Athena is one of the twelve Olympian gods and goddesses, primarily known as the goddess of wisdom, courage, strategic warfare, and civilization. Athena is also associated with various aspects of human endeavors, including arts, crafts, and justice.
According to mythological accounts, Athena was born fully grown and armored from the head of her father, Zeus, after he swallowed her mother, Metis.
Athena is often depicted as powerful and wise, wearing a helmet and carrying a shield, spear, or aegis. Her symbol is the owl, representing wisdom and foresight.
Athena played significant roles in various Greek myths and the Trojan War, while in Roman mythology she’s equaled to the goddess Minerva.
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What is Athena the Goddess Of and What Does She Look Like?
Athena is the goddess of wisdom, courage, strategic warfare, and civilization in Greek mythology. Although she often appeared in disguise, Athena was described as having rare and untouchable beauty. Sworn to remain a virgin forever, she is often pictured with snakes coiled at her feet, and her symbol, the owl on her shoulder, signifies her wisdom. And with the goddess Athena always is Aegis, the shield that captured the image of Medusa’s head, forever staring out from the shining metal.
Calm and strategic, she is the head to the tails of Ares’ coin. Where he rages and revels in the madness of war, Athena is calm. She is the victory and glory of war, not the heat of the battle it contains.
The first teacher of all household crafts, she is the protector of the household and threatened cities, in particular, her very own Athens.
READ MORE: City Gods from Around the World
Athena’s Roman Goddess Equivalent
Roman mythology was largely borrowed from Greek mythology. After the Roman Empire expanded across the continent, they wanted to combine their own beliefs with those in Ancient Greece as a way to assimilate the two cultures.
Athena and Athens
When Athens was born, Athena was not the only god to want to lay claim to the city as her own. Poseidon, the god of the sea, challenged her for its title and guardianship.
The first King Cercops suggested a competition. According to some sources, the two gods may have raced first, before Poseidon, taking his trident, hit a rock and caused a stream to burst forth. Athena, not to be outdone, planted the first olive tree that sprung to many more, a symbol of the prosperity of Athens.
And so she won the city, and it was named in her honor.
Athena and Erichthonius
After Cercops came one of his relatives, baby Erichthonius, who had a special tie to Athena. For once, before the God Hephaestus married Aphrodite, it was Athena whom he originally wanted. One day he spilled his seed upon the Earth while lusting after Athena, and from there grew the baby Erichthonius.
Athena, perhaps feeling some sort of obligation to the child, stole him away and placed him in a secret chest, with two serpents wound around his legs as his guards. She then gave the chest to Cercops’ three daughters and warned them to never look inside.
Alas, they were unable to contain their curiosity and shortly thereafter peeked. What they say drove them mad, and all three threw themselves from the top of the Acropolis to their deaths.
It was from that moment on that Athena decided to bring up Erichthonius herself.
Athena and Medusa
Medusa was a woman unfairly persecuted and punished for the crimes of men. A beautiful woman, Medusa was vain enough to claim her looks rivaled Athena’s – which did her no favors with the goddess.
But vanity or not, Medusa was not wrong about her beauty. It was so much so that she caught the attention of Poseidon who pursued her, despite her unwillingness to lie with the god.
Eventually, he literally chased her until he caught her at Athena’s temple, where she had fled from the god. Poseidon heartlessly violated Medusa, right there on the altar – which for some reason Athena decided was somehow Medusa’s own fault.
The Greek gods were vain, petty, and sometimes flat-out wrong – and this was one of those times.
Rather than punishing Poseidon, the one who was truly deserving of her wrath, Athena turned her anger to Medusa, turning the beautiful woman into a gorgon, with a head of snakes that would turn any man who looked at her to stone.
And so she lived until Perseus, a young hero, and favorite of the gods, set out on a mission to destroy her, as ordered by King Polydectes.
Perseus turned to the Gods for help. Hermes gave him sandals to fly to where she had hidden away and Hades a hood to remain invisible. But it was Athena who granted him the best of gifts – a seemingly plain satchel, a scythe-like blade, forged from Adamantium and curved to cut through anything, and a dazzling shield named Aegis.
READ MORE: Hades Helmet: The Cap of Invisibility
Perseus defeated the victimized Medusa, capturing her own reflection in his shield and turning her to stone, before slicing off her head and taking it with him as a reward.
Athena, delighted by Perseus’ achievement, congratulated the hero and took the shield for her own, so Medusa’s head would always be staring out from her side as her own personal talisman.
Athena and Heracles
When a mortal mother birthed twins down below the gods resting on Mount Olympus, she held a secret – one twin was born of Zeus himself, and had the potential for godly power.
