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The Goddess Athena Trivia Quiz
Pallas Athena Thea
How much do you know about Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom and war? Try this Athena Mythology Trivia Quiz and find out!
Then check out the myths, information, and pictures of Athena following the quiz. By the time you're done, you'll be an Athena expert.
Don't forget to try out some of my other Greek mythology quizzes, too!
Greek Mythology Quiz: Athenaview quiz statistics
Pictures of the Goddess Athena - My photos of Athena art from my trip to GreeceClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Contest Between Athena and Poseidon
Athena's Gift of the Olive Tree to Athens
Greek myths tell how Athena and Poseidon the sea-god competed to determine the patron god of Athens.
Poseidon's gift was a well, but its waters were salty. Athena created the olive tree, which provided wood, fruit, and olive oil used for everything from cooking to lighting.
Athena's gift carried the day, and the city of Athens adopted her and her name. The contest between Athena and Poseidon is a popular motif in art, including the Parthenon sculptures. Modern Greeks say that a descendant of Athena's olive tree still grows on the Acropolis of Athens (see photo gallery above).
Above: Athena, crowned by Nike, presents the olive tree to King Cecrops, founder of Athens.
The Parthenon...at Nashville?
Replica of the Temple of Athena in Athens
Q: What would you do if you wanted to experience a majestic ancient monument just as it looked 2400 years ago?
1. Reconstruct it, tampering with the original.
2. Build a full-sized copy of it in Nashville:
Never Tick Off a Goddess, Part I
The contest between Athena and Arachne the weaver
A Lydian weaver, Arachne, boasted that her skill at the loom outstripped that of Athena.
Unfortunately for Arachne, Greek gods have excellent hearing. Descending from Olympus, Athena challenged the human girl to a contest.
The goddess wove a tapestry depicting her gift of the olive to Athens. Around the border she worked images of mortals punished for hubris.
Ignoring the warning, Arachne portrayed scandalous affairs of gods with mortals. The work was good -- flawless, even -- but Athena, enraged, shredded it and struck the girl with her shuttle. Arachne became the first spider.
Above: Vase painting depicting Perseus' mother Danae receiving a "gift" from Zeus.
Athena's Sacred Animals: The Owl and the Snake
Symbols of Wisdom and Mystery
Owl makes sense as the sacred bird of Athena, goddess of wisdom, but why the snake?
The association of snakes with powerful goddesses is an ancient tradition, dating back to the Minoan civilization a thousand years before classical Greece.
Snakes have powers of life and death. Their bite can kill. They emerge from the ground as if born from the earth and shed their skins as if sloughing off old age. These ideas are reflected in the serpents (drakontes) of Greek mythology.
Athena's aegis (see below) is fringed with snakes, and the colossal statue of Athena in the Parthenon had an enormous snake coiled inside her shield.
Above: Athena rescues Jason from the guardian of the Golden Fleece. (Alternate myth)
Athena at a Glance - Quick Facts about Pallas Athena
- Goddess of war, weaving, wisdom.
- Born full-grown and fully armed from the head of Zeus.
- Mother: Zeus? ( Zeus swallowed pregnant Metis).
- One of three virgin goddesses.
- Sacred animals: Owl, snake.
Clash of the War Gods
Athena vs. Ares in the Trojan War
In the Iliad, the gods of Olympus take sides. Athena favors the Greeks and her favorite heroes, Achilles and Odysseus, while Ares sides with the Trojans and Hector.
More than once, these two gods come to blows. Both are war-gods: Ares of violence and battle-frenzy, Athena of strategy. In their first face-off, Athena acts as Diomedes' charioteer, shielding him from Ares' spear-cast and guiding the hero's own spear so that it strikes true. Wounded, Ares flees the battlefield.
Later, the two gods face off directly. Blustering, Ares vows vengeance for their last encounter. Athena picks up a rock and clobbers him, reminding him who's boss.
Pallas Athena: What Does It Mean?
Alternate origins for Athena's most well-known nickname
Most Greek gods, goddeses and heroes have epithets, nicknames. Athena's nickname Pallas is so old that it has several conflicting myths.
Some writers said it was the name of a giant she killed in the battle between the gods and the Titans. If so, the name may derive from the verb pallein, to brandish a spear.
Or it may have been another word for maiden (see the dictionary entry for Παλλὰς Ἀθηναίη).
