I’m not sure why people equate rational with boring. Being wise doesn’t equate “no fun.” It means maintaining balance by observing everything in moderation, including moderation. That is why I encouraged my Olympic family to go big or go home on my birthday.
A Panathenaia hasn’t been celebrated for 2,000 years. So Aunt Hestia, my event planner, blew out all the stops. With Artemis’ help, we locked down a national park for our daytime track and field festivities. Nyx let us buy out her London club for the afterparty. Hermes delivered the invitations (or at least the ones he felt like delivering). And everyone chipped in: Selene offered to shuttle any out-of-towners to and fro, Chloris set the stage with her blooms, Hestia and Demeter provided their own homebrews (and pie!), and Poseidon made an impromptu pool area by the track so my less-than-athletically gifted siblings (*cough*Aphrodite*cough*) could opt out of the games and still enjoy the party.
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Only one thing was missing: my godfather, Prometheus. It’s difficult being among the mortals without him. We brought them into being together. All that is good about them is because of him. There’s no one I’m closer to, and with all that I’ve discovered lately, he’s the one I want to see most. I need to talk with him. But he’s on the run, in hiding, and I fear he’s in trouble.
Ten minutes before the games began, Hermes winged up. He dropped Prometheus’ invitation at my feet. My owl, Mr. Hoots, brought it to me. It was unopened.
“You, of all gods, couldn’t find him?” I asked incredulously. Hermes didn’t respond.
“Did you at least deliver Eris’ invitation?” He rolled his eyes. I wasn’t going to let him off the hook. Last time Eris didn’t get invited to a party, she started a war. “Hermes, answer me!”
Hermes sighed heavily. “Yes, Eris got hers. Are we done here?”
He’s such a toolbag. But I didn’t get to linger long on that.
Nike, my favorite sister, was at my elbow. She placed a delicate box in my hands.
“I wanted to be the first,” she said, “to wish you the happiest of all happy birthdays. Even if it is a lesser Panathenaia, I think they’re all pretty great.”
“Thank you!” I hugged her and handed my spear to Mr. Hoots. As I touched the box, it unfolded as if it had petals, revealing a carved gold ring. “It’s an owl,” I mused. I placed the gorgeous totem on my finger. It felt light as a dream.
“It belonged to Metis,” Nike said, “ocean nymph, Titan mother of deep thought, magical cunning, and wisdom.”
I held my hand up to catch the sun’s light. Underneath the surface, I could see a tidal wave of movement. “This belonged to my mother,” I marveled. Unbidden, tears filled my eyes. I embraced my sister. Words were hard to grasp, but I managed to choke out two: “Thank you.”
Nike squeezed me back. “I was supposed to give it to you ages ago. Do you like it?”
“Like it?” I laughed. “I love it! How did you get it?”
“Metis gave it to me,” she said. Her brow clouded.
Something was wrong. “Nike?” I stepped toward her.
She forced a smile and took off running. “Betcha can’t catch me!” she cried over her shoulder.
I’d never beaten Nike in a foot race. But it wasn’t my intention to try. After all, my mother’s not the only cunning and magically-gifted goddess..
I threw my shield after Nike, then ran and leapt on top of it. The magic of my golden sandals increased its velocity, and I caught up to her quickly. As I spun past, I couldn’t help teasing her: “Bet I can’t what?”
“Cheater!” she yelled. “Don’t you dare pull that trick during the games!”
I soared over the treetops and came to rest at the edge of the competition field. I leaped off the shield and landed neatly by the track. Mr. Hoots caught up to me. He returned my spear and arranged himself upon my shoulder. Aunt Hestia approached us. “Teeny, ready to start the games?” I nodded. She led me to the seat of honor on the top of a dais.
Daddy was lounging there. Aunt Hestia cleared her throat. He looked up in surprise. “What?”
Aunt Hestia was unamused. “This isn’t your party,” she said. “Have you forgotten what day this is?”
“Of course not,” Daddy boomed. “How could I ever forget the day I gave birth to my favorite daughter?” He rose and embraced me. I tried not to laugh as my auntie rolled her eyes behind his back. “Happy birthday, Athena.” He released and examined me at arm’s length. “I suppose you expect a present?”
I didn’t even have to look at Hestia. She made her displeasure so audible that even Mr. Hoots laughed. I gave Daddy a serious look. “Have you abandoned our traditions, Father?”
