by Erik Collins
Athena is the goddess of the defense of Athens, wisdom and women's crafts. She is a virgin warrior goddess, one of many throughout mythologies of the world. Since the Greek world was patriarchal, her status as a warrior goddess was limited. Her power was specifically in defense of Athens. Perhaps because Greece was conquered at the end of the Bronze Age, Athens alone was among the Greek cities that survived. her status is also limited because of her service to her father, Zeus. She acts with his consent or she does his will, so that whatever her powers are, they are also his powers.
Her role as the goddess of wisdom is accounted for in myth by her birth narrative. Her mother Metis, the goddess of cleverness, was swallowed by her father Zeus. He himself became impregnated with Athena, whom he bore from his head in full armor with the aid of Hephasestus' axe. Originally, Athena was the goddess of womanly wisdom, but her role was expanded to wisdom in general. Hephaestus' appearance in the story also helps account for Athena's role as the goddess of women's crafts.
Althought Athena is a virgin goddess, she mothered the god Erichthonios by Hephaestus. According to myth, she went to Hephaestus wanting some weapons forged. When Hephaestus tried to rape her, she protected her virginity and he ejaculated on her leg. She wiped it off with a piece of wool, throwing it onto the ground. Erichthonios sprouted from the discarded wool. Athena gave the baby to the daughters of Pandrosus in a chest, which they were forbidden to open. They opened it and became mad, throwing themselves from the Acropolis. Athena then raised her son.
In myth, Athena became the patron of Athens through a contest with Poseidon Athena offered the city the olive tree and Poseidon offered a fountain of water, though the water was salty. The citizens consulted an oracle about what the signs meant and found that they were supposed to vote between the two. At this time, both men and women voted, according to the myth. The vote split along gender lines. The women outnumbered the men and Athena became the patron goddess of Athens. Poseidon became incensed and flooded Athens until Athenians conceded to limit the status of women. This serves as a charter myth for how Athenian politics were patriarchal. It may also represent a real choice that Athenians made at a point in their history to depend more on agriculture than on trade.
Athena also deals with Poseidon in the Odyssey. She champions for Odysseus, as she did for the Achaeans in the Trojan War. She asks Poseidon to allow Odysseus' return home after ten years. Poseidon had prevented his return in retaliation for his blinding of the Cyclops.
Athena's aegises are the owl and the bear. her breastplate bears the head of Medusa. Medusa's head was either given to her by Perseus, whom she aided in his quest, or given to her through Perseus by Zeus. The head represents her power to defend, since it strikes fear in enemies. The colors of Athena's eyes are green, blue and grey, the colors of the sea and of an owl's eyes. Her weapons, which she had since her birth, are also sacred to her.
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