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Ancient Greek Myths- The Goddess Athena

Updated on June 23, 2013

Athena

Today, the Greek goddess Athena is famous because the capital city of Greece is Athens, Athena’s city. Perhaps the greatest landmark, amongst the many in Athens, is the Acropolis, with the Parthenon’s ruins on the top. Parthenon means temple to a virgin and Athena is a virgin goddess. The Romans knew Athena as Minerva.

Athena is Athens’ patron Goddess, but she also presides over other things, wisdom, justice, civil law and wisdom. The owl is one of her symbols, and that why today people associate the owl with wisdom and learning. Athena also is the goddess of agriculture, navigation, arts and crafts, and domestic crafts such as spinning, weaving and needlecrafts and she is often shown with a distaff, an old device, which women used to spin wool into yarn. Athena was also the Goddess of War, specifically tactical war, rather than bloody war like Ares, outwitting enemies and mediation were her speciality. Athena gave man the plough, ox yoke, and horse bridle. She also made the first flute, but stopped playing it because she believed it made her look ugly.

Athena's birth and childhood

Athena parents were Zeus and Metis (an Oceanid), but prophesy said that Metis’s son would over throw Zeus so he swallowed Metis while she was pregnant with Athena. Months later Zeus had a dreadful; headache. Finally Hephaestus, (Prometheus) The Gods’ blacksmith, cleft Zeus' head with an axe and Athena sprang fully formed and armed from Zeus’s head with a battle cry that echoed around the heavens. This is a favourite subject on ancient Greek pottery. Athena is Hercules half-sister and his friend on Olympus. (Zeus jealous wife Hera is his enemy)

Athena is always shown wearing a crested helmet and carrying a shield showing Medusa, the gorgon’s head.

When Athena was a child, she had a mortal friend, Pallas, the two were wrestling one day and Athena, not realizing her own strength, accidentally killed Pallas. Athena’s grief was so great, that she told everyone to call her Pallas Athena, in memory of her friend. She made a statue of Pallas, called the Palladium. Stored on Mount Olympus until Electra a young woman, whom Zeus was in love with, took sanctuary in it, in temper Zeus threw the Palladium and Electra off Mount Olympus.

How Athena became the Patron Saint of Athens

Cecrops, the first king of Athens, wanted a patron god for the city, but both Poseidon and Athena were interested in becoming the city’s patron. Cecrops finally decided that the god, who gave the best gift to the Athenians, would win the contest. Poseidon struck a rock with his trident and a spring gushed forth – the Athenians were not impressed because the water was salty. Athena stuck her spear in the ground quietly crouched and buried something in the earth it was an olive branch creating the olive tree to give the Athenians food, oil and wood and as a symbol of peace and prosperity. Today, people still say that when people make up a quarrel, or negotiate a peace, that one is offering an olive branch to the other. Some accounts say that Poseidon was displeased that Cecrops preferred Athena’s gift to his own, and cursed Athens never to have enough water, Athens suffers from water shortages even now.

Athena is an interesting Goddess, and she plays a part in the stories of Hercules and Perseus, as well as in other Greek myths.

Parthenon

Parthenon in Greece and blue sky
Parthenon in Greece and blue sky | Source

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