ONE OF THE EARLIEST literary depictions of gender bending can be found in Homer’s Odyssey, telling of the adventures of the mythical hero Odysseus, after the fall of Troy in 1200 B.C., as he makes his voyage home. “Bright eyed Athena,” sometimes also referred to in the transgender community as the “Bigender Goddess,” acts as the protector of Odysseus while he journeys. Athena shape-shifts into different guises, one of which is that of a male warrior, in order to visit Odysseus’s son, Telemachus:
She flashed down from the heights of Olympus, and on reaching Ithaca she took her stand on the threshold of the court in front of Odysseus’s house; and to look like a visitor she assumed the appearance of a family friend, the Taphian chieftain Mentes, bronze spear in hand. … [Telemachus] caught sight of Athene. … He went straight up to his visitor, grasped his right hand, took his bronze spear and gave him cordial greetings. “Welcome, friend!” he said.
Little is known about Homer, and some academic studies even theorize that The Odyssey and The Iliad were written by a woman rather than the man Homer is generally presumed to be. Regardless of the identity of the author, Athena’s act of gender-morphing gives her a powerful and fascinating status as a sacred figure in mythology.