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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Goddess Athena

Edited June 23, 2012

ATHENA, one of the great divinities of the Greeks. Homer Il. v. 880) calls her a daughter of Zeus, without any allusion to her mother or to the manner in which she was called into existence, while most of the later traditions agree in stating that she was born from the head of Zeus. According to Hesiod (Theog. 886, &c.), Metis, the first wife of Zeus, was the mother of Athena, but when Metis was pregnant with her, Zeus, on the advice of Gaea and Uranus, swallowed Metis up, and afterwards gave birth himself to Athena, who sprang from his head. (Hesiod, l. c. 924.) Pindar (Ol. vii. 35, &c.) adds, that Hephaestus split the head of Zeus with his axe, and that Athena sprang forth with a mighty war-shout. Others relate, that Prometheus or Hermes or Palamaon assisted Zeus in giving birth to Athena, and mentioned the river Triton as the place where the event took place. (Apollod. i. 4. § 6; Schol. ad Pind. Ol. vii. 66.) Other traditions again relate, that Athena sprang from the head of Zeus in full armour, a statement for which Stesichorus is said to have been the most ancient authority. (Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 355; Philostr. Icon. ii. 27; Schol. ad Apollo. iv. 1310.)
All these traditions, however, agree in making Athena a daughter of Zeus; but a second set regard her as the daughter of Pallas, the winged giant, whom she afterwards killed on account of his attempting to violate her chastity, whose skin she used as her aegis, and whose wings she fastened to her own feet. (Tzetz. ad Lycoph. l. c.; Cic. de Nat. Deor. iii. 23.)

The goddess Athene is born from the head of Zeus. She is depicted in miniature rising from the head of the god, fully grown and armed with spear, shield and helm. The king of the gods himself sits enthroned, with a lightning bolt in his hand. On either side of him a pair of Eileithyiai (birth goddesses) raise their arms to release the child. Beside these stand two gods, on one side Hephaistos (or perhaps Prometheus) holds the double-headed mallet (or axe) used to split the skull of Zeus. Ca 570-560 BC

 Hephaistos splits open the skull of Zeus with a mallet, releasing the goddess Athene from his head. The king of the gods is shown seated on a swan-backed chair, holding a lightning bolt in his hand. A miniature Athene springs from his head, already equipped with a shield. Hephaistos waves one hand, in imitation of an Eileithyia (birth goddess) bringing forth a child. In the other hand he holds a two-headed mallet or axe. CA 560 BC

She was depicted crowned with a crested helm, armed with shield and spear, and wearing the snake-trimmed aigis cloak wrapped around her breast and arm, adorned with the monstrous head of the Gorgon.

                                                             Athena, ca 525 BC

 Athena stands holding her helm and shield. She is draped with her serpent-headed aigis cloak.Ca 470 BC

As Athena promoted the internal prosperity of the state, by encouraging agriculture and industry, and by maintaining law and order in all public transactions, so also she protected the state from outward enemies, and thus assumes the character of a warlike divinity, though in a very different sense from Ares, Eris, or Enyo.
She does not love war for its own sake, but simply on account of the advantages which the state gains in engaging in it; and she therefore supports only such warlike undertakings as are begun with prudence, and are likely to be followed by favorable results.

As the prudent goddess of war, she is also the protectress of all heroes who are distinguished for prudence and good counsel, as well as for their strength and valor, such as Heracles, Perseus, Bellerophontes, Achilles, Diomedes, and Odysseus. In the war of Zeus against the giants, she assisted her father and Heracles with her counsel, and also took an active part in it.

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 150 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"After Juno [Hera] saw that Epaphus, born of a concubine, ruled such a great kingdom, she saw to it that he should be killed while hunting, and encouraged the Titanes to drive Jove [Zeus] from the kingdom and restore it to Saturnus [Kronos]. When they tried to mount to heaven, Jove [Zeus] with the help of Minerva [Athena], Apollo, and Diana [Artemis], cast them headlong into Tartarus. On Atlas, who had been their leader, he put the vault of the sky; even now he is said to hold up the sky on his shoulders."


Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 3 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Some also say this [constellation Draco] dragon was thrown at Minerva [Athena] by the Giants, when she fought them. Minerva, however, snatched its twisted form and threw it to the stars, and fixed it at the very pole of heaven. And so to this day it appears with twisted body, as if recently transported to the stars." 

Athena battles a pair of serpent-footed Gigants in the War of the Giants. C2nd BC 

The character of Athena, as we have here traced it, holds a middle place between the male and female, whence she is called in an Orphic hymn (xxxi. 10) arsên kai thêlus, and hence also she is a virgin divinity (Hom. Hymn. ix. 3), whose heart is inaccessible to the passion of love, and who shuns matrimonial connexion. Teiresias was deprived of his sight for having seen her in the bath (Callim. Hymn. pp. 546,589), and Hephaestus, who made an attempt upon her chastity, was obliged to flee.
For this reason, the ancient traditions always describe the goddess as dressed; and when Ovid (Heroid. v. 36) makes her appear naked before Paris, he abandons the genuine old story.

