By Tara Kimes
In the spirit of Warrior Week, here’s an introduction to one of pop culture’s most well known warrior goddesses, Athena. Athena was one of the 12 Olympian deities in the Greek pantheon. She was known for her brilliance as a war strategist, protector of heroes, and master of weaving. She is associated with the zodiac sign of Libra, the Justice tarot card, spider and owl medicine, and the element of air. Ultimately she embodies detachment, wisdom, and empowerment. She was often painted during the Renaissance and compared with leaders such as Queen Elizabeth I of England. She was featured on the show Xena: Warrior Princess, and even made into a Barbie(TM) doll to empower young girls.
Here are 10 interesting facts about Athena:
1.) Athena was the first goddess to be conceived purely from mind and intellect instead of physical intercourse. Whereas previously the gods were born by intercourse, Athena’s birth was purely cerebral and from mental conception. This is explained in a myth where Zeus, chief father sky god of the Greeks, heard of a prophecy that his wife Metis would bear a son stronger than him. So to prevent this from happening, he swallowed Metis! Only then he kept having headaches. Eventually the pressure was too much so he summoned the god of fire to split his head open with an axe—and out sprang Athena! At birth, she was said to emerge “arrayed in warlike arms of flashing gold” while “shaking a sharp spear.”
2.) Athena is one of the most controversial goddesses because she is said to play hero AND villain. Traditional Greek depictions showed Athena as a hero—protective, caring, and rational, whereas Roman depictions based on the poet Ovid showed her as a villain—destructive, jealous, and punishing. For instance, the legend of Medusa was viewed differently by the Greeks and Romans—one with Athena being a punisher, and the other with Athena being a protector. In both tales Medusa was a beautiful woman who served as one of Athena’s priestesses, yet all the men were coming to the temple to worship Medusa instead of Athena. In both versions, Medusa is raped by Poseidon in front of Athena. In the Roman version it’s said that Athena punished Medusa and out of jealousy, turned her into a monster. In the Greek version it’s said that Athena protected Medusa, transforming her into a different form to give her power and prevent her from ever being raped again.
3.) Athena and her brother Aries represent the 2 sides of war. Whereas Aries was known as the god of war and offense, and was said to fight aggressively for the pleasure of it, Athena fought defense—she enjoyed strategizing to defend and protect. Aries fought with brutal muscular strength and lusted after the sight of blood. Athena, on the other hand, loved using wisdom and wit to win wars. We can see a modern version of these two approaches today in astrology in the placement of Aries and Libra (Athena) as opposites in the zodiac.
4.) Athena was a political deity. Some historians believe that Athena was less of a religious deity and more of a political movement. It was her vote that led to democracy flourishing in the city of Athens. Poseidon represented the old patriarchal line, and Athena represented a more modern form of democracy. These two competed to win over the city of Athens by offering a gift and then seeing which one the people liked better. Poseidon offered a spring—but it released only sea water which was useless. Athena offered a single seed, showing how it could grow to produce olive trees which would provide food, firewood, peace and stability. Most of the men chose Poseidon since they worked out at sea. Yet the women wanted Athena, since they worked on the land. Since the women outnumbered the men in Athens, Athena got more votes, and became the city’s new champion.
5.) Athena was pro-masculine. Athena was depicted as more of a god than a goddess. She had no connection to Gaia, the earth mother, and instead was a masculinized warrior deity who was associated with air and the sky. Interestingly, she guided male heroes on their quests and bravely helped soldiers on the battlefield, yet she never dared visit the inner world of emotions and the psyche. She steered clear of the more feminine realms of the shadow and underworld. She denied pleasure, beauty, sex, childbirth, and the earth, which aligned her and her devotees with more of a patriarchal narrative.