iris with her wand flying through the air.
Goddess Iris

Homer, Odyssey, 7.77 “With that the goddess deign’d no longer stay,
But o’er the world of waters wing’d her way;”

A goddess can also negotiate with other deities for other temporary powers and favors perhaps in another realm. An example of this is at Homer, Iliad 14,230: ‘There she met Sleep, the brother of Death; and she clasped him by the hand, and spake and addressed him: “Sleep, lord of all gods and of all men, if ever thou didst hearken to word of mine, so do thou even now obey, [235] and I will owe thee thanks all my days. Lull me to sleep the bright eyes of Zeus beneath his brows, so soon as I shall have lain me by his side in love. And gifts will I give thee, a fair throne, ever imperishable, wrought of gold, that Hephaestus, mine own son, [240] the god of the two strong arms, shall fashion thee with skill, and beneath it shall he set a foot-stool for the feet, whereon thou mayest rest thy shining feet when thou quaffest thy wine.”’

Of the goddesses only one can make errors, Ate, and she is confined to live among men.

As to the reality of the deities Aristophanes presents an interesting argument in The Knights,line 29,

Nicias - The best thing we can do for the moment is to throw ourselves at the feet of the statue of some god.
Demosthenes - Of which statue? Any statue? Do you then believe that there are gods?
Nicias - Certainly.
Demosthenes - What proof have you?
Nicias - The proof that they have taken a grudge against me. Is that not enough?
Demonsthenes - I'm convinced that it is.

Plato states a number of important properties of goddesses after he proves the existence of deities: Plato, Laws, 907b, “May we now say that we have fully proved our three propositions,—namely, that the gods exist, and that they are careful, and that they are wholly incapable of being seduced to transgress justice?” The implication of the word careful is that they care for mankind.

Titles of Goddesses

  • Acraea – ‘ἀκραῑος’ – ‘dwelling on heights’ from Indo-European ‘ak-‘, ‘Sharp’, ‘roi-‘, ‘Hill’, and ‘u̯es-‘, ‘To live”
    .
  • Despoena – ‘δέσποινα’ This word means ‘mistress’. It is the feminine version of the word ‘despot’ which originally meant ‘master of the household’ and derives from ‘*dems-pot’, “master of the household’, from Indo-European ‘demə-‘, ‘house, household’ and ‘poti-‘, ‘powerful, lord’
  • δι̂α θεάων – ‘divine goddess’ The word dia is the feminine of ‘dios’ which means god and comes from Indo-European ‘deiw-‘, ‘ To shine’. Th word ‘theaon’ mean goddess and is the feminine of the word ‘θεός’ which means ‘god’ and comes from the Indo-European ‘dhes’, ‘divine or theistic’.
  • θεὰ – ‘goddess’ – feminine of the word ‘θεός’ which means ‘god’ and comes from the Indo-European ‘dhes’, ‘divine or theistic’
  • ‘πότνια’ – ‘mistress’ from Indo-European ‘demə-‘, ‘poti-‘, ‘powerful, lord’

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Powers of Goddesses in Ancient Greece

Questions and Answers

Question: Do you have any pictures of the crowns that goddesses wore.
I have to do a project for class and I was going to have them make crowns. But I need to know what the crowns looked like so they can make them

Answer: Here is Artemis wearing a crown:

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But, in general goddesses did not wear crowns. In the end of the Odyssesy Athena wears a thing like a crown on her head that actually glows. Some translate it as a lamp.

Question: I know that Helen couldn’t have surpassed the beauty of a goddess but could she have surpassed the beauty of a nymph?

Answer: Helen was the most beautiful woman of her time, and maybe of all time, but what does this mean? There is a suggestion that the reason why she was was so beautiful was so that she would cause a lot of trouble. But is true beauty good or bad? If beauty is associated with a goddess it must be good. Odysseus says that Penelope is less beautiful than Calypso but he loves her more anyway. Hesiod seems to think that the beauty of women is a trap for men that would lead them astray. Paris is supposed to judge the three goddesses but this is really impossible because they are perfectly beautiful. Instead he judges them on their gifts and he decides that the gift of love is more important than wisdom or social position. He is cohabiting with a nymph Oenone who he sets aside when he obtains the love of Helen. It is possible that the beauty of a women cannot be compared to that of a nymph or a goddess. Women can have beauty that is good or bad but a nymph, being immortal, must have only good beauty. This kind of beauty might not be as exciting as the beauty of a woman. A man might prefer a real woman just for the excitement value.

There is no substantial difference between a nymph and a goddess. There is a difference in scope and status though. A goddess like Athena or Aphrodite has a realm that is conceptual. Lesser goddesses have realms that are actually territorial. This includes goddesses such as Europa and Asia. The less important the goddess the smaller the territory. The least important goddesses have very small territories such as a spring or a tree. Nymphs are goddesses with small territories. This heirarchy is evident in the Odyssey where the Nymph Calypso has a palace staffed by the lesser Nymphs of the Island Ogygia.

Question: what is the role of a greek godess in comparison to a greek woman

Answer: In the Greek myths a goddess is hard to distinguish from a woman. The myths are not clear whether women like Medea, Helen, Pasiphae, or Ariadne are mortal or immortal. A goddess generally had a sphere of influence, but that sphere might be very small. Circe had only an island to rule but she had maids to serve her who were also goddesses. These were nymphs whose sphere of influence included only a stream or spring on the island. In this case there is a heirachy of goddesses, with the highest commanding and the
lowest serving. An ordinary woman was not so different except that she was always subject to her husband. The role of a wife was to bear and raise children, but she also often commanded female servants. The sphere of influence was more domestic, confined to the house, but still a sphere of influence. One difference was in the matter of mortal petitions. Mortals could petition a goddess. The goddess would then have to determine the suitabilty of the petition and act on it if it was favorable. Mortal women has no such role.

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