Athena in Greek Mythology
Introduction to Athena
Much has been written about the goddess Athena. As the patron deity of the city of Athens, she played an enormous role in the lives of not only the residents of that illustrious polis (Greek for city), but in many respects all of the Greek speaking world. Our oldest sources of Greek literature - the works of Homer and Hesiod - discuss Athena. The goddess appears in several significant passages of Homer’s Iliad, and she is one of the most influential deities in the Odyssey in her role as Odysseus’s patron and ally. Therefore, Athena’s attributes were codified early in the epics and poetry of Greece: she was the divine sponsor of warriors and heroes, she introduced several of the arts and crafts necessary for civilization, and she represented wisdom. Obviously, the goddess played a prominent role in Greek mythology.
The Birth of Athena
The poet Hesiod states that Athena emerged from the head of Zeus; indeed, she sprang out fully grown and armed for battle. Furthermore, the legend of her birth reveals another odd aspect. According to the story, Zeus became enamored with Metis (the name Metis, incidentally, means “thought”). Together, they conceived a child, but Zeus, fearing that his offspring would be a powerful male god who would eventually overthrow him, swallowed the pregnant Metis. In time, it was Zeus himself who gave birth to a daughter, with the assistance of Hephaistos, who played the part of a midwife by striking Zeus’s head with an axe and thereby releasing Athena.
This instance of Zeus giving birth is not unique: the god also gave birth to Dionysos. Indeed, this is significant, as the birth of Athena from the head of her father emphasizes a couple of important features about the goddess. The idea that she was born from a male underscores her relationship with men, both divine and human. In the human realm, Athena consistently becomes a protector of heroes; while in the divine she completely avoids sexual liaisons with gods.
Related articles about Athena:
Mythology – Symbols of Athena : The attributes, or symbols, that represent Athena in mythology and art are described here.