Athene is the Greek Goddess of wisdom, philosophy, strategy, strategic warfare, handcrafts (especially weaving), horses, vehicles, courage, inspiration, civilization, personal strength, justice and skill. She is the protector of clever and loyal women as well as clever and heroic men.
The name Athene probably means something like “The mind of God” or “divine intelligence”. Her name may be spelled Athene, Athena or Athina.
Athene is the patron Goddess of the city of Athens. According to legend, Athene competed with Poseidon for the honor. The God who gave the city the most useful gift won. Poseidon gifted the city with a spring and Athene gave them the olive tree, which provided food, fuel and cosmetics and was deemed most useful earning Athene the honor of patronage.
The Birth of Athene
According to legend, Zeus’s first wife was Metis, Goddess of Wisdom. An oracle warned him that any child produced of the union would be greater than he, so he swallowed his wife to prevent this eventuality. Sometime later, Zeus suffered from an excruciating headache that he called the other Gods to help him, begging one of them to cut his head open to relieve the pressure.
Either Prometheus, Hephaestus, Ares or Hermes complied with a labrys (I believe Hephaestus is the most popular candidate) and Athena burst forth from Zeus’s head, fully armed and ready for battle.
Athene was loved by Hephaestus and perhaps it would have been a good match if she were not a sworn virgin. He attempted to seduce her, but she resisted and he spilled his seed upon the ground and from this Erikhthonios was born. Athene raised him as her own son.
Athena’s Relationships with Mortals
Athene is a Goddess who takes great interest in the welfare of her loyal mortal worshipers. The Mourning Athene is a moving bit of ancient Greek sculpture the illustrates Athene’s concern for her people. She is shown barefoot with her spear pointed down, taking a moment to remember those who have perished in war.
Athene helped Perseus slay Medusa. He gave her the Gorgon’s head which she wears upon her shield, the aegis.
Athena assisted Jason and the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece.
Odysseus was a favorite of Athene and she appears prominently in Homer’s The Odyssey.
Athena also features prominently in The Iliad as she was intimately involved with The Trojan War. She competed with Hera and Aphrodite in the judgment of Paris where he declared Aphrodite the fairest, thus earning her gift of the love of Helen of Sparta, ultimately leading to the hostilities.
Troy was protected by the Palladion, a small statue of Athene that had fallen from the sky. Odysseus and Diomedes stole the Palladion allowing the Greeks to overcome the city. But Ajax raped the princess Kassandra in the temple of Athena within the city walls, earning Athene’s wrath and since the Greeks did not punish him suitably, Athene caused their ships to find trouble at sea.
Athene assisted Herakles in his labors.
Arakhne once boasted that she was a better weaver even than Athene and the Goddess challenged her to a weaving contest. Although Arakhne’s weaving was as good as Athene’s, the subject matter depicted on the tapestry was so disrespectful to the Gods that Athena turned her into a spider.
Pallas Athene Possibly “Spear Brandishing” Athene, from the Libyan nymph Pallas
Athene Polias Athene of the City
Athene Promachos Athene the first fighter. She who leads the battle.
Athena Parthenos Athene the virgin
Athene Atrytone Athene the unwavering
Athene Glaukopis bright-eyed or silver-eyed Athene
Athene Tritogenia Triton-born, sea-born OR trice-born or third born
Athena Ageleia Athena the pillager, she who carries off the spoils
Athena Hippeia Athena of the horses
Athena Hygieia Athena the healer
Athene has been associated with the Roman Goddess Minerva, the Libyan and Egyptian Goddess Neith. Athena is often depicted in the company of the Goddess Nike.
Athena’s Symbols and Sacred Objects
- The owl – Athene is often pictured with an owl on her head. The owl is occasionally used in art to represent Athena. Some scholars believe that Athene was once an owl-shaped Goddess before she was anthropomorphic.
- The olive tree – The olive tree is Athene’s gift to humankind.
- The aegis – Athene’s shield is made from the skin of a giant and decorated with the fearsome head of a Gorgon.
- The Gorgon – The head of the Gorgon adorn’s Athena’s shield
- the Snake – Athene is often depicted in the company of a large snake which in art may represent female earth energy and wisdom
- The spear – Athene is often depicted carrying a long spear.
- The chariot – Athene is said to have invented the chariot.