Renown for her virginity, logic and craftsmanship, Athena of the Greek Olympian pantheon was a goddess that held her own in a mans world. Her independence and strength without reliance on a male made her in essence the prototype for today’s “liberated” woman.
Athena was the personification of logic. At birth she is said to have sprang fully clothed and dressed in battle armor from the head of the supreme Olympian god Zeus. This is the most widely accepted version of her birth though another story places her as the daughter of Poseidon whom Zeus later adopted as his own. Lovers, marriage and children played no important role in her mythology. She never took a lover, never married nor produced offspring. She was one of the three virgin goddesses which played a special role in the Greek pantheon as protectors of women throughout their life journey.
Her various roles in the Greek pantheon seem to have all been interrelated. She was worshiped in many cities and towns as a state patron goddess, protector of the state and social institutions. Activities and ideas that brought prosperity to the state and served in its protection fell into her domain. She was considered the protector of agricultural pursuits, inventions and industry. She also was the goddess of defense of walls, fortresses, gates and harbors. She was the favorite child of Zeus and served as his adviser at counsel and constant ally and companion. She was the only other being who knew the secret of where Zeus kept his magic lightening bolts.
In her role as the goddess of agriculture, she is credited with having created several inventions to advance the field of agriculture for the benefit of man. She is said to have created the yolk and bridle as well as the plough and the rake. She created the olive tree and gave it to man as her gift. She taught men how to farm the fields with her inventions and how to tame work animals to assist them. She protected the fields from drought, crop withering diseases and pests. She also taught men the art of taming and breeding horses.
As a goddess of logic she was credited with many scientific exploits and inventions. She invented numbers for man to use and taught mankind the principals of mathematics. Other inventions credited to Athena include the trumpet, the chariot and the skills of navigation and boat building. She was credited with having taught men how to produce fire and use it in techniques to create skilled arts in metalworking, steel working and other arts. She also is known for creating every industry in which women were employed. She was the inventor and master of weaving, sewing, basket making and pottery among many other domestic arts. She was the patron of goldsmiths, weavers, potters, sculptors, musicians and horsemen. She was also believed to have invented the flute.
Another role of Athena was that of mediator and dealer of justice. As a patron goddess of statehood and all it represents, she is believed to have invented the court system and maintained the authority of law, justice and order in the court of the people. She was the goddess whom protected public government and institutional buildings. Her role as a protector of the state is what thrust her into her more predominately known role as that of a goddess of war.
Athena also played a vital part in the role of women of society. She represented and protected the virtues of female modesty and virginity. Part of her role in the daily life of her worshipers was as a guide for young women, a role model to adhere to during their maidenhood. She enforced the rules of sexual modesty and ritual mystery associated with maidens. Athena was an integral part in the induction of women to the marital status of being the wife of a citizen of the Greek state. She was invoked before marriage to bless the bride to be with modesty and the endowment of the desired qualities in a wife of a citizen.
Though known as a “war” goddess, she is not a goddess of war and destruction in the traditional sense. Rather she is a goddess or war counsel and strategy. Having logic at the forefront of her character, Athena is often evoked to counsels of war, treaty signing and strategy planning sessions. She takes a particular interest in heroes of wars that demonstrate their valor, prudence and strength and is believed to protect them with her favor during wartime.
Athena is usually depicted as fully clothed, sometimes in complete body armor. She wears a crested golden helm, is usually armed with a spear and a shield and wears a special cloak called the aegis cloak trimmed with snakes and fastened with the head of a gorgon. Other than her helmet she owned no armor of her own and borrowed the magic shield of Zeus her father when the need demanded it.
Things that are considered sacred to Athena include the owl, serpent, cock, olive tree, dove, geranium, tiger lily, oak, cypress, musk, indigo, orange blossom, cinnamon, onyx, ruby, turquoise, gold, and ivory. The colors royal blue, gold, orange, yellow and emerald green are known to be associated with worship of the goddess.
The roots of worship of the goddess Athena can be traced back to at least 3000 B.C. and can be followed from ancient Africa through Libya into Create to throughout the ancient Mediterranean. She has been identified with the Roman goddess Minerva as well as several other more ancient Mesopotamian deities. The most famously known place of her cult worship is in Athens, a city named after her which retains to this day many signs of her reverence. The Parthenon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world was built here and dedicated to her worship. There are many temples, shrines and places of oracles throughout the ancient Grecian world dedicated to her devotion.
