Athena is the goddess of wisdom and war, patriotism and good citizenship. She is the protector of Athens, as she is the patron deity of the city. There are two sides of her character: she could be mighty and terrible, or gentle and pure. Her Roman name is Minerva, and the Romans rank her third among their gods, under Jupiter (Zeus) and Juno (Hera).
Athena was the favorite daughter of Zeus, and her share of wisdom was given to her by him. She has been called the “mind of god.” As the goddess of wisdom, she chose the owl as her symbol. She was prayed to by sculptors, architects, and practitioners of weaving and spinning. According to Greek Mythology, Athena is able to give power, skill and courage, and also victory in war for those who respect justice.
She taught men the art of war, and led the way through battles to victory, peace, and prosperity. She herself also fought in many wars and, according to myth, was the creator of the famous Trojan horse. Athena assisted the heroes Perseus, Jason, Cadmus, Oddysseus, and Heracles in their quests. Athena supported Perseus’s quest to kill Medusa, a once beautiful, and nearly perfect mortal, because she wanted the Gorgon’s head to decorate her shield. The birth of Athena is actually quite interesting. Zeus was once married to Metis, who was known for her wisdom.
When Metis became pregnant, the Earth told Zeus that a son born to Metis would overthrow him, so he swallowed Metis. At the time, Zeus had a terrible headache, and commanded help from Hephaestus. Hephaestus slashed Zeus’s head and Athena sprang forth, fully armed. Another one of the fascinating stories about Athena is her competition with Poseidon (Neptune) to become patron deity of a city now known as Athens.
To prove her worthiness, Athena caused an olive tree to spring forth on the stronghold of this city, the Acropolis. Poseidon tried to outdo Athena by striking the ground and making water spring up. As he is the god of the sea, the water was salty like the sea. The people of this city considered Athena’s gift more useful, so she became the city’s patron deity. Athena named the city “Athens” after herself. The most recognizable of the goddesses, Athena was highly honored. Her attributes of beauty, simplicity, and elegance were envied by women.
Her genuineness caused them to seek to attain her attributes and to carry out their roles as women. Her ageless wisdom, sense of liberty and justice were admired by men. Those that esteemed her sought to be strong and courageous, and to become effective members of their societies. Athena had a wonderful influence on the people of the Greek and Roman Empires who regarded her as the quintessential role model of citizenship, justice, purity, compassion, and, of course, wisdom.