A plea for wisdom

These are stormy days. Many of us mourn for friends and family lost to the Covid-19 pandemic. We mourn the cruel and senseless death of George Floyd. We also grieve for the deepening divides and ever-coarsening discourse in our society. We hope that our Athenaeum can remain a refuge for reflection, honest discussion, and respect for opinions different from our own.

Our namesake is Athena, goddess of wisdom. In ancient iconography Athena is frequently shown in full battle regalia, but with her shield resting on the ground and she is accompanied by an owl. To people more than 2 millennia ago, whether they could read or not, the picture spoke volumes: hold your values close and armor at the ready, but be willing to lay down your defenses and seek the wisdom of the owl.

Today Athena would tell us to shout less and listen more. You don’t have to shed your armor to drop your shield and listen to your owl, and you might discover that you never really needed the armor to begin with. That is how it starts. After a couple thousand years, maybe one of these days we will look at the picture and get the message.

Portsmouth Athenaeum Staff & Board of Directors