Tales of Athena

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Athena and MarsAthena is best known for being the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. Unlike her half brother Ares, she represented courage and strength in battle and also excelled in the more strategic forms of warfare. Though she is usually shown dressed in full body armor, Athena was generally open to finding peaceful solutions to the world's many conflicts.

Athena also ruled over all aspects of handicrafts, and was especially revered for the beautifully woven patterns that were skillfully produced upon her loom. She was the patron goddess of artisans and craftsmen, and was also credited with inventing both the plow and the earthenware pot.

The goddess is often found in the company of her mascot, a wise old owl, which for centuries has stood to represent wisdom and intellectual thought. Like her half sister Artemis, Athena also chose to avoid contact with men and lived a life of celibacy.

Athena was one of the most popular members of the Greek pantheon and is commonly found in many of the ancient tales. Below you will find some of my favorites.

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The Birth of Athena

CronusMetis was the Titan goddess of wisdom and cunning thought. She was the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, and is often considered to be the earliest wife of her cousin Zeus. During the time when Cronus reigned as king, it was prophesied to him that he, like his father Uranus would meet his demise at the hands of one of his children. In order to prevent the prophecy from coming true, Cronus took to swallowing each child as soon as it was born.

Growing tired of this, Rhea, the wife of Cronus, decided to outsmart her husband. After giving birth to her youngest son Zeus, the distraught mother hid the baby safely away on the island of Crete. She then placed a child-sized stone in a tightly wrapped blanket and gave it to Cronus to swallow.

Under the care of the goat nymph Amalthea, Zeus quickly grew to manhood. When he was fit and strong, the young god departed Crete and set out to conquer his father.

In order to help Zeus achieve his goal, Metis prepared a magical potion for Cronus to drink. The concoction was so bitter tasting that the Titan instantly vomited up all of the children that he held inside of his stomach; Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter, and Hestia. The newly freed siblings all joined forces with their brother Zeus, and together put an end to Cronus' reign of tyranny.

Once Zeus became king he decided that it would be most beneficial to have Metis as his wife. Her unparalleled intelligence combined with her shrewd way of thinking could only prove to be advantageous to him. Metis tried to avoid the god's advances by changing herself into a variety of different shapes and forms, but Zeus' unrelenting persistence ultimately paid off and the tired goddess reluctantly gave in to his demands.

The Birth of AthenaIt was not long before Metis found herself to be with child. While the rest of the gods were whispering amongst themselves, Mother Earth stepped forward and informed Zeus that though Metis was currently carrying a daughter inside of her womb, there would come a time when she would bring forth a son destined to become more powerful than his father.

Not wanting to meet the same fate as Cronus, Zeus grabbed hold of his unsuspecting wife and slyly swallowed her up. Both Metis and her unborn child continued to live on inside of the god, until Zeus found himself plagued with a violent headache. In the midst of his cries of agony, the god called out to Hephaestus and commanded him to split his head wide open with a heavy axe.

Obeying the order, Hephaestus swung the mighty blade and POP! Out sprung the goddess Athena, fully grown and dressed in the finest of golden armor. She would be eternally known as Zeus' favorite daughter, and the only one besides the god himself capable of carrying the divine thunderbolts.

As for Metis, she remained safely tucked away inside of the god. Though she never had the chance to bear any more of his children, it is said that she was often heard quietly whispering advice to her inquisitive husband.

spider in web

The Tale Of Arachne

ArachneArachne was a young peasant girl who was renowned for being an expert in the art of spinning and weaving. So lovely were her wares that people journeyed from all parts of the ancient world just to watch her create beautiful tapestries upon her loom.

One day as a crowd of spectators attentively observed the maiden at work, an admirer loudly voiced that Arachne's skills were so precise they could only be eclipsed by the goddess Athena herself.

Arachne scoffed at the notion, and with a toss of her head emphatically proclaimed that she could easily defeat anyone in a weaving contest, even Athena. It did not take long before the news of Arachne's boastful remarks reached Mount Olympus and the ears of the goddess.

Assuming the shape of an old woman, the indignant goddess flew to Lydia where she paid her unsuspecting rival a visit. As she stood masked and unrecognized among the circle of onlookers, Athena sternly cautioned the foolish young girl on the dangers of being a braggart.

When Arachne indignantly dismissed the crone's warning, Athena cast aside her disguise and revealed her true identity to the prideful maiden. "Now we shall see who is the better craftsman, for I challenge you to a contest of skill. The winner shall be honored, while the loser concurs to weave no more" the goddess declared and promptly took her place before the loom.

Athene and ArachneAthena gracefully entwined the colorful threads into a prophetic scene depicting mortals being duly punished for their defamatory actions against the gods.

