Athena at a Glance
name | Athena
role | goddess of wisdom, war, and crafts
symbols | aegis, owl, olive tree
Athena in Greek Mythology
Much has been written about the goddess Athena. As the patron deity of the city of Athens, she played an enormous role in the lives of not only the residents of that illustrious polis
(Greek for city), but in many respects all of the Greek speaking world. Our oldest sources of Greek literature - the works of Homer
and Hesiod - discuss Athena. The goddess appears in several significant passages of Homer's Iliad
, and she is one of the most influential deities in the Odyssey
in her role as Odysseus's patron and ally. Therefore, Athena's attributes were codified early in the epics and poetry of Greece: she was the divine sponsor of warriors and heroes, she introduced several of the arts and crafts necessary for civilization, and she represented wisdom. Obviously, the goddess played a prominent role in Greek mythology.
Birth of Athena
The poet Hesiod states that Athena emerged from the head of Zeus
; indeed, she sprang out fully grown and armed for battle. Furthermore, the legend of her birth reveals another odd aspect. According to the story, Zeus became enamored with Metis
(the name Metis, incidentally, means "thought"). Together, they conceived a child, but Zeus, fearing that his offspring would be a powerful male god who would eventually overthrow him, swallowed the pregnant Metis. In time, it was Zeus himself who gave birth to a daughter, with the assistance of Hephaistos
, who played the part of a midwife by striking Zeus's head with an axe and thereby releasing Athena.
This instance of Zeus giving birth is not unique: the god also gave birth to Dionysos. Indeed, this is significant, as the birth of Athena from the head of her father emphasizes a couple of important features about the goddess. The idea that she was born from a male underscores her relationship with men, both divine and human. In the human realm, Athena consistently becomes a protector of heroes; while in the divine she completely avoids sexual liaisons with gods.
Athena and the Contest for Athens
Athena in Art History
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I begin to sing of Pallas Athena, the glorious goddess, gray-eyed, resourceful, of implacable heart.
- Homeric Hymn to Athena
Who's Who in Classical Mythology
This book is a great source for information about Greek and Roman mythology! Organized alphabetically, this who's who features information about over 1200 of the most intriguing characters from Classical myth and legend. And there is an excellent entry on Athena.