Greek goddess Athena

Classic Geek Gal: Greek Goddess Athena

This article is part of a series where we look back in history at strong women–from real life, fiction, or the blending of both into legend–who blazed new trails, had great adventures, and stood up for what was right. They are the originals that our grandmothers and generations of women before admired and who became the stepping stones for us, the Geek Gals of today. We shall call these female forbearers our Classic Geek Gals.

Greek Goddess Athena
Greek Goddess Athena / Credit: goodfon.com

I’d like to introduce to you our next Classic Geek Gal: Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom and war.

So… who is Athena?

Athena statue
A statue of Athena / Credit: greekgodsandgoddesses.net

You may know Athena as the Greek goddess who has the city of Athens and the ancient temple the Parthenon dedicated to her. You may even know her as a strong figure in armor because she is known as the goddess of wisdom and war. But did you know that she is also the goddess of “courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill”? In other words, not only is she multi-talented, she’s crazy smart, heroic, strong, and can kick anybody’s butt. She could probably get some killer scores in Fortnite and Overwatch, too, all while winning a game of chess against a master and weaving a tapestry that tells the story. That’s why she’s our latest Classic Geek Gal!

Now let’s look at some specific qualities and attributes.

She supports the heroes.

Douris cup
Attic red-figure kylix painting from c. 480-470 BC showing Athena observing as the Colchian dragon disgorges the hero Jason / Credit: Wikipedia

Athena can wade into any fight and save the day with her strategy and skills, but she also knows when to back a champion from behind the scenes. She played an integral part in helping Perseus defeat Medusa by giving him the shield that allowed him to see the Gorgon without turning to stone. When Heracles was challenged by the Stymphalian birds, Athena helped move them so he could slay them, and she helped Odysseus return to his kingdom and save it. If she were traditional fantasy, she’d be the guardian / teacher / wise woman who gives the intrepid adventurer some meaningful clue or random gift that makes no sense until the climax of the story… and then it saves the day!

Her animal is the owl.

Athena with owl print
Athena with her owl print / Credit: HalstenbergStudio/Etsy.com

Owls have long been symbols of wisdom and mystery, their eerie hoots echoing through the trees at night. And before you go thinking that Hogwarts students had the corner market on owls, NOPE! It comes as no surprise that a warrior with Athena’s strategy and skill would have such a swift and cunning predator by her side. In fact, Athena is frequently pictured with owls, and some scholars say she once even held the form of an owl with a mask and actual wings. Could that mean she used to be an owl shapeshifter, too? Hmm…

She weaves AND makes armor.

Athena statue
Credit: NYU Wikis

While Athena is the goddess of the arts and skills, she has two specialities that she is particularly well known for: weaving and armory forging. Not much is said about what Athena weaves, but she was challenged to a weaving contest by the mortal weaver Arachne (it didn’t end well for Arachne, who was turned into a spider). Her armory skills, though, led her to become the patroness of metalworkers who valued her aid in creating weaponry. Can you imagine getting help from Athena in building your armor? I bet there are several cosplayers who would love to learn from her crafting skills for their next costume!

She adapts through the ages.

Athena as Whole Foods cashier
Credit: College Humor

Unlike many other Greek deities, Athena’s popularity through time has helped her adapt to each new century instead of slowly fading from memory. She easily transformed into Minerva with the Roman conquest of Greece, and she appears in art and literature from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to modern times, as seen on the California state seal. Her ability to change and stay relevant could be seen as an extension of her strategic skill, or perhaps it is simply that she is such a force to admire. I like to think that she could even be considered a patroness of Geek Gals today.

Athena is our Classic Geek Gal.

Athena
Credit: Wikimediacommons.org

Athena’s intelligence, her willingness to wade into a fight, her championing of heroes, her art and skills, and her adaptability are all qualities that we admire both in real life and in stories. You could even say that she is a warrior benefactress archetype that is present in multiple genres from anime to gaming, from urban fantasy to science fiction. But why does she impact us so much that we see her in so many things? It is because she inspires us to stand tall with shield and spear in hand and be strong, smart women who will speak up for what is right, to be a little braver today than we were yesterday. She truly is a Classic Geek Gal.

Who is your Classic Geek Gal?

 

Featured image credit: goodfon.com

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