Athena (or Minerva, as the Romans called her) is, of course, the goddess of wisdom. She is, however, also the goddess of several other things including justice, courage, mathematics and arts and crafts. That’s quite a diverse portfolio. As much as she represented morality and wisdom, justice and creativity, however, she could also be a butt-kicking warrior woman, getting involved in battles – such as the Trojan War – and even fomenting conflict by promoting one side over the other through her patronage and magical gifts. She did prefer, however, that arguments be settled through reasonable discourse rather than through violence. That’s the wisdom. Her father, Zeus, could have learned a thing or two from her.
Athena is one of those mythological characters who has a completely bonkers birth story. Zeus, as he was wont to do, had his wicked way with Metis. Then he recalled a prophecy that Metis would give birth to children more powerful than their father and regretted his impulsive rutting. His solution was possibly learned from his own father, Cronos, in that the response was to swallow Metis whole. She, however, had already conceived. Zeus began to suffer a terrible headache and one of his children (sources are apparently inconsistent on which) decided that the best medicine was an axe through the skull. From this wound leapt Athena, already an armour-wearing adult. It’s a more dramatic story than being delivered by a stork, I suppose.
For all her judgement and wisdom, Athena could be petulant and cruel. When Medusa was raped by Poseidon in the temple dedicated to Athena, the goddess punished Medusa for the desecration by turning her from a beauty to a hideous monster whose gaze turned people to stone. In another myth, the Judgement of Paris, there is a contest revolving around a golden apple in which Paris has to decide which of the goddesses, Hera, Aphrodite and Athena, is the most beautiful. When he chose Aphrodite (because of a bribe), Hera and Athena were so insulted and enraged that they precipitated the Trojan War just to antagonise Paris.
In my drawing of Athena, I have adopted a couple of traditional elements that are signifiers of her identity. One is the helmet, appropriate since she was born in full armour. Thankfully my silver ink behaved better than my gold ink so that I could give her helmet and also her fibula a metallic finish. Athena is also associated with the owl, her sacred bird and mascot. As is traditional in statues of the goddess, I chose to draw the owl perched on her shoulder. I would be curious to learn which was associated with wisdom first, Athena or the owl, and whether the association led the wisdom of one to be connected to the other. Anyone know?
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