ATHENA, also known as Pallas Athena, one of the most important goddesses in Greek mythology. Athena sprang fullgrown and armored from the forehead of the god Zeus and was his favorite child. He entrusted her with his shield, adorned with the hideous head of Medusa the Gorgon, his buckler, and his principal weapon, the thunderbolt. A virgin goddess, she was called Parthenos ("the maiden").
Her major temple, the Parthenon, was in Athens, which, according to legend, became hers as a result of her gift of the olive tree to the Athenian people. Athena was primarily the goddess of the Greek cities, of industry and the arts, and, in later mythology, of wisdom; she was also goddess of war.
So Zeus swallowed Metis. In time he was overcome with a splitting headache and summoned help from the craftsman god Hephaestus (or, some say, the Titan Prometheus). Hephaestus cleaved Zeus's forehead with an ax, and Athena sprang forth fully armed.
The poet Hesiod tells the story to account for Zeus's great wisdom, since he can be said to have literally incorporated Metis. One can also read into the myth wishful thinking on the part of the mythmakers who replaced the worship of the Great Goddess, mother of all growing things, for that of the male sky-god Zeus. Zeus gave birth to Athena himself, as if to say, Who needs a woman in order to bring forth new life?
Athena aided the heroes Perseus, Jason, Cadmus, Odysseus and Heracles in their quests.
Both Athena and Poseidon wanted to be patron deity of Athens. To prove her worthiness for the honor, Athena caused an olive tree to spring up on the citadel of Athens, the Acropolis. Poseidon sought to outdo her by striking the ground with his trident and causing a spring of water to gush forth. But as he was god of the sea, the water was salty. Athena's gift to the Athenians was considered to be more useful, so she became the city's patron deity.
Athena sponsored Perseus in his quest to slay Medusa because she wanted the Gorgon's head to decorate her shield.
Athena was also a patron of the agricultural arts and of the crafts of women, especially spinning and weaving. Among her gifts to man were the inventions of the plow and the flute and the arts of taming animals, building ships, and making shoes. She was often associated with birds, especially the owl.
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