A to Z Challenge Folklore

Accomplished Athena #folklore #AtoZChallenge

A is for Athena

I’m doing folklore and book review posts to reach and please a larger audience. Previous years have shown select interest in both and to minimise blogging throughout the year, I’m focusing my efforts on April.

If you’d rather check out my book review for today, go here.

Learn more about the challenge here.

Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom, spinning, weaving, and war – among other things. She’s quite accomplished. So let’s take a closer look.

Athena. Image credit.


Myths of Greece and Rome, by Jane Harrison, [1928]


Next after Zeus himself in Olympian precedence comes Athena, the Grey-Eyed, the Ægis-bearer. She is, in very special fashion, the daughter of Zeus; she is a motherless child, she sprang full-grown, full-armed, from the brain of her Father. This fact is never stated either in the Iliad or the Odyssey, though the relations between Zeus and Athena are always specially close, but the miraculous birth is the subject of one of the Homeric Hymns, a hymn of such splendour and, moreover, so instructive that it must be quoted in full:

“Pallas Athene, glorious goddess, now will I sing.
Sea-grey eyes, ready mind, heart to remember a thing,
Worshipful maid, Ward of the City, valiant in war;
Tritogeneia, daughter of Zeus the Counsellor,
Born from his sacred head, in battle-array ready dight,
Golden, all glistering. Fear took hold of them all at the sight–
Them, the Immortals; but she, before Zeus of the Ægis-shield,
Burst and flashed and leaped in birth from the deathless head,
Shaking a sharp-edged spear. And high Olympus reeled
At the wrath in the sea-grey eyes, and Earth on every side
Rang with a terrible cry, and the deep was disquieted
With the tumult of purple waves and outpouring of the tide.
Suddenly, and in heaven, Hyperion’s bright son stayed
His galloping steeds for a space–long, long it seemed, till the maid
Took from immortal shoulders the godlike armour they had,
Pallas, our Lady of Athens. And the counsellor Zeus was glad.
Then hail thou thus, to whom, with the Father, the shield belongs;
But I will make mention of thee yet again in my holy songs.”

The east pediment of the Parthenon, the sculptures of which that remain are now in the British Museum, is but the Homeric Hymn to Athena translated into stone. Helios, with his four-horse chariot, is just emerging at dawn, beating up against the figure of the mountain god Olympus. Close to Olympus are seated the two Horæ, who guard the gates of heaven. In the opposite angle are seated Gaia and Thalassa, Earth and Sea, half-rising from their seats in amazement at the wonder before them, while Selene, the Moon, riding her horse, sinks below the horizon. The whole scene is conceived as an event of cosmic importance.

Magnificent though the Hymn is, it somehow leaves us cold. It has the impress of theological intent, of a desire to lift the goddess from humbler beginnings to the empyrean. If we examine the name of Athena, we shall, perhaps, be able to paint a picture soberer in colouring but nearer to the facts. The longer form of Athena’s name, Athenaia, is simply a feminine adjective, she-of-Athens, the maiden of Athens. The Hymn addresses her as “Pallas, our Lady of Athens.” This other name, Pallas, simply means virgin. If the claim of Hera to maidenhood is shadowy, it is not so with Athena. She is maiden through and through, and her temple is rightly called the maiden-sanctuary, the Parthenon. But this maiden is essentially of Athens; she could not have been reared in any other city.

Plato, in the Laws, says plainly that Athenaia is but the local Korê, or maiden, the incarnation of Athens. But, naturally, after the fashion of his day he inverts cause and effect. Speaking of the armed Athena, he says: “And methinks our Korê, our mistress, who dwells among us, joying herself in the sport of dancing, was not minded to play with empty hands, but adorned her with her panoply, and thus accomplished her dance; and it is fitting that in this our youths and maidens should imitate her.” It was, of course, in reality, just the other way round; it was the goddess who imitated, whose image was projected by her youths and maidens, she who was the very incarnation of their life and being, dancing as they danced, fighting as they fought, born of her Father’s head when they were reborn as the children of light and reason.

