Athena holds a special place in the Greek pantheon. The Goddess of Wisdom, War, and Crafts, Athena was Zeus’ favorite daughter. Athena is a prominent figure in many Greek myths. She provided protection and counsel to heroes like Achilles, Hercules, and Odysseus. Athena was both namesake and patron of the city of Athens, and the Parthenon, a temple built in her honor, still stands there to this day.
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Athena’s birth was a fraught affair. A prophecy warned Zeus that his son would seize power from him. Zeus swallowed his first wife Metis in order to nip this prophecy in the bud. Unbeknownst to Zeus, Metis was already pregnant. She began to make her daughter a helmet to protect her while inside Zeus. This caused Zeus so much pain that he begged the god Hephaestus to relieve it by splitting his head with an axe. Athena, clad in full armor, emerged from the wound in Zeus’ head.
THE NAMING OF ATHENS
Athena is closely associated with the city of Athens. She won a contest against Poseidon to name the city by providing Athens’ inhabitants with an olive tree. The involvement didn’t end there. Hephaestus attempted to rape Athena but impregnated Gaia instead, birthing Erichthonius. Athena would give Erichthonius to the daughters of Crecops, and he eventually became an early king of Athens.
THE WEAVING CONTEST
Athena lost a weaving contest to the mortal Arachne. In a rage, Athena tore apart Arachne’s tapestry and transformed the woman into a spider. This is not the first time Athena took a creative revenge on someone who wronged her. She blinded the prophet Tiresias for observing her while she bathed.
Athena is known by many epithets, but perhaps her most famous is Pallas. Pallas was the original name of a Titan who fought the Olympians in the Gigantomachy. Athena killed Pallas by flaying him, and she later used his skin as a shield. This noteworthy action may have led to the epithet. Some Greek legends claim that Athena’s shield, the aegis, still bears Pallas’ skin.
THE TROJAN WAR
Athena had many favorite mortals and she often intervened in their favor. The goddess’ actions during the Trojan War are ample demonstration of this. Athena guided the spear of the Greek hero Diomedes in order to injure Ares and Aphrodite. Athena also gave guidance to Odysseus, including giving him the idea for the Trojan Horse as well as instructing him to return to Ithaca in the guise of a beggar.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
Among Athena’s many achievements is the invention of the flute.
Remember when we said Athena had lots of epithets? We weren’t kidding.
Who is the Greek god of war? Is it Ares? Is it Athena? Trick question: it’s both.
The Parthenon is associated with the ancient glory of Greece, but its celebrated friezes are no longer there...
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