The Goddess-Given Empowerment Of The Indo-European Hero – As Beautifully Illustrated Via Athena In The Iliad And Vak Devi

It is FRIDAY – Devi’s Day ! And therefore, art by HC for a broad Indo-European mythic typology which I have long had trouble finding illustrated anywhere else.

Now, in essence, what we have observed is a standard situation wherein the Goddess bestows empowerment to Her Chosen.

This is found at several prominent points in the Iliad of Homer for Athena in relation to Diomedes and Achilles, and we shall take a look at those in a moment – however, as is semi-often the case, we also find it in rather more ‘succinct’ formulation in the Vedas.

To turn to my favourite RigVedic Hymnal, RV X 125, the justly famed DeviSukta …

Line Five reads:

” यं कामये तं-तमुग्रं कर्णोमि तम्ब्रह्माणं तं रषिं तं सुमेधाम “

” Yam kamaye tam-tam ugram krnomi tam brahmanam tam ṛsim tam su-medham “

What does this mean ?

“Whom I Choose [‘Kama’], I make them Ugra – a Brahmin, a Rsi [Seer, Vedic Versesmith], Powerful [Medha]”

Now ‘Medha’, we would usually interpret to mean mentally powerful, cunning, intelligent; however it can also be utilized in a more general ‘strengthening’ sense. We shall be meeting Diomedes of the Iliad soon – and it is worth noting that here, too, we find this ‘Medha’ in its Ancient Greek cognate form. Divine ‘Medha’, indeed, via the ‘Dios’. An excellently named hero, indeed!

‘Ugra’, however, is the interesting key word here. As in later Hindu renderings we so often find it to mean, effectively, ‘Furor’ – Berserk Rage, especially of Her Husband, the great Rudra (Who has just such an Epithet). Indeed, we also find in the adjacent line that it is She Who empowers His Bow to be able to Smite the ‘Hater of Devotion’.

The actual sense being communicated here is at least ostensibly, once again, ‘Powerful’. ‘Ugra’ being from PIE *h₂ewg- (which, oddly enough, doesn’t actually produce modern English ‘Huge’) – a term which means to ‘increase’, to render ‘larger’; and ‘Ugra’ more properly also encompassing not only the sense of being immensely, savagely enraged – but also frankly terrifying, terrific, in the eyes of those who behold the bearer thereof.

A good ‘functional cognate’ in the Nordic sphere we may find via Old Norse óðr, which is utterly uncoincidentally at the root of ‘Odin’. And, again uncoincidentally, shows up in the form of Óðrerir – the major vessel in which the Mead of Poetry is to be prepared. But more upon that in due course.

What does óðr mean? Well, what do you think. Furor. Both in the sense of the Battle-Rage (Furor Teutonicus), but also with the sense of the ‘Poetic’ Inspiration of the Gods (Furor Poeticus) – hence its other meaning also to refer to a Soul or Spirit (a ‘spark’ of Divinity invested in us, we may suggest) as well as some of the ‘active expressions’ of this quality via Song or Poetry.

This helps to show that in the aforementioned instance of the Brahmin or Rsi being in receipt of such quality of ‘Ugra’ from the Devi, it is not out of keeping to impute that this is the same quality which renders a warrior so mighty in Her Divine Service.

Indeed, with the principles of Combat Theology foremost in my mind, we might feasibly suggest that the work of the Brahmin, the Rsi, is a ‘continuation of warfare by metaphysical means’. Or, perhaps, that the more conventional styles of combat are a continuation or resonancy of spiritual warfare via physical means.

But let us move forward – and back, to Homer and His Iliad.

This poem opens with that immortal line –

“Sing, Goddess, sing of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus—that murderous anger […]” [Ian Johnston translation]

“The wrath sing, goddess, of Peleus’ son, Achilles, that destructive wrath […]” [Augustus Taber Murray translation] would be things in a more direct word-order for the actual Ancient Greek itself –

“μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην […]”

That first word you see there, is ‘Menis’ (μῆνῐς) – a close confederate of Ancient Greek ‘Menos’ (μένος). And, interestingly enough, Sanskrit ‘Meni’ (मेनि). Which I mention due to that most eloquent meaning-field for ‘Meni’ as encompassing both a ‘weapon’ and Anger, Vengeance (especially of the Divine variety), and the Thunderbolt … but also, rather saliently, the Power of Speech: Vak.