The figure of Athena cannot well have been fashioned before the Homeric poems came from Ionia to Athens, there to be remodelled and recomposed. The rising democracy took the ancient figure of the local Korê and set her as rival and counterpoise to Poseidon, the old god of the aristocracy, whose fortunes we shall follow later. In altering and, so to speak, theorizing her, they robbed her of much of her reality and beauty; they made her a sexless thing, they forgot that

“A woman, armed, makes war upon herself,
Unwomanlike, and treads down use and wont
And the sweet, common honour that she hath,
Love, and the cry of children, and the hand
Trothplight and mutual mouth of marriages.”

The figure of Athena is charged, overcharged, with intended significance, yet, somehow, she never quite convinces us; she remains to the end manufactured, as a person unreal. We come nearest to understanding her if we steadily remember that she is, in fact, the Tychè, the Fortune of the city, and the real object of the worship of the citizens was not a goddess, but the city herself “immortal mistress of a band of lovers”:

“The grace of a tower that hath on it for crown,
  But a headband to wear
  Of violets one-hued with her hair,
For the vales and the green, high places of earth hold nothing so fair;
And the depths of the sea know no such birth of the manifold births they bear.”

a city

“Based on a crystalline sea
 Of thought and its eternity.”

As Professor Gilbert Murray has fitly said: “Athena is an ideal and a mystery: the ideal of wisdom, of incessant labour, of almost terrifying purity, seen through the light of some mystic and spiritual devotion like, but transcending, the love of man for woman.”

Some little scraps of home-grown moss still, happily, cling about the figure of Athena. She has her ancient snake crouching beneath her shield. This snake was the primeval earth-born guardian of the city, and probably the goddess herself was at first imaged as a snake. Herodotus tells us that, when the Persians besieged the citadel, the guardian snake left the honey-cake, its monthly sacrificial food, untouched, and when the priestess told this the Athenians the more readily forsook their city, inasmuch as it seemed that the goddess had really abandoned the citadel.

Then, too, the primitive Athenian Korê or maiden had her olive-tree:

“The holy bloom of the olive, whose hoar-leaf
 High in the shadowy shrine of Pandrosus
 Hath honour of us all.”

Pausanias again tells us that the goddess, as token of her power, produced the olive-tree at the time of her contest with Poseidon, and, he adds, “there is a story that when the Persians set fire to the city of the Athenians the tree was burnt to the ground, and that after it had been burnt down, it sprang up, and in one day grew up as much as two cubits.” Long before Swinburne wrote his Erectheus, Sophocles made his chorus in the Œdipus at Colonus chant the glory of Athena’s olive:

“And this country for filer own has what no Asian land has known,
Nor ever yet, in the great Dorian Pelops island, has it grown;
The untended, the self-planted, self-defended from the foe,
Sea-grey, children-nurturing olive-tree that here delights to grow.
None may take, nor touch, nor harm it, headstrong young nor age grown bold,
For the Round of Morian Zeus had been its watcher from of old;
He beholds it and Athena, thine own sea-grey eyes behold.”

And, last, Athena had her owl, that little owl whom, if to-day you climb the Acropolis by moonlight, you may still hear hooting in the ruined Parthenon. The goddess herself bore the title Glaukopis, Owl-Eyed, and on her coins, current through the whole of civilized Greece, was stamped the image of her owl. When Athena rose to be the goddess of Light and Reason, the little old owl stopped hunting mice in the Parthenon, and mounted with Athena to be her Bird of Wisdom.

Athena. Image credit.

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson

Athena (in Latin, Minerva), the goddess of wisdom. (‘Only when the dusk starts to fall does the owl of Minerva spread its wings and fly,’ wrote Hegel, suggesting that wisdom comes late in the day if it comes at all.)

*Read more in the book.

Athena. Image credit.

Encyclopedia of Wicca and Witchcraft by Raven Grimassi

OLIVE TREE (Olea europaea) is a sacred tree in southern European paganism and witchcraft. In Aegean/Mediterranean mythology Athena/ Minerva created the olive tree in a competition against Poseidon for mastery of an important seaport (Athens). Therefore the olive tree was considered sacred to Athena/Minerva. As a sacred item, olive oil was used as a fuel for temple lamps.