For her offering, Arachne chose to create a tapestry detailing some of the more scandalous moments in the lives of the Olympians.

When the competition was over, Arachne proudly stood before her loom. Seeing that the young mortal's work was indeed equal to her own, Athena flew into a rage and savagely tore the contemptuous tapestry to shreds. She then picked up the shuttle and destroyed the loom before mercilessly turning on Arachne herself.

Unable to cope with her feelings of disgrace and embarrassment, Arachne decided to hang herself. At the last moment, Athena stepped in and transformed her rival into a spider, thus condemning Arachne and her descendants to spend their lives spinning webs and weaving beautiful patterns in the moonlight.

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Athena and The Birth Of Erichthonius

King Erichthonius was one of the earliest rulers of the city of Athens. I have always found the story of his birth to be both curious and delightful. I hope you feel the same.

Athena and HephaestusOne day during the time of the Trojan War, the goddess Athena found herself to be in need of a new set of arms. It was customary for Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods to fashion the divine weapons used by the Olympians, so the goddess set out to visit him at his smithy on the isle of Lemnos.

When Poseidon heard what Athena had in mind, he decided to have a bit of fun with the unsuspecting pair. In order to set his plan into motion, the sea god hurried off to Lemnos, making sure to arrive just ahead of the approaching goddess. Finding Hephaestus busy working at his forge, Poseidon mischievously informed him that Athena was on her way with love in her heart.

Overjoyed by Poseidon's news, Hephaestus enthusiastically fashioned Athena's new weapons, but when it came time for her pay him for his services, the blacksmith refused. Instead, he sincerely proclaimed that he would rather accept her unremitting love over any sum of gold that she could offer.

He then lunged at the goddess and tried to have his way with her right there in the workshop. Athena quickly pulled herself from his grasp but not before a bit of his seed was accidently spilled upon her leg. Appalled by Hephaestus' heinous behavior, Athena carefully wiped her thigh clean with a piece of wool and tossed it to the ground in disgust.

The Discovery of ErichthoniusThe discarded fragment landed near the city of Athens and caused Gaia to become pregnant. Wanting nothing to do with the child, the earth mother promptly handed him over to Athena, whom she blamed for the whole sordid ordeal. The goddess had no other choice but to take possession of the boy, whom she called Erichthonius.

Because Athena wanted to keep the infant's birth a secret from Poseidon, she placed him inside of a sacred basket and gave him to Aglauros the Younger, a daughter of King Cecrops of Athens for safe keeping. Since Erichthonius sprung forth wholly from Gaia, he was considered to be autochthonous, or "self born of the earth."

Like many of Gaia's children, Erichthonius was born as a hybrid creature, bearing both the body parts of a man and a serpent. Because King Cecrops, also a son of the earth mother, shared the same deformity as Erichthonius, he was often rumored to be the boy's true father.

Aglauros was sworn to secrecy. Athena instructed the princess to guard the basket with her life but under no circumstances was she to ever look inside. One day after returning home from a festival in honor of the goddess, Aglauros the Elder, the wife of Cecrops and her two daughters Pandrosos and Herse happened to come across the mysterious container.

Curious as to what Aglauros the Younger was trying so hard to conceal, the inquisitive group carefully removed the knotted straps and peeked underneath the lid. To their surprise, they found Erichthonius, who instead of legs sported the long tail of a serpent. Aghast at the sight of the child, the three women panicked and hurled themselves over the walls of the Acropolis.

There is another account that claims it was actually Aglauros the Younger and her sister Herse that defied Athena by looking inside of the basket. According to this version the two sisters went insane after discovering Erichthonius and committed suicide by jumping over the fortress walls.

A crow who had been present to witness the event flew off to where Athena was busy gathering large rocks needed to strengthen the Acropolis. When he told her the unhappy news, the goddess was so upset she dropped the stone she was carrying, subsequently creating Mount Lycabettus. As a punishment to the crow for being the bearer of bad tidings, Athena turned his snow white feathers to black and forbade him from ever returning to the Acropolis.

As for Erichthnoius, Athena placed him behind her aegis and raised him as if he were her own child. He later became king of Athens and was credited for instituting the Panathenaic Festival and for placing the the wooden statue of Athena on the Acropolis.

Erichthonious loved to partake in chariot races and was the first to introduce the four horse chariot to the people of Greece. It is for this reason that some accounts state it was he, not Myrtilus that Zeus placed among the stars as the constellation Aurgia, the Charioteer.

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Athena and The Contest For Attica

Dispute Over AthensMany years ago when the city of Athens sat nameless upon the Plain of Attica, the god Poseidon decided to claim the region as his very own. This caused a great dissension between himself and the goddess Athena, who also wished to adopt the territory as her principal place of worship.