Each of these terms is derived from PIE *Men – which refers to the ‘Mind’, ‘Mental Activity’, ‘Spirit’. This is also, as it happens, the root to ‘Mantra’ – and, I am sure to the especial surprise of few, Athena’s Latinate name : Minerva.

Menis in Ancient Greek refers, as we have seen, to ‘Wrath’, ‘Furious Anger’; it is a ‘specialization’ and ‘enhancement’ of what is viewed via ‘Menos’ – which in addition to its Enraged sense, also connotes the ‘Mind’, ‘Intent’, ‘Power’ or ‘Energy’, ‘Courage’ (‘Spirit’ in the other sense), and of course, ‘Violence’ itself.

In this we may sensibly compare it to Sanskrit ‘Manyu’ (मन्यु) – a term which, in addition to the ‘Anger’ we ought by now expect, or the ‘Spirit’ which animates and evidently expresses via animus , also incorporates an array of other senses of ‘strong emotion, actively expressed’. ‘Sorrow’ is one, ‘Zeal’ is another.

It is also, entirely uncoincidentally to both, the theonym and effective salient descriptor for the particular War-Form of Rudra – The Manyu, described as the most feared of the Vedic War Gods (and with a ‘birth/emanation’ mythology which closely resonates with that of Athena / Minerva, as we have detailed more expansively elsewhere).

Something which concords rather well, for our typology, with the prominent Hindu understanding for the vital saliency of Devi as the ‘Shakti’ [‘(Em)Power(er)’] of Rudra; which, as we have earlier demonstrated, is right there in the Vedas – and continues on apace from there.

Now, for us more mortal beings, this ’empowerment’ seems to take place in several general ways – two of which we can find handily in the Iliad.

Diomedes’ experience of the Menos is magnificently extolled in Book V of the Iliad. And I can’t decide which translation to go with here, so you’re getting both:

“Then Pallas Athena put valor [‘Menos’] into the heart of Diomedes, son of Tydeus, that he might excel all the other Argives, and cover himself with glory. She made a stream of fire flare from his shield and helmet like the star that shines most brilliantly in summer after its bath in the waters of Okeanos – even such a fire did She kindle upon his head and shoulders as She bade him speed into the thickest uproar of the fight.” [Butler translation]

“And now to Tydeus’ son, Diomedes, Pallas Athene gave [‘Menos’] might and courage, that he should prove himself pre-eminent amid all the Argives, and win glorious renown. She kindled from his helm and shield flame unwearying, like to the star of harvesttime that shineth bright above all others when he hath bathed him in the stream of Ocean. Even such flame did She kindle from his head and shoulders; and She sent him into the midst where men thronged the thickest.” [Murray translation]

This then intensifies shortly after, as Diomedes takes an arrow to the shoulder fired by the Trojan’s Pandaros, and in the face of his would-be slayer’s rather premature exaltation at the seeming laying-low of Athena’s Chosen .. he makes the following prayer:

“Hear me, daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus, unweariable, if ever You loved my father well and stood by him in the thick of a fight, do the like now by me; grant me to come within a spear’s throw of that man and kill him. He has been too quick for me and has wounded me; and now he is boasting that I shall not see the light of the sun much longer.” [Butler Translation]

The Murray translation renders it thusly:

“And thereat Diomedes, good at the war-cry, made prayer: “Hear me, Child of Zeus that beareth the aegis, unwearied one! If ever with kindly thought Thou stoodest by my father’s side amid the fury of battle, even so do Thou now be likewise kind to me, Athene. Grant that I may slay this man, and that he come within the cast of my spear, that hath smitten me or ever I was ware of him, and boasteth over me, and declareth that not for long shall I behold the bright light of the sun.”

The results are swift:

“Thus he prayed, and Pallas Athena heard him; She made his limbs supple and quickened his hands and his feet. Then She went up close to him and said, “Fear not, Diomedes, to do battle with the Trojans, for I have set in your heart the spirit [Menos] of your father, the horseman Tydeus. Moreover, I have withdrawn the veil from your eyes, that you know gods and men apart. If, then, any other God comes here and offers you battle, do not fight him; but should Zeus’ Daughter Aphrodite come, strike Her with your spear and wound Her.”

