Athena Greek mythology has captured women’s history for many centuries. The revered Athena goddess of wisdom and war had an impeccable character. She was represented in art and war, and worshipped as patroness of all arts and crafts.
Birth of Athena the Greek Goddess
One must look at her parents to understand her birth. Her mother was Metis (“Wisdom”), and her father was the great Zeus. When Metis was pregnant with Athena, Zeus was advised to kill her because she might have been bearing a male who could eventually overthrow Zeus. So, Zeus took it upon himself to swallow his pregnant wife, believing that would be the end of her. However, as the myth goes Zeus was bothered by terrible headaches 9 months later. Either Hephaestus (son of Zeus and Hera) cracked his head open with an axe, or the almighty Zeus just birthed Athena through his head, Athena arrived.
She was fully dressed in war armor of gold, brandishing her spear. She was surrounded by other admiring immortals. On a scale of Greek goddesses list she became the favorite of her dad. The unusual birth, being sprung from a male, symbolized her major characteristics: masculinity of her virgin nature, prowess, and wisdom.
Pallas Athena Tritogenia
She is often referred to as Pallas Athena, and that is an interesting mythology about her upbringing. Triton (the god of some body of water) raised Athena, along with his daughter, Pallas. They often played war games, practicing their skills. As kids do, they quarreled during a practice. Pallas had an opening to strike Athena, but her doting father (Zeus) saw what was coming down and intervened by imposing his aegis (more on that soon). So, Athena took advantage of the situation, and killed Pallas. When she realized what she had done she felt poorly about it, so she took the name of Pallas to honor her slain friend.
The last name (Tritogenia) is very unclear. It seems to be associated with a body of water - river or lake that Triton may have been the reigning god of.
The aegis associated with Zeus and Athena is a goat skin shield of miraculous protective powers. They both had one, and are portrayed with them in various depictions.
The Greek Parthenon
The word “parthenos” means virgin. It may have been named to signify Athena’s virgin birth. The Greek Parthenon was a great temple glorifying Athena’s political power. The lady defended Athens and was honored at the temple situated on the Acropolis at Athens. Her Greek triumph over the Persians showed the glorification of the gods and the courage of the Athenians.
The Acropolis is on a flat topped hill in Athens, surrounded by mountains and originally a city fortress.The temples were arranged for visual drama, especially the Parthenon which was the largest and most famous. The Doric columns were marble blocks stacked to look seamless. They swelled slightly at the middle to give a feel of natural flexing - definitely optically designed for an awesome experience to behold.
A 38 foot statue of Athena with gold and ivory surfaces stood in the Parthenon. A reflecting pool was in front of the monument. On her head was an armored helmet decorated with sphinxes. Her aegis had the head of Medusa, and a figure of Nike (Victory) was held in her right hand. She was accompanied with a spear, and a serpent was curled next to her also. Reliefs of the battle with Centaurs were on the rims of her sandals. Notice the details and fantastic celebratory worship of this goddess by her people. She was so loved, at least according to the known mythology. The Athens’ patroness was made visually impressive from the great city which became a sacred tribute to her.
Dear Athena was also patroness of the feminine arts of weaving and spinning. There is a story about her and Arachne (a skilled and delightful student of Athena’s). Arachne became as famous as a weaver as Athena, yet refused to give credit to Athena as her teacher. This angered Athena, so she disguised herself as an old woman and approached Arachne. She gave her the suggestion to repent and pray to the goddess for forgiveness for her jealousy of her teacher. Arachne would have none of this. She verbally attacked the disguised Athena, and suggested a competition between the two to prove who was the best. Athena let down her disguise to an unimpressed Arachne. The contest began: each weaved a mythological tapestry of greatness. Neither Athena or Envy could find fault with Arachne’s work. Arachne’s hubris was dealt with severely (as the warrior maiden punished). Athena destroyed Arachne’s weaving and Arachne tried to strangle herself. Instead, Athena stopped her death by sprinkling a magic herb on her. It shrunk her body (her hair, nose and ears fell off), and she was left to practice her weaving art as a spider.
The weaving metaphor associated with Athena has become a representative of cunning, wily human resoucefulness. The “thread” of life created by women, and controlled by fate has become a central theme related to the feminine arts.
According to Legends:
- Athena tried to restrain Hades from kidnapping Persephone.
- Athena promised Paris that he would always leave a battle victorious as a conquering hero, if he judged her to be the most beautiful. He didn’t want her gift and gave her a good rant about battles serving no purpose for him.
- Athena deceived Hector by disguising herself as his brother, yet when he called out for help, his brother wasn’t there. She was helping Achilles win a battle.
- Athena descended into a battle in a chariot with Hera. She helped Diomedes, with her spear, frightening the humans she battled with.
- Athena warned Odysseus to say nothing against the gods, because they love those who are moderate, and hate those who are evil. This was in his response to her question to him of if he knew of a greater hero than Ajax. Athena was hostile towards Ajax, yet Odysseus claimed he knew of no greater hero.
Thus the favored daughter of Zeus lives on in the deification of wisdom, arts, crafts, military skills, political acuity, and as a domestic goddess virgin.