The Mother of All Headaches

Have you ever had one of those bad headache days where you feel as if your skull is going to split in two? Or feel like your head is in a vice and squeezed till you almost pass out? Anyone who’s had a migraine will understand. So when Zeus had a monster headache did he ever consider out would pop Athene! Unusual yes, but like most Greek Myths, the birth of the gods had unique beginnings. He, however did swallow Athene at birth, so what did he expect? She’d stay there forever? Not likely.


The Birth of Athena
(From a vase painting)
Drawing from XIX c. German book

Athene (or Athena) was the goddess of wisdom and war. Many images have her wearing a crested helmet, a snake-trimmed cloak and armed with a lance and a shield decorated with the head of Medusa. She was associated with mentoring heroes, her favourite was Odysseus, to whom she appeared on many occasions and took on various male personas to help him and in some cases transformed into an owl.

The owl represented her wisdom and was often depicted with the bird either sitting on her shoulder or head. When Athens introduced currency (drachma), one side had the profile of Athene and the other an owl. It was said her ability to strategise and develop tactics made her a formidable god, even outwitting the most experienced warriors. Unlike Ares, who was like a bull in a china shop.

There was a bit of competition between Athene and Poseidon as to who would be the patron deity. To resolve the issue, each agreed to offer the Athenians a gift and they would choose which one they preferred. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and created a spring. Unfortunately the water was salty and not useful. Athene gave them an olive tree. King Kekrops accepted the olive tree as it brought wood, oil and food. (As a point of interest the Erechtheum is where the king was buried. It is recognisable with the four Caryatids as pillars.)

Like Hera, Athene sided with the Greeks in war with Troy. She assisted Greek warriors by inspiring them with courage, taking on a persona and leading them into a fight; or created a dust storm; acting as mediator and so on.

Athene also had a dark side. She especially punished those who violated her shrines. One example was when Aias (Ajax) raped the Trojan princess Kassandra in Athene’s temple. When they were sailing home, she sent a storm, destroyed their fleet and Aias drowned. Another example was when Auge, a princess from Arkadia and a priestess of Athena fell pregnant and gave birth in the temple. The goddess made the land barren until the king exiled his daughter and later sold her into slavery.

For more information about Athene, go to the Theoi Greek Mythology site. Next time we look into the life of Hestia. If you have any questions, please ask and I’ll answer them as best I can.



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