OF THE BABY NAME ATHENA
One version of the Medusa myth comes to us from the Roman poet Ovid, in his “Metamorphoses” (completed in 8 AD). Medusa was originally a beautiful maiden, and as Ovid puts it: “Her beauty was far-famed, the jealous hope / Of many a suitor, and of all her charms / Her hair was loveliest.” [IV.793-795]. She was also the priestess of Athena’s temple where Medusa is “violated” by Poseidon. Having felt her own temple was thus dishonored, Athena was furious. In retribution, she turned Medusa’s beautiful hair into loathsome snakes and her face so ugly to behold that it would turn onlookers into stone. Athena had the face of Medusa on her shield in order that it would “strike her foes with dread”. Athena is also credited with helping the Greek hero Perseus kill the Gorgon Medusa, by giving him a polished shield so that he may approach the terrifying creature without being turned to stone.
The king of all gods Zeus threw a party but didn’t invite Eris (goddess of discord). Can you blame him? No party-poopers allowed, thank you. Angered by this snub, Eris showed up at the banquet anyway and threw an apple into the crowd. The apple said simply: “For the fairest one”. What do you think happened? Hera, Athena and Aphrodite attempted to claim the apple, each believing themselves to be the prettiest. They finally asked Zeus to be the judge, but Zeus wisely doesn’t want any part of this no-win situation knowing he’ll forever lose the favor of whichever two he doesn’t pick. The clever god of gods devises a plan that the mortal prince of Troy, Paris, will be the judge. Each of the goddesses appears before Paris offering gifts hoping to be the one he chooses. Hera was prepared to offer ownership over all of present-day Europe and Asia. Athena offered wisdom and skill in battle. But Aphrodite had the ancient business savvy to offer Helen, the most beautiful woman on earth. Who do you think Paris chose? Typical guy. He chose Aphrodite because he wanted the beautiful Helen for himself. The rest, as they say, is ancient history.
Athena was particularly fond of the Greek hero Odysseus for his cunning intelligence, a virtue she herself embodied. So it was she who inspired the famous war tactic of the Trojan horse which of course lead to the fall of Troy and the triumph of the Greeks. However, another legend purports that as the Greeks were sacking Troy, they defiled one of her alters. Deeply angered, Athena called upon the sea god, Poseidon, to destroy the bulk of the Greek’s fleet as they were returning home.
In one mythological legend, Athena and Poseidon (god of the sea) were in a dispute over which of them would preside over Athens. Zeus, eager to avoid clashes among the gods on Olympus, proposed a contest between his brother and his daughter whereby the people of the polis would judge for themselves. Athena and Poseidon were each charged with presenting a gift to the people, and the god who offered the most useful gift to the city would be granted the title of patron god(dess) of the area. Poseidon, the god of the sea, formed a freshwater spring at the citadel. Athena, however, sprang an olive tree from the ground. The olive tree serves many uses (fine wood, olive oil, medicinal benefits, the olive leaf and olive fruit) and so was chosen as the most useful gift. From then on, Athens became her namesake and she their goddess. She was also given credit for the many inventions produced from this inspired city-state, including the chariot and the art of navigation.
Athena was also the goddess of skilled work, particularly weaving. In Greco-Roman mythology as presented by Ovid in his “Metamorphoses”, Arachne was a mortal whose weaving skill was so great that the nymphs would come to “watch her wondrous work”. The girl boasted that her skill had nothing to do with the goddess (which of course deeply angered Athena). Athena disguised herself as an old lady and approached the girl, suggesting a contest between the two weavers. When Arachne scoffed at the old lady and demanded the goddess come herself, Athena revealed herself. The impertinent young girl had no fear of the goddess, believing her own skill to be superior to Athena’s. Once the contest was over, Athena was envious of Arachne’s skill and magnificent tapestry that she ripped it up and raged against the girl. In the end, Athena spared Arachne’s life by turning her into a spider (Arachne is the Greek word for spider) where she weaves her web for eternity.