Athene's Mirror Pt 3 on Athene, Sex and The City: An Aesthetic of Silence by Stephanie Pope for
myth and poetry

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Pt 3 Athene's Mirror: An Aesthetic of Silence
by stephanie pope

"But she weaves a telltale account of her violation into a tapestry (or robe) which Sophocles calls "the voice of the shuttle." -Geoffrey Hartman

It has struck me how important the peplos of Athene is for in it there comes to us in hand-me-down what calls forth an inherent power in the naming of the father. Toward this Athene’s gaze always turns.

Part One of this series on Athene’s Mirror suggests Athene’s peplos is a mythopoetic space and that it hides a certain kind of knowledge, a metis concerning the father. This metis accounts in an earlier and acculturated human animal’s coarse savagery within the sexual imaginary of our specie and before the presence of its divinely inspired in-heritance in western heritage. Sex and violence have metered, meted and measured a certain and thinly inspired cut-work in design. The precision in which today’s blade maiden operates is a new slim. But, the voice of its shuttle throughout sex and polis will revel in an even older soul-tale, the tale of Athene-Pandora-Aphrodite.

Delving into this inheritance in the imagination in part one and two of Athene’s Mirror, I uncover the inner witness.  An underside to the hand-me-down reveals femininity within the body of Athene as within the walls of the city of Athens. The hymen of the virgin sits akin the city gates, her violation, when recorded, sits akin an image in a poem by Nelly Sachs.  It is as if a tragedy interpenetrates the image thickly and she is pressed into shadow and veiled in a soundless wail. Femininity becomes a shadow, a shadow hunting shadows for likenesses the mind can express into experience again...

             Wailing Wall Night
               Carved in you are the psalms of silence
                                                     -Chorus of Things Invisible

Just as such battlement is as a side put down and shut up, a side held in abeyance sometimes violently, woman is brought in and made a woman of Athens through rape and/or marriage. What operates thrusts her sexuality into abjection as if ‘pressed to the in-sides’ or walls of it, so to speak.  The image ‘woman’ be-comes a poetry of silent tapestry. Her image, as violated and silenced always is in suggestion, is vague. What? What left her? What left her here?

In as much as the fantasy image refuses her and she is walled out as she is brought in, she cannot represent the historically conditioned divinely inspired and masculine autochthonous voice. The voice of the future anterior image, “woman”, what she will have been, is silenced viciously, condemned to silence and her desire appropriated in abyme. This Pandoran ‘context’ Greek weavers, vase paintinginto which the image, woman will have been thrust and from within which the image will have addressed us in be-ing, is the very walled-silence referred to in the poetic couplet. This same silence is what adheres in the story-in-the-making of the women of Athens as a 'race' of woman the way Greek poet-singers carve it.

The story that adheres also adds her(e). That is to say, the story told adds here the wall of silence. It surfaces. Pandora gives rise to the aesthetic voice of silence that will weave into soundless names and forms psalms that be-come poetry.

And so it seems. The seamless image, woman, seems always to have been as if a be-coming woman not here, eXpressing. Where the value of “X” is unknown, a myth of the emergence of Pandora and the race of woman as something withheld from within its own silent fabrication, appears. Poetry being that language that best expresses excesses, poetry best eXpresses what femininity wants as it speaks for this 'race'. There is a myth of woman in lieu of a history of women recorded. What women ancestors were? What woman left her(e)?

From within this bend, breach, envelope, turn or break that is this ‘silence’  is a desired historical marker for the men of Athens as well as what gives rise through them in the fantasy birth that assigns her a mythic function.  In other words the image operating within polis to form ‘her’ is polarized and as a polarized acculturated nature ‘she’ is miss-represented in Athene-Aphrodite.  Woman is historically and intentionally crafted to mis(s)-represent herself and this, to form culture itself.  

Yet, the misrepresented(the abjection) returns an image of itself beyond acculturations. This re-turn from within is a knowledge withheld within an ‘other’ ground of origin, a zoe through which her shadow springs eternally. ‘Woman’ is an absolute metaphor, an image and likeness for itself throwing forth unto itself the names of the father.

Although the image, woman is at once caught between the fantasy birth and the historically crafted image of autochthony, I begin to note that our deepest inheritance as ‘woman’ is not erased when it is silenced in the allegorical memory of our history as a people—nay planet! It is handed down in the down-handed symbolic hand-me-downwoman, veiled mneme contained within the belly of the human story that simultaneously names woman in an ‘us’ which does not represent her.  The Athenians had a word that expressed this symbolic image-idea which inheres woman to culture thusly. It is krêdemnon and it means ‘veil’. The term signifies a “headbinder,” and in as much as the body of a woman represents the polis itself, the veil signifies the battlements that crown the city and fortifying the city against invasion. So the krêdemnon that means veil or ‘headbinder’ also means the battlements that protect a city against invasion.  

