The Naming of Athens

November 14, 2011
Crisp robes. Light emerging from dark. Everything spins. My fingers find my face, my hair. Doors open. I enter.
My eyes blurry, blotchy, I find my way through the palace and take my seat.
I’m sprawled in my throne. Legs up, over, spilling out, moving around, barely staying still. I can’t just sit. I need to move.
I pace. Back and forth, in and out. I need adventure, something to occupy time, to-
I whirl around. “Poseidon.”
“You seem,” he paused, and rubbed the stubble of hair on his chin. “restless.”
I looked away. “Perhaps.”
I could see his eyes narrowing in my peripheral vision. Poseidon was hot-tempered, likely to unleash a storm of power at any minute.
I walked over to my throne. “I hope you don’t feel bad about losing to me.” I slumped into the throne, throwing my legs over the armrest. “Or anything like that.”

He scowled at me. “No, of course not.”

I smiled. “Good.”

I remember that day. Sun shining, clouds spinning, splitting, scattered across the sky.

I was larger than that unnamed city. Larger than life. Larger than all those little people below.

Poseidon was there.

I was there.

The unnamed city still lingered, longing for a name.

The sea whirled and crashed up against the cliffs of Greece as Poseidon seemed to sink from the clouds. He swirled to the ground and shrunk, moving away from his divine form, shrinking to a less-godly height of three men standing on top of each other. “Mortals,” he called from the center of the city. “Mortals. I stand before you, larger than life, to ask you to name your city after me and my power.” The crowd stirred, but remained attentive. “I offer you a single gift.” He stopped.

With a swish of a finger thicker than a sausage, a trickle of water, and then a stream, and then a waterfall, burst from the acropolis above and flowed into the city. “For success in war at sea, I promise you.” Poseidon put his hand on his heart and bowed his head. “I promise you,” he repeated.

Clapping and laughter followed, as well as cheering. I wasn’t surprised. Soldiers and armies were constantly invading and fighting each other. The promise of success at sea was a blessing.

Poseidon looked and turned to the Olympians behind him and bowed, and then shot a haughty, arrogant look towards me as if to say, “I told you so!”

I smirked and mouthed, “The day isn’t over yet.”

After much rejoicing, I stepped down to the city. Buildings were beginning to grow along the barren soil and were scattered along the hill of the city, the acropolis. I was squinting in the bright light, and the bangles, rings and jewellery of women in the crowd glared and glimmered everywhere I looked. The skyline seemed empty. It was only land, hard, cracked land, with the exception of a few stray trees.


I slid forward, dwindling down to a modest, far from godly size, a serious look on my face. I gave a curt nod to the other gods and goddesses behind me, the Olympians, and I let a sly smile slip across my tired face as I addressed the crowd before me. I was about to lay all of my cards on the table, take a chance on a hunch.

Standing still, itching to move and jump and climb and fall, palms sweating, I raised my hand and opened it. A single seed fell through my trembling fingertips, toppling and tumbling through the air, and fell at my feet. It sank into the earth, engulfed in soil and dirt.

And for that single moment, all was still.

But every moment ends eventually, as did this silent moment, filled with awe from onlookers. The ground seemed to shake, or was that just me shaking? A single stem sprouted from the ground, starting blooming, leaves bursting from within, reaching sunlight. The stem grew, grew higher, and became a trunk, and ripe olives appeared from what seemed like nowhere. And then there it was- an olive tree, an apparition coming from thin air.

I stood looking at the tree for a moment, barely keeping my balance. “A blessing,” I tried keeping my voice steady as I addressed the crowd, “of wisdom and peace, starting with a single tree.”

And what was that noise? Was that clapping? Immense, insane, impossible applause filled my ears. My body went a numb. I collapsed, sinking to the dirt on the ground and slumped against my olive tree. My olive tree. My hope-against-hope suspicion of an olive tree.

When I woke, I wasn’t in an unnamed city. I wasn’t in a place undeveloped and distant and savage. I was in Athens. This was my city. The olive tree glowed a promising glow, and shone brightly against the shadows and silhouettes of the new city. It was night. The moon was a sliver of pale light in the darkness. Waves still lapped against the cliffs of Greece, but a waterfall could not be heard dripping from any hills.

I sank into my throne again, in the empty throne room on Mount. Olympus, guiled in gold and covered with velvet and silk and other pleasantries. I fidgeted, finally stood up, and found myself face to face with Poseidon. The self-important god of the sea I had just won a competition against. The wrinkles and sunburns and scars on his face stood out, making him look older, more powerful. “Yes?” I asked.
“That was very well played.”
“I’m the goddess of battle strategy. I know my way around a fight.”
“I just came to congratulate you. You did very well out there. The mortals love you.”
“You do so much for them too. These people live off of your seas. They eat from them, trade on them. They worship you.”
“They worship all of us! We are deities!” Poseidon’s voice increased in volume as his eyebrows raised. “Well, Athena, what I really want to say is...” He stopped mid-thought with a pensive look on his face, like he was still thinking about how he was going to say what was on
his mind. “After today, I’ve learned that even though the seas are wild and powerful, they- no, everything- needs to bow before wisdom eventually.”
I could see that admitting that was painful for him, but all I could say was a meek, “Thank you. Thank you...”

Stumbling, tripping, falling, sleeping. That was all I could do. I slept, woke up, and then just gazed down at that new city. My new city. Athens. Mine.

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