She is occasionally depicted with wings and researchers conjecture she may have been an archaic bird goddess with wings and talons. One theory of the reason for her depiction with wings is that of the myth that she slayed the winged giant Pallas from whom she fashioned from his skin her magical cloak and sowed his own wings to her feet. The myth of the mortal Tiresias, whom accidentally stumbled upon Athena while bathing in the nude and was subsequently struck blind, echos her connection as a bird goddess as in exchange for his blindness he is granted the ability to understand the language of birds and through them can prophecy the future and the will of the gods.
A lesser known and more archaic story of her origin casts her as the daughter of Posideon whom later was adopted by Zeus as his own child. This may explain some of her more unusual qualities such as her ability to create devastating storms and earthquakes, her gray eyes, and the building of the first ship and the giving of the art of navigation to humans. In ancient Megara under the name Aethyia which means “diver” and “ship”. She is often associated with rivers and streams She is occasionally referred to in literature as Tritonia which has the vague association of being “Triton born”. The horse also being sacred to Posideon could lead to reference as Posideon as her father because of her association with the art of horse breeding and the invention of the bridle.
Cult worshipers sacrificed female rams and sheep and bulls to her. An ancient festival known as the “feast of adorning” was celebrated at the Parthenon around May lasting for 5 days. During this time the priestesses of Athena would ritually cleanse the personal sanctuary within the temple of Athena and undress, bathe and redress her statue. Another well known festival celebrating the relationship between Athena and the state is the Athenian festival of Prokaristeria or the feast of Thanksgiving. Celebrated at the beginning of the growing season, pubic officials would make sacrifices to Athena in thanks for her blessing and protection of the fields.
Athena is probably the most well known for her role in the Trojan war, described in detail by Homer in his epic “The Illiad”. As protector and patron goddess of Odysseus, she played an intricate role in the defeat of the Trojans by advising Odysseus in battle strategy, inspiring the creation of the Trojan horse and turning the odds of key battles of the siege of Troy to his favor. She oversaw every battle personally and intervened where necessary to ensure the victory of the opposing forces of Troy.
Other famous instances of Athena’s favor portray her affinity for the protection of maidens. When the daughter of Koroneus cried out for help to Athena to prevent her rape by the god Posiedeon, Athena turned her into a crow to avert her fate. Athena also bestowed her favor upon wise and skillful craftsmen. The great ancient physician Asklepios was given the magical blood of a Gorgon to help further his medical knowledge and enhance his craft by Athena. With the bloods magical qualities he was able to further the field of Surgery, save lives of those who were thought to be beyond hope and raise the dead.
Though most often known as a goddess of pure logic and calculation, Athena also had a bit of a mean streak. To risk her ire was to tempt the worst of fates. She held an especial contempt for those who engaged in sacrilegious acts, especially in relation to herself. Her temples were sacred to her virginity. Any violation of her inner sanctum with sexual acts of any nature were considered an abhorred sacrilegious act. When a Grecian prince violated the Trojan princess Kasandra during the sack of Troy in Athena’s own temple, Athena sent a ferocious storm to sink his ship and drown his men, exacting vengeance on him and the Greeks who had failed to punish him. She decreed that as penance, the men of his country were to send sacrificial virgins every year to the Trojans for 1000 years.
Not too keen on criticism, it seems Athena was also a bit sensitive to slander against her looks and her skills in the crafts she herself invented. The princess Meropis was transformed into an owl by Athena for mocking the gods, in particular the goddesses gray eyes. When Arakhne, a young girl from Lybia boasted her weaving rivaled that of Athena’s, Athena challenged her to a weaving contest. When the girl lost, Athena transformed her into a spider, doomed forever to wander the earth weaving, though no one would admire her work as both she and her weaving would be despised. She also didn’t tolerate those who abused workers of her arts, especially those whom payed her homage as their patron. Athena once exacted vengeance upon Alkineo, a Grecian princess whom refused to pay a weaver named Nikandra the wages she owed her. For slighting her favored worshiper, Athena cursed the princess into betraying her own husband to his death.