 Rubens, The Judgment of Paris

The Judgement of Paris.Joachim Wtewael

To view The Judgement of Paris click here

                                        Athena,Aphrodite, Hera, Franz von Stuck

                                                  Lavinia Fontana Minerva dressing, 1613
Her statue also was always dressed, and when it was carried about at the Attic festivals, it was entirely covered.
But, notwithstanding the common opinion of her virgin character, there are some traditions of late origin which describe her as a mother. Thus, Apollo is called a son of Hephaestus (Vulcan) and Athena.

                                                Hans Rottenhammer

Athena wearing helm and aigis breast-plate, and holding spear. Roman copy of a Greek original by Pyrrhos of the school of Pheidias C5th BC

 Athena casts a spear (missing) with outstretched aigis-cloaked arm.

Athena helmed, holding spear, attended by serpent. Roman copy of Greek statue C4th BC

Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite 7 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"Golden Aphrodite Kypria, who stirs up sweet passion [i.e. sexual desire] in the gods and subdues the tribes of mortal men . . . Yet there are three hearts that she cannot bend nor yet ensnare. First is the daughter of Zeus who holds the aigis, bright-eyed Athene; for she has no pleasure in the deeds of golden Aphrodite, but delights in wars and in the work of Ares, in strifes and battles and in preparing famous crafts. She first taught earthly craftsmen to make chariots of war and cars variously wrought with bronze, and she, too, teaches tender maidens in the house and puts knowledge of goodly arts in each one's mind. Nor does laughter-loving Aphrodite ever tame in love Artemis . . . Nor yet does the pure maiden Hestia love Aphrodite's works . . . Of these three Aphrodite cannot bend or ensnare the hearts. But of all others there is nothing among the blessed gods or among mortal men that has escaped Aphrodite."

                                            Athena, Period: Imperial Roman 

                                                Giorgio Vasari, Vulcan's Forge
                   Athena Scorning the Advances of Hephaestus. Paris Bordone


Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 790 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Her [Medusa's] beauty was far-famed, the jealous hope of many a suitor, and of all her charms her hair was loveliest; so I was told by one who claimed to have seen her. She, it's said, was violated in Minerva's [Athena’s] shrine by the Rector Pelagi (Lord of the Sea) [Poseidon]. Jove's daughter [Athena] turned away and covered with her shield her virgin's eyes. And then for fitting punishment transformed the Gorgon's lovely hair to loathsome snakes. Minerva [Athena] still, to strike her foes with dread, upon her breastplate wears the snakes she made."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 46 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"It is affirmed by some that Medusa was beheaded because of Athena, for they say the Gorgon had been willing to be compared with Athena in beauty."
 Perseus decapitates the Gorgon Medousa with a sickle sword (harpe). The hero wears the winged cap and boots of Hermes, and has the Gorgoneion (gorgon head) tucked inside the fold of his kibisis (sack). Beside him lies the decapitated corpose of the winged Gorgon. The goddess Athene follows close behind in support of Perseus, easily recognisable with her helm, spear and snake-trimmed aigis cloak. ca 500 - 450 BC

 Athene receives the head of Medousa from Perseus. The hero is depicted as a young man, wearing the winged boots of Hermes and the cap of darkness on his head. Athene holds the Gorgoneion (Gorgon head) by its snaky locks, its image reflecting in the mirror of the shield.  ca 400 - 385 BC

                                         Gustav Klimt, Pallas Athena

Rubens, Minerva (Athena) protects Pax from Mars, aka Peace and War.

                                                     Spranger, Bartholomäus, Athena

                                              Hercules at the Crossroads

                                     Joseph-Benoît Suvée   The Combat of Mars and Minerva

                                          Abraham Lambertsz van den Tempel,   Mars Banishes 'Nering'

A different version of Athena.
                                    Sandro Botticelli, Anthena and Centaur
 After Prometheus has created man out of mud, Athena breathes life into him, imparting reason and understanding. Part of a cycle on the myth of Prometheus by Christian Griepenkerl.

Parmigianino - Pallas Athene

Science": Minerva, goddess of wisdom and the arts of civilization, with helmet and spear, points to an electric generator creating power stored in batteries, next to a printing press, while inventors Benjamin Franklin, Samuel F. B. Morse, and Robert Fulton watch. At the left, a teacher demonstrates the use of dividers.

To view Constantino Brumidi's Apotheosis of George Washington  click  here

                            Elihu Vedder's Minerva of Peace 1896 Library of Congress Washington

Among the things sacred to her we may mention the owl, serpent, cock, and olive-tree.

 After 449 BC.  Helmeted head of Athena right / ΑΘΕ, owl standing right; olive-sprig and crescent above.

                                              The Owl - Athènes, Acropolis.

In Ilion, Locrian maidens or children are said to have been sacrificed to her every year as an atonement for the crime committed by the Locrian Ajax upon Cassandra; and Suidas (s. v. poinê) states, that these human sacrifices continued to be offered to her down to B. C. 346.