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Athena ("protectress" - also transliterated Athene), associated by the Romans with their goddess Minerva (Etruscan equivalent: Menrva), was born of one of the many liaisons of Zeus with the goddesses of Mount Olympus. She was associated with owls, the aegis and the goddess Nike, her constant companion.
Athena is usually portrayed wearing full armor and a shield, and carrying a lance. It is in this posture that she was depicted in Phidias's famous golden statue of her, now lost to history, in the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis. Athena is also often depicted with an owl (a symbol of wisdom) sitting on one of her shoulders.
It is interesting to note that while Homer's epithet for Athena is usually translated "owl-eyed", is can also be translated as "grey-eyed" or "wise-eyed".
Athena was often associated with the local Aeginian goddess, Aphaea. She had the epithet "Athena Ergane" as the patron of craftsmen and artisans. She was often referred to with the epithet "Athena Pallas". Pallas was also a different god, sometimes thought of as Athena's father. Pallas tried to rape her in one story. She killed him and turned his skin into the aegis. With the epithet "Athena Parthenos" ("virgin"), Athena was worshipped at the Parthenon. With the epithet "Athena Polias" ("of the city"), Athena was the protectress of Athens and the Acropolis.
Zeus lay with Metis, the goddess of thought, but immediately feared the consequences. It had been prophesied that Metis would bear children more powerful than Zeus himself. In order to forestall these dire consequences, Zeus transformed Metis into a fly and swallowed her immediately after lying with her. He was already too late: Metis immediately conceived a child. Metis immediately began making a helmet and robe for her fetal daughter. The hammering as she made the helmet caused Zeus great pain and Prometheus, Hephaestus, Hermes or Palamoan[?] (depending on the sources examined) cleaved Zeus's head with an axe at the river Triton. Athena leaped from Zeus's head, fully grown, armed, and armored, and Zeus was none the worse for the experience.
Athena was patron of the crafts, wisdom and battle. Unlike Ares, who was hot-headed in battle (as well as cowardly), Athena's domain was strategy and tactics. She took the side of the Greeks in the war against Troy. Following the Trojan War, Athena assisted Odysseus on his journey home (Odysseus had angered Poseidon, god of the sea, by blinding his son, Polyphemus, the Cyclops).
According to Apollodorus, Hephaestus attempted to rape Athena but was unsuccesful. His semen fell on the ground, impregnating athene. Athene didn't want the infant Erichthonius, so she gave the baby to Gia. Alternatively, Hephaestus wanted Athena to marry him but she disappeared on his bridal bed; he ejaculated onto the ground instead. Athena gave three sisters, Herse, Pandrosus and Aglaulus the baby in a small box and warned them to never open it. Aglaulus and Herse opened the box which contained the infant and future-king, Erichthonius. The sight caused Herse and Aglaulus to go insane and they threw themselves off the Acropolis.
An alternative version of the same story is that, while Athena was gone bring a mountain from Pallena[?] to use in the Acropolis, the sisters, minus Pandrosus again, opened the box. A crow witnessed the opening and flew away to tell Athena, who fell into a rage and dropped the mountain (now Mt. Lykabettos). Once again, Herse and Aglaulus went insane and threw themselves to their deaths off a cliff.
Erichthonius later became King of Athens and implemented many beneficial changes to Athenian culture. During this time, Athena frequently protected him.
Athena became the patron goddess of the city of Athens, in a competition with Poseidon. They agreed that each would give the Athenians one gift and the Athenians would choose whichever gift they preferred. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and a spring sprung up; the water was salty and not very useful, whereas Athena offered them an olive tree. The Athenians (or their king, Cecrops)accepted the olive tree and along with it Athena as their patron, for the olive tree brought wood, oil and food. This is thought to remember a clash between the inhabitants during Mycenaean times and newer immigrants. It is interesting to note that Athens at its height was a significant sea power, at one point defeating the Persian fleet at Salamis Island in a sea battle. Athena was also the patron goddess of several other cities, notably Sparta.
A woman named Arachne once boasted that she was a superior weaver to Athena, the goddess of weaving. Athena appeared to her disguised as an old woman and told Arachne to repent for her hubris but Arachne instead challenged Athena to a contest. The old woman threw off her disguise and the contest began. Athena wove a depiction of the conflict with Poseidon over Athens, while Arachne wove a depiction of Zeus' many exploits. Athena was furious at her skill (the contest was never decided), and her choice of subject, and, with a touch, struck Arachne with terrific guilt. Arachne hanged herself and Athena turned her into the first spider.
Athena told Heracles how to remove the skin from the Nemean Lion, by using the lion's own claws to cut through its thick hide. The lion's hide became Heracles' signature garment, along with the olive-wood club he used in the battle. Athena also assisted Heracles on a few other labors.
Athena (Minerva) is the subject of the $50 1915-S Panama Pacific commemorative coin. At 2 1/2-oz. gold, this is the largest (by weight) coin ever produced by the U.S. mint. This was the first $50 coin issued by the U.S. mint and no higher was produced until the production of the $100 platinum coins in 1997. Of course, in terms of face-value in adjusted dollars, the 1915 is the highest denomination ever issued by the U.S. mint.