It is FRIDAY – Devi’s Day. And therefore, a rather excellent unit patch by way of devotional (a)art(i). It belongs to another US National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite launch – the aptly named “INTRUDER” naval surveillance platform, the same series as the “ODIN” launch whose blazon I wrote about earlier.
Now, I felt this insignia deserved a writeup not simply because it is a pretty cool rendition of Athena, nor even due to the clear resonancy between the common understanding of Athena as ‘Goddess of Wisdom’ And Warfare and the role of intelligence/surveillance for warmaking.
But because various of the symbolic elements of this blazon actually have a deeper resonancy that enables a more comprehensive elucidation of the iconography and mythic saliency of Athena.
We shall start with a suitably excellent excerpt from The Iliad:
“So spake he in prayer, and Pallas Athene heard him, and made his limbs light, his feet and his hands above; and she drew near to his side and spake to him winged words: “Be of good courage now, Diomedes, to fight against the Trojans, for in thy breast have I put the might of thy father, the dauntless might, such as the horseman Tydeus, wielder of the shield, was wont to have. And the mist moreover have I taken from thine eyes that afore was upon them, to the end that thou mayest well discern both god and man.”
This is Diomedes [whose name we might perhaps translate as ‘Divinely Guided’] being granted the ‘Menos’ [‘insight’/’inspiration’/’empowerment’] by His Patron Goddess – and thus gaining the ability to not only fight amazingly well against the Trojans … but even to make war upon certain of the other Gods Themselves! That is what is meant by having the ‘mist’ lifted from his eyes so that he might see these figures.
Indeed, not even Ares is safe!
Pretty apt figurative resemblance for a spy satellite, you would have to say. Lifting the ‘fog of war’ for accurate striking against any such target as may be necessary. Regardless of how well it might otherwise so happen to conceal.
And doing so via that ‘communication’ from On High, that impartment of ‘guidance’ or ‘wisdom’ – ‘Menos’, and its not unrelated Ancient Greek ‘Metis’ being most relevant here.
As, of course, is ‘Minerva’ – whence the Latin language of the motto ‘Victoriam Per Intelligetiam’ also refers.
However, there is a rather more immediate eye-conographic element which demands elucidation, and that is the Eyes.
Now, the Eyes of Athena are one of Her most distinctive features, and yet perhaps partially due to the pallidity of how we tend to imagine Classical sculptuary today – probably one of the lesser envisaged ones in the mind’s eye of many. Except when we think of the Owl that is so emblematic both of Her and Her Wisdom and of Athens … and that is no accident.
Athena is hailed as ‘Glaukopis’ – She of the Shining Eyes, Grey-Eyed, and resonant also with the ‘Blazing-Eyed’ we find in various Sanskrit, as well as Old Norse theonymics. [As a side-point, in the course of the Manyu article – MahaShivRatri and the MythoLinguistics of War – I demonstrated that a ‘Third Eye’ concept also exists in ancient Greek mythoreligion, veer-y strongly co-expressing what we find in the more frequently encountered Hindu]
An Owl, meanwhile, of the Athenian variety – is ‘Glaux’. And these terms are clearly interrelated. ‘Glaukos’, the Greek term that is coterminous somewhat to both – refers to that aforementioned distinctive blue-grey-green colour which also possesses a radiant lustre of supernal empowerment thereto.
Now, if we look at this fine portrait of Athena, we observe that yes indeed, one Eye thereupon is of an artist’s impression of such a colour … whilst the other is the more figurative rendition thereof – as it is an Owl’s Eye. Thus conveying both the colouration and characterization of the Eyes of Athena. And therefore, the supreme potency of insight and true-seeing that this quite naturally entails.
The Owl is the supreme predator of the Darkened Sky, and so makes a seriously logical sense when we are speaking of the Great Eye(s) in the Ink-Dark Night-Time [‘Kaal’] Space above the Earth and even Atmosphere. This is also, in the comparative Indo-European mythography where we shall often find the Great Goddess, directly amidst the supreme wisdom of the conceptual sphere [the ‘Astral’, in another sense – also referred to as ‘The Waters’]
It is therefore eminently appropriate for the Goddess Whose Associates Include The Owl, to be a symbolic touch-stone for a spy satellite. And not least due to the manner in which Hegel’s famed reference to the Owl in question observed that there were some truths that could only really be seen in darkness. [Albeit with the sight-in-darkness of such a surveillance platform being geared and keyed toward ‘foresight’ rather than ‘hindsight’, as Hegel had more directly meant it.]
There is one final element that I shall consider here, as it pertains subtly yet directly to these spy satellites and their intended mission. There is much more that can and should be said upon the iconography and mythological saliency of Athena – and my earlier works do that, so I shall not repeat most of it here.
But the Goddess was well-known for Her close association to a particular city, and due to the nature also of that city it seems quite clear that the patron of the eminent thalassocratic power of the ancient world with its storied navy … would be additionally pretty appropriate for what is operationally a Naval reconnaissance asset.
Further, the role of Athena as Protector [hence the ‘Gorgoneion device’] of said polity (and, for that matter, particular favoured heroes) plays into this as well. As that is what the informational flows provided by these satellites are there for. Enabling the vessels of the fleet and other such installations and personnel to operate with confidence ‘neath the Aegis thereof. [I am getting in multiple shades and flavours of referencing there – as the original Aegis of Athena is the flayed hide of a fallen foe, worn as a protective garment; however it has acquired a modern and more colloquial meaning of a ‘protective umbrella’ or sphere/span of attention … whence its much more recent application as a term in US Navy utilization, to refer to the missile command system of its fleet. A ‘Spear’, perhaps, of a contemporary sort of form.]
So, there you have it. A brief synopsis of some of the relevant conceptry and iconography of Athena, and why it is a particularly well-chosen emblem for an American military reconnaissance/surveillance satellite.