I was having a hard time picking the next goddess to receive a happily-ever-after and created a survey to send to my subscribers. I asked them to choose which goddess they would like to see find their one true love, and Athena was one of the top winners. Now, I am generally up for a challenge, after all Book 2 of my Goddesses In Love series gives Medusa a HEA, but giving one to the virgin goddess of war? I may have just bit off more than I can chew. So as you may suspect, this post is my way of getting to know this powerful and just deity.
Origins of Athena
Athena’s origins are fascinating. She is said to be the daughter of Zeus with his first wife Metis, an Oceanid (sea-nymph) who had the gift of prophecy and shape-shifting. Back in the days of the Titans, she helped Zeus overthrow his own father Cronus, which is a whole story in itself. While she was extremely wise and could see into the future, apparently she wasn’t able to see far enough into the future to alter her fate. Pregnant, and perhaps a little hormone-induced, she shared with Zeus that her future children with him would be wiser than him and attempt to remove him from the throne. Knowing full well what he did to his own father, he tricked Metis into turning herself into a fly and swallowed her whole.
The story doesn’t end there, however, as we all know these tales end up twisting and turning until a bit of karma shows up on the culprit’s doorstep. From the day he swallowed Metis, the wisdom and shape-shifting ability she was known for, became part of Zeus’s bag of tricks. She was far from being through with him though and caused him a crippling headache that got worse by the day. Eventually, in his throes of pain, he cried out for relief.
In the true style of myth, this is where it gets a little weird (yes I know if it wasn’t already strange enough). It is said that Zeus’ headache had gotten so bad that he called on Hephaestus (the God of Blacksmithing) to help him relieve the pressure. Hephaestus is said to be his son with Hera, who is actually wife number 6 according to some accounts, so I’m guessing that either he went through his first 5 wives pretty quickly, or this was the mother of all migraines. Either way, it is said that Hephaestus did what his father asked, and hit his forehead with an axe.
No matter how we get here, it seems that most accounts agree that Athena was born from Zeus’ head fully formed, dressed in armor, and ready for battle. It is also agreed, that Zeus considered her his favorite because she was his “first child” which probably would have caused some sibling rivelry with some of his other kids. No matter how she placed in the family tree, it is clear that she quickly became the Goddess of Wisdom, a power that Zeus seem to pass on from Metis after all.
In addition to being the wisest and most courageous, Athena was also known as the goddess of war and homecrafts. While Ares, the god of war, was known for his bloodlust, Athena was known to strategize and be more thoughtful about if and when to enter into battle. While the inclusion of homecrafts may not make a whole lot of sense at first glance, I would argue that keeping the home fires burning while the men went to war, was equally important in order to keep the supplies moving. She has been linked to the care, breeding, and taming of horses, inventor of the rake and plough, and creator of the olive tree. One of the more common symbols for her is that of an owl.
Athena was known as a virgin goddess, and had no named consorts, although there were a few names that kept popping up during my research. As I do with most things, my mind started connecting the dots, and here we are. An entire religious movement surrounded her (still does in some places) in which her sexual status and modesty are important, and this post is in no way intended to tarnish that claim. However, I am a romance writer, so see things through a little different lens, so here are some names connected to Athena that I felt could be given a second glance.
Keeping Athena’s virgin status in mind, I found it interesting that she has been named as foster mother to Ericthonius, the son of Hesphaestus. After grabbing Athena in a fit of passion and attempting to have his way with her, it is said that she managed to fight him off and wiped his semen from her leg in disgust. After tossing the soiled cloth onto the ground, Gaia (Mother Earth) took over and brought a child to life also known as autochonous (born of the soil). When Ericthonius was born, it is said that Athena adopted him and raised him to become one of the most legendary rulers of Athens.
