"Of Pallas Athena, guardian of the city, I begin to sing. Dread is she, and with Ares she loves the deeds of war, the sack of cities and the shouting and the battle. It is she who saves the people as they go to war and come back. Hail, goddess, and give us good fortune and happiness!"
(Homeric Hym 11 to Athena)
Athena, a.k.a Athene, Pallas Athena, (Roman Minerva) [Pronounced in English as "UH-thee-NUH" or "Uh-thee-nee" and in Greek as "ah-thee-NAH" or "ah-thee-NEE], is the goddess of wisdom, defense and strategic war, weaving, and the arts and crafts. Athena is one of the 12 Olympians, is considered to be "the mother of invention", and was viewed to be the protector of cities. Athena's temple at Athens, the Parthenon, is considered to be one of the great 7 wonders of the ancient world.
In appearance Athene is portrayed as a strikingly tall, strong, beautiful, and masculine woman with fair hair, a ruddy face, and gray eyes. In fact, her gray colored eyes are considered to be the most impressive and powerful aspect of her physical appearance. Athena is universally portrayed as fully robed, never nude, and dressed for battle. Upon her head she wears a helmet. Upon her shoulders she wears a protective armored cloak made from the skin of the slain giant, Pallas. The cloak is fringed with immortal serpents that continue to move and hiss even though the giant from which they came had perished long before. In one arm Athena carries her spear or lance and in the other arm she carries the figure of the winged-deaemon Nike, goddess of victory. She may also carry a shield which bears the decapitated head of Medusa.
In some versions of the myths, Athena is Zeus's first born offspring, as well as being his favorite child. Athena has the honor of having a very curious birth. Her mother was the Titan, Metis, a goddess of wisdom and cunning, who was Zeus' first lover or wife. A prophecy declared that a female child born from Metis would grow up to be more powerful than her mother and a male child born to Metis would grow up to be more powerful than his father. Fearing that a male child conceived with Metis would attempt to overthrow him, Zeus took action. He tricked Metis into turning into a fly upon which he then swallowed. Being a goddess, Metis could not die. So she lived on inside him and in time grew to accept her state. However, and unbeknownst to Zeus, Metis was already pregnant when she was swallowed. Eventually the time came for Metis to give birth.
Zeus was plagued by such intense migraines that he cried out in agony. The pain was so severe that he called for help. Either Hephaestus, Epimithius, or some other god, came to his aid. In the myths where Hephaestus rendered his assistance, Zeus' head was placed on an anvil. Hephaestus then struck Zeus in the head with his might hammer, cracking his skull wide open. To every one's shock and amazement a fully grown female goddess sprung forth from the wound. She was Athena and she arose from the head of Zeus in full battle armor.
Like her aunt, Hestia, Athena was a virgin goddess. She was one of but three goddesses for whom Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, had no power over. Shortly after her birth, Athena asked her father Zeus the right to remain unmarried and to be an eternal virgin. Zeus granted her wish.
One of the traits of the virgin goddesses is the protection of their modesty. Both Athena and Artemis have myths about the punishment they inflect upon unfortunate mortal men who happen to see them naked. With Athena, the prophet Tiresias happened to chance upon Athena while she bathed. In a fit of anger, Athena blinded him. At least he escaped with his life. Not so with the poor man who glimpsed the naked body of Artemis.
It wasn't just the protection of her modesty that Athena was concerned with. Athena was also highly offended when it came to people disrespecting her and especially if such disrespect was of a sexual nature. For example, Medusa was once a beautiful woman who had sex with the god Poseidon in Athena's temple. Athena became so angry that she cursed Medusa, turning into a winged monster with serpents for hair, brazen claws, and an appearance so terrifying that anyone who saw her was transformed into stone. Athena then later aided Perseus in decapitating her. In return, Perseus gave her the head of Medusa to Athena. She then placed it on her shield.
Though a virgin, Athena does have one child, an adopted son. The story of how she adopted this child is almost an curious as Athena's birth.
