Athena: goddess of wisdom

The birth of Athena

Athena was the daughter of Zeus and Metis, a Titan who personified intelligence. In some accounts, Metis helped Zeus by making the potion which caused Cronos to vomit up his children.

Zeus received a prophecy that Metis would bear him two children: a daughter who would match him in intelligence, and a son who would overthrow him. When he realised Metis was pregnant, Zeus panicked and swallowed her like a fly, but she kept on making the child in his head. The constant banging gave Zeus a headache, and so Hephaistos cracked open his head with a hammer, and Athena was born from Zeus’ skull, a fully-armed adult god.

Athena in myth and epic

Athena won the contest to name the city of Athens, defeating her uncle Poseidon in the process. However, she lost the beauty contest judged by Paris and, like Hera, sought the destruction of Troy as a result.

She is a major character in both of Homer’s epic poems. In the Iliad she works with Hera to support the Greeks against the Trojans. In the Odyssey she appears frequently to support Odysseus and his family in his quest to return home from the Trojan War and reclaim his household.

Athena was also the goddess of crafts, especially the important skill of weaving cloth. This responsibility features prominently in the tragic tale of Arachne.

Athena in art

There are several symbols used to represent Athena on ancient Greek pottery and sculpture. She is always armed, usually with a helmet, spear, shield, and breastplate. If the shield or breastplate has a gorgon’s head on it, then it is called the aegis. The gorgon’s head is used to ward off evil spirits. Her sacred bird is the owl, to represent her wisdom.

Athena is often accompanied by the winged goddess of victory, Nike.


  • Wisdom: Since she is the daughter of Metis (Intelligence), Athena was born to be the goddess of wisdom.
  • War: Although Ares is the god of the violence of war, Athena is the god responsible for military strategy.
  • Crafts: Athena was the goddess of handicrafts, especially weaving.

Athena iconography

armour/weapons (shield, spear, helmet, breastplate), aegis, owl, gorgon head, Nike.