“Me?” Zeus didn’t like accusations. The sky darkened. Thunder rolled. For a moment, I thought he’d rain out my field day. But I did not give him the pleasure of a reaction. I stood my ground and stared at him as lightning shook the air around us. I tightened my grip on my spear and waited. Finally, the hint of a smile broke through my father’s face. With it, the clouds lifted and a sunbeam appeared. Out of that brilliant gap, Iris emerged, riding her rainbow bridge to earth.
“A gift,” she announced in her crystalline voice, “for Athena the Victorious!” She stepped to the side, leaving her rainbow in place. Zeus clapped his hands. The earth began to tremble around the rainbow’s edge. It shuddered violently, and a curved branch of marble emerged from the earth. As it rose, I recognized the shape as one of four plumes atop a fearsome helm. As the statue grew taller, it revealed itself to be the likeness of a great warrior. One whom I knew very well. Mr. Hoots whooed his approval.
“In honor of the day you sprang fully armed from my brow,” Daddy said, “I bring forth a treasure from the earth to honor you, my dear Athena.”
The statue of me, complete with its own owl, spear and Gorgon-headed shield, reached its full height. “Oh Daddy, it’s beautiful,” I said, squeezing his hand. As much as he screws up, and as awful as he can be, he still manages to get so much right.
The throng of Olympians, Titans, Primordials and Muses came forward to heap their birthday gifts, flowers, votives and treasures at my statue’s feet. Dionysius fell off his donkey trying to pay homage, and nearly crushed Urania and the bouquet she was laying at my altar. Once Dio recovered his wits, he placed a tap on the big toe of my statue’s right foot and cranked it. Lo and behold, wine began to flow freely from the statue’s foot. He struck his lyre and maenads appeared with a hundred cups ready to fill and distribute to the crowd.
He may be a great fool, but Dio knows how to start a party.
I looked over the crowd. “Friends, family, and fellow immortals,” I began, “thank you for joining me for this Panathenaia. For the first time in 2,000 years, we are together again. That alone is worth celebrating, so put aside any strife for the moment. Tomorrow we will wrestle with sorrows and troubles. Today, let us revel in our abilities, push ourselves towards new frontiers, and celebrate the powers we possess. Luck be with you. May you find victory. Let the games begin!”
The crowd roared. Aunt Hestia gave Hecate a nod. The mother of witchcraft spread her hands, and two great cauldrons appeared at either end of the field. Artemis and Apollo stepped forward and stood back to back. Hecate snapped her fingers, and the tip of each arrow burst into flame. The lovely twins pulled back their bows and let the arrows fly. The cauldrons ignited simultaneously.
I wanted to see the races first. Nike, Artemis, Hermes and Iris lined up to compete. My nephew Dinlas loped up towards the starting line as well, accompanied by his two wolves. I looked to Hestia, confused. “Why is the god of hate and jealousy running? I thought track and field wasn’t his thing?”
“He’s not competing,” Hestia assured me. “But he does love to shoot off his guns. I told him he could start all the races.”
Dinlas raised his fists in the air and fired. The gods leapt from their marks.
Iris shot ahead, colorful flames trailing in her wake. Hermes stooped and grasped one of them. His hesitation allowed Artemis and Nike to pass him by, but he paid them no mind. He tightened his grip on Iris’ flame and jerked it backwards. Iris fell. Nike passed her. Iris struggled to rise, but Hermes held fast and pulled again, whipping Iris way off course. Artemis took second. Iris flew through the air and landed in a heap by the seats, tangled up in her rainbow flames. Hera and Panacea ran to her aid.
Rid of his toughest rival, Hermes began to close the gap between him and Artemis. He passed her easily. With the finish line in sight, he lunged at Nike, hoping to knock her to the ground. But she dodged him and burst ahead. Iris returned to the race and caught up to Hermes. As she passed him, she couldn’t resist slapping his face with a flame. Iris surged ahead, but it was too late to catch Nike. The winged goddess passed the finish line and flew a victory lap.
I handed a wreath of olive leaves to Mr. Hoots and he crowned my victorious sister. As Hermes tried to sulk off the field, a crowd of Hera’s peacocks surrounded him and began to peck at his crotch. I chuckled. He should have known better than to mess with Hera’s messenger.
Watching others compete energized me. I wanted to play. “Who will throw their spears against me?” I cried, leaping off my perch and running to the field. Ares, Hephaestus, Artemis, and Urania joined me. Apollo agreed to take the measure of our throws.
No one took Urania’s entry seriously. Her talents are more heavenly, but she threw her spear a respectable distance. To be honest, she threw a great deal farther than Hephaestus. Ares couldn’t resist rubbing that in. “Stick with hammer-throwing,” he taunted as he stepped up to the line and hurled his spear.