An alternate myth from northern Africa says that Pallas was Athena's childhood playmate whom she accidentally killed. Grieving, Athena took her friend's name and fashioned the Palladium in her memory, a sacred wooden statue whose presence protected a city.
How Do We Spell Athena?
Greeks had no spell-checkers, so they wrote Athena's name in their local dialect:
Ἀθήνη: Athena in Ionic, Homeric Greek
Ἀθηναία, later shortened to Ἀθηνᾶ: Athena in Attic (Athenian) Greek
Ἀθάνα: Athena in Doric, Spartan Greek (used in tragedy)
Αθηνά: modern Greek
(η, eta, rhymes with "day," English "e")
Athena, Patron of Arts and Smarts
but not really a goddess of women
Wits and craft, military strategy and city-building: Athena is a unique goddess who presides over a man's world. Despite her association with weaving, Athena has little to do with women.
In the Iliad and Odyssey, she mingles with heroes, frequently disguising herself as a man: Hector's brother, Mentor, Telemachus, a shepherd boy, to name a few.
in Aeschylus' play Eumenides, Athena comes down on the side of men and father's rights in a convoluted court case involving murders of mother, husband, and daughter.
Not that she renounces women entirely. Priestesses maintain her cult, feed her sacred snakes, and weave her statue a new gown during the Panathenaia festival. She protects everybody within the city's walls. But her primary sphere is in the public, not the domestic sphere. Back then, women were barely allowed out of the house.
See my essay on "Athena, Misogynist or Feminist?" for a more in-depth discussion.
Gray-Eyed Athena... Or Is It "Flashing-Eyed"?
"Athene Glaukopis" in Greek
Homer sometimes calls her "θεὰ γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη," the "something-eyed goddess Athena," but it's not clear what he means by γλαυκός, glaukos. Modern translators often translate Homer's use of glaukos as "gleaming" or "flashing." Early Greek writers also use this word to describe the moon, the sea and the stars.
By the time of Plato, glaukopis (γλαυκῶπις) comes to mean "gray-eyed." Γλαυκός indicates a color from bluish-gray to bluish-green (sometimes used to describe olives). So let's stick to what we were taught as school-children and call her eyes gray!
The Aegis of Zeus and Athena
Striking terror into her foes
The aegis originally belonged to Zeus, but his powerful daughter Athena usually wields it.
The word aegis means "goat-skin," not a very impressive form of armor for a divinity. I suspect it comes from early rustic traditions before the Greeks took up city life.
Early on, it's described as a shaggy or tasseled garment, but it soon acquires a dangerous fringe of snakes and a scaly surface. The head of Medusa (or some other Gorgon) is another upgrade which can stun or dazzle Athena's foes.
Athena Goes to College
Bryn Mawr College hails Athena as a patron. Each year, students sing a hymn to Pallas Athena in the hopes that her wisdom will rub off on them.
Athena Gives Up Show Business
Does this flute make my face look fat?
Many myths are aetiological, which means explaining the origin of something.
The invention of the flute (or, actually, pipes) is one of these myths. Greeks trace this instrument to Athena. However, when she caught sight of her reflection in a mirror, she disliked the way her cheeks puffed out, and cast aside the pipes. The satyr Marsyas picked them up. In Athens, a well-known statue depicting this episode; painters frequently use it as a model.
Marsyas also got into trouble for boasting. He claimed to be a better musician than Apollo. The god challenged him to a music contest and had him flayed and turned into a wine-skin for his presumption. Ouch.
Never Tick Off a Goddess, Part II
Ajax the Not-So-Great
Athena gets down in the trenches with the boys. She personally assists and watches over Achilles, Odysseus, Diomedes, Telemachus, Perseus, Hercules, Theseus and many other Greek heroes. However, one famous Greek hero of the Trojan War earned Athena's wrath.
There are some things you just don't do, even in war. One of them is to drag away and violate a priestess clinging to a god's statue as a suppliant. When Cassandra took refuge in Athena's shrine, clasping the statue of Athena, Ajax the Lesser did just that. Ironically, he escaped being stoned for this act only by claiming sanctuary at Athena's altar himself.
The goddess bided her time. When the Greeks headed for home, Athena borrowed her father Zeu's thunderbolt and split open Ajax's ship. He might have survived, but he shouted defiance of the gods, and Poseidon finished him off.