But Hera, Zeus’ wife, was not best pleased with his constant philandering and furious, swore the baby, named Alcides, would pay. She sent snakes to kill him, but Alcides awoke and choked them to death instead.
But Zeus wanted his son to gain immortality and knew he could do so by getting him to suckle at Hera’s breast. He went to Athena and Hermes for help, who took him from his cot and dropped him on Hera’s breast while she slept.
When she awoke, she pulled him away in disgust and horror, splattering breast milk across the night sky to form what we now call the Milky Way. But the deed had been done, and the baby had gained strength.
Alcides was returned to Earth where he was renamed as Heracles and showered by the gods in gifts, and Athena in particular took a liking to the child and kept an eye on him during his new life.
Heracles’ Labors and Athena’s Help
The 12 Labors of Heracles are one of the biggest and most well-known Greek legends. But a lesser known fact is that Heracles had the gods’ help upon the way – in particular Athena’s.
During his sixth labor, Heracles was tasked with ridding Lake Stymphalia of its bird infestation. Athena gave him a rattle forged by Hephaestus that would send the birds flying from their roosts in a panic and make it easy for the sharp-shooting bowman to knock them all down.
Later, after his labors, Heracles learned of the death of his nephew Oeonus at the hand of the ancient Spartan king. Furious, he called his allies to take the city, but Cepheus of Tegea was unwilling to leave his own undefended.
READ MORE: Ancient Sparta: The History of the Spartans
Heracles called to Athena for help and she gifted the hero a lock of Medusa’s hair and promised him the city would remain protected from all harm if this was held high from the city wall.
Jason and the Argonauts
Although Jason’s famous journey was more the purview of other gods, it could never have happened without Athena’s hand. On a quest to reclaim his throne, Jason is sent to find a golden fleece.
Athena, approving of his quest, decides to lay her divine hands on the ship that will carry him and his crew – the Argo.
The Greek goddess traveled to Zeus’ oracle at Dodona to collect oak from a sacred grove to form the beak of the ship, which is then carved into the visage of a beautiful female head, which gave the power to speak and guide the crew.
Next, Athena casts her eye to the sails, telling the helmsman how to use them to give an almost godly speed to their journey.
Finally, Athena, along with Hera, concoct a plan to have Medea and Jason meet and fall in love and appeal to Aphrodite for help with it.
Athena and Arachne
Every now and then, a mortal will get it into their foolish heads that they can challenge a god or goddess. One such mortal was Arachne, who was so proud of her spinning and weaving abilities she claimed she could do so better than the goddess Athena herself.
But the Greek goddess of war was also the goddess of crafts and the patron of spinners and weavers, and immensely, godly talented. Nevertheless, Arachne, having surpassed all on Earth, made her desire to compete against the goddess known far and wide.
Athena, amused by the mortal’s impudence, appeared in front of her as an old woman and warned her that she should be content with being the best on Earth, but leave the number one spot to the gods and goddesses who would surpass her. Arachne ignored the warning, repeating her challenge and so Athena, now irritated, revealed herself and accepted.
The mortal woman and the goddess got to weaving. Athena weaved a tale of her battle and victory over Poseidon for the claim of Athens. With a border of examples of the folly of mortals who challenged gods, Arachne should have paid attention to the story she was weaving.
But she was too concerned with making her own work perfect, and at the same time, had the boldness to make it a tale insulting the gods. For in her tapestry, she showed them as seducers and deceivers of mortal women.
Furious, Athena tried to find mistakes in Arachne’s work. But she was unable to. The mortal woman truly was perfect at her craft – which was something Athena could not accept. For only gods could have the number one spot.
And so in her fury, she drove Arachne to suicide, forcing the girl to tie a noose around her neck to end her life. But as Arachne gasped her last breath, Athena was not quite finished. She turned Arachne into a spider, so the woman who bested a god at weaving could carry on doing so forever more.
The Trojan War
The Trojan War is one of the biggest occurrences in Greek mythology. Spanning decades and causing both mortals and gods to clash, it was a truly epic battle in which many Greek legends and heroes were born.
And Athena, alongside Aphrodite and Hera, is the reason it all started.
The Beginning of the Trojan War
Zeus held a banquet to honor the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, later parents to the hero Achilles. All the gods were in attendance, except for the Greek goddess of strife and chaos, Eris.
So, she decided to take revenge and, entering the banquet hall, rolled a golden apple toward the feet of the three vainest goddesses in attendance. Upon it, was carved “to the fairest”. Of course, Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena all assumed the apple must be for them and began to fight over it.
Zeus, angry that they were ruining the party, stepped in and said the true owner of the apple would be decided henceforth.
Paris of Troy
It was many years later that Zeus finally decided what to do with the apple. A young shepherd boy with a secret past was to decide its fate.
