Review of Chapter 8: The Sea Crow
Continuing the investigation of Athena’s powers re metis, this chapter further contrasts the powers of Athena and Poseidon, this time in relation to the sea. They discuss the idea of an “Athena of the sea,” which may seem contradictory as this is Poseidon’s realm, yet Athena appears at important points in several myths being involved with the sea, and she also invents the first ship [in a similar relation of craftiness controlling the horse as in the previous chapter].
They discuss an Athena-linked sea bird, aithuia (215). The Tomb of Pandion, king of Athens, on promontory at Megara, has a link to Athena aithuia. There is a question of just what species was called the aithuia in ancient times, they settle on the sea-crow for convenience, it is both a land and sea animal, hence ambiguous.
“The sea-crow has a semantic value as an intermediary at the centre of a triangle of elements—the earth, the water, and the air. It is thus perculiarly well qualified to symblise various aspects of the world of navigation.” (217)
They discuss links between Athena and the sea-goddess Ino Leucothea from the odyssey; in the Odyssey Athena arranges the voyage of Telemachus; she did the same with Jason and the Argonauts, and further assisted them in getting past the Clashing Rocks with the help of a sea bird. They discuss the use of birds in navigation more generally.
They now feel ready to ask on context, “How did the Greeks view the art of navigation in the light of their religious experience of the sea?” (221) This is explored through two pairs of powers: Pontos and Poros, and Tuche and Kairos. Pontos, the Salty Deep, is the center of the ocean, with no land or other markers to tell the way, “the most mobile, changeable, and polymorphic space,” (222) described with metaphors of chaotic motion. Poros, in contrast, is a navigable ford, or a sea route; another name for pontos is thus aporia.
Tuche, sea goddess and sister of Metis, has both positive and negative sides. The negative: “Tuche stands for one entire aspect of the human condition in a series of representations of the individual buffeted by the waves, whirling with the winds, rolling helplessly hither and thither without respite” (223). But she also stands for success or a goal attained, she takes over the tiller for the pilot and guides the ship safely to port, or grants foresight (prometheia). According to D&T, these two aspects are inseparable, as the chaos and motion of the waves are the necessary context for steering with the tiller, etc.
In opposition/linkage to Tuche is Kairos, the propitious opportunity, which has been discussed in earlier chapters. They quote (250-1n45) from Plato’s Laws, in which the Athenian Stranger says that “Tuche and Kairos govern all human affairs, and that these two collaborators with God must be followed by a third which is our own, Techne...”
“The excellence of a navigator cannot be measured by the scope of his knowledge but rather by his ability to foresee and uncover in advance the traps the sea sets for him which are at the same time the opportunities it offers to his intelligence as a pilot.” (224) (this is paraphrase of Aristotle, they cite the Eudemian ethics, and Nicomachean ethics]
The relationship between Tuche and Kairos, and between the pilot, and the sea, is referred to as complicity:
"But whether they do indeed form a pair or not, Tuche and Kairos both emphasise one essential feature of the art of navigation: the necessary complicity between the pilot and the element of the sea.” (224-5)
Metis is one of the primary characteristics of the pilot (225). Athena is also associated with race runners; in the Iliad, she helps polymetic Odysseus win a race against fleet-footed Ajax, by getting Ajax to slip on some dung; although this is not a matter of Odysseus showing foresight, D&T argue it is basically the same, because Ajax, relying on speed instead of wit, has failed to foresee the dung:
“These circumstances are an expression, in the context of the epic, of the unpredictable nature of any competitive situation and of the advantages that metis cannot fail to derive from such unpredictability” (228).
They reiterate the three danger points of a race: the start, the turning point, and the finish line; however, through metis, Athena in fact dominates the entire track. “The victor is always the one who has more tricks up his sleeves than his rivals imagine” (231).
They develop the concept of “Agonistic area:”
“Although the athletic contest appears to take place within a closed area whose boundaries are fixed by arbiters and where the race is subject to certain specific rules, the fact is that any agonistic activity—whether it be running or the chariot race—takes place within an area that is, in a sense, similar to the area of the sea. The agonistic area, with its dangerous points and critical moments, is a place in which any kind of reversal is possible and where the path prescribed by the rules of the games is paralleled by any way that is open to and negotiable by metis. It is a shifting and polymorphic area in which the intervention of Athena necessarily takes the same form as in navigation where metis is at grips with the fluctuations of the sea and the blowing of the winds.”
Poseidon is Athena’s most formidable rival as a power over navigation, because he also saves ships; but does this differently. Athena appears and opens a path; Poseidon does not appear, but acts to control or tame the waves. They link this back to their differing control over horse driving, from the previous chapter.
Athena does not just cover the driving and navigation of chariots and ships, but their design and manufacture: woodcutters, shipbuilders, and carpenters are all traditionally favored and protected by Athena (235), as is woodworking in general. Odysseus, as Athena’s protege, is good at all these things: he builds his own ship as carpenter, ship-builder, then pilots it.
“Among the expressions in the Greek language used to convey the idea of plotting, planning, or meditating, there is a group which employs imagery taken either from hunting or from fishing” (237). Weaving, like making a net, or constructing a ploy; the example of the Trojan Horse. They reiterate that Athena in these contexts is doubly active (instigator of movement, and resolver of difficulties), whereas Poseidon is passive as a sovereign (does not appear, but simply embodies control over the waters).
Finally, they bring up three myths which could challenge this interpretation, because Poseidon is portrayed more actively as a protector or patron of pilots: that of the Phaeacians, from the Odyssey; of Phrontis the pilot of Menelaus, and of cape Sounion, with temples to both Poseidon and Athena. They determine that “no pilot can exercise a craft which princiopally comes from Athena unless he simultaneously recognizes the role of the sovereignty of Poseidon” (243) (which essentially reiterates the concept of “complicity,” from earlier in the chapter).
The different roles of Poseidon and Athena vis-a-vis navigation are finally illustrated by the contrast between, the two helmsmen of the Argos: first there was Tiphys, favored by Athena; then after his death Ankaios, son of Poseidon (244). They are very different: Tiphys is masterly, Athena stands at his side. Ankaios, in contrast, never foresees anything, never decides anything; he always needs help and eventually quits in tears.
“... Athena manifests herself by exercising her intelligence as a navigator who is able to plot a straight course over the sea by taking cunning account of the unpredictability and instability of the waves...” (248)
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