The Influential Role of Athena in Ancient Greek Literature

Categories: Zeus

Throughout ancient Greek literature, divine intervention is a prevalent theme where gods like Athena play a crucial role in shaping the destinies of mortals. Known for her active and influential nature, Athena challenges even Zeus in various Greek works such as The Odyssey, adding depth to the complexity of Greek storytelling.

Athena, also known as Pallas Athena, is a significant goddess in Greek mythology and linked with the goddess Minerva in Roman mythology. Legend has it that she emerged fully grown and armed from Zeus's forehead and was his favorite offspring.

Zeus entrusted her with his shield, decorated with the head of Medusa, his buckler, and main weapon, the thunderbolt. As a virgin goddess, she was called Parthenos (“the maiden”) and revered as the goddess of Greek cities, industry, the arts, wisdom, and war. Her main temple was the Parthenon in Athens; a city said to have become hers after gifting its people an olive tree. During the Trojan War, Athena strongly supported the Greek side among gods.

Get quality help now
checked Verified writer

Proficient in: Free Essays

star star star star 4.9 (247)

“ Rhizman is absolutely amazing at what he does . I highly recommend him if you need an assignment done ”

avatar avatar avatar
+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

After the fall of Troy, the Greeks disrespected an altar dedicated to Athena where the Trojan prophet Cassandra had sought refuge. As a consequence, storms conjured by Poseidon wrecked most Greek ships returning from Troy at Athena's behest. Athena also protected agricultural and feminine crafts such as spinning and weaving. She bestowed upon humanity various inventions and skills, including the plow, flute, animal training, shipbuilding, and shoemaking. The owl was a symbol often linked to her. Understanding Athena's unique character helps clarify her various relationships.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Write my paper

You won’t be charged yet!

Athena, also known as Athene, is a goddess associated with wisdom, battle, war, and certain crafts. In honor of her friend Pallas, whom she accidentally killed while practicing spears, Athena adopted the additional name "Pallas" in grief. Described as the "Hope of Soldiers" in the Odyssey, Athena is closely linked to war and is often depicted in armor as the protector of the city of Athens. She is also said to be the keeper of Zeus's shield, the Aegis, and his helmet (Sawyer).

Athena was said to have been born already wearing armor. The story of Athena's birth has various versions, but they all share similar elements. According to these tales, Zeus, who was in love with Metis, the Titaness of wisdom, learned that any child she had would surpass him in greatness. To prevent this from happening, Zeus transformed Metis into a fly and swallowed her. Eventually, Zeus developed a severe headache and asked Hephaestus, the god of blacksmiths, to split his head open with an axe. From his head emerged Athena, fully grown and fully armed. Despite having many names throughout her life, they did not alter her thoughts or actions (Sawyer).

Mortals acknowledged Athena's significant role as an influencer and mediator among others, making her highly regarded by the Greek population. In Homer's Odyssey, Athena forms a remarkable connection with Odysseus, as evident in the deep bond she establishes with him and other characters throughout the epic poem. At the start of the story, Athena pleads with her father Zeus to assist Odysseus in returning to his family (Odyssey 1-2).

She expresses her sorrow for Odysseus, going so far as to enhance his appearance to ensure Princess Nausikaa's assistance in guiding him home. Athena shields Odysseus with a sea fog once he reaches Nausikaa's city and takes on the form of a young girl to lead him to the palace. Upon his return to Ithaka, Athena camouflages herself as a sheperd boy to have a conversation with Odysseus, before revealing her true form and declaring:

We are both skilled in scheming, you and I. You are known as the best among men when it comes to plots and storytelling, while I am renowned among the gods for my wisdom and cunning. Would you have ever suspected that I am Pallas Athena, the daughter of Zeus, who always stands by your side during times of trial and shields you in battle" (Odyssey 240).

Throughout the Odyssey, Athena showcases her role as a goddess of action, much like Odysseus who is known for his proactive nature. She expresses her intent to advise Odysseus by stating, "I am here again to counsel with you" (Odyssey 240), and takes charge in plotting the downfall of the suitors in Odysseus' home. By disguising Odysseus as a beggar, Athena guides him to the faithful swineherd and brings together Telemakhos, his son, to carry out their plan (Odyssey Books 13 and 14). Upon arriving at the palace, Athena demonstrates her warlike qualities by leading her followers in seeking revenge against Penelope's suitors. In the ensuing battle (Odyssey Book 22), Athena ensures triumph for their side and shields Odysseus and Telemakhos from harm amidst the chaos. Additionally, she extends the night so that Odysseus and Penelope have more time to reunite.

Homer notes that Athena "held Dawn's horses" (437) showcasing her protective role over Telemakhos. Throughout the Odyssey, Athena actively demonstrates her leadership by taking on various forms to guide and advise mortals. At the start of the epic poem, she appears as Mentes, a Taphian captain, to encourage Telemakhos to search for his father, Odysseus. During their interactions, she engages in conversation, dining, and drinking with him (Odyssey 415). Furthermore, she transforms into Mentor to provide guidance and support. In the conclusion of the Odyssey, she beautifies Laertes for his reunion with Odysseus (Odyssey Book 24) and later mediates conflicts in the guise of Mentor (Odyssey 460). These instances exemplify Athena's profound involvement in human affairs compared to other deities.

From the Odyssey, readers can observe Athena's interactions with her fellow gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, revealing her belief in her own superiority. Athena shows leadership by taking action, making decisions, and intervening for both good and evil. In one instance in the Odyssey, Athena appeals to Zeus for permission to help Odysseus return home, despite Poseidon's objections (Odyssey 4). This demonstrates that Athena acts in what she believes is the best interest, even when faced with resistance from other deities.

The goddess Athena stands out as a powerful figure, acknowledging only Zeus as a possible authority. Known for her interactions with mortals, she was highly regarded by the Greeks for her unique qualities as a female deity. Unlike other female goddesses, Athena displayed traits typically associated with masculinity, like her assertiveness and love for battle, making her especially captivating and superior. A detailed understanding of Athena can be gained by reading both the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Updated: Feb 21, 2024
Cite this page

The Influential Role of Athena in Ancient Greek Literature. (2016, Jun 21). Retrieved from

The Influential Role of Athena in Ancient Greek Literature essay
Live chat  with support 24/7

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment