|“|| I begin my song of Pallas Athena, illustrious goddess with sharp grey eyes.
Crafty one, She, with a heart relentless, modest Virgin, Protectress of the city.
|~ Homeric Poem|
Athena is the goddess of Wisdom and Warfare in Greek mythology. She is the daughter of Zeus, God of Storms and Metis, Titaness of Prudence. Greece's capital of Athens got it's name sake from Athena who was the city's patron goddess. The ancient myths portray Athena as cunning, brave, and caring if occasionally elitist. She is likened to both a teacher and general.
The story of Athena goes back to that of her father and mother, Zeus and Metis. Zeus had met the titaness Metis, on his way to slay his father the titans Cronus, Metis and Zeus had fallen in love and Metis was willing to help Zeus get close enough to overthrow his father and her king. Thanks to a con by Metis involving a poison passed off as a vitality potion Zeus was able to defeat his father and free his siblings from Cronus. With all his children freed Cronus called for the titans to defeat them, thus began the Titanomachy, a battle between the gods and titans. In the conflict Metis, along with a few other titans sided with the gods against Cronus. The gods eventually won the conflict and sentenced the defeated titans to an eternity in the fiery Tartarus, with exceptions made for the titans that had sided with the gods, including of-course Metis. Zeus married Metis and served as his wizened adviser. Over time Zeus' attention wandered and he became enamored with the goddess Hera. After Zeus seduced Hera Metis saw the romance was more than a passing fling agreed to step-down as Zeus' wife, she however, stayed on as Zeus's adviser.
Zeus soon found though that Metis was pregnant, while Zeus was happy at first he became worried when the Titan Prometheus, another who had originally sided with the gods, warned Zeus that his first child would become even greater than he, just as he had to his father before overthrowing him and his father had to his grandfather; This was Prometheus' last prediction before being banished by Zeus for stealing the fire from the gods, and so the final warning left an ominous and serious implication over Zeus' future. Zeus wanted to secure his rule but he did not wish to banish Metis. Zeus decided to trick Metis. Metis and Zeus would play a game in which they changed their forms to fit certain criteria; One day Zeus challenged Metis to one such game with the criteria being who could come up with the smallest animal and Metis was happy to play. Zeus turned himself into a rodent but Metis had assumed the form of a mayfly. Zeus congratulated Metis, but then quickly breathed her in and swallowed her whole. Zeus's plan had worked, he had removed the threat of Metis giving birth but without sentencing her to Tartarus and being able to constantly hear her advice with her in his head. Over time Metis was completely absorbed into Zeus' brain, granting him great wisdom and for a long time Zeus considered it the best solution for the situation for though he might have many children his first would never actually be born.
One day Zeus began to have great headaches. Zeus' elder sister, Hestia, gave him nectar and ambrosia to help clear his head, but they only seemed to delay the pain and before long it was back. One day at a feast the pain flared up uncontrollably and neither nectar nor ambrosia seemed to help any longer. Hera told Zeus to wait for the pain to pass, but it would not. Soon Zeus was in monumental pain. Quickly Zeus and Hera's, son Hephaestus - god of the forge, grabbed one of his blades and neatly carved open his father's head at the point of the pain. From the single point exploded a fully clothed and armored woman. Hestia quickly healed her brother's wound and Hephaestus took back his blade and stepped aside. When Zeus asked who the woman was she said her name was "Athena" - the daughter of him and Metis. Though Metis had been absorbed as part of Zeus' brain her child was still born separately from him. Athena had been clothed, educated, and cared for by Metis in the back of his mind until she was too big to be contained in his head any longer. As Zeus waited for his daughter to declare her intentions she pledged her loyalty to Zeus, she was not angry or vengeful, but had been raised to be loyal to her father/king. Zeus still feared Prometheus' prediction that she would become greater than he but would not raise a hand to her if she had no plan to do so to him, so was Athena welcomed as one of the Twelve Olympians.
Athena taught mortals arts and crafts, she showed women how to sew, sculpt, and paint and men how to read, write, and fight. She introduced the concept of democracy as a form of government and taught mortals the value of winning wars with strategy instead of pure strength. Athena was attentive to her followers and encouraged them to be open-minded and honorable. As a result of her gifts to mankind she became hailed as the most popular goddess in Greece, a celebrity among deities. Though some mortals considered her greater still than Zeus, she made sure they knew to praise her father still as the king of all Olympians, her included. Zeus saw that the prophesy had come true but not in the way he had thought. Though Athena was greater than he in the eyes of mortals, she had no intent to oppose her father and her glory simply reflected upon him, thus did the cycle of child overthrowing parent come to an end thanks to Athena's loyalty. Far from being his enemy, Athena became Zeus' favorite child.