Paris was no ordinary shepherd boy, unknowingly being the child of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. He had been sent to be torn apart by wolves on the mountain when he was still a baby, for Hecuba had foreseen in a dream that her son would be the reason Troy one day fell.
Unbeknownst to his parents, Paris was saved and grew up to be an innocent and good-hearted man with no knowledge of his royal blood – and thus the perfect candidate to decide which Greek Goddess would receive the apple – Athena, Aphrodite, or Hera.
Paris’ Choice: The Golden Apple
And so all three goddesses appeared in front of Paris to convince him they were the true owners of the apple.
First, Hera, who promised him all the power he could desire. Under her guardianship, Paris would rule vast territories without fear or usurpation.
Next, Athena, who sharpened her look and stood tall, the fierce huntress. She promised him invincibility as the greatest warrior the world had ever seen. He would be a general that all would aspire to.
Finally, Aphrodite clad herself in beauty and stepped forward. Seductively, she promised him his heart’s true desire – the love of the most beautiful woman in the world – Helen of Troy.
Overwhelmed by the goddess, Paris chose Aphrodite, leaving Hera and Athena to feel spurned.
But Aphrodite had hidden a few things from Paris. Helen was already married to Menelaus and lived in Sparta. But with Aphrodite’s power, Paris became irresistible to the young woman, and they soon ran away together to Troy to be wed; kicking off the events that sparked the Trojan War.
The Trojan War Begins
All Greek gods and goddesses had their favorite mortals. When the war began, Hera and Athena took up arms against Aphrodite, supporting the Greeks over the Trojans in the war.
With gods and goddesses split and bickering, the Greeks and Trojans met on the battlefield. On the Greek side, Agamemnon, King Menelaus’ brother, stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the greatest warriors in history – Achilles and Odysseus amongst them.
But as the battle went on, Achilles and Agamemnon fell into dispute, unable to calm and see reason. And so Achilles made his fatal mistake. He called upon his mother Thetis, the sea nymph, and persuaded her to ask Zeus to side with the Trojans against them. For then, he could show how much his skill was needed.
It was a foolish plan, but one Zeus went along with, appearing to Agamemnon in a dream and undercutting his worries till, rather than telling his men to attack Troy the next day, he instead told them to flee. As the men scattered and began to prepare for departure, Athena and Hera looked on in horror. Surely the war could not end this way! With their favorites fleeing from Troy!
And so Athena journeyed to Earth and visited Odysseus, prompting him to go and stop the men from fleeing, beating them to submission until they stopped.
Athena and Pandarus
Once again, the gods continued to meddle. Without their interference, the Trojan War would have ended with a single battle of Paris against Menelaus, the victor claiming all.
But when it came down to it, Aphrodite couldn’t bear to see her favorite lose, and so when Menelaus was on the cusp of victory and about to lay the final blow on Paris, she spirited him away to safety to lie with Helen of Troy.
Despite this, it seemed clear to all that Menelaus had won. But Hera was not yet satisfied. Among the other gods, she insisted the war should carry on, and so with Zeus’ agreement, sent Athena to do her dirty work.
Athena flashed down to earth, disguised herself as Antenor’s son, and went in search of Pandarus, a strong Trojan warrior whose pride she flattered. Using her godly power, she manipulated him, convincing him to attack Menelaus.
The second Pandarus let his arrow fly, the truce was broken and the Trojan War resumed. But Athena, not wanting Menelaus to suffer, deflected the arrow so that he could continue the fight.
The tide turned, and soon the Greeks were winning. Athena went to Ares and told him that they should both leave the battlefield and leave it up to the mortals from here on out.
Athena and Diomedes
As the tide turned, a new hero emerged – brass and bold Diomedes who leaped wildly into the fray, taking dozens down on his rampage to victory. But Trojan Pandarus was watching him from afar, and knocking an arrow let it fly, injuring the Greek warrior.
Enraged that he had been injured by what he deemed a coward’s weapon, Diomedes appealed to Athena for help and impressed by his bravery and boldness, she healed him completely with the condition that he does not fight any gods that appeared on the battlefield, except Aphrodite.
And Aphrodite did appear, when her son Aeneas became injured, to spirit him away to safety. In a feat that impressed even the Greek gods themselves, Diomedes leaped after her, succeeding in wounding the gentle goddess and sending her shrieking into her lover Ares’ arms.
With some cajoling, he agrees to return to the battlefield, despite his promise to Athena. In response, Athena and Hera both also reentered the fray.
Athena’s first task was to find Diomedes and fight by his side. She released him from his promise and gave him carte blanche to fight anyone. Cloaked in Hades’ helmet – Hades’ cap of invisibility, the warrior goddess serenely took her position next to him on his chariot, deflecting a weapon from Ares that surely would have killed Diomedes if it hit.
