Athena or Minerva: Goddess of Wisdom

Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom, battle, craftsmanship, and justice. Her Roman name was Minerva, and she was also called Pallas Athene. The owl, olive tree, snake, and rooster were her symbols. She owned the aegis, which is a shield engraved with a picture of Medusa (a Gorgon so ugly that anyone who looked at her was turned to stone). This shield did not turn people to stone, but it did paralyze her opponents with fear. Nike, the goddess of victory, often accompanied her into battle.

The Birth of Athena

Statue of Athena

Athena was the child of Metis (the original goddess of wisdom) and Zeus (the king of the gods as well as the god of storms and the sky). Zeus swallowed Metis while she was pregnant with Athena because there was a prophecy that said if Metis bore him a son, that son would overthrow him. Since Metis was immortal she gave birth to Athena inside Zeus. Zeus began to get terrible headache. To get rid of the headaches Hephaestus (the god of the forge) chopped his head open. Athena popped from Zeus's head wearing full battle armor. At first, Zeus was afraid. He thought she was his son, but his fears were assuaged when he found Athena was female. She later became one of his favorite children.

Athena and Her Friend, Pallas

Athena is sometimes called Pallas Athene because she had a mortal friend named Pallas whom she liked very much. The two girls were wrestling one day and Athena had the upper hand. Athena, not knowing her own strength, accidentally killed Pallas. When she realized what she had done, Athena was grieved. She told everyone to call her Pallas Athene in memory of her friend. She also made a statue of Pallas, which was called the Palladium. It was stored on Mount Olympus until Electra, a young woman with whom Zeus was in love, took refuge from Zeus on it. In a fit of rage, Zeus threw both Electra and the Palladium off Mount Olympus.

The City of Athens Is Named

Athena and Poseidon (the god of the sea) once competed for the naming of Athens. Poseidon struck a stone with his trident, and a saltwater spring gushed forth. Athena touched a stone, and an olive tree sprung up. The people of Athens liked Athena's gift better, so they named their city for her. In a fit of rage, Poseidon flooded the area around Athens. As his anger abated he let the waters recede. He was thought, ever after, to hold a grudge against Athena. For example, he once kissed his lover in Athena's temple, which was disrespectful. Athena turned Poseidon's friend into Medusa in revenge. The only thing on which they ever cooperated was the chariot. Athena invented it, and Poseidon made horses to make it work.

Athena and Hephaestus

Athena had grey eyes and was a virgin. She was divinely beautiful. Once Aphrodite (the goddess of love) made Hephaestus fall in love with Athena. Aphrodite did this because, although Hephaestus was her husband, she did not like him. (She was having a lasting affair with Ares.) She was mad at Hephaestus because he had caught her and Ares together. Athena easily repulsed Hephaestus, and designed her escape so that he had a child with Gaia (Mother Earth) instead. Though Athena was very wise, she was also vain. For example, she discarded the flute, which she invented, because she thought it made her look ugly.

Arachne

Athena once had a weaving contest with Arachne, a young woman who was very proud of her skill with the loom. Arachne boasted she could weave better than Athena. Athena heard this and offered to compete with her. Arachne was afraid, but did not back down. At first, Athena used the sky as her loom, but then she took pity on Arachne and used a normal loom instead. Arachne wove pictures of Zeus's infidelities, and Athena wove a picture of the contest between herself and Poseidon. Arachne's work was wonderful, but Athena's work was better. When Arachne saw this, she tried to hang herself in her loom, but Athena stopped her and turned her into a spider.

Athena and the Trojan War

One day, when Hera (the goddess of marriage), Aphrodite, and Athena were attending a wedding, Eris (the goddess of discord) threw and apple among them that was inscribed, "for the fairest". Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena argued about who would get the apple all the way back to Mount Olympus where they asked Zeus to judge. Zeus did not want to get involved so he told them to ask Paris (the son of King Priam of Troy) to resolve the quarrel. Paris did not want to get involved either, but Zeus forced him. Each of the goddesses attempted to bribe him; so it was more choosing what he wanted most than deciding who was the most beautiful. Hera offered to make him the ruler of the most powerful kingdom in the world, Athena offered to make him an invincible hero on the battlefield, and Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman on Earth. Paris chose Aphrodite. The most beautiful woman on Earth was Helen, who was married to a king in Greece (the King of Sparta). When he got the chance, Paris abducted Helen and refused to give her up, which started the Trojan War. Athena was not happy with Paris for picking Aphrodite over her; so she took the side of the Greeks.

Athena attacked Ares (the god of war) during a battle in the Trojan War because she was angry with him for breaking his word. He had promised herself and Hera that he would fight on the Greek side. She threw a stone at him and wounded him. When Aphrodite ran to his side, Athena punched her, more from spite over her winning the golden apple than for protecting Ares.

Athena gave Odysseus (a really smart mortal who was one of her favorite Greeks) the idea of the Trojan horse, but lesser Ajax repaid her kindness by raping the seer Cassandra in Athena's temple when the Greeks conquered Troy. When Athena learned of this, she asked Poseidon to create storms for the Greeks while they sailed home. For once, Poseidon obliged. Weirdly, Athena punished lesser Ajax's town for centuries after he died, but lesser Ajax did not himself suffer for his deed.

Athena in Modern Times

Though Athena did not get a planet named for her, her name is commonly used in fiction. For example, Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter books is named after the Roman version of Athena. Athena is nearly always fully dressed in Greek art, which is rather unusual compared to depictions of the other immortals. Her festival is called the Panathena.

Written by Kate Rayment

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