How Was Athena Born?

Athena was one of the most famous Greek goddesses and part of the Twelve Olympians. The goddess of wisdom and war, she was considered the female counterpart of Ares, although she was also associated with peace and handicrafts, especially weaving and spinning. A virgin deity, she was the patron of the city of Athens, and every Greek hero asked for her help and advice to complete his labors.

Athena’s birth story is quite peculiar and interesting at the same time.  In the version recounted by Hesiod in his Theogony, Zeus married the goddess Metis, who is described as the “wisest among gods and mortal men”. Metis was an Oceanid, one of the three thousand daughters of Oceanus and Tethys. Metis assisted Zeus so that he could free his brothers, who had been swallowed by their father, Cronos, at birth.

She gave him the purgative that forced Cronos to vomit them up so that they could fight against him and his brothers. When the Olympians won the war, Zeus thanked Metis for her assistance by making her his queen.

However, Zeus received a troubling prophecy that said that Metis would have two children and the second, a son, would overthrow him just as he had overthrown his own father. Rather than waiting for Metis to conceive the son that would someday take his throne, Zeus avoided the threat by swallowing Metis alive.

He turned his wife into a fly and swallowed her shortly after they were married, without knowing that she was pregnant with Athena. Nevertheless, Metis, while she was in Zeus’ body, began to construct armor and weapons for her unborn child.

This, in turn, caused Zeus enormous headaches. The pain was so severe that he ordered Hephaistos, the god of fire and craftsmanship, to cleave his head open with the labrys, the double-headed Minoan ax.

Hephaistos did exactly that, and Athena emerged out of her father’s head, fully grown and armed. Homer states that the gods were awestruck by Athena’s appearance, and even Helios, the god of the sun, stopped his chariot in the sky. 

Pindar, the famous poet, even states that she “cried aloud with a mighty shout” and that “the Sky and mother Earth shuddered before her.” The manner of her birth allegorically defines her basic nature. Having arisen from the head of a god, she is already wise.

Being born from a male and not from a female, she maintains a special bond of affection with her father, protects male heroes, and champions male causes. She is a powerful goddess of war and has remained a virgin. In any case, Athena immediately became a favorite of her father and one of the most beloved deities of the Greek pantheon.

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