The goddess Athena (sometimes Athene or Pallas Athena) is one of the major figures within the Greek mythological pantheon, and the namesake of the city-state of Athens.
Usually manifesting as a beautiful young woman, the warrior-goddess Athena was depicted as being birthed a fully-grown adult complete with bronze helm and spear. In addition to being the patron deity of warfare, she also watched over the fields of handicraft, heroic endeavour and wise council. One of her most notable symbols was the owl, symbolising her personification of wisdom.
Like most of the Greek gods, there are many stories of the origin of Athena, but the most common one is the tale of Zeus and Metis. In this version, Zeus married the Titaness Metis and conceived a child by her but, afraid of the prophecy issued by his vanquished father Cronus which stated that Zeus's own child would rise up and in turn overthrow him, Zeus swallowed Metis whole. Metis, alive and well inside Zeus's belly, set about the task of forging the necessary equipment for her unborn child. The constant hammering inside of him drove the King of the Gods near-insane, and in an effort to relieve the agony requested that his son Hephaestus strike him on the head with his axe. This Hephaestus did, and the act clove open Zeus's skull, freeing a fully formed and armed Athena.
Whilst the history of Athena is long and complex - she was known to have aided many of the mortal Greek heroes, particularly Heracles, in their endeavours - there are a few stories which stand out from the others, and are listed below.
The Patronage of Athens
In this legend, both Athena and her uncle Poseidon competed to be the patron of the great city-state of Athens. The two agreed that to determine who would win the contest, each would give a single gift to the city, and let the king of Athens decide which one was the better. Poseidon struck the earth a mighty blow with his trident, causing a great spring of saltwater to erupt, giving the Athenians access to trade, and allowing them to become a powerful naval nation. However, Athena presented the king with the very first domesticated olive tree, granting them the ability to produce their own food, oil and wood. The king of Athens declared that Athena’s gift was the greater, and so she adopted the city as her own.
The Punishment of Medusa
Another tale involving Poseidon tells that he lusted after a beautiful priestess of Athena named Medusa who had taken a vow of chastity to serve in her goddess's temple. Poseidon, caring not one whit for the vow, entered the temple before catching and raping the poor girl. An enraged Athena, rather than confronting and challenging Poseidon about the desecration of her temple, instead turned the maiden into a monstrous abomination with serpents for hair whose very gaze could turn a man to stone.
The Contest with Arachne
The talented spinner Arachne grew arrogant and boastful in her work, stating that she was a greater weaver than even the goddess of handicraft, Athena herself. This attracted the ire of Athena, who transformed into a wizened old woman and challenged the girl to a weaving contest. Athena wove a great depiction of her victory over Poseidon at Athens, whilst Arachne chose to work a tapestry showing the many infidelities of the gods. Whilst Athena acknowledged that Arachne's craftsmanship was flawless, she was further enraged at the subject matter of her opponent's piece, and struck her down. However, Athena later took pity on the woman, and resurrected her as a spider.