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Athena is the goddess of war, civilization, wisdom, strength, strategy, craft, justice and skill in Greek mythology. Minerva, Athena's Roman incarnation, embodies similar attributes. Athena is also a shrewd companion of heroes and the goddess of heroic endeavour. She is the virgin patron of Athens. The Athenians built the Parthenon on the Acropolis of her namesake city, Athens, in her honour (Athena Parthenos).

Athena's symbol areOwl, Olive tree, Snake, Spider, Aegis, Armor, Helmet, Spear.Athena or Minerva the Roman equivalent, was symbolized by an owl.

Athena was a parthenogenous daughter of Metis, wisdom or knowledge, a Titan who ruled the fourth day and the planet Mercury. Other variants relate that although Metis was of an earlier generation of the Titans, Zeus became her consort when his cult gained dominance. In order to avoid a prophecy made when that change occurred, that any offspring of his union with Metis would be greater than he, Zeus swallowed Metis to prevent her from having offspring, but she already was pregnant with Athena. Metis gave birth to Athena and nurtured her inside Zeus until Zeus complained of headaches and called for Hephaestus to split open his head with his smithing tools. Athena burst forth from his forehead fully armed with weapons given by her mother. She famously wields the thunderbolt and the Aegis, which she and Zeus share exclusively.

Athena competed with Poseidon to be the patron deity of Athens, which was yet unnamed, in a version of one founding myth. They agreed that each would give the Athenians one gift and that the Athenians would choose the gift they preferred. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and a spring sprang up; this gave them a means of trade and water —Athens at its height was a significant sea power, defeating the Persian fleet at the Battle of Salamis— but the water was salty and not very good for drinking. Athena, however, offered them the first domesticated olive tree. The Athenians (or their king, Cecrops) accepted the olive tree and with it the patronage of Athena, for the olive tree brought wood, oil, and food. Robert Graves was of the opinion that "Poseidon's attempts to take possession of certain cities are political myths" which reflect the conflict between matriarchical and patriarchical religions.

Athena and Poseidon

Later myths of the Classical Greeks relate that Athena guided Perseus in his quest to behead Medusa. She instructed Heracles to skin the Nemean Lion by using its own claws to cut through its thick hide. She also helped Heracles to defeat the Stymphalian Birds, and to navigate the underworld so as to capture Cerberus.In The Odyssey, Odysseus' cunning and shrewd nature quickly won Athena's favour. In the realistic epic mode, however, she largely is confined to aiding him only from afar, as by implanting thoughts in his head during his journey home from Troy. Her guiding actions reinforce her role as the "protectress of heroes" or as mythologian Walter Friedrich Otto dubbed her the "goddess of nearness" due to her mentoring and motherly probing. It is not until he washes up on the shore of an island where Nausicaa is washing her clothes that Athena arrives personally to provide more tangible assistance. She appears in Nausicaa's dreams to ensure that the princess rescues Odysseus and plays a role in his eventual escort to Ithaca.Athena appears in disguise to Odysseus upon his arrival, initially lying and telling him that Penelope, his wife, has remarried and that he is believed to be dead; but Odysseus lies back to her, employing skillful prevarications to protect himself. Impressed by his resolve and shrewdness, she reveals herself and tells him what he needs to know in order to win back his kingdom. She disguises him as an elderly man or beggar so that he cannot be noticed by the suitors or Penelope, and helps him to defeat the suitors. She also plays a role in ending the resultant feud against the suitors' relatives, although she seems strange to readers. She instructs Laertes to throw his spear and to kill the father of Antinous, Eupeithes. But she must have forgotten her task of bringing peace to Ithaca and wiping the thought of slaughter from the suitors' families, because she suddenly told them to stop fighting.

The fable of Arachne is a late Roman addition to Classical Greek mythology but does not appear in the myth repertoire of the Attic vase-painters. Arachne's name simply means spider. Arachne was the daughter of a famous dyer in Tyrian purple in Hypaipa of Lydia, and a weaving student of Athena. She became so conceited of her skill as a weaver that she began claiming that her skill was greater than that of Athena herself.Athena gave Arachne a chance to redeem herself by assuming the form of an old woman and warning Arachne not to offend the deities. Arachne scoffed and wished for a weaving contest, so she could prove her skill.Athena wove the scene of her victory over Poseidon that had inspired her patronage of Athens. According to the Latin narrative, Arachne's tapestry featured twenty-one episodes of the infidelity of the deities, including Zeus being unfaithful with Leda, with Europa, and with Danaë. Athena admitted that Arachne's work was flawless, but was outraged at Arachne's disrespectful choice of subjects that displayed the failings and transgressions of the deities. Finally, losing her temper, Athena destroyed Arachne's tapestry and loom, striking it with her shuttle. Athena then struck Arachne with her staff, which changed her into a spider. In some versions, the destruction of her loom leads Arachne to hang herself in despair; Athena takes pity on her, and transforms her into a spider.


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