When She had said this Athena went away, and the son of Tydeus again took his place among the foremost fighters, three times more fierce even than he had been before. He was like a lion that some mountain shepherd has wounded, but not killed, as he is springing over the wall of a sheep-yard to attack the sheep.

The shepherd has roused the brute to fury but cannot defend his flock, so he takes shelter under cover of the buildings, while the sheep, panic-stricken on being deserted, are smothered in heaps one on top of the other, and the angry lion leaps out over the sheep-yard wall. Even thus did Diomedes go furiously about among the Trojans.” [Butler translation]

Now this spectacle, understandably (and accurately) arouses immediate trepidatious speculation on the part of the Trojans (as given voice by Aeneas) that Diomedes may, in fact, be no man at all – but rather a Wrathful God Who has taken considerable displeasure toward the Trojans so that he now slays them by the score. Again, ‘Menis’ is the term utilized in the course of this discussion.

Pandaros, the Trojan who had shot Diomedes in the first place, clarifies that while it is not impossible the Greek figure causing such devastation is a God – it is more likely that it is the (human) hero Diomedes. Albeit –

“if he is the man I say he is, he is not making all this havoc without heaven’s help, but has some God by his side Who is shrouded in a cloud of darkness, and Who turned my arrow aside when it had hit him. ” [Butler]

“not without the aid of some God doth he thus rage, but one of the Immortals standeth hard by him, His shoulders wrapped in cloud, and turned aside from him my swift shaft even as it lighted.” [Murray]

The two Trojans therefore resolve to endeavour to silence the spectacle of that most troublesome of one-man-armies, and both come riding toward the dismounted Diomedes.

Sthenelos notices this, and effectively tells his comrade that he’s going to get himself killed carrying on like that with two of Troy’s greatest warriors imminently inbound and having marked him for death … to which Diomedes has but this to say:

“Diomedes looked angrily at him and answered: “Talk not of flight, for I shall not listen to you: I am of a race that knows neither flight nor fear, and my limbs are as yet unwearied. I am in no mind to mount, but will go against them even as I am; Pallas Athena bids me be afraid of no man, and even though one of them escape, their steeds shall not take both back again.”

That is, he is going to steal their (divinely-blooded) horses out from under them.

The ensuing combat goes much as one would presumably (by this point) expect it to – Pandaros is eager to ‘finish the job’ started by his earlier arrow, and thrusts at Diomedes with his spear. This looks from his perspective as if it has struck the killing blow through his adversary’s shield and torso … and so he shouts in Diomedes’ face a taunt that he, Pandaros, has just vanquished him and won the fight and its attendant glory.

“Thou art smitten clean through the belly, and not for long, methinks, shalt thou endure; but to me hast thou granted great glory.” [Murray]

Diomedes disagrees – and via way of counter-argument hurls his own spear … which proceeds, under the Divine Guidance of Athena (Who, it must be said, should appear to have a certain flair for the dramatic contrapasso) – to impact “upon his nose beside the eye, and it pierced through his white teeth. So the stubborn bronze shore off his tongue at its root, and the spear-point came out by the base of the chin.”

Not to be satiated by such a kill, Diomedes then proceeds to pick up a massive boulder which should require two men to lift, does so singlehandedly, and hurls it at the oncoming Aeneas – with devastating force and impact the impression-making result.

This then triggers the intervention of several other Gods – Aphrodite arriving to save Her wounded son, Aeneas, before being chased off by Diomedes; Apollo, Who seeks to secure Aeneas, and when set upon by the fearless Diomedes warns the mortal not to push his luck by attempting to fight another God as well … before, in interventive retaliation for the above setting Ares upon Diomedes in an effort to bring about his doom.

