Athena is one of the most important goddesses in Greek mythology. In Roman mythology she became identified with the goddess Minerva. She is also known
as Pallas Athena.
In myth, Athena sprang full-grown and armored from the forehead of the god Zeus, her father, and was his favorite child. He entrusted her with his
shield, adorned with the hideous head of Medusa the Gorgon, his buckler, and his principal weapon, the thunderbolt. A virgin goddess, she was called
Parthenos (the maiden). Her major temple, the Parthenon, was in Athens, which, according to legend, became hers as a result of her gift of the olive
tree to the Athenian people.
Athena was primarily the goddess of the Greek cities, of industry and the arts, and, in later mythology, of wisdom; she was also goddess of war.
Athena was the strongest supporter, among the gods, of the Greek side in the Trojan War. After the fall of Troy, however, the Greeks failed to respect
the sanctity of an altar to Athena at which the Trojan prophet Cassandra sought shelter. As punishment, storms sent by the god of the sea, Poseidon,
at Athena's request destroyed most of the Greek ships returning from Troy.
Athena was also a patron of the agricultural arts and of the crafts of women, especially spinning and weaving. Among her gifts to man were the
inventions of the plow and the flute and the arts of taming animals, building ships, and making shoes. She was often associated with birds, especially
The Birth of Athena
Athena is the daughter of the Greek god Zeus and Metis, the goddess of prudence or craftiness. Metis was also a Titaness, who ruled the fourth day and
the planet Mercury. Due to a prophecy, Zeus feared that any child he had with Metis would be more powerful than him. Zeus swallowed Metis to prevent
this, by tricking her into turning into a fly. But, Metis was already pregnant.
Zeus was soon plagued with headaches, and Hephaestus (god of blacksmiths) cleaved Zeus' head with the labrys, the double edged Minoan axe. Athena
then leaped from Zeus' head, fully grown and armed.
Athena was the goddess of many things, but most famously, she was the goddess of Wisdom, goddess of Military Victory, and goddess of Crafts. She
invented the flute, the trumpet, the rake, the ship, and the horse bridle, among other things. She is the first teacher of the science of numbers and
all women's arts, such as weaving, cooking, and spinning.
Her iconography includes the aegis (shield or fringed cloak, sometimes represented with the head of Medusa on it), a shield (with the head of Medusa
on it), bronze armor, a helmet, and a spear.
Athena was one of the three Virgin Goddesses on Olympus, along with Artemis (the goddess of hunting) and Hestia (the goddess of the hearth).
Athena was involved in many major episodes in Greek mythology.
Contest with Poseidon
Athena became the patron goddess of Athens after a competition with Poseidon. At the end of the year in the Athenian calendar, during a festival
called the Skira, the priests of Athena and the priest of Poseidon would process under canopies to Eleusis, a city about twenty miles north of Athens.
They agreed that each would give the Athenians one gift and the Athenians would choose whichever gift they preferred. Poseidon struck the ground with
his trident, producing a spring of salty and not very useful water. Athena offered them an olive tree. The Athenians, and their king Cecrops, accepted
the olive tree, for the tree brought wood, oil, and food, and in choosing the tree, they chose Athena as their patron.
The War of the Giants
During the war between the epic Greek gods and the Giants, Athena killed Pallas, the son of Uranus and Gaia, and flayed him, using his hide for her
shield. She also killed Enceladus, another giant, by throwing the island of Sicily on top of him.
Hephaestus attempted to rape Athena, but failed. His semen fell to the ground, and Erichthonius was born from the earth (or Gaia). Athena raised the
baby as a foster mother.
Athena placed the infant in a small box (cista), giving it to three sisters, Herse, Pandrosus, and Aglaulus of Athens. She told them not to open the
box until she returned, not telling them what was inside. The sisters defied Athena, opening the box and seeing either the infant embraced by a
serpent or in the form of a half-man, half-serpent. The sight drove the sisters insane, causing them to throw themselves off the Acropolis.
Erichthonius' symbol is the snake, and he is represented in the statue of Athena in the Parthenon as the snake hidden behind her shield.
Perseus and Medusa
Athena helped Perseus in his quest to slay the Gorgon, Medusa, by providing him the winged shoes of Hermes and a highly reflective mirrored shield.
Perseus flew on Pegasus to find Medusa and used the shield to see her reflection, knowing that looking at her head on would turn him to stone. He
beheaded Medusa, using her head as a weapon before giving it to Athena to place on her shield.
Athena acted as a counselor to Heracles during his 12 Labors. She instructed him to skin the Nemean Lion (sometimes said to have been born of the
Chimera) by using its own claws to cur through its hide. She also helped him defeat the Stymphalian Birds (man eating birds with wings of brass and
sharp metallic feathers, pets of Ares), and to navigate the underworld to capture Cerberus (the hound of Hades, monstrous three headed dog).
The Weaving Contest
Arachne, a very good spinner and weaver, was arrogant, telling people she was better at spinning and weaving than Athena. Athena, upset at Arachne's
arrogance, challenged her to a weaving contest. The two set up their looms in the same room, weaving from early morning until it was too dark to
Athena had woven a beautiful cloth, depicting the gods and goddesses sitting on Mount Olympus, doing good deeds for people. Arachne, however, wove a
cloth making fun of the gods and goddesses, showing them drunk, falling down, and making a mess of things. Arachne's cloth was better than Athena's,
but Athena didn't care. Athena turned Arachne into a small spider, showing that no matter what, mortals are never a match for the gods and need to
remember their place and remove their arrogance, and bad things can happen to them if they challenge and mock the gods.
Judgement of Paris
The Judgement of Paris is a Greek mythological tale, one of the events leading up to the Trojan War and the foundation of Rome. Athena, along with two
other goddesses, Hera and Aphrodite, claimed a golden apple (the Apple of Discord). They asked Zeus to judge who was the fairest. Zeus, however,
declared that Paris, a mortal, would judge their cases.
All three goddesses appeared to Paris on Mount Ida, attempting to bribe Paris with their powers. Athena offered wisdom and skill in war, but Paris
chose Aphrodite as the fairest. Her rage at losing makes her join the Greeks in the battle against Paris' Trojans, but attacked their ships with a
storm when they failed to punish Oilean Ajax for violating her Trojan shrine.
Athena had temples dedicated to her all over Greece, not only in Athens, but also in Rhodes, Delphi, and Sparta. She also had temples in Italy and
The most famous of her temples is the Parthenon, located on the Athenian Acropolis. The Parthenon that stands now is a replacement to an earlier
temple of Athena that was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 480 BC. Like most Greek temples, it was used as a treasury. The columns and pediments
of the temple were its most striking features.
Before being removed, the east pediment narrated the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus. The west pediment depicted the contest between Athena and
Poseidon during their competition to become the patron of Athens.
Legend holds that the Parthenon once held a colossal statue of Athena, constructed by Phidias. But, the Parthenon never hosted the cult of Athena.
Greek Goddess Athena
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