Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Virgin With Green Hair

As someone who has faithfully played video games since his single-digit days, I've been following the progress of Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a title for the Wii that functions basically like a Nintendo version of Battle of the Network Stars, only with punching and kicking instead of athletics. The last time I blogged about this game — the third in the series so far — it was to celebrate the fact that Nintendo had finally chosen to include the bygone mascot of the Kid Icarus series, from which my former on-screen alias and the URL of this blog get their name.

Last Friday, the production team's official development blog posted more screenshots of the game-in-progress, including the following image:

The figure in the background is Pit, the hero and essentially the namesake of Kid Icarus. He would appear to be facing the game's damsel — a pseudo-Greek goddess who, in the style of many female characters created in Japan, has green hair. We can't see too much of the woman, but the hair, the toga and the armor are a dead giveaway she is Palutena, whom longtime gamers like me remember from back when she was more crudely pixilated.

Palutena as she appeared in the original game's ending.

And as she appeared in the instruction manual. (In retrospect, this piece of art may have been one of the first examples of manga-styled drawing I ever saw.)

Palutena already represents an amazing cross-section of my fields of interest — video games, things Japanese and Greek mythology — but what's especially interesting to me about this rather obscure Nintendo character is her name. (Names, of course, are also one of the subjects I tend to fixate upon.) People who make Japanese games draw upon a wide variety of source materials when they decide what might look cool reduced down to colored dots that move in concert with each other. Books, movies, religions, mythologies, world history and freaky robots join together in a mishmash. The names of these elements often recall their national origins, but they can sometimes become unrecognizable once they're translated into the Japanese syllabary and then into English. (There's a long-running sidescroller series Castlevania, for example, that features several generation of the monster-fighting Belnades family, which I just recently realized is intended to have the more common surname "Fernandez.") Anyway, if you think about what "Palutena" might have originally been intended to sound like and look at the way she's dressed, you'll realize her name is a variation on "Parthenos," an appellation that sometimes preceded Athena's name to signify that she was a virgin goddess. As in Athena's temple the Parthenon. As in the scientific term parthenogenesis, or virgin birth.

That's Pa + Lu ("r" becomes "l" and a vowel bridge gets added) + Te ("th" doesn't exist in Japanese) + a feminine ending to make her sound properly goddess-like.

In short, this silly, insignificant video game character is actually a representation of Athena, one of the more important deities in Greek mythology. So there, was that interest-spanning enough? I've been trying for new heights. If it still needs a nudge over the top, here's one last bit: Palutena's arch-rival goddess is Medusa. Triple score!

EDIT: Despite Palutena's previously mentioned obscurity, she has a Wikipedia page. I don't know why I'm surprised.


  1. I can't believe she is still "Palutena". You'd think they would know better by now. :/ «Παρθένα» is Modern Greek btw.

  2. This was a very interesting read.. ^_^ I appreciated it, anyway. X3