One day Athena went to Hephaestus' workshop to inquire about getting new armor. While there, Hephaestus tried to seduce her but Athena would have nothing of it. Eventually Hephaestus resorted to violence and tried to rape the noble goddess. Athena kicked his ass and was able to make her escape. However, during the scuffle, Hephaestus ejaculated and his semen fell on her thigh. Athena grabbed a piece of nearby wool and used it to wipe it off. She then threw the wool on the ground. The spent semen seeped into the soil where it impregnated Gaia, the goddess of the earth. Gaia then gave birth to a male infant named Erichthonius. The child looked human in all ways save one. In place of legs he possessed two serpents with their serpent heads being where feet should be. Gaia not asking for such pregnancy or child, turned to Athena for help. Athena took pity on the baby and adopted him. She carved a great wooden chest and put the infant in a magical slumber and laid him inside. She gave the chest to three princesses, daughters of Cecrops, the King of Athens for safe-keeping. She warned the young women never to open the chest. Like with Pandora, the women's curiosity got the better of them. They eventually opened the lid of the chest and stole a quick peep at what lay within. The site of a baby with serpents for legs caused them to go insane and they then raced to the window and committed suicide by throwing themselves out and down the cliff. Erichthonius would grow up to become a powerful king of Athens.
With regard to Athens, Athena is the city's patron deity. Interestingly, no one knows if the city is named after her or if Athena is named after the city. We do know that Athena was the patron deity of numerous cities, with each one calling her a different name. In Thebes they called her Thebe, for example.
According to myth, Athena won Athens for herself in a contest with Poseidon. It was decided that the two would produce a gift and the god who produced the gift that was deemed to be the most valuable would be declared the winner and would become the patron god of Athens. Poseidon struck his trident into the ground and produced a salt water spring. Unfortunately, the spring was pretty much useless as humans can not drink salt water. Athena produced the first olive tree. Since the olive tree produces fruit that can be eaten and from whence oil can be derived, as well as the fact that the wood can be used for construction and to burn for heat, it was she who was declared the winner.
The olive tree would not be the last of Athena's gifts to mankind. Athena was literally "the mother of invention". Some of her inventions include; the plow, the rake, the yoke, the bridal, and the taming of horses. She also invented the first chariot and the first ship. She invented the first flute and trumpet, though she abandoned the flute because people laughed at her when she puffed her cheeks out to play it. Athena also invented the potter's wheel and taught people the working of clay. She also taught women to cook, spin and weave. As if that wasn't enough, Athena invented the science of mathematics.
The art of weaving was Athena's specialty. It also features prominently in one of her more well known myths.
It came about that a woman named Arachne boasted that her weaving was superior than the goddess. Now, Arachne was very skilled in the art of weaving and she produced such beautiful pieces that her work became widely known and people sought her out from far away places because of such. However, what Arachne failed to realize was that her skill was a blessing from Athena. When Athena found out about Arachne's boasting she decided to pay Arachne a visit. Disguising herself as an old woman she approached the arrogant young woman.
Athena can be patient and slow to anger if the situation calls for it. In her disguise as an old woman, Athena tried to get Arachne to take back her boasting and accept a more humble attitude. Arache refused. When Athena, as the old woman, suggested that maybe her skill in weaving was a blessing from the goddess, Arachne laughed. Athena then reminded her that humans should practice humility concerning the gods as the gods detest hubris. Arachne responded with a challenge. Defiantly, Arachne challenged Athena to a weaving contest, not realizing that the goddess was standing directly in front of her. Athena had enough. With a flash of light, Athena dropped her disguise and stood before Arachne in her divine form. Arachne didn't even flinch. The two immediately began the contest in earnest.
Athena wove scenes of mortal folly and hubris. Arachne wove scenes of Zeus's numerous affairs. When the contest ended, Athena naturally won. However, when the goddess saw the subject matter of Arache's work and how the foolish mortal dared to mock her father and King of the gods, Athena became infuriated. she was so angry she ripped Arachne's tapestry to shreds. Meanwhile, Arachne, ashamed of losing, fled the room crying. After some time had elapsed without her return, Athena went looking for her and found her near death. Arachne had hung herself. Taking pity on the foolish girl, Athena transformed her into the first spider so that she could continue to do what she loved best, weave. Instead of making tapestries, Arachne would now weave webs.
As mentioned above, Athena could be slow to anger and very patient with humans. Athena, as a war goddess was unlike her brother Ares, who delighted in war and bloodshed. Ares was the god of war for the sake of war, while Athena represented defense, justified and strategic warfare. Athena also had compassion for humanity and was concerned with fairness and all things just. It is said that she was the one who invented the practise that if a man or woman stands trial and the jury is evenly split, then the ruling must be in favor of the accused.
In fact, Athena became the protector and helper deity of the majority of the heroes in Greek mythology, being drawn to brave, courageous individuals whom she inspired to greatness and the fulfillment of their destinies.