Athena vs Poseidon
When a new settlement was being formed in Greece, Zeus saw it would be a great city and called forth the Olympians to ask who wished to be the patron of the city. Athena wanted to be patron of the city to prove her capability to her father, but Athena's uncle Poseidon, Zeus' eldest brother, also wanted to city, for with it he might be praised even higher than Zeus. Both Poseidon, as Zeus's elder brother and Athena as Zeus' first daughter, were of equal rank among the Olympians and so Zeus proposed a contest, each would present one gift to the people of the city, the one with the more beneficial gift would win the city. Poseidon presented a magnificent warhorse, strong, fast and obedient, it and it's kind would grant the people of the city a great advantage in combat. Athena presented and olive branch. Poseidon mocked the simple gift and asked what good an olive would do. Athena explained to Zeus that with olives as a main crop the city-state would have food and oil, the trunk made a fine lumber and it's roots fertilize the soil, with such a crop the city-state would not only never run low on the basic amenities but they would had a stable trading resource. Zeus was impressed more by Athena's forethought in the simple gift than Poseidon's brazen beast of burden and gave the city-state to Athena and the people took on the name Athens for their city-state. Ever since the contest Poseidon considered Athena to be a rival and many Athena plays portrayed him as her envious uncle constantly looking for a leg up on her.
Skills and Abilities
Athena's primary skill was her intellect, though she is credited as the Goddess of Wisdom she is often portrayed as relying on her substantial intellect over that of her wits specifically and has been tricked on multiple occasions. Like all lesser Olympians Athena was semi-omnipotent and semi-omniscience but still far removed from her father, Zeus and his siblings in this regard. Athena's iconic weapons are the spear and shield, although some statures show her with a sword and shield instead, the spear is the Palles, a spear forged specifically for her by the god Hephaestus, the shield, "Aegis", on the other hand was passed down to her from her father and was unbreakable, weightless and could block her from even powers of divine fury such as lightning. Athena had a variety of powers attributed to the mind such as the ability to remotely move objects, telepathically communicate with others, read minds and attack others on a mental level. Athena constantly competed with her brother Ares and the two were by all accounts evenly matched, just in different areas; Both specialized in winning wars, Ares with brute-force, Athena with tactics; Ares played off primal fury, Athena, nationalist pride; Ares encouraged rulers to take action over talk and Athena encouraged rulers to talk over taking action; both of which worked to tremendous effect but lead to extreme violence when the two gods, and by extension followers, clashed. Athena often visited mortals by making herself appear to be a mortal, the word "Mentor" comes from the name of one of her mortal Aliases and has long since been used to now indicate a someone is a learned teacher. She had a variety of skills she is said to have taught mortals purely to better them such as weaving, sculpting, painting, writing poetry, history keeping, haggling, livestock preservation/breeding, political debate and architectural engineering.
Athena, being the Patron Goddess of Athens was often portrayed by the Athenians in an extremely positive light in their plays and literature (which is one of history's primary reservoirs of insight on ancient Greek culture). Other Greek City-States are less positive about Athena's actions and abilities but still portray her mainly as a reasonable and empathetic goddess. Sparta, Athens' main rival and City-State that had Ares as it's god, backs up most of the same stories as those found in Athenian records, Spartans simply viewed such personality traits as less important than their own Patron's. All-in-all Athena is made out to be kind to mortals but at the same time very proud and sometimes condescending. Athena was sore at the woman Arachne for beating her in a weaving contest but still willing to admit defeat, however when Arachne weaved a tapestry of Zeus portraying him as a sex-fiend Athena punished her by turning her into a spider and condemned her to weave forever. Many Greek fables on the dangers of hubris say the same things about Athena similar to the story of Arachne, she was empathetic most of the time but truly fearful when her, or her father's pride was insulted. Athena was completely loyal to Zeus and dedicated to being the ideal daughter to him. Athena was not above crossing other gods but usually tried to do so covertly so as not to ruffle any divine feathers. Athena's answer to Odysseus, one of her favorite mortals, being victimized by Poseidon, was to counsel him in dreams and conspire with her father to free him from Poseidon's grasp while Poseidon was on holiday. Athena was good friends with the Nike, god of victory, Artemis, goddess of the hunt and Apollo god of the sun and arts. Nike is often seen in temples with Athena to symbolize how intellect and winning go hand-in-hand, Artemsis's followers often viewed Athena as their secondary benefactor and bards that viewed Apollo as their patron were well received in city's dedicated to Athena. Athena is one of three virgin goddesses in Greek Mythology along with Hestia and Artemis. While Hestia remained a virgin for purity sake and Artemis remained a virgin because she refused to be objectified, Athena remained a virgin specifically because no god ever met the standards she had for a mate. Aside from her father, Athena also idolized her aunts, Demeter and Hestia and her uncle, Hades, her uncle Poseidon however viewed her as a rival.
- Athena's Roman equivalent was "Minerva".
- Athena kept a pet owl, but there is no record of what it was called, if anything. It is likely a patriotic mark by Athens to associate it's national bird to that of their goddess, as Athens was rich with owls. (A concept similar to The US's national paragon, Uncle Sam, often having a bald eagle on his shoulders).
- In the Mycenaean period (pre-ancient Greece) Athena saved Dionysus after he was vivisected by saving his heart and planting it in the womb of Semele, where he eventually was reborn from. But as many records from Mycenaean Greece were lost to the ancient Greeks, myths from their era were acknowledged but re-written and this event is not longer cannon.
Folklore, Religions, and Myths