Athena Symbols, Sacred Animals And Plants – The Goddess of Wisdom And War In Greek Mythology

The Olympian goddess of wisdom and war, Athena is the most beloved patroness of the city of Athens. She is best-known for her connections with peace and handicrafts such as spinning and weaving.

Athena has been known as majestic and stern, a talented goddess who was the best at both of her domains. She was feared by Ares and sought after for advice from the other Greek gods and goddesses.

Athena has close ties to the city of Athens. Ancient Greeks often debated whether the goddess got her name from the city or the other way around.

Athena the Greek Goddess of Civilization War and Wisdom Depicted on Top of a Hill
Greek Goddess of War, Civilization and Wisdom, Athena by Rudall30

Portrayal of Athena in Art

Art and literature portray Athena as a majestic goddess with a beautiful, stern face. Her full, unsmiling lips, grey-colored eyes, and graceful physique have been known to intimidate all the while reflecting her power and authority.

Greek mythology has always seen her clad in armor with an elaborate Corinthian helmet, spear in one hand and aegis in the other, or a chiton while carrying a spindle.

An image of Gorgon’s head lies at the center of her aegis. This, the head of Medusa, was a gift from Perseus and thanks to that, Athena’s shield had the power to turn her enemies to stone.

To symbolize her wisdom, an owl can be found flying in Athena’s vicinity or perched on her shoulder. It is not uncommon to find a snake or an olive branch accompanying her as well.

Athena’s Nicknames/Other Names

One of the most important Olympian gods, Athena, had many nicknames. The most popular ones included “Virgin,” “Pallas,” “The Unwearying One,” “The One of the City,” “The One with Gleaming Eyes,” and “The One who Fights in Front.”

Athena’s counterpart in Roman mythology is Minerva.

The Birth of Athena

Zeus was threatened by Metis’ next child as he thought that he would be overthrown by it. In a fit of anger, Zeus swallowed his first wife whole, while she was pregnant with Athena.

Everything was fine until it was time for Athena’s birth. Zeus felt sharp pangs of pain in his head. His headaches blinded him so much that he was unable to tolerate the pain. It was then that Hephaestus struck him in the head with an ax.

The same minute Athena jumped out of Zeus’ head with a shriek so loud and fearsome that Gaea and Uranus were shaking with fright. Zeus, on the other hand, looked at Athena with pride and honor.

Athena Symbols, Symbols of Knowledge, the Goddess of Wisdom and Knowledge with an Owl
Greek Goddess of War and Wisdom, Athena by Masterlevsha

Athena Pallas, the Story Behind the Name – Pallas and Athena

Athena grew up with a nymph from Libya named Pallas, they were very close and shared fond memories. They shared a mutual interest in the art of war and would practice together.

One day, while they were practicing some martial exercises, Athena did not realize what she was doing, and she ended up accidentally killing her best friend. Heartbroken, grief-stricken, and shocked, Pallas’s death took a toll on Athena.

In an attempt to preserve her memory, Athena added her best friend’s name to her own. That is the story behind why Athena is also known as Athena Pallas.

Athena As The Virgin Goddess

Similar to Artemis and Hestia, Athena had no interest in love. It did not appeal to her, and she was not swayed by it. Hence, she never went on to have any children. That said, some myths suggest that Erichthonius was Athena’s child.

In fact, Athena was only his foster mother. Hephaestus tried to force himself on Athena, but being a warrior, she successfully fought him off. This resulted in him spilling his semen all over the Earth, after which Gaea was impregnated. After Erichthonius’s birth, Athena decided to foster the child.

Athena And Poseidon – Becoming The Patron of Athens

Poseidon and Athena both wanted to be patrons of the prosperous ancient Greek lands of Attica (the region surrounding the city of Athens). They had a public quarrel over who deserved this more.

Poseidon believed that the region would thrive under him, and to prove this, he struck his trident into a rock. This created a stream of seawater in the Temple of Erechtheion towards the north of Acropolis.

Known for her wisdom and intelligence, Athena did not do anything as magnificent- she simply planted an olive tree. Since the tree was a source of fruit, oil, and wood for the Athenians, the king of Athens, Cecrops, believed that Athena deserved to be awarded the title of the patron.

The Patroness of Handicraft

Athena was known as a master artisan. A war goddess who was the female counterpart of Ares, Athena was also often put on the same level as Hephaestus because of her arts and crafts skills.

She used to make the most beautifully embroidered robes for Hera and herself. Her innovative nature led her to combine her interests in art and war to invent the war chariot and the warship.

Athena and Arachne

No story of Athena and her handicrafts can end without the mention of Arachne, a mortal craftswoman who believed her crafting skills were superior to Athena’s. Athena took offense and gave the mortal a chance to repent. However, when Arachne stuck to her claim, Athena challenged her to a weaving competition.

The goddess crafted a magnificent tapestry that portrayed the frightening fate of mortals, who made the mistake of challenging gods. On the contrary, Arachne worked on something displaying how mortals had a history of being unfairly victimized by the gods.

Before she could finish her handiwork, Athena found out about her subject. The goddess was so enraged that she tore Arachne’s fabric to pieces and turned her into a spider.

Athena The Great Helper

A war goddess of wisdom, Athena, unlike Ares who was only associated with violence, is known as the great helper of ancient Greece’s greatest heroes.

She helped Odysseus with his ten-year journey back to Ithaca. She has also helped Hercules, Perseus, Bellerophon, Jason, Diomedes, Argus, and Cadmus.

The Athena Symbol List – What Are  the Symbols of Athena?

The main Athena symbols are the gorgoneion, amulets with medusa heads on them and the aegis, a magical shield (or clothing made of animal skin) that only Athena and Zeus were known to carry.

Her other symbols include snakes, armor, spears and helmets.

Athena Sacred Animal Athena Sacred Plant, Athena Illustration with Owl
Athena Image by Nnnmmm

Athena’s Sacred Animals and Plants

As the goddess of wisdom, Athena’s sacred animal is the owl while her sacred plant is the olive tree, the plant she used to beat Poseidon in the competition and earned the right to become the patron of Attica.

This wraps up our post on Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war in Greek mythology, her symbols, sacred animals and plants. If you would like to read our extensive list on Greek god symbols, please click here. You might also want to check out our post on gods, goddesses and symbols of knowledge and wisdom here. Thanks for reading with us.

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