Fast Facts: Athena
- Pronunciation: a-THEE-nuh
- Origin: Greek
- Role: Goddess
- Symbols: Spear, Distaff
- Sibling: Dozens of half-siblings
Who Is Athena?
Athena or Athene is the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, handicraft, and warfare. She is benevolent and protective, and some consider her to be the “gleaming” goddess. She is identified with Minerva among the Romans.
The story of her birth comes in several versions. Some consider that Athena was not worn by any mother. In the classical Olympian pantheon, Athena was regarded as the favorite daughter of Zeus, born fully armed from his forehead. Others see her as the daughter of Métis and Zeus.
The myth says that Uranus informed Zeus that the son of Metis would take his throne. As soon as he learned that Métis was pregnant, he swallowed it. Zeus then had headaches, so he asked the blacksmith god Héphaïstos to open his skull to remove this evil. Thus Athena emerged from the head of Zeus, adult and armed, uttering a powerful war cry.
A Protective Goddess:
Athena is associated with the city of Athens. She is the protector of civilized life. Athena was not only the patron goddess of Athens, but also other cities, including Argos, Sparta, Gortyn, Lindos, and Larisa. The Athenians venerate among others for the gift of agricultural skills. She is the protector of artisans and workers, and also preserves their health. That’s why we find it on the currency of this city.
The Skillful Warrior:
She is a warrior who fought in all intelligence. As the patroness of heroes and warriors, she was believed to favor those who used cunning and intelligence rather than brute strength.
She was able to protect the Achaeans by fighting alongside them during the Trojan War. Also, she guided the deities during the gigantomachy, which is in mythology, a clash between the gods of Olympus and the Giants. It was during this battle that she killed Pallas, sometimes giving him the name of Pallas Athena.
Attributes & Symbology:
She is usually shown in art wearing a helmet and holding a spear. She is endowed with attributes related to the War: the shield and the spear, but also other related to the intelligence such as the olive and the owl. Her major symbols include owls, olive trees, snakes, and the Gorgoneion.
Some illustrations of Athena:
(1) Silver tetradrachm representing Athena with a crown of olive leaves (450 BC).
(2) Statue of Athena armed with a spear and its shield, in Athens, its main place of worship.
(3) Athena fighting on Panathenaic amphora (520 BC).