Athena (əthēˈnə) [key], or Pallas Athena pălˈəs, in Greek religion and mythology, one of the most important Olympian deities. According to myth, after Zeus seduced Metis he learned that any son she bore would overthrow him, so he swallowed her alive. Later Hephaestus split Zeus' skull with an ax, and out sprang Athena, fully armed. Athena was a deity of diverse functions and attributes. Her most conspicuous role was perhaps that of a goddess of war, the female counterpart of Ares. However, she was also a goddess of peace, noted for her compassion and generosity. Like Minerva, with whom the Romans identified her, she was a patron of the arts and crafts, especially spinning and weaving. In later times she was important as a goddess of wisdom. Athena was also a guardian of cities, notably Athens, where the Parthenon was erected as her temple. In a contest with Poseidon concerning dominion over Attica, Athena made an olive tree grow on the Acropolis while Poseidon caused a saltwater stream to gush from the Acropolis. The other Olympians, asked to judge the contest, decided in favor of Athena. Her statue, the Palladium, was supposed to protect the city that possessed it. It was said that because she accidentally killed Pallas she set the name Pallas before her own. Although a virgin goddess, she was concerned with fertility, and at Athens and Elis her worship was notably maternal. Athena is represented in art as a stately figure, armored, and wielding the aegis. Her most important festival was the Panathenaea, which was celebrated annually at Athens. It included athletic and musical contests, poetic recitations, and sacrifices. At the end of the festivities a grand procession carried a richly embroidered peplos to the Acropolis as a present to Athena.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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