Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom

Patron of Athens, Goddess of Warcraft and Weaving

Colossal marble head of Athena, Artifact uncovered in Bornova, Turkey. Hellenistic Civilization, 2nd century BC
De Agostini Picture Library/ De Agostini Picture Library/ Getty Images

She sums up many of the Greeks' gifts to Western culture, from philosophy to olive oil to the Parthenon. Athena, daughter of Zeus, joined the Olympians in a dramatic way and figured in many founding myths, including taking an active part in the Trojan War. She was the patron of the city of Athens; its iconic Parthenon was her shrine. And as the goddess of wisdom, the strategy of war, and the arts and crafts (agriculture, navigation, spinning, weaving, and needlework), she was one of the most important gods to the ancient Greeks.

 

The Birth of Athena

Athena is said to have emerged fully formed from the head of Zeus, but there is a backstory. One of Zeus' many loves was an Oceanid named Metis. When she became pregnant, the King of Gods remembered the danger he posed to his own father, Cronos, and in turn, how Cronos dealt with his father Ouranos. Wary of continuing the cycle of patricide, Zeus swallowed his lover.

But Metis, in the darkness of Zeus' interior, continued to carry her child. After some time, the King of Gods came down with a royal headache. Calling upon the blacksmith god Hephaestus (some myths  say it was Prometheus), Zeus asked that his head be split open, whereupon sprang gray-eyed Athena in her glory.

See Homeric Hymn XXVIII. To Athena for the account of her birth.

 

Myths About Athena

Befitting the patron of one of Hellas' greatest city-states, Greek goddess Athena appears in many classic myths. Some of the most famous ones include:

Athena and Arachne: Here, the Goddess of the Loom takes a skilled but boastful human down a peg, and by transforming Arachne into tiny, eight-legged weaver, invents the spider.

The Gorgon Medusa: Another tale of Athena's vengeful side, the fate of Medusa was sealed when this beautiful priestess of Athena was wooed by Poseidon in the goddess' own shrine.

Snakes for hair and a petrifying gaze ensued.

The Contest for Athens: Once again pitting the grey-eyed goddess against her uncle Poseidon, the contest for the patronage of Athens was decided for the god who bestowed the best gift to the city. Poseidon brought forth a magnificent (salt water) spring, but wise Athena gifted an olive tree—source of fruit, oil, and wood. She won.

The Judgement of Paris: In the unenviable position of judging a beauty contest between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, the Trojan Paris put his money on the one Romans would call Venus. His prize: Helen of Troy, née Helen of Sparta, and the enmity of Athena, who would tirelessly back the Greeks in the Trojan War.

 

Athena Fact File

Occupation:

Goddess of Wisdom, Warcraft, Weaving, and Crafts

Other Names:

Pallas Athena, Athena Parthenos, and the Romans called her Minerva

Attributes:

Aegis—a cloak with the head of Medusa upon it, spear, pomegranate, owl, helmet. Athena is described as gray-eyed (glaukos).

Powers of Athena:

Athena is the goddess of wisdom and crafts. She is the patron of Athens.

Sources:

Ancient sources for Athena include: Aeschylus, Apollodorus, Callimachus, Diodorus Siculus, Euripides, Hesiod, Homer, Nonnius, Pausanias, Sophocles and Strabo.

A Son for a Virgin Goddess:

Athena is a virgin goddess, but she has a son. Athena is credited with being part-mother of Erichthonius, a half-snake half-man creature, through an attempted rape by Hephaestus, whose seed spilled on her leg. When Athena wiped it off, it fell to earth (Gaia) who became the other part-mother.

The Parthenon:

The people of Athens built a great temple for Athena on the acropolis, or high point, of the city. The temple is known as the Parthenon. In it was a colossal gold and ivory statue of the goddess. During the annual Panathenaia festival, a procession was made to the statue and she was clothed in a new outfit.

More:


Since Athena was born without a mother -- sprung from her father's head -- in an important murder trial, she decided that the role of the mother was less essential in creation than the role of the father.

Specifically, she sided with the matricide Orestes, who had kiled his mother Clytemnestra after she had killed her husband and his father Agamemnon.

 

 

Bulfinch Myths About Athena

Athena and Arachne
Weaving Contest

Judgment of Paris

Greek Mythology

Pictures of Athena