Athena: Greek Goddess Of War

The story of the mythological figure Athena.

Athena is the goddess of wisdom, military victory, practical reason, and handicraft. She also was the protector of the city of Athens. Many confuse her with Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

In one story, Athena was the daughter of Zeus and a mortal woman named Metis, a nymph. When Zeus found out that Metis was pregnant, he heard a prophecy that the child would surpass his strength and become the lord of heaven. Because of his fear, he swallowed Metis whole, while she was pregnant. This caused him to have a terrible headache that would not subside so he asked Hephaistos, the smith god, to split open his skull with an axe. Athena sprang out from Zeus' head fully grown holding a spear in full armor.

In older stories it is claimed that Athena was born on the shores of Lake Triton in Western Africa. Athena was taken to Crete when the Sahara dried up. Stories of Athena appear to be older than the stories of Zeus. However, these are not the most popular of the stories of Athena.

During Athena's childhood it is believed that while playing with another girl named Pallas, Athena accidently killed her. She was so aggrieved that she Athena erected a wooden likeness of Pallas, which was called the Palladium.

After a contest between Athena and Poseidon to find a patron for the city of Athens, King Cecrops, the first King of Attica, adjudged the city of Athens to Athena when she produced the olive tree on the Acropolis. This tree provided the Athenians with a growing economy and much wealth. This tree lived for many years on into historic times. The Athenians used the wealth produced by the olive trees to fashion statues and vases bearing the likeness of the goddess Athena.

It is very likely that Athena took her name from the city of Athens, as she is known as the Pallas of Athens. The word "pallas" has been interpreted as "weapon-brandishing" or "maiden," most likely a weapon-brandishing maiden. Athena is merely referred to as the goddess to the occupants of the city of Athens.

Known as the goddess of war, she wears her armor with reason. She is known to be "a mistress who delights in the clamorous cry of war and battle and slaughter."

Her emblem and armor are called the aegis, a special goatskin breastplate with golden tassles, which causes Athena's enemies to be overtaken by panic when she raises it. It is believed that this goat was a monster killed by Athena herself. Her aegis has also been depicted as the head of the gorgon with a fringe of snakes as well.

The Parthenon (meaning apartment of the virgin) was built on the Acropolis to honor Athena's second victory against the Persians. It was built to house a magnificent gold and ivory statue of the goddess by Phidias, which stood 30 feet high. Building began on the Parthenon in 447 BC and took another 8 years to finish the decoration on the outside of the temple. It was 237 feet long, 110 feet wide and 60 feet high. During the fifth century, it had been converted to a Catholic church. In 1687, the center of the Parthenon had been destroyed by an explosion.

Athena's virginal state was quite remarkable and remains the subject of debate, as other goddesses had many lovers, both mortal and immortal. Her manly point of view leads some people to believe that her sexuality leaned towards lesbianism. Her own words support this theory, "There was no mother who gave me birth; and in all things, except for marriage, wholeheartedly I am for the male and entirely on the father's side. Therefore, I will not award greater honor to the death of a woman who killed her husband, the master of the house." [Athena to the court. Aeschylus, Eumenides 734].

Hephaistos is reported to have attempted to rape the virgin, Athena when she came to him for arms. But during her escape he spilled his seed on her leg and Athena was so disgusted that she brushed it off with wool and threw it to the ground. When it hit the earth, Erichtopheus was supposedly produced. This has caused some speculation into Athena's virginity.

It is believed that Athena raised Erictopheus, unknown by the others gods, as she kept him hidden in a chest. The secret of Erictopheus existence was revealed by a crow to the other gods when King Cecrops' daughters opened the chest. The goddess was so ired that she drove the sister's man and they threw themselves into the sea.

Zeus was the only deity more powerful than Athena and she was his favorite daughter. The Greeks credit Athena with many things including teaching them to weave and helping them win the war against Persia.

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