Greek goddess Athena

Roman goddess Minerva

Athena is Zeus' daughter and his favorite child, she is often described as "gray-eyed" or "flashing- eyed." In popular myth she is said to have no mother, because she sprang full grown and in full armor from her fathers head.

This is not entirely true however. Athena's mother was Metis, Zeus came to lust after her, and chased her in his direct way. Metis tried to escape as best she could, going so far as to change her form many times, turning into various creatures such as hawks, fish, and serpents. But Zeus was both determined and equally proficient at changing form. He continued his pursuit until she relented.

An Oracle of Gaea then prophesied that Metis first child would be a girl but, her second child would be a boy that would overthrow Zeus as had happened to his father (Cronus) and his grandfather (Uranus). Zeus took this warning to heart. When he next saw Metis he flattered her and put her at her ease, then with Metis off guard Zeus suddenly opened his mouth and swallowed her. This was the end of Metis but, possibly the beginning of Zeus's wisdom.

After a time Zeus developed the mother of all headaches. He howled so loudly it could be heard throughout the earth. The other gods came to see what the problem was. Hermes realized what needed to be done and directed Hephaestus to take a wedge and split open Zeus's skull. Out of the skull sprang Athena, full grown and in a full set of armor. Greeks believed that the men were solely responsible for conception of a child, and the woman's only role was to carry it until it was born, therefore Metis is not given any credit for Athena birth.

There are two distinctly different representations of Athena's character. In the Iliad she is a fierce and ruthless warrior- goddess, who takes pleasure in war and fighting. In the Odyssey and all alter poetry she is still very powerful, but only fights to defend the State. She was the embodiment of wisdom, purity and reason, as well as the patron of the handicrafts and sciences and agriculture. She gave men the bridle allowing them to tame and use Poseidon's gift - horses. She also invented the trumpet, the flute, the pot, the rake, the plow, the yoke, the ship, and the chariot. Of the three virgin goddesses (Athena, Artemis and Hestia) she was chief and called the Maiden, Parthenos, accordingly her temple in Athens was called the Parthenon.

Athena was perhaps the most recognizable of the gods. She was always depicted with her unmistakable helmet and the ever- present spear. Because she was Zeus' favorite she was allowed to use his weapons and armor, including the awful aegis, his buckler and even his thunderbolt. Her shield was also very distinctive, after Perseus defeated the gorgon Medusa, Athena affixed its head to her shield.

Athena's special city was Athens, patronage of which she won from Poseidon by giving the city the olive tree which Cecrops judged to be a better gift than the water spring that Poseidon provided. Her tree is the olive, which she herself created. Her bird is the owl, also a symbol of wisdom.