Long before Tiresias (Teiresias) was a blind prophet, he was a child born to one of Athena’s friends Chariclo (Khariklo). He is said to have lived over several generations, and the versions of his story are as varied as any you will find for any of the gods and goddesses. One of the stories to explain his blindness takes place when he is a young man and comes upon Athena bathing. In order to protect her modesty, she blinds him, but later when her friend begs for it to be restored, she grants Tiresias the gift of prophecy instead. Even in the Underworld, long after his death, does he retain his soothsayer abilities, counseling heroes that come for aid. For Athena to grant such an ability, he must have been extremely special to her.
A childhood friend to Athena, Pallas was a lake nymph in Lake Tritonis in what is now known as North Africa. They were both raised learning the arts of war, and during either a skirmish or disagreement, Athena used a bit too much force and Pallas was killed. Devastated by being the cause of her best friend’s death, she erected a statue in her honor and incorporated her name into her own. There are also mentions of them being lovers, which would definitely explain the depth of Athena’s sorrow. The statue, known as a palladium, was a symbol of protection in the city of Troy until its fall. One story was that it was removed by Odyessus, in order for the Trojan Horse idea to work.
Stories of Athena
One of the challenges I had when writing my version of Athena, was showing logical reasons for the fury that she so clearly has in so many of the stories about her. Like many of the tales told over time, there is more than one side, and I like to think that a level-headed and wise woman wouldn’t make snap decisions about anything she chose to do.
One of the better-known stories about Athena is that of Arachne. It is said that Arachne bragged about her weaving abilities, which piqued Athena’s interest since she was known as the goddess of handicraft and took great pride in her tapestries. After disguising herself as an old woman and hearing Arachne boast she could better the goddess in a challenge, she showed Arachne her true form and took her up on it. The tapestries were completed, Athena’s showing the gods and goddesses on Olympus in their glorious form, and Arachne’s depicting them at their worst. For Arachne’s blasphemous work, Athena’s judgment was swift, and she changed her into the first spider. In my mind, the story came down a little differently, so I will be tackling poor Arachne’s HEA in book four of my Goddesses In Love series.
Most will recognize Medusa, as one of the better-known stories including Athena. Depending on which story you are reading, Medusa became a monster one of a couple of ways. The first, she was a beautiful maiden in service as a priestess to Athena until she fell in love with Poseidon and had relations with him on the floor of the temple. In this instance, Athena’s wrath is justified, as far as wraths go, in that Medusa defiled her sacred temple. However, I don’t like the fact that Poseidon has nothing done to him for his part to play (among other things). There is also the version where Poseidon tries to get Medusa’s attention, she tries to fend off his advances, and he has his way with her anyway. Either way, the result was the same, Athena was angry and changed Medusa into the snake-haired woman we know today.
For more on Medusa, you can check out my earlier blog post here.
No matter the myths surrounding Athena, she is entwined with both femininity and strength, and in my mind stands for equality of the sexes much more than any other god or goddess on Olympus. She is unapologetically analytical, weighing both sides of the argument without allowing emotion to bleed into her mind.
She is customarily portrayed wearing body armor and a helmet, carrying a lance and shield, and is always shown clothed, never vulnerable. As the protectress of heroes, she was the first approached for good council and was thought to provide wise and sage advice by both men and women. It is believed that she invented every kind of work in which women were employed, and she, herself, passed on what she knew to all who wished to learn it. She encouraged agriculture and industry, and while known as the goddess of warcraft, spend most of her attention teaching humankind how to make the best decisions to keep them out of battles.
While it seems that she was blocked off from the passion of love, or from knowing matrimonial connection, I believe that Athena more likely kept her heart private, and her passions focused on the happiness of her people. I believe that the Athena I’m getting to know will find her HEA one day, but in the meantime, I am happy that she’s willing to show us all that there is nothing we can’t achieve…even peace.
Resources to check out:
Images on Pixabay.com: https://pixabay.com/
For more of my posts on Mythical Creatures, Goddesses & Witchcraft, head here: https://dahenneman.com/welcome/about/mythicalcreaturemonday-posts/