Although she had other attributes, such as crafts, and being
a friend to adventurers,
Athena was best known as the goddess of the strategy of war.
She was almost always
shown wearing the armor with which she was born, the Aegis
breastplate given her by
her beloved father, Zeus, and carrying arms either
sword, spear, or sometimes, the
lightning bolts that only she was allowed by Zeus to share.
Athena was the daughter of Metis, a goddess of wisdom, by
Zeus. Zeus fell in love with
Metis, and had his way with her. Afterwards, however, he repented
of his actions,
because he remembered a prophecy that any child of Metis would
rival Zeus in power
and godliness. In an effort to keep Metis from conceiving
a child, Zeus either absorbed
her body into his by magic... or he simply ate her. Too late,
however; she had already
conceived the child, and Zeus developed a crippling headache.
The other gods used a
two-headed axe to cut open Zeuss head, and out sprang
Athena, full-grown, fully armed,
and crying for war.
Instead of becoming rivals, Athena became Zeuss favorite
child (possibly because she
had nothing to do with Zeuss consort Hera, with whom
he was constantly fighting!). He
gave Athena the Aegis, a breastplate made from the skin of
the goat that had nurtured
him as a child, and allowed her to use his lighting bolts
As a war goddess, Athena has little to do with Ares. Ares
rejoices in the battle, the blood,
and the noise and chaos of war. Athena, however, is the goddess
of strategy, of planning,
of the science of war. Nike, the goddess of victory, accompanies
Athena, not Ares.
As you can probably guess from the name, the city of Athens
had a special relationship
with Athena. She and Poseidon were in competition for the
patronage of the city, and a
contest was arranged that whichever of them gave the city
the most useful and glorious
gift would receive is favor. Poseidon immediately created
a grand fountain, providing
water to the city day and night... but it was the salt water
of the sea, and of little use to the
Athenians. Athena gave the city the olive tree, which provided
shade and wood, and she
showed the Athenians how to use the olives, to eat them, and
to crush them for the oil
that has so many uses, from food, to fire and light, to the
anointing of their royalty.
Athena was always a virgin; her temple, the Parthenon, is
named for a Greek word for
virgin. Her sacred animal is the owl, for its wisdom, and
possibly for a Greek pun on the
word for owl being similar to a description of Athenas
wise, green-gray eyes.
Athena became the goddess of wisdom as well and is best known
for that. Her mother Metis was the goddess of prudence.