Athena Promachos – Immortal Sentinel of the City

The Acropolis at Athens – Leo von Klenze, 1846.

Note the very, very large Athena statue in pride of place upon the Acropolis. This is Athena Promachos (Ἀθηνᾶ Πρόμαχος) – Athena Who-Fights-In-The-Front-Line.

The meaning of the epithet is reasonably direct – the ‘foremost fighter’, the warrior at (and as) the proverbial ‘tip of the spear’.

Where the fighting is thickest? Well, there is She.

Now, in terms of why I’ve used *this* image .. it’s to get a sense of the sheer scale of the depiction. This was a Murti of quite literally ‘monumental’ proportions capable of being seen even out to sea; taking perhaps nearly a decade to bring together, and standing sentinel over Her City for more than a millennium.

In essence, then, we may speak of this also as Athena ‘Polias’ [‘Of the City’] or ‘Politis’ [‘Citizen of the City’], ‘Poliachos’ [‘Protector of the City’], etc.

Or, in Sanskrit – we would term Her the ‘Nagara Devata’, the Deific of the City.

It is an archaic Indo-European understanding to have a most formidable warrior-queen deific (often co-identified with the Mountain – and I suppose the rocky outcropping of the Acropolis shall also do) as, effectively, the Mother and Patroness of the Nation. We have discussed the saliency for Aditi (Vak), the Roman ‘Magna Mater’, and other such figures in greater, grander depth elsewhere – and also spoken to the persistence of this in the form of Bharat Mata even into the modern day.

But let us return to this epithet – Promakhos . It easily connotes this notion of a warrior fighting on the front of a wall of Hellenic spears and shields. But what does it really mean?

As applies the linguistics … ‘Pro’ is obvious; ‘Makhe’ and ‘Makhomai’ being ‘Battle’ and ‘To Battle / Fight’ respectively – we see this in the ‘-machy’ suffix used in rather archaic English constructions.

In terms of PIE – disregard Beekes, as per usual, attempting to claim it’s a non-IE term. Because that would make it *suspicious* to have Armenian ‘Makarim’ with the same meaning and clearly rather coterminous sounding.

There’s also a rather amusing proposal endeavouring to link the Greek term to Sanskrit ‘Midha’ ( मीढ ) – which, once again, a term for conflict and battle .. although also for what is *won* therethrough.

I say ‘amusing’, because *ostensibly* it should link to another PIE root (PIE *misdʰós – rather directly on rewarding) – however Woodhouse (2014) applied Beekes’ own sound-shift law to demonstrate a possible connexion for the Greek to the Indo-Aryan; assumedly arriving in Greek via that noted Indo-Aryan salient in the Middle East.

But more on that some other time.

There’s a few other possibilities that turn up from time to time of some interest. One’s the “Hamazon” that likely turns into “Amazon”. I would also ponder whether *megʰ- (‘to be able’ – whence ‘Macht’ (‘Power’), ‘Magha’ ( मघ ), etc.) might be pertinent. But I am not a linguist – simply a theologian who happens to make occasional use of the field.

In any case, even despite the glorious bronze having been disposed of some centuries ago following an incident with a drunken mob in Byzantium, it is remarkable that the visage – in many ways – yet still endures.

Not just in terms of paintings and long-winded mytho-linguistic excursions into pertinent theonymic epithets and relevant comparative theologia by somewhat ‘broadly digressing’ (i.e. ‘lost’, ‘wandering’) admirers some two and a half thousand years on.

But yet also in terms of the City – Her City – still being very much exactly that.

Even sans the truly monumental statue – Athens without Athena would be unthinkable !

Jai Mata Di

One thought on “Athena Promachos – Immortal Sentinel of the City

  1. Pingback: Athena Promachos – Immortal Sentinel of the City – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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