The Goddess of Restraint
Athene, the daughter of the mighty Zeus and the goddess of wisdom and battle, plays a crucial role in The Odyssey. From the beginning of the story, she yearns for the prosperity and homecoming of Odysseus and acts as a divine aid -- both subtle and direct -- to the hero. She supports not only Odysseus, but also his wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus, who reside in Ithica where the greedy and drunken Suitors have taken over his estate. Throughout The Odyssey, the goddess Athene plays the role of a powerful intercessor between the gods and mortals, and uses her wits and craft to ensure Odysseus and his family a perfect homecoming.
In Book I, Odysseus is detained on an island far from home by a Nymph goddess who refuses to let him go because she is in love with him. Athene pleads with the Zeus to allow him to be set free and begin his journey homeward. In faith that Zeus will grant her request, she immediately appears before Telemachus to tell him that Odysseus is alive and returning soon.
The method in which Athene chooses to approach Telemachus is unusual and restrained. She does not appear before Telemachus as the bright-eyed, powerful, and gleaming goddess of war that the poet describes her to be, but rather disguised as Mentor, an old friend of Odysseus. This restraint of power by Athene reveals why she is labeled as the goddess of wisdom. She is deliberately subtle to avoid rebelling against her father’s commands, that “...on the journey he shall have neither gods nor men to help him...” (Book V v. 30-32). By holding back, she is able to adhere to her father’s wishes while still remaining a powerful influence in bringing Odysseus home.
Another reason she uses restraint is to allow Odysseus and the other mortals to show their own strength and development. Many times, the help that she lends is purely inspirational: an effort to stir up human emotions and allow the subject to accomplish...