Cal­li­machus’s Hymn to Athena

The Iowa Review - - STEPHANIE BURT - Stephanie burt

It is not for me—gods for­bid it—to see Pal­las bathe, this day of her cer­e­mo­nial bath, but I can praise you, her at­ten­dants, with­out the sight: I hear the horses you tend snort holy fire as they slow to a trot, then stop be­fore her shrine and whinny as the god­dess ties them up, gen­tly, herself. She cares about them. Even on the night she re­turned, her nor­mally shin­ing arms all crust and sludge and blood from hack­ing apart the ma­lig­nant gi­ants, she stopped at the verge of her prop­erty to scrub the horses’ necks, trans­fer­ring the clean, cold spray, with the sea-god’s ex­plicit per­mis­sion, from his ocean, to clear the sweat and foam from their ragged mouths.

Now she’s com­ing back to our city. Don’t bother to bring rose wa­ter, saf­fron, or ver­bena (I hear the rush of her wheels on their way). She won’t need a mir­ror. She knows how fair she ap­pears. Even when she took part in that fancy-dress fi­asco, the judg­ment on Ida, she did not bring re­flec­tive bronze or glass. When she last went dis­tance run­ning, com­pet­ing be­side those Spartan twins we now re­gard as stars, you pol­ished her skin with olive leaves and oil from the tree that she gave her own city, and she blushed. Male cham­pi­ons like Cas­tor—like Her­a­cles, even— wear olive oil too. So bring her olive oil again, and her au­re­ate comb, so she can comb out her own hair.

Athena! Your girls, your fa­vorite pupils, are wait­ing, the stu­dious grand­daugh­ters of your half brother Apollo. One of them brought you Diomedes’s shield, as cus­tom and the priest Eumedes taught, Eumedes who, when he learned that the men

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