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Birth of Athena

Birth of Athena

Who are Athena’s parents?

Athena is one of the younger Greek goddesses; she is Zeus‘s daughter. Her mother was Metis (Wisdom).

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How was Athena born?

The story is that Zeus swallowed Metis, already pregnant with Athena, and then Athena was born, fully grown and armed, out of the head of Zeus. One day Zeus complained that he had a headache, and Hephaistos came and banged him on the head with an axe and out popped Athena!

Who is Hephaistos?

Athena has no husband. She doesn’t fall in love and she doesn’t have children. So Athena’s doubly a virgin: she wasn’t born out of a woman in the normal way, and she never gives birth either. She’s extra-virgin, like the olive oil she represents!

More about olive oil

Athena helps Herakles hold up the sky

Athena helps Herakles hold up the sky

Goddess of wisdom

Athena is the goddess of wisdom; her symbol is the owl (the wise bird).

Goddess of Athens

She’s the patron goddess of the city of Athens, and her owl appears on Athenian silver coins.

Check out the coins

According to the story, Athena and Poseidon were arguing about who should be the main god of the city of Athens, and they each offered gifts to the city. Poseidon offered horses, and Athena offered olive trees, and Athens chose the olive trees.

More about Poseidon
The city of Athens

Olive harvest (From the British Museum, London)

Olive harvest (From the British Museum, London)

Goddess of war and manufacturing

Athena is also a war goddess, which is why she is usually shown fully armed, with her shield and sword. And, because she’s so clever, she’s the goddess of crafts like weaving and pottery.

History of weaving
Where does pottery come from?

You might say that Athena is a goddess of money-making, of manufacturing and plundering, of anything that brings profit to the city of Athens. That makes her super-appropriate to have on Athens’s coins, right?

Athenian silver coin showing Athena and her owl

Athenian silver coin showing Athena and her owl

Myths about Athena:

Athena’s a big player in the stories of Arachne and Medusa, and the story of Herakles and Atlas. Athena also plays a big part in the Odyssey. She’s related to the Roman goddess Minerva.

Arachne the weaver
Medusa and Perseus
Herakles and Atlas
Athena in the Odyssey
The Roman goddess Minerva

Learn by doing: making coins with Athena’s owl
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Bibliography and further reading about Athena:

Bright-Eyed Athena: Stories from Ancient Greece, by Richard Woff.

Athena, by Blake Hoena. Easy reading.

We Goddesses: Athena, Aphrodite, Hera by Doris Orgel and Marilee Heyer. With a more feminist view.

D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, by Edgar and Ingri D’Aulaire.

Greek Religion, by Walter Burkert (reprinted 1987). By a leading expert. He has sections on each of the Greek gods, and discusses their deeper meanings, and their function in Greek society.

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