Owls appear with goddesses of wisdom in many cultures. In southern Europe the owl is sacred to Athena/Minerva and in northern Europe it is sacred to Blodeuwedd. In Greek mythology Athena invented earthenware, along with spinning and weaving.

MINERVA is the goddess of wisdom. In ancient times her cult animal was the owl. According to her myth Minerva issued forth from the head of Jupiter. In her earliest forms Minerva presided over spinning, weaving, and needlework. Later she presided over agriculture and navigation as well. She was also known as a goddess of war, but of defense instead of aggression. In all myths concerning Minerva she was a fierce protector of her own chastity.

*Read more in the book.

Athena. Image credit.

Further Reading:

Athena. Image credit.

Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel

Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom. In Roman mythology, she is known as Minerva. As both, she is the daughter of Zeus/Jupiter and had sprung forth from his mind. Her sacred animal is the owl. As a goddess of battle strategy, she is known as a fierce protector instead of the aggressor. Her brother Ares is the one to run in hot into battle.

But Athena is also the one who invented spinning, needlework, weaving and earthenware. And, of course, the olive tree when she had a competition with Poseidon to decide to whom the city Athens would belong – Poseidon created the horse, which is quite awesome in its own right. I like olives and olive oil well enough, but I love horses to distraction, so if I were the judge of that competition, Athens would have had a different name altogether with a different winner.

Athena is also known as a maiden goddess, meaning that she protected her virtue as well – if not better – than her city. She also has quite the temper. At one point, a young woman claimed to be a better weaver than even Athena. So the two had a competition and the young woman, Arachne, won. Athena got so angry, she turned the girl into a spider.

It’s probably better to not get on the bad side of the warrior goddess.

Athena. Image credit.

Athena in Modern Culture

Percy Jackson book series by Rick Riordon

I once warned you, Percy Jackson, that to save a friend you would destroy the world. Perhaps I was mistaken. You seemed to have saved both your friends and the world.

Athena, talking to Percy on Olympus, in The Last Olympian.
Athena. Image credit.

Athena is the Greek virgin goddess of wisdom, civilization, mathematics, strategy, defensive warfare, crafts, the arts, and skills and intelligence and brilliance. She is often portrayed as a companion of heroes and is the patron of heroic endeavor. Her Roman counterpart is Minerva.

Read more on riordan.fandom

Xena: Warrior Princess TV series

Athena is the Goddess of wisdom, warfare, and weaving. She first appeared in the episode Amphipolis Under Siege. Her final appearance was Motherhood.
Athena is the goddess of wisdom and warfare. Because of that she has a very strong look to her, even if she isn’t very tall. She dresses in very important looking gold clothes and armor with a Medusa’s head design right under her chest plate. She also always seems to know what she’s doing and has control of what is going on. She is the wisest, and most level headed of the gods, but can get off focus and let her emotions get in the way. She is sort of the opposite of her brother, Ares, and stands for everything he doesn’t. She is usually noble and a fair fighter, unless she is desperate enough to go against that. She is also kind of a feminist, and has a group of female archers as her main squad. Her archers dress mostly like Athena except that their clothes are silver instead of gold. Her best archer and fighter is Ilainus, who was her favorite mortal and possible lover.
Athena was a very respected goddess in Amphipolis, until she lead her army after Xena there to kill her daughter, Eve and stop the twilight of the gods. The Amphipolitans stood with Xena against Athena to protect her baby. Ares, who had a thing for Xena and a thing against Athena, also helped protect Amphipolis from Athena. Xena and Gabrielle lead the fight against Athena’s army, and won when Xena killed Ilainus.

Read more here.
Athena. Image credit.

God of War video game

Athena is a major character in the action-adventure fantasy video game series God of War, appearing as the deuteragonist of the Greek Era and a cameo antagonist in the 2018 video game God of War.

Learn more here.
Athena as a spirit in God of War. Image credit.

Athena in My Writing

Origin of the Fae: Athena

Athena is the goddess of battle strategy, mathematics, weaving and more. She enjoys a good game of Rummikub or chess. She hasn’t been as active as other immortals in the mortal realm, rather spending her time at the various rest homes for immortals sharpening her board game strategies.

