Hey! I can see!
After hours of reconfiguring the kernel, recompiling and rebooting, I finally solved the problem that was causing athena to boot without framebuffer support.
It turns out that I was compiling in framebuffer modules that conflict with vesafb, which is *the* module that works on x86_64, apparently. Mostly this was due to my confusion because I have an nvidia graphics card and there were two modules that said "nvidia."
So, now when I boot up with my custom kernel, I see all the wonderful status information fly by and then finally when it's all booted a login screen.
Next up: installing X, Gnome, and KDE, and then...
On to MythTV! (I compiled in the pchdtv3000 driver, so this should be a cakewalk. Unless it isn't.)