Athena – The Greek Goddess of Wisdom and Warfare

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by DanFF

In this post, you’ll learn the story of Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, Warfare, Justice and Power. You’ll also learn Athena’s symbols, her archetype, her relation with the city of Athens and some of her conflicts.

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The Story of Athena

Athena is of the most venerated Greek Goddess of all and there’s a reason for this. She was the governor and founder of the city of Athens, the current capital city of Greece. The city of Athens has always been a very important center because of its commercial importance and strategic location. Athens was also the main city in the ancient world.

Athena is related to wisdom, perspicacity, justice and diplomacy. Athena is also one of the 12 Olympic Gods who set by a table on Mount Olympus and ruled over the cosmos.

Athena, Atena or Athens?

There’s a certain confusion about the Goddess’s name and the name of the city. See below the difference:

  • Athena – Name of the Goddess;
  • Atena – Name of the Goddess too. In some languages the H is not used;
  • Athens – Every time there’s the S, it’s referring to the city.

Athena and the foundation of Athens

There are 2 versions about how Athena became the governor of Athens. Regardless the version, both have the very same conclusion which modeled society for many centuries.

In both versions we have a conflict between Athena and Poseidon, the God of the Seas.

The first version states that people from the city were called to vote for their favorite Deity to govern the city: Athena or Poseidon. Men voted for Poseidon and women voted for Athena. Athena won for 1 vote difference.

The second version states that the Gods themselves chose who would rule the city through a contest. They asked Athena and Poseidon to make offerings to people. Poseidon offered the waters, which were abundant; Athena planted the first olive tree. This way, the Gods chose Athena for she was more capable of taking care of people.

So, the city became Athens.

Minerva by Achille Funi
The equivalent to Athena in Roman Mythology is Minerva. Minerva by Achille Funi | Google Arts

In both versions Athena won, but men were not happy with this, so they laid down 3 laws which were approved by Athena, in an attempt to avoid turmoils:

  • Women were not considered citizens;
  • Women could not vote;
  • The offspring would carry the father’s name.

We see this until today in many parts of the world.

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The origins of Athena: “Masculinization” and Birth

As time passed by, there was an attempt to bring Athena’s image closer to men to favour them and to give the impression that the main city was governed by a God, otherwise, this could “hurt” the patriarchy.

Athena’s image was altered. Older images show the Goddess as a woman, associated with home, protection, and crafts. Later, her image became more and more warlike, leaving these other attributes behind. Moreover, her depictions showed her with lots of war clothing, disguising her gender and making her look like a “neutral” gender.

Athena, the daughter of Zeus

The birth of Athena was also altered. It’s pretty common for us to read that she was born from Zeus alone, a motherless Goddess. One day Zeus felt a very strong headache and, after having his head open, Athena emerged adult and ready for war.

However, there is a more complete version of this story. Everyone knows that Zeus was uncontrollable and he used to rape every woman in front of him. One of his victims was Metis, a Titaness.

Metis was extremely intelligent and she was capable of shapeshifting into anything she wanted to. When Zeus went after her, she tried to escape by shapeshifting into different animals, but Zeus caught her and she got pregnant.

Hence, Goddess Gaia prophesied that Metis was carrying two children who would be very intelligent and one of them would become the new king of people and Cosmos. Zeus, afraid of being dethroned, swallowed Metis completely.

After this, he felt the strong headache and Athena emerged from his head. The other child is unknown.

Athena, daughter of Pallas

In another version, Athena is the daughter of Pallas, a giant, Gaia’s son. When Pallas tried to rape Athena, she killed him and used his skin to make war clothes, earning the epithet Pallas Athena.

Anyway, in both versions we see that Athena is related with her own wisdom and the ability of defending herself. These features are also seen in her symbols.

The son of Goddess Athena

The Goddess Athena is one of the few Greek deities who remained virgin and refused to get marry. She was always independent and never wanted to get involved with anyone.

But some men already wanted to get involved with it … or rather, they wanted to force an involvement.

In addition to Pallas, her giant father in some myths who tried to rape her, Athena almost fell victim to Hephaestus, who later takes Goddess Aphrodite – against her will – as his wife.

Hephaestus tried to rape Athena when she visited his workshop to order weapons. Then he arrived, tried to catch her, but … SHE IS GODDESS OF WAR! Not even Ares, the God of War, could face her!

