By Kelli M. Webert, MA*
Athena is commonly known as the goddess of wisdom, but in her early inspirations she was associated with wind and storms. Like the wind, Athena was portrayed as being cool and clear, which later led to depictions of her being clear, rational and objective. As a goddess who was focused on the strength of mind rather than the strength of body, she eventually lost her association with weather and became a figure associated with inspiration.
In Greek culture, it was believed that the organs which were located higher on the body were more important. This meant that the brain or the mind was the most vital organ in the body, making a goddess like Athena especially important to their culture. Mythology reveals her to be the favorite daughter of Zeus, one of the most powerful characters in the religion. She would often show favor to those who were shown to be shrewd, industrious or moral. These associations made it natural for her to be used as a symbol of inspiration for thoughtful members of Greek society.
Athena was often known to teach the Greeks about aspects of technology which would help improve their society. One of the most well-known examples of this was the creation of a navy which helped the Greeks win many important battles to help preserve their land. This type of work combined her role as a goddess of inspiration and the wind, since both were needed to create and power the vessels.
Athena is often portrayed as an owl, due to her association with wisdom. Owls are known to be very shrewd and cunning animals, making it the ideal fit for a goddess thought to offer battle tactics, philosophy and other bits of inspiration to those she favored. The owl was also a creature known for soaring quickly to hunt and maneuver, which once again ties in the original idea of associating Athena with wind or storms.
This goddess, among many others, is associated with battle due to her tendency to offer tactics to the sides she favored. Because of this, Athena is often depicted as a strong woman, more often than not a warrior watching over her people. Her goal was often to restore peace to troubled lands so that society could continue to grow and prosper, creating beautiful works of art and inventing new forms of technology. She would also act as a muse for artists and craftsmen. It was not uncommon to associate those who did especially well at their craft with the work of Athena.
Above all, Athena would always strive to bring order where there was none. Like the wind, she would gently cool the chaos around her by ushering in a gentle, cooling breath. Though Ares is in charge of war, she would often step in to calm the wreckage his battles left behind by creating viable strategies for the soldiers to use to end the war. These divine tactics make her an incredible inspirational piece as well as a fierce contender in Greek mythology.
*Guest blogger for this column. Reprinted with permission from the Foreword of: Athena Queen of the Air by John Ruskin ( I (Tim Kavi) also have a piece on Athena in the same book).~~TK