In order to avoid an all out battle between the two, it was decided that each contender would offer a gift to the city, and the one that produced the most useful item would be awarded sovereignty over the land.

Poseidon started off the competition. Confident that his efforts would well exceed those of his rival, he forcefully thrust his trident into the ground causing a salt water stream to rise to the surface. Like in many of the ancient tales there is another version which states that Poseidon created the first horse as his offering to the people of Attica.

It was now Athena's turn to prove herself the better of the two hopefuls. As Poseidon looked on, the goddess lightly tapped the tip of her spear against the earth, producing an olive tree which she promptly planted beside the well of salt water.

The remaining ten Olympians cast their votes, but as one may suspect the gods unanimously sided with Poseidon while the goddesses all chose Athena as the victor. To settle the tie, Zeus called upon Cecrops, the reigning king of Attica to act as arbitrator.

After giving the matter a bit of thought, Cecrops determined that Athena supplied the more useful gift and awarded the city, known from that day forward as Athens, to her. Bitter over the outcome of the contest, Poseidon sent a massive flood to devastate the surrounding countryside. In order to appease the angry god, the right to vote was taken away from the women of Attica, and that is why females were barred from voting in ancient Athens.

It is said that both the marks from Poseidon's trident and Athena's olive tree could be seen in the vicinity of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis. This shrine dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon is also said to be the burial place of Kings Cecrops as well as King Erechtheus.

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Pallas Athena

Pallas AtheneOne of the more curious aspects of the goddess Athena involves the name Pallas. Throughout the mythological stories Athena is often referred to as Pallas Athena, but why? There seems to be no definitive answer to that question. Only puzzling fragments remain leaving the reader to draw on their own conclusions.

The most common version centers around the demigod Triton and his daughter Pallas. It seems that after Athena sprung from the head of Zeus, she was placed in the care of Triton and raised along side of the young Pallas. This in itself is a mystery, for if Athena entered into the world as a grown woman, why would she be in need of a guardian?

One morning while practicing fighting maneuvers on the beach, the two girls got into a minor disagreement. When Zeus saw that Pallas was about to strike Athena, he came to his daughter's rescue by placing the aegis between them.

When Pallas became distracted, Athena quickly dealt her a tremendous blow, which accidently robbed the young girl of her life. Athena was so overcome with grief that she fashioned a wooden image of her dear friend and carried it with her up to Olympus. In order to pay honor to her deceased companion she also incorporated the name Pallas into her own.

The epithet Pallas can also be traced back to the Gigantomachy or the war of the gods and giants. It is said that after killing a giant known as Pallas, Athena removed his firm skin and fashioned it into a shield. The name Pallas is often included among the many victims suspected of involuntarily donating their skin towards the making of the aegis.

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The Palladium

Theft of the PalladiumI thought I would include a brief explanation of the small wooden statuette known throughout the ancient world as the Palladium. Arcane in nature, the Palladium, also known as the Palladion was said to have been fashioned by the hands of the goddess Athena as a memorial to her deceased companion Pallas.

In the ancient world "palladia" was a word used to describe divinely made objects that were believed to have fallen directly from the heavens. The Palladium was approximately four and a half feet tall and resembled the goddess Athena in form. The right hand supported a spear to illustrate the warrior aspect of the goddess, while the left bore a distaff and spindle, to conjointly depict her rule over textiles and handicrafts.

Athena then carried the image off to Olympus where it was honorably placed beside a statue of Zeus. It came to be that the amorous god desired the affections of the Pleiad Electra, but the indifferent maiden repeatedly spurned all of his advances. When it became apparent that the god would not take no for an answer, Electra cowered before the Palladium and begged for sanctuary.

The god became so enraged that he grabbed hold of the idol and cast it over the palace walls. The statue descended swiftly through the heavens until finally touching down inside of the city of Troy.

During the time of the Trojan War, the seer Helenus was taken prisoner by the Greeks. While in captivity, he assuredly prophesied that Troy would never fall as long as the Palladium rested safely behind her great walls.

It was this statement that prompted Odysseus and Diomedes to slither into the city, and with the help of Helen carried off the sacred image. There are many variants to the story of the Palladium after the completion of the Trojan War. Some say that Diomedes brought the statue with him when he returned home to Argos.

In another account, as the ships of Diomedes dropped anchor for the night at the port of Phalerum, the troops of King Demophon of Athens mistook the Argives for hostile strangers and killed many of the men on board. They then gathered up the Palladium and brought it into Athens where it gave its name to one of the Athenian law courts.

There is also another version, far different than any of those told by the Greeks. According to the Romans, the Greeks had in their possession a mere copy of the Palladium, while the true image remained behind at Troy. After the fall of the city, the statue was rescued by Aeneas and brought back to Rome where it was placed inside of the temple of Vesta.

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