In Iliad 5 Homer describes how Athena took off the finely wrought robe ‘which she herself had made and worked at with her own hands’ and ‘armed herself for grievous war’. This incident encapsulates the paradoxical nature of a goddess who is as skilled in the making of clothes as she is fearless in battle; who thus unites in her person the characteristic excellences of both sexes. At the greater Panathenaea in Athens, she was presented with a robe, the work of maidens' hands (see arrephoria), which traditionally portrayed the battle of the gods and Giants in which she was the outstanding warrior on the side of the gods.
Her patronage of crafts is expressed in cults such as that of Athena Erganē, Athena the Craftswoman or Maker; it extends beyond the ‘works’ of women to carpentry, metalworking, and technology of every kind, so that at Athens she shared a temple and a festival with Hephaestus and can be seen on vases seated (in armour!) in a pottery. Her love of battle is evident, as we saw, in myth, and also in such cults as that of Athena Victory (Nike); she is regularly portrayed armed, one leg purposefully advanced, wearing her terror‐inducing aegis.
She is also closely associated with the masculine world in her mythological role as a helper of male heroes, most memorably seen in her presence beside Heracles on several of the metopes of the temple of Zeus at Olympia. Indeed her intervention in battle often takes the form of ‘standing beside’ a favourite. Her virginity is a bridge between the two sides of her nature. Weaving is a characteristic activity of ordinary young girls, but a perpetual virgin, who is not subject to the distinctively feminine experience of childbirth, is a masculine woman, a potential warrior.
The warlike Athena is scarcely separable from Athena Polias, the goddess of the Acropolis (see athens, topography) and protectress of cities. ‘City‐protecting’ was more commonly performed by goddesses than gods; and the other great protectress was the other great warrior‐goddess of the Iliad, Athena's close associate Hera. Athena exercised this function in many cities besides Athens, including Sparta and (in the Iliad) Troy. Athens was unique only in the degree of prominence that it assigned her in this role.
Athena is unique among Greek gods in bearing a connection with a city imprinted in her very name. The precise linguistic relation between place and goddess is hard to define: the form of her name in early Attic inscriptions is the adjectival ‘Athenaia’, which suggests that she may in origin be ‘the Athenian’ something, the Athenian Pallas for instance. But this account still leaves the shorter name‐form ‘Athena’ unexplained. Athenians themselves, stressed the goddess's association with their city. She was foster‐mother of the early king Erechtheus/Erichthonius, and had competed, successfully, with Poseidon for possession of Attica. In panhellenic mythology, however, she shows no special interest in Athens or in Athenian heroes. The association with Athens does not appear to affect her fundamental character.
Subjects: Classical studies