The goddess Athena was one of the most important gods of ancient Greece. Her name in Greek was Αθηνη, which is usually written as Athene. She was the patron goddess of Athens, which was named after her. The Acropolis was sacred to her, and several temples and statues of her were raised there. 


Athena was goddess of:



Crafts (of the home)

War – but she preferred peace.   She was so good at strategy she never lost a battle.


Athena invented:


Flute                           Trumpet

Clay pot                      Plough

Rake                          Chariot

Ship                           Horse bridle


Athena’s symbols were:


Owl                              Shield

Helmet                         Spear    

Aegis – a sort of breastplate with the head of Medusa and a snake under it

Athena Varvakeion


There were two main statues of Athena on the Acropolis. One, called Athena Promachos, was made of bronze and stood in the open. The other was the statue inside the Parthenon. This was about 12m high and made of wood, covered in 100kg of gold, except for the skin which was ivory (from elephant tusks). It would have been immensely valuable. The gold was melted down and the statue is lost, but we have a Roman copy of it (see left) which is about 1.5 m high and is in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Reconstruction of the Parthenon statue

Patron of Athens

According to a myth, Athena and Poseidon competed to be patron of Athens (that is, the main god of the city). The contest was to see who could give the city the most useful gift, and it took place on the Acropolis. Athena made the first olive tree grow there, and Poseidon made a spring of salt water flow. No one can drink salt water, so Athena won. The pediment of the Parthenon was sculpted to show this event.

Athena in myths

Athena appears in many myths, in which she usually helps the hero. For example she helped the Greeks in the Iliad (the story of the Trojan War), she helped Odysseus in the Odyssey, she helped Heracles many times, and she helped Perseus on his quest to slay Medusa.


Medusa was a horrible monster with snakes for hair. She was so ugly, if you looked at her you were turned to stone in terror. Athena gave Perseus a shield and told him to look at Medusa’s reflection in it. That way he managed to survive and cut off her head.

Athena and Arachne

According to one myth, Arachne, a princess of Lydia (in Turkey), was so skilled in weaving that even Athena could not compare with her. Arachne wove a cloth showing the love affairs of the gods. It was so good that Athena could not find any fault in it, and in a vengeful rage she tore up the cloth. Terrified, Arachne tried to hang herself from a rafter, but Athena turned her into a spider, that other clever weaver, and the rope into a cobweb. This is where we get the word ‘arachnid’, meaning spider.


Athena with her owl (but no head)

Modern bronze statue of Athena in Manchester (at the feet of Wellington – a war hero)