Athena, this time in association with Hera, declares that this has gone far enough – and once again appears to the mighty Diomedes: asking why the hero isn’t advancing with fury further into the fray (and suggesting him to perhaps be unworthy of his father’s mantle – that, after all, being the keystone element to various of his previous calls and beseechments to Her) :

“The Goddess laid Her hand on the yoke of his horses and said, “The son of Tydeus is not such another as his father. Tydeus was a little man, but he could fight, and rushed madly into the fray even when I told him not to do so. When he went all unattended as envoy to the city of Thebes among the Cadmeans, I bade him feast in their houses and be at peace; but with that high spirit which was ever present with him, he challenged the youth of the Cadmeans, and at once beat them in all that he attempted, so mightily did I help him. I stand by you too to protect you, and I bid you be instant in fighting the Trojans; but either you are tired out, or you are afraid and out of heart, and in that case I say that you are no true son of Tydeus the son of Oeneus.”

Diomedes answered, “I know you, Goddess, Daughter of Aegis-bearing Zeus, and will hide nothing from You. I am not afraid nor out of heart, nor is there any slackness in me. I am only following Your Own instructions; You told me not to fight any of the blessed Gods; but if Zeus’ daughter Aphrodite came into battle I was to wound Her with my spear. Therefore I am retreating, and bidding the other Argives gather in this place, for I know that Ares is now lording it in the field.”

“Diomedes, son of Tydeus,” replied Athena, “man after My Own heart, fear neither Ares nor any other of the immortals, for I will befriend you. Nay, drive straight at Ares, and smite Him in close combat; fear not this raging madman, villain incarnate, first on one side and then on the other. But now He was holding talk with Hera and Myself, saying He would help the Argives and attack the Trojans; nevertheless He is with the Trojans, and has forgotten the Argives.” [Butler]

Athena then rather unceremoniously boots Sthenelos out of Diomedes’ chariot in order to ride alongside Her Chosen directly.

Awesomeness Ensues.

“and She stepped upon the car beside goodly Diomedes, a Goddess eager for battle. Loudly did the oaken axle creak beneath its burden, for it bare a dread Goddess and a peerless warrior.

Then Pallas Athene grasped the lash and the reins, and against Ares first She speedily drave the single-hooved horses. He was stripping of his armour huge Periphas that was far the best of the Aetolians, the glorious son of Ochesius. Him was blood-stained Ares stripping; but Athene put on the cap of Hades, to the end that mighty Ares should not see Her.

Now when Ares, the bane of mortals, was ware of goodly Diomedes, He let be huge Periphas to lie where he was, even where at the first He had slain him and taken away his life but made straight for Diomedes, tamer of horses.

And when they were now come near as they advanced one against the other, Ares first let drive over the yoke and the reins of the horses with His spear of bronze, eager to take away the other’s life; but the spear the Goddess, flashing-eyed Athene, caught in Her Hand and thrust above the car to fly its way in vain.

Next Diomedes, good at the war-cry, drave at Ares with his spear of bronze, and Pallas Athene sped it mightily against His nethermost belly, where He was girded with His taslets. There did he thrust and smite him, rending the fair flesh, and forth he drew the spear again.

Then brazen Ares bellowed loud as nine thousand warriors or ten thousand cry in battle, when they join in the strife of the War-god; and thereat trembling came upon Achaeans alike and Trojans, and fear gat hold of them; so mightily bellowed Ares insatiate of war.”

I think we can all work out just why Ares gave out such a loud scream at that point – taslets protect the thigh / groin region.

Phrased succinctly – Diomedes’ experience is of the Goddess Herself turning up and bestowing Divine Favour, Furor, and ‘opening his eyes’ to be able to see the world more as it is rather than via the veiled sight of mortal men.

We find this occurring via the placement into the Hero of a certain ‘Spirit’, or heightened state of spirit – where it is ‘brewed up’ in fury, and the eyes and brow seem to shine with a celestial light.

It is not hard to see how this resonates rather important with what we have explicated before – Vak Devi empowering the Rsi, the Vedic Seer-Poet, is doing exactly likewise. The Rsi is enabled to ‘See’ that He might then also Speak – and the Siddhi [‘Empowerment’, ‘Power’] of the Divine Speech is granted unto Him so that He might do so most beauteously indeed.

Yet let us move forward to the next encounter drawn to us from the serried ranks of the Iliad:

To quote from Book XIX of the Iliad, in reference to Achilles –

“She darted down from heaven into the air like some falcon sailing on his broad wings and screaming. Meanwhile the Achaeans were arming throughout the host, and when Athena had dropped nectar and ambrosia into Achilles so that no cruel hunger should cause his limbs to fail him, She went back to the house of her mighty father.

