Greek gods are, by nature, pretty multifaceted. Take Aphrodite, for example. She's known for her otherworldly beauty and love of love, but she's also remembered as the deity who fed a guy's horses magical water that caused them to crush and eat his body after he denied her advances. So, yeah, you could say these mythological characters are kind of complex.
Case in point: Athena. Regarded as the goddess of wisdom and war, the patron of Athens is also considered the goddess of all things crafty. She's the one you can thank for the gifts of cooking and sewing, but she's also the skilled and courageous immortal who lent a hand to guys like Hercules, Perseus and Odysseus, so they could go down in history as heroes. Here are seven more facts that make Athena a legend with many layers:
1. She Represents a Unique Form of Intelligence
"She is the essence of cunning intelligence, for which the Greeks had a word: 'mêtis,'" says Richard P. Martin, Antony and Isabelle Raubitschek Professor in Classics at Stanford University. "It is not 'wisdom' or learning in the senses we usually think of. Instead, it is the skill at judging a situation and figuring out, on the fly, exactly what moves to make. It is through mêtis that people know how to steer ships in rough seas, or command a rushing chariot team, or put together complicated carpentry projects (like the wooden Trojan Horse — Athena taught the carpenter Epeios to make that). It's savoir-faire, savvy, know-how and it does not always respect rules or color inside the lines. That's what makes her appealing."
2. She's Considered the Greek Equivalent to the Roman Minerva ... but She's Definitely Distinct
One common misconception that Martin wants to correct? "That she is abstract, neutral and rather boring 'wisdom,' — that's a later allegorical interpretation, which comes to the fore when the Romans start to associate Athena with their own native goddess, Minerva."
3. Her Origin Story Is Kind of Crazy
"The story went that Zeus had impregnated a goddess, Mêtis — her name means that category of 'cunning intelligence,'" Martin explains. "But then learned that the eventual offspring would be stronger than he was and would overthrow him. So, he swallowed the goddess, got a huge headache, and had his son Hephaestus split his skull with an axe. Out popped a full-grown, fully-armed Athena."
4. Athena Had a Hand in Offing Medusa
When Perseus, the only son of Zeus and Danae, set out to behead a monster known for turning men to stone, he needed some help. Enter Athena and fellow god, Hermes. The duo gifted the half-mortal Perseus a few items to make battling Medusa a bit easier: winged sandals, the helmet of Hades, Athena's shiny shield so he could see Medusa's approach, and a special bag in which to tote his enemy's head around. Athena also supposedly guided Perseus' hand as he sliced the snake-haired monster's head off.
5. She's a "Shark Tank"-worthy Inventor
The number of everyday tools and artsy supplies Athena is credited with producing is astounding. Farmers can thank her for inventing the plow, rake, yoke and bridle. She's also considered the inventor of the chariot and she designed the first ship. Other trademark Athena items include the earthenware pot, flute and trumpet. And did we mention she's considered the first one to teach the science of mathematics, in addition to coming up with stuff like spinning, weaving and cooking?
6. Athena Was a Badass Warrior With a Crafty Side
"The craft of war is another one of her cunning-intelligence based skills," Martin says. "How to fight, parry, plan tactics etc. So was the craft of weaving, hence her connection with the giant robe." Giant what? More on that in a second.
7. Her Birthday Was Considered a Big Deal in Ancient Greece
"Her birthday was celebrated in Athens every year in late July with a huge procession to her temple on the Acropolis (the Parthenon — still mostly standing from the fifth century B.C.E.)," Martin says. "A woven cloak as big as the sail of a boat was actually hoisted onto the mast of a boat that was put on a wheeled carriage — like a modern parade float. It was later folded up and brought to be deposited in her temple — a sort of birthday present from the whole city for their patron goddess."