Mythology is one of the richest sources of knowledge left by ancient people. It contains information about all spheres of human activity, objects of worship, mysteries, and values peculiar to society at a certain period of time. Creating various gods and giving them superpowers, people tried to explain phenomena unknown to them and avoid the fear that always comes with ignorance. For this reason, in mythological creatures, people embodied their ideas about the nature of the universe, its origin, and the causes that make things exist. At the same time, in many cultures, gods combined both human and supernatural qualities that preconditioned their behavior, traits of character, and relations. In Ancient Greek mythology, the pantheon included 12 gods that were in close family relations with each other and reflected behavioral patterns peculiar to society of that time. For instance, Athena, the daughter of Zeus, was one of the strongest female divine creatures honored by people and served as the representation of the ideas of wisdom, power, warfare, justice, which impacted the formation of individuals’ mentalities.
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In general, ancient Greek mythology can be considered a unique cultural phenomenon that significantly impacted the development of the world. First of all, Greece of that period of time was a powerful center of a civilization that spread its influence on many regions. The existence of multiple colonies in various parts of the world contributed to the popularization of the unique customs and their future development. Moreover, the military successes of ancient Greeks and Alexander the Great’s invasion of Asia create the ground for the penetration of mythology in the mentalities of peoples living in different areas (Deacy, 2008). For this reason, gods and myths became one of the significant factors affecting the formation of individuals’ views of the world, its evolution, and relations between persons. Additionally, they impacted archetypical images of men, women, and their relationships. In such a way, mythology became a significant factor that shaped the ancient world and created the basis for the further evolution of unique ideas and notions.
If to focus on Athena, she was one of the most important gods of the Greek pantheon, and her influence on people’s mentalities was significant. In accordance with the myth, she was born from the head of Zeus, the supreme god (Deacy, 2008). The given peculiarity of birth explains her traditional association with wisdom and thought. With the development of her image, Athena also became associated with handicraft, justice, and warfare (Deacy, 2008). The given features contributed to the formation of a certain visual image of the goddess as she is traditionally depicted or sculptured as a woman with a helmet, spear, and some of her symbols, including owls, olive trees, or Gorgoneion (Deacy, 2008). The given pattern entered the mentality of individuals and became one of the embodiments of characteristics peculiar to Athena.
The power of the goddess and the importance of her personality preconditioned a wide scope of her activities and responsibilities. First of all, she was the protectress of many cities, including Athens, which was named after her (Deacy, 2008). It was considered a great honor to have Athena as the champion of the city and worship her. Additionally, the popularity of this figure resulted in the creation of numerous temples and monuments across Greece, with the famous Parthenon among them (Deacy, 2008). These buildings were part of a cult that needed to worship the goddess and ensure that she will bless the city and guarantee that it will remain protected. Another important sphere of her activity was war. It was widely believed that Athena Pallas led warriors into the battle, gave them power, and guaranteed victory (Deacy, 2008). This idea could be found in various myths, including Iliad, where she inspired many heroes, such as the mighty Achilles. She was one of the initiators of that war and helped Greeks to defeat Trojans by using not only power but also wisdom.
Athena was also responsible for the promotion of various crafts. There are many myths in which her outstanding skills in different arts or helped people to create unique masterpieces. At the same time, she punished mortals who were too arrogant or proud. In the myth of Arachne, a talented woman challenged Athena to a contest and won it; however, for her disrespect, she was transformed into a spider (Deacy, 2008). The main festival devoted to the goddess was held in midsummer and was called Panatheniana, which was an important event in the lives of ancient Greeks (Deacy, 2008). The popularity of her image and its importance can also be evidenced by the fact that in the Renaissance, Athena acquired a symbolic meaning, representing wisdom, arts, classical learning, and knowledge; at the same time, the combination of all these qualities resulted in the use of her personality to appeal to freedom and democracy (Deacy, 2008). In such a way, the brief description of Athena’s main activities, features, and responsibilities shows that the given goddess was critically important for the ancient world, and this significance can be seen even today.
In the modern world, the image of the goddess can also be associated with multiple spheres of human activity. For this reason, there is a need for an in-depth analysis of Athena and all layers of meanings that can be related to her. First of all, the most obvious association is power. Being the goddess of noble war, different from Ares, who was responsible for any military actions including cruelty, devastations, massacre, and suffering, she inspired people to struggle for some ideas (Deacy, 2008). For this reason, Athena can be taken as the archetype of authority and might. Today, there are multiple associations that can be traced to this goddess and her role in the pantheon of ancient Greek gods. In the patriarchal society, this image also remains critically important as she guides male warriors who want to fight for some values or ideas (Cashford & Baring, 1993). This symbolic meaning preserves today as questions of authority, justice, and might are topical and discussed at different levels.
