What is Athena the Goddess of?
Athena is best remembered as the goddess of wisdom and war. In truth, though, she was involved in many more parts of life in the ancient Greek world.
As the goddess of wisdom, Athena was prayed to by those seeking good counsel and hoping to make wise decisions. This was especially true in her role as a goddess of war, in which she represented the intelligence and strategies of great leaders and their plans.
But Athena’s wisdom took many forms. She was important in science and the arts as well.
Athena was the patron goddess of craftspeople, especially weavers.
She was also said to have taught men how to plough fields, invented the bridle, and created the first olive tree. This made her an important goddess in agriculture.
The creation of the olive tree also made her the patroness of the city of Athens, which bears her name to this day. Olive oil was such an important commodity in ancient Greece that the tree was considered the city’s greatest resource.
Athena was a protective goddess, both of Greek cities and of great heroes. Her involvement in so many parts of life, and so many myths, made her one of the most important deities in the entire pantheon of Olympus.
The founding myth of Athens claimed that Athena had won patronage of the city by gifting its people with the olive tree, from which they could grow wealthy by trading oil. This was just one of the stories that illustrated Athena’s role as a wise goddess.
The people of Athens credited their goddess with creating many of the institutions that made their society unique. Some of these continue to be influential today, such as her wise choice to create the first legal trial by jury and her status as the patroness of philosophers.
The goddess also protected her city. The Greek world was often at war, and the people of Athens believed that their armored patroness would keep enemy armies at bay and keep the people safe.
Of course, Athena was not the only Greek deity of war. Many gods and goddesses were associated with warfare, from minor figures like Enyo to the most famous god of war, Ares.
Athena’s role in war was much different than that of her half-brother Ares, however. While Ares represented the violence and bloodlust of battle, Athena was more concerned with helping those in need and using her wisdom to devise careful strategies.
In the Trojan War, for example, it was Athena who inspired the Greek army to build the Trojan Horse. When victory could not be attained through strength of arms alone, her clever plans brought a win for the Greek forces.
Her role as a protectress was not limited to open warfare, however. Athena was the chief patron goddess of most of the great heroes of Greek mythology.
She helped Odysseus many times and frequently gave aid to her half-brother Heracles. She lent Perseus her shield to slay Medusa, helped to construct Jason’s ship, and told Bellerophon how to tame Pegasus.
The goddess supposedly created the first bridle to tame the flying horse. She also invented the plough, making her an otherwise unlikely patroness of farmers.
Her inventions were not limited to agriculture. While she eventually discarded it, she also invented the flute.
Her many inventions made her the patron goddess of craftsmen, who looked to her wisdom and ingenuity in their designs.
While all artisans had reason to pray to Athena, the goddess was most revered in the few crafting professions available to women in ancient Greece. She was particularly praised as the goddess of weaving, one of the few ways in which a woman could earn both money and acclaim on her own.
Finally, Athena took on the role of protector not only for her city and the people with reason to pray to her, but to many of the underpinnings of Greek society. She was a goddess of law and civility both in social and personal matters.
Athena only gave favor to those whose cause was just, be they armies, heroes, or commoners. She sought to solve conflict through wisdom and law, seeing war as the last option to ensure that victory went to those who were in the right.
Even in personal matters, Athena represented that which the Greeks viewed as inherently right and proper. Her status as a modest virgin goddess was thought to exemplify proper and just female behavior.
The figure of Athena continued to be an important symbol of societal values well beyond the Greek era. While some early medieval writers believed she symbolized everything they hated about pagan culture, she was soon adopted as an allegorical figure of many later ideals.
As a virgin goddess, she was a favorite symbol of chastity for artists in the Renaissance and after. Her association with ancient philosophers and the concept of wisdom also made her a popular figure.
Athena and her sacred animal, the owl, continue to be symbols of wisdom and learning to this day. Owls appear in association with intelligence everywhere from college mascots to children’s literature.
Athena was so revered as a symbol of wisdom and virtue that she became a symbol of liberty and justice as well.
While other statues were destroyed in the French Revolution, for example, Athena’s was left as a testament to freedom and democracy. That statue went on to influence enduring images of these ideals, including the Statue of Liberty.
But how did Athena become the patron goddess of so many parts of life, both in ancient Greece and in the modern world?
It is generally true that the more ancient the deity, the more broad their realm of influence. The many aspects of society that Athena played a role in, from the strategies of great generals and heroes to the humbler work of artisans and farmers, indicates that she was very ancient indeed.
Some archeologists believe that Athena had her origin long before Greek civilization arose. She is, they believe, descended from the prehistoric archetype of a goddess of the organization of society.
Such a goddess would have had a role in maintaining the order of the sacred, domestic, and economic functions of ancient society. Looking at the many roles Athena played in Greek culture, it is easy to see how she can be taken as a form of this archetype.
As an individual goddess, Athena can be traced back to the pre-Greek Minoan and Mycenaean cultures, where an older function as the overseer of society was translated to the protectress of its head. It is thought that she was a goddess of the king’s household, seeing to both his protection and the running of his domestic affairs.
These modern theories help to explain how Athena could be the patroness of both heroes and weavers, and personify such differing traits as wise restraint and warfare. Her ancient origins were as a goddess who saw that the different classes of society functioned together, and by protecting the leaders she protected the culture as a whole.
Athena is typically described as the goddess of wisdom and war. In these domains, she was a patroness of many seemingly unconnected parts of Greek life.
The Greeks connected these two ideas in the role Athena played in war. She wasn’t a goddess of violence, but of strategy and planning.
She was a protective goddess, as well. She protected forces in battle, the civilians and cities impacted by war, and particular heroes who won her favor.
To win the favor of Athena, however, one had to fight for a just cause. She was a goddess of law and only gave aid to those in the right.
This aid was not limited to warfare. As a wise goddess, Athena also established jury trials and helped to ensure that society was led by those who were righteous.
As the goddess of wisdom she was a natural patron of philosophers. She was also the patroness of craftspeople and artisans, particularly weavers and other female workers.
Like most Olympians, Athena was also the patroness of many specific cities. Most notably she was the patroness and namesake of Athens, the birthplace of many enduring democratic principles that remains the capital of Greece today.
The image of Athena lived on as a symbol of many of the virtues she represented in ancient Greece. From the Renaissance through the modern era, she has remained associated with academia, justice, and democracy.
Modern scholars believe that Athena grew out of an ancient goddess archetype associated with the proper functioning of society and the workings of the social structure. She grew to fill these functions in the household of the king, eventually evolving into a goddess who protected great heroes and leaders but maintained a role in all parts of society.