During the Iliad several of the gods take sides in the war between the Greeks and the Trojans. For example, Ares, Apollo and Aphrodite side with the Trojans, while Pallas Athena, Hera and Poseidon favour the Greeks.

However, the Odyssey tells us Pallas Athena had been angered by the Greeks (even though she eventually helps Odysseus reach Ithaca). For example, in Book III (from Samuel Butler's translation, in which "Pallas Athena" is replaced with the Latin name "Minerva"):

When however, we had sacked the city of Priam, and were setting sail in our ships as heaven had dispersed us, then Jove saw fit to vex the Argives on their homeward voyage; for they had Not all been either wise or understanding, and hence many came to a bad end through the displeasure of Jove's daughter Minerva, who brought about a quarrel between the two sons of Atreus.
The sons of Atreus called a meeting which was not as it should be, for it was sunset and the Achaeans were heavy with wine. When they explained why they had called- the people together, it seemed that Menelaus was for sailing homeward at once, and this displeased Agamemnon, who thought that we should wait till we had offered hecatombs to appease the anger of Minerva. Fool that he was, he might have known that he would not prevail with her, for when the gods have made up their minds they do not change them lightly.

The sack of Troy is described neither in the Iliad nor in the Odyssey, so it is not clear (or not made explicit) how that event might have Pallas Athena from a "friend" into an enemy. Is this described in other works about the same events?

  • FYI: There's a Mythology.SE specifically for these kinds of questions. – T.E.D. Jan 27 '20 at 21:29
  • 1
    @T.E.D. The question is on topic here, so there's not need to post or migrate it elsewhere. – Tsundoku Jan 28 '20 at 8:59
  • ...which is why I didn't out and out say it should go there. We have the same issue with that site on the History site; we get a lot of questions that involve mythology that are technically on-topic on History, but would have been on-topic there too. So what I like to do is make sure the author is aware that the Mythology site is available, since it seems likely they weren't. – T.E.D. Jan 29 '20 at 21:10

Euripides dramatised Athena’s change of heart near the start of The Trojan Women:

Poseidon: Do you bring fresh tidings from some god, from Zeus, or from some lesser power?

Athena: From none of these; but on behalf of Troy, whose soil we tread, I have come to seek your mighty aid, to make it one with mine.

Poseidon: What! have you laid your former hate aside to take compassion on the town now that it is burnt to ashes?

Athena: First go back to the former point; will you make common cause with me in the scheme I purpose?

Poseidon: Yes, surely; but I want to learn your wishes, whether you have come to help Achaeans or Phrygians.

Athena: I wish to give my former foes, the Trojans, joy, and on the Achaean army impose a bitter return.

Poseidon: Why do you leap thus from mood to mood? Your love and hate both go too far, on whomever centred.

Athena: Do you not know the insult done to me and to the shrine I love?

Poseidon: I do: when Aias dragged away Cassandra by force.

Athena: Yes, and the Achaeans did nothing, said nothing to him.

Poseidon: And yet it was by your mighty aid they sacked Ilium.

Athena: For which cause I would join with you to do them harm.

Poseidon: My powers are ready at your will. What is your intent?

Athena: I will impose on them a return that is no return.

Poseidon: While they stay on shore, or as they cross the salt sea?

Athena: When they have set sail from Ilium for their homes.

Euripides (415 BCE). The Trojan Women 55–77. Translated by Edward P. Coleridge (1891).

‘Aias’ here is Ajax the Lesser. During the sack of Troy, Cassandra tried to claim sanctuary in the temple of Athena at Troy, but Ajax dragged her away and raped her.

There must have been at least two incompatible versions of the story, because in the passage above, Euripides has Poseidon say that Ajax dragged Cassandra out of Athena’s temple in Troy, but pseudo-Apollodorus has more detail:

Helenus was forced to tell how Ilium could be taken, to wit, first, if the bones of Pelops were brought to them; next, if Neoptolemus fought for them; and third, if the Palladium, which had fallen from heaven, were stolen from Troy, for while it was within the walls the city could not be taken.

