Back in time when Greece was making its mark in history as one of the great civilizations of the Ancient World, there was a great deal of emphasis on the Gods and Goddesses. To the Greeks the world was governed by the Gods and they were the reason many things happened in the world, mostly thing that where unexplainable. The goddess Athena was one of the many gods or goddesses that played a large role in Greek mythology. Even though Athena was the patron saint of Athens she supported other Greeks outside of Athens, such as, Achilles, Orestes, and especially Odysseus (“Athena”-1). Athena is known to be the goddess of war, guardian of cities, patroness of arts and crafts, and promoter of wisdom.
Athena’s name actually came from the Cretan and Mycenean name Athene which predates the Greeks by about 1,500 years (Daly-20). The ending ‘-ene,’ was set aside for royalty and goddesses, like Helene. She was also called by some Greeks as Pallas Athena. Not many people know where the name Pallas came from. Some legends say she obtained it from the giant Pallas that she killed in the war of the gods and giants. Another legend says that Athena accidentally killed her childhood playmate Pallas. By taking Pallas’ in front of her own, Athena shows the grief that she endured for the loss of her friend (Daly-20). Athena had such an impact on the Greeks that the Romans adopted her and called her Minerva. The origins of Athena’s name are not the only discrepancy that historians have had. The origin of where Athena came from is also a discrepancy. Zeus feared that he would be overcome by a son greater than he born from the intelligent Metis. To prevent this Zeus ate Metis. There for, Athena, in the most common legend, was born fully grown out of Zeus’s head after Hephaestus split it open with an ax. Another legend, this one form Crete, says Athena was hidden in a cloud. Zeus hit his head on the cloud and caused Athena to appear (Daly-20). Out of all the cities that Athena helped and protected Athens claimed her as their own. The Atheans believed that the first king of Athens, Erichthonius, was a descendant of Athena (Daly-20). Even though Poseidon was greedy of earthy kingdoms, he challenged Athena for the city. The both of them appeared before the court of gods and goddess to make a judgment. Poseidon presented water to be of use to the Atheans. But the water was salty. Athena presented the olive tree which gave fruit, oil and wood. The court judged that this was a more beneficial gift and let Athena have the city (Daly-100). To show their homage, the Atheans, built the Parthenon. The word Parthenon means virgin’s place, for Athena was a virgin goddess (“Parthenon”-1). The east side of the building showed the birth of Athena and the west side showed the contest with Poseidon (“Athena”-1). Atheans, on the other hand, were not the only people Athena favored. According to Homer the Greeks were greatly benefited when Athena came down from the heavens and stopped Achilles of Phthia from killing Agamemnon. Achilles protested but Athena replied: Down from the skies I come to check your rage if only you would yield…Stop this fighting, now…Don’t lay hand to sword…I know it is the truth-one day glittering gifts will lie before you, three times over to pay for all his outrage. Hold pack now. Obey… Even though Athena was the patroness of war she also had compassion for the Greeks. Athena knew if Achilles had killed Agamemnon that would certainly mean defeat for the Greeks. Athena was ruthless, manipulative, savage, and found delight in Trojan blood (“Athena, daughter of Zues”-1). Athena also is credited with helping a young man that was on trial in Athens for killing his mother. This young man was Orestes and his mother Clytemnestra, both form Argos. Athena having no mother had more compassion for the male figure than female. She considered the crimes of Clytemnestra (killing her husband, Agamemnon) more punishable than Orestes crime. Aeschylus seems to sum it up in Athena’s speech to the court in The Oresteia. “The Eumenides.” …No mother gave me birth. I honor the male, in all things but marriage. Yes, with all my heart I am my Father’s child. I cannot set more store by the women’s death-she killed her husband, guardian of their house…(644) With this trial Athena presented a new form of justice, trial by jury. The jury had voted equally but Athena broke the deadlock with an innocent vote setting Orestes free. But of all the people Athena helped, Odysseus was the Greek that she liked the most. According to Kathleen Daly, author of Greek and Roman Mythology A-Z, Athena displays her “unique intellectual qualities” the best in Homer’s Odyssey. If it was not for her help and guidance Odysseus would have never reached his beloved Ithaka. With all the phenomenon’s that were unexplainable in the ancient world; mythology was able to shed some light on the subject. By today’s standards these mythological explanations seem a little farfetched. But for the time, accomplishments and triumphs that many Greeks made where do to the help of the gods like the wise Athena. She saved Greece from being defeated by holding back the anger of Achilles. A new form of government was established thanks to Athena’s idea of trial by jury which allowed Orestes to go free. She also helped the mighty Odysseus find his path home. In respect, Athena was a goddess that was for all of Greece not just a single city. This made her one of the more favorable goddess and for this she was paid much homage.
Aeschylus. The Eumendies. Vol I of The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Ed. Maynard Mack, et al. 6th Ed. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 1985: 1991.
Athena, daughter of Zeus 10 Aug. 2010.
Daly, Kathleen N. Greek and Roman Mythology A-Z. New York, NY. Facts on File, Inc., 1992.
Athena. Greek Mythology 05 Aug. 2010:
Parthenon. HistoryChannel.com. 10 Aug. 2010