Pallas Athena drives away Mars
Pallas Athena drives away Mars | Google Arts

Athena, apparently without making any effort, pushed Hephaestus away. But his semen fell on her thigh. Then, when she cleaned herself up, the semen fell onto the ground in the fertile land of Gaia. And from there arose a serpent, son of Athena and Hephaestus, whom Athena named Erechtheus.

In statues of Athena, it is quite common to see Erechtheus beside her. In fact, the snake is a strong symbol of Athena, in addition to the owl, of course. Athena’s connection with snakes is older than you might think.

Athena’s symbols

The main symbol of Goddess Athena is the owl. And the owl is the main symbol of knowledge. Therefore, Athena is very clear as the Goddess of Wisdom.

The first coins used in Athens had the face of the Goddess on one side and an owl on the other. In statues and paintings, Athena appears with an owl on her shoulder or sometimes with one flying close by.

Athens coins
Athens coin depicting Athena on one side and the owl on the other side | Google Arts

Another symbol of Athena is the snake. The snake represents protection and transformation. Snakes were used to protect grains from rodents. Athena’s connection with the snake also makes her a Goddess of Protection and Home. In fact, before being related to war and war skills, Athena was a Goddess of Home, weave and protection.

In addition to Athena’s son being a snake, there is another character who had a tragic fate because of Athena and is also related to snakes: Medusa. Athena’s connection with Medusa shows opposite sides, but they get together in the end.

The conflicts of Athena

Like all deities in Greek Mythology, except for Goddess Hestia, vanity is always present. And that leads to conflicts, punishments and wars.

Athena, even with all her wisdom, was also vain enough to get into some fights and caused turmoil around.

Athena vs Medusa

One of those conflicts involving Athena was against Medusa. Medusa was said to be a beautiful woman. A normal woman.

But, for some reason – some attribute that she and Poseidon had sex in the temple of Athena, and others do not say the reason explicitly -, Athena was so angry with her that he punished her, turning her into Medusa with snake hair that we know.

Later, Athena helped Perseus to kill her. Perseus hands Medusa’s head to Athena, who places it on her shield. Other versions state that she used Medusa’s head to make her clothes.

Athena vs Arachne

Another clash Athena had was against Arachne.

Arachne, a normal woman, challenged Athena in a weaving competition, saying she could weave better than the Goddess. The two competed.

Arachne depicted the Gods in strange ways, shaming them all. Other versions state that she depicted Zeus betraying Hera. Athena depicted the Gods punishing people who embarrassed them.

In fact, Arachne’s ability to weave was superior to Athena’s, so Athena, full of anger, destroyed Arachne’s work. Arachne was ashamed to have shamed the Gods and hanged herself to death! Athena felt sorry for Arachne, brought her back to life, and made her the first Spider.

Athena vs Aphrodite vs Hera

A third clash involving Athena was when Eris, the Goddess of Discord, threw an apple written “for the most beautiful” or “for the fairest”. That apple fell between Athena, Hera and Aphrodite. In Aphrodite’s post, this story is told in more detail, as Aphrodite is the main Goddess in this conflict that leads to the beginning of the Trojan War!

Wisdom for all moments

Athena’s intelligence and insight gave the owl, an animal that always accompanied her, the symbol of wisdom. It is no coincidence that today the owl symbolizes teachers and educators.

Athena was a peaceful Goddess, but she would made no effort to resolve conflicts. Athena is considered a Goddess of War, but this view is somewhat aggressive, since the Goddess did not create conflicts just for fun or destruction.

The search for Athena’s strength and wisdom should not be done for violent or conflicting purposes. Athena always sought balance and used her strength to make justice. This is her true power and, like her, we must also exercise our intellect and our strength in everything we do.

The Goddess Tarot

Goddess Athena - The Goddess Tarot
Goddess Athena – The Goddess Tarot

Athena is one of the Goddesses present in The Goddess Tarot. The card number VIII, Athena, represents Justice:

Generally depicted with an owl as a symbol of enlightenment, the Greek Goddess Athena’s reason is said to be as penetrating as her clear gray eyes. Skilled as anyone in the art of battle, she gave only protection to those who needed defense.

The Goddess Tarot

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