Thick as the chill snow-flakes shed from the hand of Zeus and borne on the keen blasts of the north wind, even so thick did the gleaming helmets, the bossed shields, the strongly plated breastplates, and the ashen spears stream from the ships. The sheen pierced the sky, the whole land was radiant with their flashing armor, and the sound of the tramp of their treading rose from under their feet.

In the midst of them all Achilles put on his armor; he gnashed his teeth, his eyes gleamed like fire, for his grief [akhos] was greater than he could bear. Thus, then, full of fury against the Trojans, did he don the gift of the god, the armor that Hephaistos had made him.

First he put on the goodly greaves fitted with ankle-clasps, and next he did on the breastplate about his chest. He slung the silver-studded sword of bronze about his shoulders, and then took up the shield so great and strong that shone afar with a splendor as of the moon.

As the light seen by sailors from out at sea, when men have lit a fire in their homestead high up among the mountains, but the sailors are carried out to sea by wind and storm far from the haven where they would be – even so did the gleam of Achilles’ wondrous shield strike up into the heavens.

He lifted the redoubtable helmet, and set it upon his head, from whence it shone like a star, and the golden plumes which Hephaistos had set thick about the ridge of the helmet, waved all around it.”

Now that ‘Star’ mention is rather vital, and we find it elsewhere in the Iliad in direct reference to Achilles. Consider this, from Book XXII of the Iliad, and again in reference to Achilles in such a (decidedly Wrathful) state:

“On this, with fell intent he made towards the city, and as the winning horse in a chariot race strains every nerve when he is flying over the plain, even so fast and furiously did the limbs of Achilles bear him onwards. King Priam was first to note him as he scoured the plain, all radiant as the star which men call Orion’s Hound, and whose beams blaze forth in time of harvest more brilliantly than those of any other that shines by night; brightest of them all though he be, he yet sends an ill sign [sêma] for mortals, for he brings fire and fever in his train – even so did Achilles’ armor gleam on his breast as he sped onwards.”

Said star is, of course, Sirius –

And to quote from my earlier work upon the subject:

“Ancient Greek ‘Sirius’ (‘Σείρῐος’ – ‘Seirios’, as we have met before), is speculated to harbour an underlying, archaic meaning that is, effectively, ‘Searing’, ‘Scorching’, ‘Glowing’; and/or, on a non-exclusive basis, ‘Shining’, ‘Sparkling’, ‘Flickering’.

The etymological root for this ‘Sirius’ / ‘Σείρῐος’ – is supposedly Ancient Greek ‘Seiso’ / ‘σείω’, also the root of our modern English ‘Seismic’. Unsurprisingly, it means ‘To Shake’.

Why is this relevant? Because ‘shaking with fury’ is something so resounding that it is even understandable in the modern age without requiring further contextual explication.”

This should also concord with the Vedic utilization of ‘Vipra’, ‘Vip’, etymologically cognate with Latin ‘Vibro’ [whence modern English ‘Vibrate’] to describe that quality (and its active expression) of the Furor Poeticus, the active Communion and Inspirational bearing with and of the Divine.

To quote again from my earlier works:

“It is perhaps no wonder that the cognates for ‘Sirius’ in Sanskrit – ‘Tvis’ ( त्विष् ) and ‘Tvesha’ ( त्वेष ) have such relevant meaning-fields. The latter, encompassing not only the illumination of Brightness, Glittering quality – but also the bringing of Fear, and possessing the quality of emphatic, impetuous, vehement, forceful action amidst Their radiancy of Glory.

Small wonder that this Tvesa is to be found in the Vedas in application to the Maruts (RV V 57 5, V 61 13, I 85 8, I 37 4, RV I 166 5) (and, for that matter, Rodasi in RV I 167 5), Agni (RV I 66 7, RV III 22 2, RV VI 2 6) , Indra (RV VI 62 9, RV X 120 1), etc.

‘Tvis’ is even more intriguing in this manner – For in addition to the ‘Shining’, ‘Sparking’, ‘Blazing’, and general incandescent Brilliancy … we find Vehemence, Violence, Beauty, Authority, Agitation (especially of the ‘Violent’ kind), Desire or Wish, … and Speech.

