With a battle cry that resounded through the kingdom of heaven and earth she sprang from the head of Zeus. She is one of the most powerful forces on Mount Olympus, representing war and the immortal spirit of wisdom. Athena embodies the matriarchal goddess, a complex figure of internal strength and reflection. She is a powerful source of interpretation for the idea of the goddess as a balance between nature and humanity. In one aspect she embodies the civic patron of Athens, with her benevolence and strategic defenses.
However her mythological nature as the mother goddess and eternal being connects her with four thousand years of sacred expression through intuition, creation and instinct. Athena represents the unity of these powerful symbols and their underestimated force. What distinguishes Athena from the other gods is that while she has the elements of the female, matriarchal goddess she has patriarchal characteristics that earn her great respect and honor among other gods and mortals that she assists.
Her strengths in crafts with weaving, wool-working, and carpentry are symbols of her multiple, beneficial abilities. Athena is a figure mixed with aggression, belligerence, virtue and benevolence. She will take on any opposing force, where she is most often the victor, and uses her metis strategies against any who will challenge. Mortal men worshipped and sacrificed in her honor as she was one of the most threatening figures in Greek imagination. She represented the rational power restoring order and justice.
The attributes that express these characteristics include her shield with the head of the gorgon, her helmet with the symbol of the serpent, and she is often depicted with her aegis, a cloak made form the skins of Haephestus. In most depictions of Athena’s birth she is shown springing from the head of Zeus, fully clad in armor with her shield and spear ready in hand. In birth she is a symbol of the threatening force of dominance and aggression. An oracle of Gaea, the goddess of the earth, knew of Athena’s power and potential.
She warned Zeus of a third generation child who would overthrow him and inherit his kingdom. Metis was a clever goddess and took on the disguise of various creatures such as hawks, fish, and serpents to avoid Zeus. However Zeus could change into many forms as well and he devised a plan to trick the pregnant Metis and swallow her. When Promethius split Zeus’s head open, it was the beginning of Athena and eternal wisdom. Metis was the greek goddess of wisdom and the first wife of Zeus. Athena inherited the qualities of Metis and due to her manner of birth became the symbol of intellect and insight.
The ability to reflect that Athena posesses is known as “Metis” becuase of her mother and gives her practical wisdom and craftiness. Her reflective nature gives her insight and knowledge to offer those she guides. The image of Athena mourning, a marble bas-relief from the high classical Greek period of 480-450 BC, shows her reflective quality. This quality gives her the advantage over her opponents because it is a premeditated strategy rather than impulsive action. There are endless examples of her benevolence and strategy.
Odysseus was one of her mortal companions who she helped return to his family after his long journey. Odysseus was one of her select mortal companions who she helped return to Ithaca after his long journey in the Illiad. Athena saves Odysseus from Calypso when he is stranded on the island with her. After twelve years he is finally able to return to his wife and family whom believed he was dead. Athena realizing Odysseus’s pain, demanded Zeus release Odysseus from the nymph Calypso’s grasp. Athena gave more to mankind then just her protection.
Not only was Athena a patron goddess of Attica, and later all of Athens, but she delivered inventions, health and healing, and academic principals. Some of her inventions include the flute, a symbol of hope, and the war chariot. She was also the idea behind the Trojan Horse in the Odyssey. The horse is an example of Athena’s cleverness that saved Athens in the war. During the war, Athena had the Greeks build the horse that she would send to the Trojans under her name so that they would accept a gift from the patron goddess.
The Trojans were led to believe that if they let the horse enter their gates then they would be victorious. As the myth reveals, the horse harbored the Greek army that siege the city once the horse was inside. Athena’s ideas also encouraged Argos to build the biggest longship of the time, the Argo. She taught Prometheus of architecture, astronomy, mathematics, navigation, medicine, and metallurgy which he in turn gave to mortals. Athena’s worship as the patron goddess seemed to evolve over generations of myth.
She eventually won her right in a contest of the gods to take her place as patron of all of Attica. There was a dispute between Poseidon and Athena as to the status of the presiding power of Athens. The contest between Athena and Poseidoninvolved the offering of the most beneficial attribute to the Athenians that would determine the ruler. The contest took place on Mount Olympus and was judged by the twelve Olympic deities. Poseidon was the god of the sea kingdom and is often shown with his trident and crown. He created a flowing salt spring on the Acropolis and Athena produced an olive tree.
The olive tree was declared the most efficient gift and Athena was granted rule over Attica. Her reign as patron was most prosperous for Athens because she encouraged agriculture and industry along with her inventions of the plow, the rake, the chariot, and navigation. She kept order by fortifying the city and protecting it from enemies. After she secured the Acropolis she became the protector of Athens and temples were dedicated to her there as well as Argos, Megara, Sparta, and others. Her temples were places of refuge as well as worship for her citizens and were considered major political centers.
Some of the temples dedicated to her that still remain include the temple of Athena Nike and many others on the Acropolis. Along with her benevolence to the state she supported many of the Greek gods and goddesses. Her foresight and intellect was of great value to the gods in binding situations. When Perseuschallanged the grim Medusa, who could turn any man to stone, Athena devised a clever plan to help the fearless warrior. Since the Gorgon could only turn one to stone if they looked upon her, Athena gave Perseus a mirror to see Medusa’s reflection.
With a quick stroke of his sword, Persues cut off Medusa’s head and gave it to Athena to put on her shield. With the Gorgon’s powerful magic on her shield, Athena could fend off the most aggressive enemies. Athena’s maternal qualities resound in her support of others. From the temples and civic prosperity she created benevolence towards humanity resembling the strong maternal figure. Although she is a virgin goddess, Athena uses this towards her warrior character and does not become emotionally or intimately attached. Her personality is twofold though, and reveals a sensitive, feminine aspect.
In her artistic crafts like weaving and wool working her feminine attributes are most strong but she also carries a maternal aura that is evident in the story of the goddess and Hephaestus. Athena was pursued by many gods, especially that of Hephaestus, who fell madly in love with her. He finally cornered her on the Acropolis and brushed against her. Athena wiped herself with a shard of cloth and this fell to the ground and fertilized the earth, known as Gaea. The god, Erichthonius was produced and Athena took on the role like that of a foster mother.
After she put him in a chest that she gave to the three daughters of Cecrops, their father, the King of Athens, eventually handed over his powers to him. Athena watched over Erichthonius and raised him as her own son in the city of Athens. Her maternal qualities are the strongest in her care of this son. The myth of Prometheus is also a testament of Athena’s maternal instincts. Athena created the first man out of clay and water with the help of Prometheus. She had the ability to create as well as sustain life through these myths.
The great goddess of wisdom, strength and reflection is a symbol of matriarchal strength. Athena represents a pyramid of stability where the base of her warrior instincts, strategy, and aggression flow into her benevolence, skills and eventually her intellect. She is the unifying element between the strength of humanity and natural forces. Her archetype is the invincible wise warrior and she is an eternal figure of these elements fused together. Athena bridges the gap between the matriarchal and patriarchal types and creates a harmonious balance in the natural cycle.