More about the Aegis

Head of Athene

Who was Pallas?

The name Pallas is usually another name for the goddess Athene herself (Pallas Athene in the Greek stories, or Minerva in the Roman versions). However, in another account, Pallas was Athene's father. In this version Pallas attempted to rape her and she killed him, making the Aegis from his skin.

Head of Medusa from a vase

Who was Medusa?

One of the Gorgons, and the only one who was mortal. Her gaze could turn whoever she looked upon to stone. There is a particular myth in which Medusa was originally a beautiful maiden. She desecrated Athene’s temple by lying there with Poseidon. Outraged, Athene turned Medusa’s hair into living snakes.

Medusa was killed by the hero Perseus with the help of Athene and Hermes. He killed her by cutting off her head and gave it to Athene, who placed it in the center of her Aegis, which she wore over her breastplate.

From Medusa’s dead body the giant Chrysador and the winged horse Pegasus, her son by Poseidon, sprang forth.

Extracts from the Iliad (Greek names in brackets)

1.…….Meanwhile Minerva (Athene) flung her richly embroidered vesture, made with her own hands, on to her father’s threshold, and donned the shirt of Jove (Zeus), arming herself for battle. She threw her tasselled aegis about. her shoulders, wreathed round with Rout as with a fringe, and on it were Strife, and Strength, and Panic whose blood runs cold; moreover there was the head of the dread monster Gorgon (Medusa), grim and awful to behold, portent of aegis-bearing Jove. On her head she set her helmet of gold, with four plumes, and coming to a peak both in front and behind - decked with the emblems of a hundred cities; then she stepped into her flaming chariot and grasped the spear, so stout and sturdy and strong, with which she quells the ranks of heroes who have displeased her. Juno (Hera) lashed the horses on, and the gates of heaven bellowed as they flew open of their own accord - gates over which the Hours preside, in whose hands are Heaven and Olympus, either to open the dense cloud that hides them, or to close it. Through these the goddesses drove their obedient steeds, and found the son of Saturn sitting all alone on the topmost ridges of Olympus. There Juno stayed her horses, and spoke to Jove the son of Saturn,

2……..Then Jove said to Apollo, "Go, dear Phoebus, to Hector (King of Troy), for Neptune (Poseidon) who holds the earth in his embrace has now gone down under the sea to avoid the severity of my displeasure. Had he not done so those gods who are below with Saturn would have come to hear of the fight between us. It is better for both of us that he should have curbed his anger and kept out of my reach, for I should have had much trouble with him. Take, then, your tasselled aegis, and shake it furiously, so as to set the Achaean (Greek) heroes in a panic; take, moreover, brave Hector, O Far-Darter, into your own care, and rouse him to deeds of daring, till the Achaeans are sent flying back to their ships and to the Hellespont. From that point I will think it well over, how the Achaeans may have a respite from their troubles."

The Trojans pressed forward in a dense body, with Hector striding on at their head. Before him went Phoebus Apollo shrouded in cloud about his shoulders. He bore aloft the terrible aegis with its shaggy fringe, which Vulcan (Hepaistos) the smith had given Jove to strike terror into the hearts of men. With this in his hand he led on theTrojans. The Argives (Greeks) held together and stood their ground. The cry of battle rose high from either side, and the arrows flew from the bowstrings. Many a spear sped from strong hands and fastened in the bodies of many a valiant warrior, while others fell to earth midway, before they could taste of man’s fair flesh and glut themselves with blood. So long as Phoebus Apollo held his aegis quietly and without shaking it, the weapons on either side took effect and the people fell, but when he shook it straight in the face of the Danaans (Greeks) and raised his mighty battle-cry their hearts fainted within them and they forgot their former prowess. As when two wild beasts spring in the dead of night on a herd of cattle or a large flock of sheep when the herdsman is not there - even so were the Danaans struck helpless, for Apollo filled them with panic and gave victory to Hector and the Trojans.

A dark cloud of grief fell upon Hector as he heard, and he made his way to the front clad in full armour. Thereon the son of Saturn seized his bright tasselled aegis, and veiled Ida in cloud: he sent forth his lightnings and his thunders, and as he shook his aegis he gave victory to the Trojans and routed the Achaeans.

3……..Sword in hand he (Mars - God of War) sprang at once upon Minerva and reviled her. "Why, vixen," said he, "have you again set the gods by the ears in the pride and haughtiness of your heart? Have you forgotten how you set Diomed son of Tydeus on to wound me, and yourself took visible spear and drove it into me to the hurt of my fair body? You shall now suffer for what you then did to me." As he spoke he struck her on the terrible tasselled aegis - so terrible that not even can Jove’s lightning pierce it. Here did murderous Mars strike her with his great spear. She drew back and with her strong hand seized a stone that was lying on the plain - great and rugged and black - which men of old had set for the boundary of a field. With this she struck Mars on the neck, and brought him down.

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