Tvis’ occurrences in the RigVeda are broadly speaking what we should expect. In RV VIII 96 15, it would appear to refer to a quality of the Soma ; and in RV VIII 46, we find it in reference to Agni upon the path of gleaming, flame-speared War. “

Now if we cast our gaze back to the early lines of Book V of the Iliad and the situation of Diomedes –

“And now to Tydeus’ son, Diomedes, Pallas Athene gave [‘Menos’] might and courage, that he should prove himself pre-eminent amid all the Argives, and win glorious renown. She kindled from his helm and shield flame unwearying, like to the star of harvesttime that shineth bright above all others when he hath bathed him in the stream of Ocean. Even such flame did She kindle from his head and shoulders; and She sent him into the midst where men thronged the thickest.”

The Star that is referenced there is, again, Sirius. Sirius, elsewhere, concords with Rudra. Rudra being Odin, Ugra, Manyu, etc.

It is evident that in these skeins of Homer we have a very archaic Indo-European symbolism to be found indeed!

And, further, if we note the manner in which Athena bestows the Empowering Elixir which imparts this state to Achilles (another of Her Chosen) … is by arriving in Falcon(-described) form.

Something which concords most strongly with elements in both the Vedic and Eddic spheres – in the case of the former, Agni(-Rudra) as Shyena (Hawk / Falcon) bringing the Empowering Elixir to Indra; in the case of the latter, Odin in Eagle form bringing the Mead of Poetry from between the ‘Press-Stones’ [Hnitbjorg – and yes, ‘Press-Stones’ is exactly where we should expect to find the Empowering Elixir, That-Which-Is-Pressed [Soma / Kvasir] in the ritual expression of the myth].

(Our comrade, O.R., had also noted that Freyja’s ‘Falcon-Feathered Cloak’ may also be most pertinent here)

And, having spoken of Indra but briefly earlier, it is perhaps pertinent to note the situation of RV VIII 100 – which features Vak Devi undertaking to empower Indra to go off and slay Vrtra, once Her Share of sacrifice is duly appointed. We can tell that this is what is occurring within the Hymnal’s context, as the term utilized to refer to the figure vocalizing the first line of the hymnal, ‘Tanu’ [‘Manifestation’, ‘In Person’], is in the feminine.

She is, after all, the First and Foremost (Prathama) of Those Who Merit Worship (Yajniyanam), per RV X 125 5.

Indeed, this should therefore make the second line of RV VIII 100 rather interesting from the perspective of Vedic-Hellenic comparanda:

In context:

1 I move before Thee here present in person, and all the Deities follow behind Me.
When, Indra, Thou securest Me My portion, with Me Thou shalt perform heroic actions.
2 The food of meath in foremost place I give Thee, Thy Soma shall be pressed, Thy share appointed.
Thou on my right shalt be My Friend and Comrade: then shall We Two smite dead full many a foeman.

Or, phrased another way, that most prototypical of Indo-European Heroes, the Lord Indra, directed to make proper and appropriate pledge (of) offering to Vak (Who has appeared ‘In Person’ (Tanu), so to speak – and ‘In Person’ is rather interesting considering the relevant Vedic ritual metaphysics of ‘Speaking on Her Behalf’) in order to attain Her Boon …

… and, in a manner reminiscent of what we then see when Athena takes up station in Diomedes’ war-chariot directly (as well as, of course, even prior to that in more ‘veiled’ form), the Hero – Her Chosen – Who properly propitiates the Devi through undertaking such piety is appropriately rewarded in train.

Both with the Empowering Elixir (which Devi is necessary to ’empower’ in the first instance – c.f the situation of Vak Saraswati in the Vedas, or Gunnlod [‘Invitation to Battle’] in the Eddas) or a ‘Furor’ state granted via other (and more direct) means via Her Divine Hand and Sparks from Same … as well as with a most mighty – indeed, the most mighty – Ally indeed !

Jai Mata DI !

One thought on “The Goddess-Given Empowerment Of The Indo-European Hero – As Beautifully Illustrated Via Athena In The Iliad And Vak Devi

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