On hearing these things the Greeks caused the bones of Pelops to be fetched, and they sent Ulysses and Phoenix to Lycomedes at Scyros, and these two persuaded him to let Neoptolemus go. […] And Ulysses went with Diomedes by night to the city, and there he let Diomedes wait, and after disfiguring himself and putting on mean attire he entered unknown into the city as a beggar. And being recognized by Helen, he with her help stole away the Palladium, and after killing many of the guards, brought it to the ships with the aid of Diomedes.

[… the Greeks then built the wooden horse and sacked Troy …]

And the Locrian Ajax, seeing Cassandra clinging to the wooden image of Athena, violated her; therefore they say that the image looks to heaven.

Pseudo-Apollodorus. Epitome E.5.11–14 and 23. Translated by James Frazer (1913).

The “wooden image of Athena” is the Palladium, but since it had been stolen by the Greeks, how could Cassandra have later clung to it in the temple? Presumably pseudo-Apollodorus has edited multiple incompatible sources together here.


According to Wikipedia, in a pastiche of plot summaries scraped from here and there,

The city was razed and the temples were destroyed.


News of Troy's fall quickly reached the Achaean kingdoms through a system of fire relays.
But though the message was brought fast and with ease, the heroes were not to return this way. The Gods were very angry over the destruction of their temples and other sacrilegious acts by the Achaeans and decided that most would not return. A storm fell on the returning fleet off Tenos island. ...

So: a top level policy decision to punish the Greeks. The passage you quote shows how Athena implements it. She sends Discord to the 2 kings, and level-headed Agamemnon's council to give sacrifices to the gods ("hecatombs") is ignored, and this makes the gods angrier yet. The rest is (pre-)history. Pope's translation:

Then Discord, sent by Pallas from above,
Stern daughter of the great avenger Jove,
The brother-kings inspired with fell debate;
Who call’d to council all the Achaian state,
But call’d untimely (not the sacred rite
Observed, nor heedful of the setting light,
Nor herald sword the session to proclaim),
Sour with debauch, a reeling tribe the came.
To these the cause of meeting they explain,
And Menelaus moves to cross the main;
Not so the king of men: be will’d to stay,
The sacred rites and hecatombs to pay,
And calm Minerva’s wrath. Oh blind to fate!
The gods not lightly change their love, or hate.

But of course in most of the Odyssey Athena helps Odysseus and his family; the Book III stuff is back-story.

Wikipedia seems to get its info from Cliff's Notes Apollodorus's Epitome

[E.5.22] But Menelaus slew Deiphobus and led away Helen to the ships133; and Aethra, mother of Theseus, was also led away by Demophon and Acamas, the sons of Theseus; for they say that they afterwards went to Troy.134 And the Locrian Ajax, seeing Cassandra clinging to the wooden image of Athena, violated her; therefore they say that the image looks to heaven.135

[E.5.23] And having slain the Trojans, they set fire to the city and divided the spoil among them. And having sacrificed to all the gods, they threw Astyanax from the battlements136 and slaughtered Polyxena on the grave of Achilles.137 And as special awards Agamemnon got Cassandra, Neoptolemus got Andromache, and Ulysses got Hecuba.138 But some say that Helenus got her, and crossed over with her to the Chersonese139; and that there she turned into a bitch, and he buried her at the place now called the Bitch's Tomb.140 As for Laodice, the fairest of the daughters of Priam, she was swallowed up by a chasm in the earth in the sight of all.141 When they had laid Troy waste and were about to sail away, they were detained by Calchas, who said that Athena was angry with them on account of the impiety of Ajax. And they would have killed Ajax, but he fled to the altar and they let him alone.

[E.6.1] After these things they met in assembly, and Agamemnon and Menelaus quarrelled, Menelaus advising that they should sail away, and Agamemnon insisting that they should stay and sacrifice to Athena. When they put to sea, Diomedes, Nestor, and Menelaus in company, the two former had a prosperous voyage, but Menelaus was overtaken by a storm, and after losing the rest of his vessels, arrived with five ships in Egypt.

  • "The Gods were very angry over the destruction of their temples and other sacrilegious acts ...", says Wikpedia. Sure, but I'm looking for literary sources outside the Iliad. – Tsundoku Jan 27 '20 at 16:02
  • Edited. Just follow Wikipedia's footnotes. – kimchi lover Jan 27 '20 at 16:22

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