As soon as the javelin cleared Ares’ hand, Hephaestus leapt upon his back, knocking him to the ground. If Zeus hadn’t thrown a thunderbolt, we would still be there watching them try to kill each other. Aphrodite toddled over in her ridiculous heels to yell at her husband and coo over Ares’ wounds, but I was proud of my brother. Ares gave her no satisfaction and pushed her away. In the distance, I could hear Dinlas laughing.
Artemis stepped up to the line and scowled at the sad trio. “You’re wasting my time,” she groused. Then, she focused her attention, and flung her spear. It shimmered as it spun higher and higher. It passed Urania’s mark. It soared past Ares’, and landed far beyond.
“Well thrown, sister,” I told her and stepped up to the mark. Artemis shot a haughty look at our brothers, who were still wiping dirt from their hair. “Maybe you both should stick to hammer-throwing,” she snarled.
I lightly bounced my spear in hand until I found the perfect balance. I looked for Artemis’ mark and, for a moment, I pitied my competition. I carried a heavy battle spear. Their light javelins should have the power to travel much further than mine. But I am not called Athena the spear-thrower for nothing. I cocked my arm back and hurled my mighty weapon. My spear easily passed Ares’ mark, then Artemis’, and kept on rising, leaving a blazing mark across the sky. It flew over the trees and disappeared. I raised my hands in victory. The crowd roared. Mr. Hoots crowned me with my laurels and Aunt Demeter gave me a mug of her homebrew. I smiled benevolently at my siblings. “Good game,” I toasted them. They looked at me darkly. My siblings are poor sports. Gods don’t like to lose.
Artemis was in a hurry and she wanted to win something, so we moved up the archery contest. She dominated Apollo, like I knew she would. Poseidon surprised us all with a lovely water show by the pool. Aunt Demeter and Hestia threw the cake walk to end all cake walks. And after much taunts and abuse, Ares finally managed to win the hammer throw. But he only won on a technicality. If Hephaestus had tried throwing his hammer into the ring instead of at his rival, he would have emerged victorious.
For the final match, I joined my father in thunderbolt hurling. It was a lonely game. He and I are the only ones strong enough to handle them, and we compete from atop a mountain. I put on a good show and didn’t let him win easily, but I don’t know if I should call it a competition if the requirement is that I must lose so he may win. I wonder what he’d do if I showed him what I was truly capable of?
I know what he’s capable of, yet it never ceases to surprise me. Did you see what he did when Mr. Hoots tried to crown him with the olive leaves?
Zeus batted the kotinos away. “What’s this?” he groused.
“Your champion’s crown.” I couldn’t understand why he didn’t want it.
He sulked. “I want something more championly. Like this.” He pulled a picture out of his pocket and shook it at me.
I sighed. What he wanted was a gaudy trinket, but who am I to tell him no? I didn’t want his tantrums to ruin my birthday. I took a handful of dirt and shaped it into a trophy like the one in his picture. I breathed on it, and it took on a red and gold sheen. I handed him the four-foot-tall monstrosity.
He cradled it in his hands as if it were a winged horse. “Oh,” he sighed. He held it up and marvelled at its red pillars and gold tiers. He lowered it so he could look at the little golden Zeus on top. “He’s clutching a little thunderbolt,” he cooed.
I nodded. “He is. Did you read the inscription?”
He eagerly looked at the trophy’s base. He read out, “First place. Thunderbolt Hurling. Zeus.” He gathered me into a massive bear hug. “Oh Teeny, this is the best present ever. I feel like it’s my birthday.”
Thank god, Aunt Demeter brought me another mug of brew to help me hold my tongue. I was about to declare a close to the games, when a bloodcurdling scream cut me short.
Time to go
Nike sped past. She grabbed my hand and pulled me with her. “We’ve got to go!” she cried.
“Why?” I asked. I turned to see what Nike was fleeing. I couldn’t help it. I had to laugh. Behind us, shaking helplessly with fury and dripping wet, stood Aphrodite.
“I told her it was an accident,” Nike insisted. “But she wouldn’t believe me. Who the hell stands that close to the pool?”
“I’m ready to leave anyway,” I said. I turned to the crowd. “Games are over, everyone! Last one to Club Nox is a minotaur!” The games might have ended…but the night was still young. And we were just getting started.
Want to know what happened at the afterparty? Stay tuned for The Panathenaia – Part 2!
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