Sometimes known as Pallas Athena, Athena was a member of the pantheon of Greek Gods and Goddesses during ancient Greek civilization. She was revered as the goddess of war, but also wisdom, justice, civilization, crafts, and strength. The city of Athens, of which she is the patron goddess, is named for her and the Parthenon was also constructed in her honor.
Athena figures prominently into ancient Greek mythology. She is famously the daughter of Zeus and one popular Olympian myth recounts that she was born from his forehead fully clad in her armor. Early Greeks also believed she was born near the Triton River of Libya and her cult may have been influenced by the Libyan goddess Neith who was also a war goddess. Philosophy was added to Athena’s qualities during the classical age of Greece. Additionally, the myths repeatedly portray Athena as a perpetual virgin, though she does help many important heroes of Greek tales such as Jason, Hercules, and Odysseus.
Athens was not the only Greek city devoted to the goddess of wisdom and war. Sparta, in particular, was committed to Athena along with nearby villages such as Tegea which was home to the temple of Athena Alea. The myths usually repeat various attributes related to Athena. Homer describes her repeatedly as “bright-eyed” for example. She was also associated with owls and olive trees. In classical art the goddess was typically depicted with her famed helmet raised on her forehead. She is also commonly holding her long spear and her shield which is etched with a gorgon’s head. Many works also show her with an owl perched on her shoulder.
Athena figures prominently into many important Greek myths. She is regarded as the goddess who changed a beautiful girl into Medusa for defiling her temple when she was raped by the god Poseidon. A later myth describes how she led the hero Perseus to Medusa’s lair so that he could behead her as part of his heroic quest. According to Homer’s Odyssey, Athena assists Odysseus during his wanderings and helps guide him home. She also helps Odysseus defeat the suitors of his wife Penelope. A much later myth depicts Athena as the goddess who changed Arachne into a spider. This myth demonstrates Athena’s association with crafts like weaving.
Athena continued to be regarded for her various aspects after the classical age. Later rulers like Catherine the Great and Christina of Sweden were sometimes compared to the goddess for embodying both male and female traits—wisdom being historically associated with the male. She has also been a symbol on Greek banknotes and coins and continues to be one of the more well-known deities of the ancient Greek world.