Matthew Alice: In the recent teledrama the Odyssey, Athena appeared with spectacular blue eyes. In Andrew Lang’s translation of the Odyssey, she is consistently called gray-eyed. What is Homer’s word for the color of her eyes, and what does it mean? — Mary Krimmel, the Net
As a rule of thumb, I’d trust Andrew Lang with the Odyssey and NBC with, well, I guess they can’t screw up Friends. But when we take a sharp stick and poke around into this eye-color thing, an argument could be made for Athena’s baby-blues. The word Homer used was glaukopis, and here’s where our trouble begins, if you want a tidy answer. According to The Homeric Dictionary, it means “gleaming-eyed,” particularly with reference to “the color grayish-blue, epithet of the warlike Athena.” The word glaukiao appears as an eye adjective in the Iliad, and the H.D. translates that as “with gleaming or glaring eyes, of a lion.” The 2000-entry Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon says the word originally meant “gleaming,” and they say Homer’s use, vis-a-vis Athena, probably meant “with gleaming eyes.” The word is also connected to the gleaming eyes of owls, the owl being one of Athena’s symbols. They end the discussion by saying the word evolved to mean a shade of light blue-gray.
The plot thickens. And changes color. The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature tells us that Athena was portrayed as a woman of “severe beauty” and that she invented the flute. As for her eyes, the books says that, described as glaukopis, she was probably blue-eyed, “and Pausanias remarks on the blue eyes of a statue of Athena which he saw.” Shall we check out Athena’s Roman counterpart, Minerva? She, too, is called glaucopis, “grey-eyed,” according to The Oxford Latin Dictionary.
NBC spent $40 million to put the Odyssey on the little screen, so maybe they figured they had to go for a Xena: Warrior Princess kind of thing. Who knows? Athena isn’t real, and Homer isn’t around to complain.