Athena's capacity for compassion, her strength, nobility, and sense of fairness most likely contributes to her popularity to this day. She is truly a feminist icon. In modern times, Athena is perhaps the second most popular deity, after her father, Zeus.
Though Athena's most famous temple, the Parthenon, lies in ruins, there is a full scale replica built in Nashville, TN. The temple contains a 42 ft tall statue of Athena Parthenos.
Parents: Zeus and the Titan, Metis
Offspring: Erichthonius (adopted)
Attendants: Nike, the winged-daemon of victory
Sacred Epithets/Aspects: Ergane (worker), Aglaotimus (splendidly honored), Aiolomorphus (shape-shifting), Anassa (queen), Antrodiaetus (cave-dwelling), Arritos (unspoken), Ayaeleia (driver or protector of herds), Dia (heavenly), Drakaina (female dragon), Euresitechnos (inventer of the arts), Glaucopis (blue/green/gray-eyed or owl-eyed), Gorgophonus (slayer of the gorgon), Hippelateira (driver of horses), Hippius (of horses), Kleidouchos (holder of the keys), Luteria Kakon (deliverer from vice/wickedness), Macaira (blessed), Megalonimus (with a great name), Meter Technon (mother of the arts), Mounogenes (only begotten), Nikephorus Daemon (victorious god/spirit), Ombrimothymos (strong of spirit), Oplochares (delighter in arms), Hoplophorus (bearing arms), Ormasteira (who urges you forward), Philentheos (filled with divine influence), Phygodemnios (shunnin the marriage bed), Phygolectros (shuns the marriage bed), Philopolemic (lover of war), Philosophic (lover of wisdom), Polymetocus (bringing forth war), Polemoclonus (raising the clamor of war), Polullistos (sought with many prayers), Polybulus (much wisdom), Ritos (spoken of, famous), Semne (reverred), Soteira (savior), Basileia (queen), Bulaea (of the council), Gymnasousa Kore (athletic maiden), Areia (war like), Salpinx (war trumpet), Leitis (distributor of booty), Zosteria (girder in armor), Sthenias (strong), Chalinitis (bridler of horses), Eryma (defender), Alalcomeneneis (protectress), Polias (of the city), Poliatis (keeper of the ciy), Poliuchos (protectress of the city), Promachorma (champion of the anchorage), Paeonia (healer), Hygea (health), Ambulia (councellor), Pronoea (foresight), Apatouria (deciever), Machanitis (contriver), Alea (escape/refuge), Xenia (hospitality), Ophtlmitis (of the eyes), Oxyderces (sharp sighted), Coryphasia (of the head), Coryphagenes (born of the head), Parthenos (virgin), Korie (maiden), Gigantoletira (slayer of giants), Gigantoletis (slayer of giants), Gorgolaphas (gorgon crested), Acraea (upon the hill), Aithuia (diver/ship builder), Ageleia (protectress of the people), Agoraea (protectress of the marketplace), Alcis (strong), Anemotis (subduer of winds), Axiopoinos (avenger), Chalkioikos (of the brazen house), Ellotia (of the marsh)
Sacred Color: Light Blue
Zodiac Sign: Aries
Sacred Symbols: Helmet, Spear, Lance, Shield, Aegis, Head of Medusa, Distaff
Sacred Incense: Aromatic Herbs, Frankincense
Sacred Offerings: Libations of Water, Wine, Honey, Milk, or Oil, Olive Leaves, Olives, Cakes and Cookies in the form of her Sacred Animals
Sacrificial Animals: Female Animals Excluding Lambs
Sacred Plant: Olive Tree
Sacred Bird: Owl
Sacred Animal: Serpent, Cock (Rooster)
***NOTE: Athena gets her most famous title, that of Pallas Athena, from either a giant named Pallas that she slew or a best friend named Pallas that she accidentally killed, taking her name in memory.
***NOTE: In the Odyssey, Athena is described as being 9 ft tall. This would imply that the other gods were around that same height. In art, when gods and humans were portrayed together, the gods were presented as far taller than the humans.
***NOTE: The Greek word, "glaukos" that is translated as "grey-eyed", can also mean blue or blue-green.
***NOTE: In another versions of the myth, Tiresias is blinded by Hera after he sided with Zeus in an argument.
***NOTE: Athena's statue at the Parthenon, as well as the reproduction statue found at the Parthenon in Nashville, contains a serpent that is rearing up and which is located by the goddesses' shield. This serpent is not an enemy but is in fact a representation of her adopted son, Ericthonius.