Athena, accompanied by an owl

Attic red-figure lekythos, attributed to the Brygos Painter, ca. 490-480 BCE.

Now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Photo credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen.tumblr_nkybzu99K61tbghqao1_540

As patron goddess of Athens, Athena was a very popular deity with many myths attributed to her and a number of festivals in her honor. Her areas of interest were quite diverseÑshe was a goddess of war, of wisdom, and of weaving and other crafts.

We know quite a bit about Athena, in comparison with some other deities, because she was the patron goddess of Athens, and thereby well represented in surviving myth.

As a virgin goddess, she has no children. She did, however, serve as a sort of foster mother for Hephaistos’ child Erichthonius, who became a legendary king of the city of Athens.

Myths and Stories

Athena’s first story is that of her birth. Her father Zeus had received a prophecy that a child born by him of Metis (wisdom) would overthrow him, as he had overthrown his father Kronos and as Kronos had overthrown his father Ouranos. To solve this small problem, he swallowed the pregnant Metis. However, some time later Zeus was afflicted with a prodigious headache, so agonizing that he asked Hephaistos to strike him on the head with an axe. Hephaistos did so, and Athena leapt out, fully grown and fully armored. Athena is well known for her patronage of heroes, such as Odysseus, who she aids in his long journey home from the Trojan War.

However friendly to mortals Athena may have been in general, she was also as capable of any of the gods of striking in anger, as shown in the story of Arachne, who challenged the goddess to a weaving contest and was subsequently transformed into a spider.

As one of the three virgin goddesses (along with Artemis and Hestia), Athena never married or took a lover, but she was once pursued by Hephaistos, and later took an interest in his child Erichthonios.

Names and Epithets

Athena Ergane (Athena the Worker). Athena is the patron goddess of weavers and other artisans, and was said to have taught these arts and crafts to mortals.

Athena Polias (Athena of the City). Refers to Athena as a city guardian.

Athena Xenia (Athena of the Stranger). Refers to Athena as a protector of the rules of hospitality, of guests and of strangers.

Athena Soteira (Athena the Savior). Refers to Athena’s role as a protective goddess in general.

Festivals

Above all Athena was the patron goddess of the city of Athens, but she was honored throughout Greece. She was celebrated in a great number of festivals, including the following:

Arrephoria, a small fertility ritual also involving Aphrodite and Eros.

Khalkeia, a festival of craftsmen (especially bronze-workers) for Athena and Hephaistos, during which women began weaving a peplos to be later offered to Athena.

Kallynteria, a festival during which Athena’s temple was cleaned.

Plynteria, a related festival during which a cult image (statue) of Athena was annually washed.

Panathenaia, probably Athena’s largest festival in Athens, involving the presentation to the goddess of the peplos begun during the Khalkeia; in later years athletic contests were also held at this time

She was honored as well on the third day of each Greek month.

Symbols

The owl is probably Athena’s best known symbol, and she is also strongly associated with the olive tree. She is also known for carrying the aegis.

Photo by Ken Thomas / Wikimedia Commons.

Bas-relief sculpture of the Roman goddess Minerva(Athena) recovered from the ruins of Herculaneum(Area Sacra Suburbana), ca. first century BCE—firstcentury CE. Collection of the Herculaneum Deposito Archeologico

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