Some of the earliest forms of literature, art and historical artefacts that exist today come from the Greeks. Many teachers incorporate Greek mythology into art, literature and history curricula. The goddess Athena, one of the twelve Olympians, appeared in numerous heroic tales and myths. Some myths may not be appropriate for children, but kids can understand facets of Athena's story, including: her parentage, powers, symbols and interaction with human beings.
Athena is the daughter of Zeus, ruler of the Olympians, and Metis, goddess of wisdom, but the story of her birth is unusual. When Metis conceived, Zeus feared that one day his child would overpower him. To prevent this, Zeus swallowed Metis before she could give birth. One day, Zeus developed a terrible headache, so his son Hephaestus, the lame god, cut open Zeus' forehead, and released Athena from her father's head. She emerged as an adult, fitted with armour and weapons.
Often called the goddess of intelligent warfare, Athena used her wisdom and cunning to assist warriors that she favoured, including Odysseus and Hercules. Greeks would pray to Athena before battle or for wisdom when making decisions. She carried the Aegis, a shield made for her by Hephaestus, and is often depicted wearing a helmet or carrying a spear. She is also the patron goddess of skilled crafts and was said to be a talented weaver.
Many of the depictions of Athena show her carrying a winged figure in the palm of her hand. The figure is actually the goddess of victory, Nike. Athena's depictions also include owls, spears and armour, which fit her associations with wisdom and warfare. Athena is also associated with the olive tree. According to Greek mythology, Athena and Poseidon, the sea god, held a competition to decide who would be the protector of a major Greek city-state. Poseidon created a spring with his trident, and Athena created the olive tree. The people choose Athena's gift, and the city was named Athens. To honour her, they built the Parthenon, which still stands in Athens today.
Interactions with Humans
Greek myths often incorporated interactions between humans and the divine. In "The Iliad," written by the Greek poet Homer, Athena competed with Hera and Aphrodite to be declared the most beautiful goddess by the Trojan prince Paris. After losing to Aphrodite, Athena supported the Greeks instead of the Trojans during the subsequent war, lending support and inspiration to warriors like Odysseus. Athena also assisted Odysseus on his journey home after the Trojan War, according to Homer's "The Odyssey."
However, not every human who interacted with Athena had a positive experience. According to Greek mythology, a young woman named Arachne boasted that her weaving skills surpassed even the goddess, Athena. Stung by Arachne's arrogance, Athena decided to teach her a lesson and responded to Arachne's weaving challenge. Athena beat Arachne and turned her into a spider as punishment for her boasting and arrogance (Reference 2).