Who was Athena?
Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom, courage, civilization, heroic endeavour, law and justice, mathematics, skill, strategy, arts and crafts. She spent her time in the company of philosophers and inventors in the pursuit of knowledge. She was also regarded as the patron and protectress of a variety of cities across Greece, particularly the capital city of Athens and Argos, Sparta, Gortyn, Lindos, and Larisa. In myth about the founding of Athens, Athena defeated the God Poseidon in a competition for patronage of the city by creating the world’s first olive tree. It is likely that Athena took her name from Athens and the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis is dedicated to her, as are many other monuments.
In some traditions Athena was claimed to have been born from the head of her father, the God Zeus while others claim her as the child of Zeus and mythical Titaness Metis. As one of Zeus’s offspring she had numerous siblings, including Aeacus, Angelos, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Eileithyia, Enyo, Eris, Ersa, the Graces, Hebe, Helen of Troy, Hephaestus, Heracles, Hermes, the Horae, Dionysus, the Litae, Minos, the Muses, the Moirai, Pandia, Persephone, Perseus and Rhadamanthus. In most traditions she is known as She’s known as “Athena the Virgin,” and as such had no named consort and no children of her own. However, one tradition does state that her brother god Hephaestus tried and failed to rape her and that this act resulted in Gaia giving birth to Erichthonius.
Athena is a common figure in art right through from the classical era to post-classical and even modern art. In classical antiquity she appeared often on coins, ceramics and in sculpture, usually depicted standing upright in a full length tunic known as a chifton. She often appears equipped in armour as would a male soldier, notably with a high Corinthian helmet, a spear and a shield depicting a gorgon and snakes. Later artists such as Sandro Botticelli depicted Athena as a figure of chastity or as a figure for female authority, with the likes of Elizabeth I and Catherine II of Russia channeling Athena in portrayals of themselves. A statue of Athena stands is in position outside the Austrian Parliament Building in Vienna and images of her have influenced other symbols of western freedom such as Britannica and the Statue of Liberty.
Occupations associated with Athena include academia, architecture, business, carpentry, city planning, counselling, diplomacy, education engineering, mayor, masonry, mentoring, philosophy, printing, psychology, sociology, teaching, technology, urban planning and weaving.
Similar deities to Athena which are found in other cultures include the Roman Goddess Minerva, Egyptian Goddess Neith, Celtic Goddess Sulis, Canaanite Goddess Anat, Etruscan Goddess Menrva, Cambodian Goddess Prajnaparamita and the Gnostic Goddess Sophia.
The Athena Archetype
Athena’s qualities as goddess of wisdom, courage, civilization, heroic endeavour, law and justice, mathematics, skill, strategy, arts and crafts mean that the Athenian archetype has become one of the sage, pursuing strategic and wise courses of action based on logic and thought, not being afraid to assert herself in order to achieve her end goals.
The archetypal Athena’s primary motivation is a search for knowledge and wisdom as well as self and communal improvement. Constantly seeking to learn more about the people and world around them, nothing will stop them in their quest for enlightenment. They are, thus, likely to be highly educated and high achievers in all the intellectual pursuits of life, valuing less the physical aspects such as sport. Their judgment is reliable, trusted and valued and they carry about them an air of authority and expertise.
The archetypal Athena is constantly on the look-out for deceit and falsehood, getting in the way as it would in their pursuit of truth, knowledge and justice. This can result in a fear of deception and a healthy skepticism about the world around them. Whilst they are willing to place their trust in people it has first to be hard earned and once lost is unlikely to be retrieved. The Athenian archetype can be dogmatic and impractical in their approach to life at times. However, they are largely logical people, governed by their heads instead of their emotions. They think carefully and strategically, even when under pressure or in the heat of the moment, using tactics, planning and organisation to move towards their goals.
Whilst not renowned for open demonstrations of their sexuality the Athena archetype can be either romantic or platonic companion, colleague, or confidante to the opposite sex. They can happily enjoy both platonic and romantic relationships, but rely on neither for their sense of worth or to get by in the world
A contemporary example of the Athena archetype is Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady and wife of President Franklin D Roosevelt. Eleanor was a committed wife and mother but did not rely completely on her family for her sense of identity. She remained loyal to her husband despite his infidelities but made it very clear to him that she would not tolerate such betrayal in the future. She actively worked to ensure her husband became President despite his disability after suffering polio, undertaking much of his campaigning work on his behalf and, once she became First Lady, used her fierce intellect and sense of justice to carve out a new role for the First Lady which would influence all it’s occupants going forward. She was active in the Civil Rights movement, was the first wife of a President to hold her own solo press conferences, co-chaired the Office of Civilian Defense in World War 2 and served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. She is widely recognised to have been one of the most influential female political figures in history.
Characteristics of the Athena archetype
‘…and I am famous among the gods for wisdom, cunning wiles, too’
― Athena speaking in The Odyssey by Homer
“The rose Dawn might have found them weeping still had not grey-eyed Athena slowed the night when night was most profound and held the Dawn under the Ocean of the East. That glossy team, Firebright and Daybright, the Dawn’s horses that draw her heavenward for men – Athena stayed their harnessing.”
― Homer, The Odyssey
“Only-begotten, noble race of Zeus, blessed and fierce, who joyest in caves to rove: O warlike Pallas, whose illustrious kind, ineffable, and effable we find : magnanimous and famed, the rocky height, and groves, and shady mountains thee delight: in arms rejoicing, who with furies dire and wild the souls of mortals dost inspire. Gymnastic virgin of terrific mind, dire Gorgon’s bane, unmarried, blessed, kind: mother of arts, impetuous; understood as fury by the bad, but wisdom by the good. Female and male, the arts of war are thine, O much-formed, She-Dragon, inspired divine: over the Phlegraean Giants, roused to ire, thy coursers driving with destructive dire. Tritogeneia, of splendid mien, purger of evils, all-victorious queen. Hear me, O Goddess, when to thee I pray, with supplicating voice both night and day, and in my latest hour give peace and health, propitious times, and necessary wealth, and ever present be thy votaries aid, O much implored, art’s parent, blue-eyed maid.”
― Orphic Hymn 32 to Athena (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.)