In revenge, she helps Diomedes stab Ares, injuring the god and causing him to flee the battle and lick his wounds on Mount Olympus.
Successful in driving him away, Athena and Hera too decided to leave the war to the purview of mortals.
The End of the Trojan War
In the end, Athena’s hand played a great part in the end of the war, and it started with the death of Hector, Prince of Troy. He and Achilles were chasing each other around the city walls of Troy, Achilles determined to avenge his friend Patroclus, whom Hector had killed. Athena told the Greek warrior to rest. She would bring him Hector and his revenge.
Next, she disguised herself as Hector’s brother Deiphobus and told him to stand and fight Achilles, side by side. Hector agreed, but when the battle began, the goddess Athena’s illusion faded and he realized he was alone, tricked into facing Achilles, who ultimately defeated him.
Sadly, before the end of the war, Achilles himself too died, at the hands of Paris, furious at the death of his brother Hector. And so, the wheel turns, and the cycle continues.
Athena, Odysseus, and The Trojan Horse
As the tide turned further, the Greek victory seemed inevitable. Only one last thing was needed for the Greeks to claim ultimate victory over the Trojans – the surrender of the city itself, where the last of the warriors and citizens had barred themselves inside.
Athena appeared to Odysseus, telling him that he had to remove an effigy of Athena from the city; for as per prophecy, the city could not fall with it still inside.
After he succeeded in his task, Athena whispered one more idea in Odysseus’ ear – the infamous Trojan horse.
Proclaiming it as a gift to Athena, Odysseus took the horse to the city of Troy, who warily let it in its walls. But at nightfall, Greek soldiers poured from it by the dozen, ransacking the city and finally winning the long Trojan War.
Odysseus and Athena
Athena remained fond of Odysseus after the end of the war and followed his journey keenly as he traveled the Greek Isles.
After 20 years from home, Athena believed he deserved to return to his wife Penelope, and argued to save him from Calypso’s Isle, where he had been trapped by the goddess as a slave for the past 7 years. She appealed to the other Olympian gods, who shortly agreed and Hermes was tasked with commanding Calypso to set Odysseus free.
After days on a raft with no land in sight, finally Odysseus reached the shore. When bathing in the river, he spotted the beautiful royal princess Nausicaa at the riverside, after Athena had put a thought in her head to go there.
Odysseus crept up to her and lay at her feet, a pitiful sight, and asked for help. The kind and gentle Nausicaa at once bade her ladies to wash the filthy Odysseus in the river, and once they did so Athena made him appear taller and more handsome than ever. Touched by her godly influence, Nausicaa realized this was no ordinary man, and that she had just helped someone who had the god’s blessing.
Still, in need of a way to return home, Nausicaa thought of her parents, the King and Queen Alcinous and Arete, and how they might help charter a ship.
In order to show Odysseus’ importance to the goddess, Athena shrouded him in a cloud of mist until he reached the palace and then unveiled him before the royals, who immediately, like their daughter, recognized he was touched by a goddess and agreed to help him after hearing his tale.
As they built a ship to sail Odysseus back home after 20 long years, King Alcinous proposed a game in honor of his travels. Although Odysseus originally refused to participate, he was goaded by another noble.
As his discus took flight, Athena added to the wind that sailed it higher and farther than any of his opponents, marking him the clear winner.
Odysseus Returns Home
Whilst Odysseus had been away, trouble had been brewing. Suitors had essentially stormed his home, demanding Penelope’s hand, saying Odysseus would never return. When their son Telemachus left to find his father, it only got worse.
So when Odysseus was finally at the gates of his home, Athena appeared, warning him of the dangers that lurked within. Together, the goddess and her favorite hid his new wealth in nearby sacred caves and came up with a plan where Athena disguised him as a wrinkled beggar in filthy rags so as not to attract attention.
Next, she visited Telemachus and warned him of the suitors also, setting him on a different route so that father and son would reunite.
Shortly after, Penelope’s suitors began a foolhardy and doomed-to-fail competition to win her hand, by achieving a feat none but Odysseus could do – shoot an arrow through 12 ax heads. When none succeeded, still disguised as the beggar, Odysseus took his turn and succeeded. With a clap of thunder from above, he revealed who he truly was.
Horrified, the suitors started to fight Odysseus and Telemachus until one by one they lay in a pool of blood. In order to press her favorite advantage, Athena disguised herself as an old friend and flew to his side, fighting the mortals with him until only Odysseus’ loyal friends and staff remained.
Athena was ecstatic to see Odysseus win and be reunited with his loving family, to live the rest of his years in wealth. So much so that she gave him one final reward, making his beautiful wife appear even lovelier than ever and then finally, staying the dawn so the lovers could enjoy a long night of passion between the sheets.