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Athena (or Athene) is the Greek goddess of wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, reason, strategy, war, diplomacy, commerce, weaving, crafts and cities. She was the patron goddess of the city of Athens, and the famous Parthenon was dedicated to her. She was the eldest and most-favored daughter of Zeus.

Her mother was Zeus' first wife Metis, the goddess of wisdom, who Zeus had consumed whole after it was prophesied that a son of Metis was destined to overthrow him. At her birth she sprang from the head of Zeus, split by Hephaestus, fully grown and armored.

Athena is typically depicted helmeted and carrying a spear and shield. She bears the Aegis, a mystical item thought to be either a shield or breastplate, which was given to her by its former owner, Zeus. She is typically accompanied by her owl or Nike, the goddess of victory.

Athena is one of the three Virgin Goddesses (or Maiden Goddesses) of the Greek pantheon- the others being Artemis and Hestia. As such, Athena has no consort or natural offspring. A common epithet of Athena was "Pallas," which is of unclear etymology, but likely meant "Little Maiden," or "To Brandish," as in: "to brandish a weapon."



Main article: The Birth of Athena

Early in Zeus' reign, he married the goddess of wisdom, Metis, who was soon with child. When Zeus learned that it was prophesied that Metis would one day give birth to a son more powerful than even himself, Zeus swallowed her whole. Some time later Zeus suffered from a terrible headache and summoned Hephaestus and Apollo. Hephaestus tried to split open Zeus' head whilst Apollo brushed Zeus's hair. From Zeus' head sprang the goddess Athena, fully grown and in battle dress. Zeus favored Athena above all other gods. Athena was the only other god to wield Zeus' thunderbolt, buckler, and the Aegis shield.[1]


As a young goddess, Athena befriended a daughter of the sea god Triton, Pallas. Pallas was one of the only naiads who matched the war goddess's strength and skill. The two were having a friendly sparring match. As Pallas was about to strike the goddess, Zeus shielded Athena with the Aegis, surprising the naiad. Athena accidentally killed Pallas. Athena, grieving for her friend, carved a statue with the countenance of Pallas, and placed it in her sacred temple. This statue became known as the palladion. Athena then took her lost friend's name, and was then on known as Pallas Athena.


Main article: The Naming of Athens

To win the patronage of the Kingdom of Kekropia, Athena engaged in a contest with Poseidon. Poseidon gave the city a salt-water spring, and Athena gave them the first olive tree, which the people of the city could have olive and their oil for consumption and trade. The other ten Olympians voted, while the king of Kekropia bore witness, and it was determined that Athena's gift was the better of the two. Thus Athena won the competition and became patron of the city which was renamed to Athens.


According to Apollodorus, Athena visited the blacksmith god Hephaestus to buy weapons from him, but he was so overcome by desire for her that he tried to seduce her in his blacksmith workshop. Determined to maintain her virginity, Athena fled, pursued by Hephaestus. He caught Athena and tried to rape her, but she fought him off. During the struggle, his semen fell on her thigh, and Athena, in disgust, wiped it away with a scrap of wool and flung it to the earth. As she fled, Erichthonius was born from the semen that fell to the earth. Erichthonius became an adopted son of Athena, and would later become a king of Athens.


Medusa, originally a beautiful woman and a priestess of Athena, was caught having sexual intercourse with Poseidon in Athena's temple. Athena, outraged with this insult, turned Medusa and her two sisters, Stheno and Euryale into Gorgons, and cursed them so that whoever looked at them would turn to stone.


Main article: Minerva and Arachne (Athena and Arachne)

Athena had taught men to make tools, and she had taught women how to weave. The mortal woman Arachne claimed herself to be the best weaver, even greater than Athena herself; she declared that a contest should be held to see who was the better weaver. Athena then transformed into an old woman to try and talk Arachne out of the contest and to beg forgiveness from the goddess for her misconduct, but Arachne only scorned the old woman and took nothing back. Outraged by the maiden's stubborn arrogance and ungratefulness, Athena emerged from her disguise and accepted the challenge. Arachne remained fearless, but still stubborn; determined to win the contest, she hastened to her fate.

Athena's tapestry had four corners that were decorated with miniature scenes showing the terrible fate of arrogant men and women who were disrespectful to the gods. With these, Athena hoped to warn the maiden about what she could expect from her pride and presumption. Arachne's tapestry was decorated with miniature scenes as well, but she had done so to ridicule the immortal gods. They illustrated the many love affairs of Zeus, as well as the many romantic exploits of Poseidon, Apollo, and Dionysus.

Once the contest was finished, Athena admired the mortal woman's talent, but couldn't tolerate her disrespect. Athena tore apart the tapestry and struck Arachne three times on her forehead with the shuttle. Distraught with defeat, Arachne knit a rope around her neck and tried to hang herself, but Athena showed pity on her by catching her. She, however, couldn't release her from her punishment; she said, "Live, wicked wretch, but hang forevermore. Let my curse remain even upon your children and their children to the end of all your race." Athena then sprinkled some juice from the leaves of a poisonous plant onto Arachne, and she transformed into a spider.

The Odyssey

Athena appears as a supporting character in Homer's Odyssey, briefly appearing as herself but also taking on the guise of mortals. She serves as Odysseus' protector and appears to his son Telemachus in the form of Mentes, King of the Taphians. Mentes stays in the house of Odysseus and urges Telemachus to search for his father. At night she later disguises herself as Telemachus, finding him a ship and crew. She then takes on the disguise of Mentor, to whom Odysseus entrusted the care of Telemachus. Mentor accompanies Telemachus to visit Nestor.

Athena also disguises Odysseus as a beggar, upon his return to Ithaca, and inspired Penelope to trick her suitors. While she helps Odysseus, Telemachus, Eumaeus and Philoteus to kill Penelope's suitors, she intervenes in order to reconcile Odysseus with the families of the suitors and re-establishes peace in Ithaca.


Image gallery of Athena


See also


  1. (Hamilton 1998, p. 30)