There is a third meaning to the word as well. It refers to the lid or stopper of a bottle. Such a bottle is the pithos or dolium that accompanies Pandora in the myth of woman. Hesiod also tells how it is exactly this veil which is the gift from Athene to Pandora. Pandora inherits an origin that resides gifted in ‘the all of the gods’ i.e. ‘the naming of the father’. We only have to open this story and enter it to discover woman, whatever we decide that names, is a transparency behind which hides the original ‘names of the father.’

Another important part I think resides in how we now come to re-think this ‘naming of the father’ in our deconstruction of otherness which also names a race of woman. When our myth of woman names Pandora, the important part seems to me to be that it names her akin to this ‘ground’ or mythopoetic ‘space’, a space that suspends meaning something to difference image-ideas in abstraction. This may mean to say the way we are poetic in our language expresses our thinking difference.

As no thing, Pandora veils and reveals; she is as poetry is in motion which does not contain itself in her reference. Pandora’s mythoi open a space and this is the dolium or pithos in which her hope resides. In other words, where silence is witness to the repatterning in which our names appear and vanish throughout our belonging-together, the absolute metaphor 'woman’ suggests a capacity to bear this poetics of silence as it eXpresses itself and, not containing this silence, releases and reveals it without revealing anything other. Pandora is no other thing. She is a fantasy (t)race…our hope that has found its voice and is coming to presence beyond the anger and outrage of our injuries. Moreover, she brings us back to this hope fully aware and still embodied in a body that survives the horrifying violence that is, from the beginning, of all times.

Perhaps I have begun to think of the peplos of Athene as reflecting more than a social fabric. Perhaps I have begun to reimagine what the peplos of Athene is or points to –not the myth that operates- but that myth always operates in our backgrounds. Our deepest realities are already mythic. This deep fiction is part of our inheritance like the color of our eyes showing up in the strange figures of people in the family photo album whose names we no longer know but who we are told are our relatives. It seems all the eyes that are the “I’s” of myths, particularly the little ones thrust aside, are important to what be-comes and (re)defines us as an ‘us’ in the first place.

Parts one and two in this series reveal the same images that create the biographical history of a people also create that cloth that covers over and erases evidence of mythoi operating within it. This mythoi is a fluid yet silent psalm, an entrance opening into a metis-like core where three guardians are living within the belly of the story. They are going to define us as their de termini open, limit and shape what we are to live; this is the image of fate as ‘spinner’. Woman-at-large is a bearer to us what we might live should we live in pressing open and come to live and give life to a middle way we develop between polarized, over-determined roles. We, in return bear her witness. The same images that shape our official history hide our mythoi like a pattern in a fabric hides in the fabric knowledge of its own skin. The pattern can be maid to another story, if you are quick enough to catch her at work. Remember, too, it is once told long ago; weaving is that remarkable gift Athene gives to the mind of 'woman'.

Much has been written already on Sophocles’ notion regarding the voice of the shuttle by Patricia Kliendiest and she is guided to re-tell the birth story of the violated woman in her re-emergence from historical silences through a play written by Sophocles, since lost, on the theme of Tereus and Philomela. She quotes Geoffrey Hartman who retells quite succinctly the tale…

Aristotle, in the Poetics (16.4), records a striking phrase from a play by Sophocles, since lost, on the theme of Tereus and Philomela. As you know, Tereus, having raped Philomela, cut out her tongue to prevent discovery. But she weaves a telltale account of her violation into a tapestry (or robe) which Sophocles calls "the voice of the shuttle." If metaphors as well as plots or myths could be archetypal, I would nominate Sophocles' voice of the shuttle for that distinction.   --Geoffrey Hartman

If metaphors could be archetypal, the peplos is both and; it is both the veil and the shuttle. It is both the skin of Pandora and her wailing-walled voice.



ToiletPaper Caper

Holocaust Poetry/Essays

Poets of the Holocaust

Nelly Sachs: Criticism and Essay (vol 98)

O The Chimneys /Nelly Sachs

additional links

Athene's Mirror pt 2

Athene's Mirror pt 1

from the essays and dissertation research of cultural mythologer, Maggie Macary

republished from the essays (2004-2006) of cultural mythologer,Maggie Macary Ph.D.

The Chrysalaphantine Athene publishing date 29 November, 2007
republished as Pt 4 in the Athene's Mirror/Athena Sex and the City Essay Series

Transcending The Leaky Vesselpublishing date 21 December, 2007
republished as Pt 5 in the Athene's Mirror/Athena Sex and the City Essay Series

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