See her in action:

Origin of Irascible Immortals (Origin of the Fae #7)

What do you think of Athena? Where did you hear about her for the first time? Any folklore about Athena you’d like to share? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.

You can now support my time in producing folklore posts (researching, writing and everything else involved) by buying me a coffee. This can be a once-off thing, or you can buy me coffee again in the future at your discretion.

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image credit https://pixabay.com/illustrations/ai-generated-fairy-wings-magic-8121013/

No-one writes about the fae like Ronel Janse van Vuuren.

60 thoughts on “Accomplished Athena #folklore #AtoZChallenge”

  1. I can see I am going to learn a lot of new things by reading your posts but I did recall a one day visit to Athens off a ship and also sighting the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. Thanks for filling in the (large) gaps.

  2. Crikey, that’s even longer than my posts 🙂
    I’m a fan of Athena. It’s also very useful to have a working knowledge of her for quiz questions. 🙂
    Full marks for detail, Ronel!

  3. Your research, interpretations, presentation and writing is comprehensive and a fascinating read. Much about Athena to learn…ie…goddess of arts and crafts. I’m a spinner and weaver and now will look to Athena for inspiration. Thanks for your visit to ‘A Dig Artist’s Diary’…I left a reply to your comment.

  4. Isn’t it interesting that Athena is both the goddess of math and crafts? The analytical and the creative? Usually seen as two different sides of the brain, both coming together in her. I believe that my first introduction to her was in 9th grade, reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology in my Ancient History class. Stopping by from Blogging A to Z Challenge.

  5. I didn’t know many of these things about Athena. For example, I had no idea about her origin. Thanks for sharing such extensive information!

  6. Athena – and her owls – always held a fascination for me. I first found her in the Odyssey, read as a bored child on family visits – the book belonged to an uncle and it lasted me a year or more of visits. Thanks for broadening my knowledge of her.

  7. Super post! I remember being swept away as a child in an obsessive fascinating with Greek mythology, so that was my first intro to Athena. I was given a spoon with an owl on the handle and I considered it the most fabulous treasure.

  8. A fascinating post about subject matter quite unknown to me. Though I was familiar with all the Percy Jackson stories having read them with my young grandson a few years ago. Thank you for sharing this, extraordinary illustrations chosen to accompany your writings.

  9. Athena is one of my fave goddesses because of her association with needlework. Beware anyone who has the patience to stab something 1,000 times.

    And thanks for visiting my blog (ErinPenn.com).

  10. Years ago I loved reading Greek mythology. I remember going to the library and taking out books on the subject. Athena is pretty cool, but I sure wouldn’t want to compete against her. She got me interested in owls. They really are beautiful creatures.

  11. I read both of your posts for todays challenge. I have had multiple entries in previous challenges, but this year I am just sticking to one theme, movies. BTW thanks for stopping by today and commenting. Regarding the folklore post, I liked learning more about Athena. I also liked the folklore in a nutshell section. The TBR post was just a little too dense for me. I get you are using at as a reference point for you, but I was a little overwhelmed by all the content. I shouldn’t talk as I recently posted 71 song links on one post, but that was because it was one of my favorite artists’ 71st birthday.

  12. G’day Ronel,
    Think I might check out your posts here as a post on just one topic is easier to read than your TBR post. I have certainly learnt a lot more about Athena after reading this post.

  13. Wow! Ronel – just wow! I sometimes think my posts are long, but this is a marathon – not just the writing, but the curating of images!
    Everything you ever wanted to know about Athena but never dared to ask – because let’s face it she was a bit scary.
    I’m not sure wisdom, weaving, spinning and war should appear in the same sentence, let alone be embodied in one goddess…

  14. Interesting read, there’s a photographer I follow on TT that uses mythological women as inspiration for her portraits… now I understand so much more about the props she uses…

  15. Thanks for visiting my blog.. finally getting back to commenting and responding..
    Wowed by the in-depth nature of your blog – the details and the research in it.. I love reading about mythology and am sure that I will be back for more on your blog..
    Loved the story of the spider (and arachnids makes sense ….)

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