Herculaneum, 78 A.D.
Just before dawn, the nobleman’s daughter crept her way into the gardens. The sky was still a deep blue, and the god of the sun hadn’t shined his light onto the earth yet. She was cloaked in her night gown, hiding from unknown and unseen spies – the early rising workers… or ghosts of the gods.
The cool morning air cleared her head, but still not enough. She hadn’t slept a wink. And on this day, she chose to not remain in bed. She chose to crawl unnoticed through the vines and gardens, past the fountains and pools, into the peristyle, alone and unwatched. On this day she chose to leave the confines of the villa. On this day, her eighteenth birthday.
Through the misty morning fog, a stone figure emerged, standing on a pedestal, overlooking the gardens. The young woman finally reached the figure and fell down on her knees before it. She removed the hood of her cloak and looked up to the figure with eyes of sadness. The eyes of the figure stared back, eternally, into the distance. Trembling, the young woman bowed to the being and exhaled.
She was aware that most women prayed to Demeter, goddess of fertility. Most women prayed to Artemis for luck and success in childbirth. Many other women and girls her age bowed their heads to Aphrodite, asking for her blessing of eternal love and undying beauty. But on this misty dawn, the dawn of her adulthood, her new life, the young woman prayed to a goddess of another nature.
The statue of Athena stood steadfast in front of the young noblewoman. Her unfaltering body stood the test of time and symbolized feminine stability. As tears fell from the woman’s eyes, she prayed silently to Athena. She prayed for strength. She prayed for wisdom and advice, and she prayed that she too could bear a helmet in times of war. War such as the war on her body. For the young noblewoman was with child. And that was the greatest struggle of young women in her civilization. She was discarded, unchaste, and unfit for marriage. Therefore, she would be forced to wed the man who was involved. Relatives and bloodlines didn’t care, even if he was related to her.
She prayed for courage and skill in this war. She prayed that she could fight with Athena’s strength in this battle. Today was her birthday, but on the horizon was her wedding day.
As she concluded her prayer, she observed Athena’s distant disposition, and faintly wondered if she saw the statue smile at her, on this early morning, as the sun’s rays stretched across the sky.