As you may have already noticed, the background image of this blog is the Parthenon that was erected in honor of Athena. So, there is nothing fairer than the first post on mythology to be just about her.

            Well, Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom, of war strategy, of justice, in addition to being the patron of useful and ornamental arts. A difference between her and her Roman counterpart, Minerva, is that it is not related to war (a role played by, among others, Belona, Roman goddess of war). It can also be called Palas Athena; "Palas" means "maiden", reference to the fact that she is a virgin goddess. Even "Parthenon" comes from the Greek "parthenos" which means "virgin", another reference to her divine virginity (in Greek mythology there are other virgin goddesses like Artemis, goddess of the hunt and the Moon, and Hestia, goddess of the home).

            Her birth is quite curious (to say the least). She was born from the head of her father, Zeus, dressed in full armor, after he swallowed his pregnant mother, Métis. There are two versions of why he did it: one says that he aimed to acquire intellectual and judicial knowledge (Métis is an aspect of wisdom); another says he feared Gaia's prophecy that if he had a son, he would bring him down. Either way, Athena became his most faithful and important ally on Olympus.

            Athena had a city named after her, Athens. In mythology, it is reported that she and Poseidon, god of the seas, disputed this honor. The dispute was to assess which one would give the most useful gift. Poseidon gave a horse (other sources say he made a fountain in the city gush seawater) and Athena, an olive tree (her sacred plant). The twelve gods who presided over the decision decreed that Athena won the dispute. In some versions, Poseidon, furious with the defeat, flooded the city with a great wave.

            Athena is also known for being a great ally of heroes, helping them when they need it. For example, when Perseus, son of Zeus, was head of the mission to kill Medusa, Athena offered him her bronze shield. This shield that Perseus used to decapitate the creature without looking directly at it, using its reflection, on the shield.

Medusa, resultado da fúria de Atena
Hard to talk about Medusa and not remember Caravaggio

            However, not everything is so good in Athena's story, and Medusa herself was a consequence of the goddess's wrath. The myth says that Medusa was once a beautiful woman, but, in one version, she dared to compete in beauty with the goddess. Another version says that she was a beautiful priestess of Athena who had the brilliant idea of having relations with Poseidon (Athena's rival) inside the temple of the goddess. Regardless of the reason, Athena transformed her into a hideous creature with snake hair that no mortal could look at directly without being turned into stone.

            Another example of Athena's wrath is the story of Arachne. This was a talented weaver, but her talent made her arrogant, and she began to defy and belittle Athena, who was also a weaver. Obviously this did not please the goddess, who first came down from Olympus in the guise of an old woman to advise Arachne not to challenge the gods. She also said that if she apologized, the goddess (in this case, herself) could forgive her. But Aracne refused and even reiterated the challenge, in the face of such an affront, Athena revealed herself and accepted the challenge. The two then started to weave their pieces. Athena weaved in her play her dispute with Poseidon, as well as the twelve gods of the pantheon. She wove around this image, examples of mortals who defied the gods and the tragic end they had (a very direct hint, right?). Aracne, on the other hand, wove about the errors of the gods, such as the stories of Leda, Dânae, and Europa (all because of Zeus). Insulted by this outrage, Athena then destroyed the fabric with her shuttle, and, touching her forehead, made her feel so guilty and ashamed that she committed suicide (by hanging herself). With “pity” on her, Athena resurrected her and transformed her into a monstrous spider (really, a lot of pity).

Aracne, a mortal que ousou desafiar Atena
Aracne (before becoming a spider)

            Well, this is Athena. Grandiose and virtuous as a goddess of wisdom, being one of the most worshiped entities in Ancient Greece. But, like the other gods of the Greek pantheon, it is capable of inflicting the cruelest punishment if provoked.

Credits for images:

Alexandre Souza

Alexandre Souza is a Brazilian novelist that writes dark and supernatural stories, and also explores fantasy and historical fiction. He’s earning a BFA in Creative Writing at Full Sail University. He has flash fictions published at Adelaide Magazine and Scarlet Leaf Review. He’s a mythology and supernatural geek and uses this knowledge to enhance his work.

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