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Profile of the Greek Goddess Athena


Colossal marble head of Athena, Artifact uncovered in Bornova, Turkey. Hellenistic Civilization, 2nd century BC
De Agostini Picture Library/ De Agostini Picture Library/ Getty Images

Who Is Athena?:

Athena is the name of an important goddess for the Greeks. She is the patron goddess of the city-state of Athens, the goddess of wisdom, a goddess of arts and crafts (agriculture, navigation, spinning, weaving, and needlework), the favorite daughter of her father Zeus, and, as a war goddess with a focus on strategy more than bloodshed, an active participant in the Trojan War. She gave her namesake city the gift of the olive tree, providing oil, food, and wood.

Bulfinch Myths About Athena

Athena and Arachne
Weaving Contest

Judgment of Paris

Greek Mythology


Family and Unusual Birth -- Through Parthenogenesis:

Athena is said to be the offspring of Zeus alone, but that was only after the Oceanid Metis became pregnant and Zeus swallowed her.

By swallowing the Oceanid and her unborn child, Zeus became pregnant with Athena. Zeus wasn't built to deliver a baby, though, so he seems to have gestated the baby in his head. There was still one more issue to contend with: lack of an opening that would serve for the birth canal. The new goddess needed to be born. She was pressing from the inside of his head outwardly with increasingly excruciating insistence. Coming to his rescue was his (step-)son, the smithy god Hephaestus (or Prometheus), who struck open Zeus' head with an axe to release the goddess. (One can imagine gleeful pleasure on either of their parts, since this was a safe way for Hephaestus or Prometheus to pay Zeus back for the pain and suffering he had caused.)

Once the passage was open, Athena emerged from her father's head fully armed. See Homeric Hymn XXVIII. To Athena for the birth of Athena.

Alternate Version

Guthrie says in some versions, Pallas Athena precedes Zeus. She is the wisdom the creator used to form the cosmos.

"Epithets in the Orphic Hymns"
W. K. C. Guthrie

The Classical Review, Vol. 44, No. 6 (Dec., 1930), pp. 216-221.

Roman Equivalent:

The Greek goddess Athena was known as the goddess Minerva by the Romans.


Aegis, spear, pomegranate, owl, distaff, helmet. Athena is described as grey-eyed (glaukos).

Powers of Athena:

Athena is the goddess of wisdom and crafts. She is the patron of Athens.


Ancient sources for Athena include: Aeschylus, Apollodorus, Callimachus, Diodorus Siculus, Euripides, Hesiod, Homer, Nonnius, Pausanias, Sophocles and Strabo.

See Hymns to Athena.

A Son for a Virgin Goddess:

Athena is a virgin goddess, but she has a son. Athena is credited with being part-mother of Erichthonius through an attempted rape by Hephaestus, whose seed spilled on her leg. When Athena wiped it off, it fell to earth (Gaia) who became the other part-mother. The offspring of Gaia, Athena, and Hephaestus is Erichthonius. Thus, Erichthonius, a half-snake half-man creature, has two mothers and one father. He is a mythological ancestor of the Athenians.


Athena was the patron goddess of Athens, a city named for the goddess. The people of Athens built a great temple for Athena on the acropolis (or high point) of their city. The temple is known as the Parthenon. In it was a colossal gold and ivory statue of the goddess Athena Parthenos, Athena the Maiden. During the annual Panathenaia festival, a procession was made to the statue for the purpose of providing the statue of the goddess with new clothes.


Athena was involved in most of the heroic tales. Name a Greek myth, and she's probably there -- somewhere. In the story of Jason's rescue of the Golden Fleece, Athena is shown witnessing Jason being disgorged by the monstrous guardian of the fleece. She helped Perseus obtain the head of Medusa and Hercules in his task. She sided with the Greeks in the Trojan War, various heroes, and especially with Odysseus, appearing in disguise to his son Telemachus. In the Odyssey the disguised goddess spurred the young Telemachus to action when the suitors of Penelope were eating Odysseus' kingdom of Ithaca out of house and home.

Since Athena was born without a mother -- sprung from her father's head -- in an important murder trial, she decided that the role of the mother was less essential in creation than the role of the father. Specifically, she sided with the matricide Orestes, who had kiled his mother Clytemnestra after she had killed her husband and his father Agamemnon.

In the tale of the Judgment of Paris (son of the Trojan King Priam), Athena was one of the two goddesses who lost the beauty contest to Aphrodite. This is part of the reason Athena sided with the Greeks in the Trojan War.

Athena also defeated Poseidon in the vote over who would be the patron god of Athens because her gift was more valuable -- the olive tree.

Pictures of Athena

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