Gateway to the Classics: Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding

Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom

A THENA was one of the most powerful of the goddesses. She was called the daughter of Zeus; but the Greeks believed that she had sprung full grown from his head, wearing her helmet and armor. She was more warlike than the other goddesses, and was almost always successful in her battles.



Athena was the goddess of wisdom and learning. The owl was her favorite bird, because of its wise and solemn look, and it is often represented with Athena in the images which the Greeks made of her.

While Artemis loved most the woods and mountains, Athena like the cities better. There she watched over the work and occupations of men, and helped them to find out better ways of doing things. For them she invented the plow and the rake; and she taught men to yoke oxen to the plow that they might till the soil better and more easily. She also made the first bridle, and showed men how to tame horses with it, and make them work for them. She invented the chariot, and the flute, and the trumpet; and she taught men how to count and use numbers. Besides all this, Athena was the goddess of spinning and weaving; and she herself could weave the most beautiful cloths of many colors and of the most marvelous patterns.

There was once a girl named Arachne, who was a skillful weaver, and who was also very proud of her skill. Indeed, she was so proud that once she boasted that she could weave as well as the goddess Athena herself. The goddess heard this boast, and came to Arachne in the form of an old woman. She advised the girl to take back her words, but Arachne refused. Then the bent old woman changed suddenly into the goddess Athena. Arachne was startled and surprised, but in an instant she was ready for the test of skill which the goddess demanded. The two stood at looms side by side, and wove cloth covered with the most wonderful pictures. When the goddess discovered that she could find no fault with Arachne's work, she became terribly angry. She struck Arachne, and tore the cloth on her loom. Arachne was so frightened by the anger of the goddess that she tried to kill herself. Athena then became sorry for the girl, and saved her life by changing her into a spider. So Arachne lives to this day, and still weaves the most wonderful of all webs upon our walls and ceilings, and upon the grasses by the roadside.

It was not often, though, that Athena was so spiteful as you must think her from the story of Arachne. Usually she was kind and generous; and nothing pleased her better than to help brave, honest men, especially if they were skillful and clever.

The Greeks loved to tell the story of one such man whom Athena helped. His name was Odysseus, and in a great war of the Greeks he had proved himself to be one of the bravest and most cunning of all their chiefs. But in some way he had displeased the god Poseidon so much that when the war was over, and all the other Greeks sailed away in safety, Poseidon would not permit him to reach his far-off home. So for ten years Odysseus was kept far from his wife and child. He was blown about by storms, his ship was wrecked, and he had to meet and overcome giants and all sorts of monsters. Indeed, he had to make a trip down into the dark world of the dead before he could find out how he might manage to get back to his home again. But through it all, Athena was his friend. She watched over him, and encouraged him, and in each difficulty she taught him some trick by which he could escape. At last, after he had suffered much, and had even lost all of the men who had started with him, she brought him safely home again, in spite of all that Poseidon could do to prevent it.

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