Another her responsibility, warfare, has always been considered a male occupation. Due to the existence of this stereotype, Athena significantly impacted the evolution of the classical image of a soldier who had to combine wisdom, power, and nobility to protect his family, close people, children, and land (Cashford & Baring, 1993). Resting on the original context, people started to associate her with all these qualities and created one of the typical images of war and just warfare, as against the view that any military action presupposes multiple victims, devastations, infringement of people’s rights, and unfair acts, the perspective related to Athena’s image emphasizes the fact that warriors should remain generous and follow a particular code that is critical for their being respected by people.
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In such a way, because of the existence of stereotypically masculine qualities and responsibilities in domains that had traditionally been considered male, Athena’s image to a greater degree contributed to the creation and empowerment of patriarchal society, which emphasizes the power of men and their ability to make decisions or policies. It is another critical factor of her image that should be mentioned (“Interpreting Athena,” n.d.). The sphere of politics can also be related to Athena, as its evolution was significantly affected by her image. In ancient Greece, diplomacy and governing were two factors that belonged to the goddess’ duties as being one of the wisest supernatural creatures; she helped people to create fair laws and guarantee that society will evolve along with the concept of justice (Deacy, 2008). For this reason, in the majority of cases, politicians are influenced by the archetypical ideas of responsibility and authority embodied in the image of Athena.
Moreover, for society, the symbolic figure of this ancient Greek goddess is taken as an embodiment of craft and art. Being the patron of this sphere, Athena has always been associated with various forms of creativity and skills. Today, this meaning preserves as there are many allusions to the ideas peculiar to her image and concepts that served as a basis for the rise of the cult. She inspired many artists, both ancient and modern ones, to create unique masterpieces and contribute to the further evolution of various forms. At the same time, Athena’s sculptures and pictures were created in different periods of history, which evidences her outstanding importance for the given sphere, and the significance of the original context preconditioning her appearance of creative people in various epochs (Deacy, 2008). In such a way, the multi-layered nature of Athena’s figure remains one of the important factors that shaped people’s mentality and contributed to the appearance of multiple concepts in the fields of policy, art, warfare.
Athena and Women
However, if to analyze the given character from the perspective of contemporary women and their role in society, its unique importance becomes evident. She was one of the first female goddesses that combined many powers and influenced great masses of people. At the same time, accepting the fact that gods are created by communities to embody their archetypical representations of various ideas, the choice of a woman to serve as the generalized character combining all these traits can be considered symbolic (Deacy, 2008). The fact is that Ares, which is often taken as the male and crueler version of Athena, was not so popular and powerful (“Interpreting Athena,” n.d.). On the contrary, he was often opposed to his sister with some negative inclinations, and, almost in all situations, he was defeated (Deacy, 2008). It shows that since the first stages of her evolution, Athena, as the female element, was given a fundamental role in the development of worldview and society. This factor cannot but inspire women and serves as the main facilitator of their struggle for rights, power, and the ability to protect values that are important to them.
One of the aspects that precondition the fundamental significance of the goddess both for a woman in her original cultural context and for a contemporary woman is the unusual combination of qualities that were considered typically male and female. First of all, Athena, as a woman, was a guide of crafts. It can be taken as one of the first stereotypical representations of all females as they had to possess multiple skills to create things, look for their homes, and care about children. From this point of view, the character of the goddess served to cultivate these values in women and show them the importance of these occupations (“Interpreting Athena,” n.d.). The importance of this aspect preserves today; however, with the reconsideration of roles in relations, it becomes less important if to compare with the original cultural context. For modern people, the craft is a hobby, not an element of survival, which means that there are some social factors that decrease the topicality of these meanings. At the same time, it remains an important part of the image of a woman.
The second important factor is that Athena has always been associated with wisdom. In other words, in the classic ancient Greek worldview, a woman was the embodiment of knowledge and, which is more important, of a clear mind. As against her father, Zeus, who was also a symbol of power and wisdom, the goddess did not have outbursts of rage and was able to control the situation with her unique abilities (Deacy, 2008). The given features show that females were given such vital characteristics, as people created gods that were similar to them. This idea inspired ancient women as they became certain keepers of wisdom and knowledge. As for the contemporary era, these qualities of Athena also remain important as women acquire the additional inspiration to struggle for their rights and evidence of their unique role in the history of humanity (Enderstein, 2018). From this perspective, the ancient Greek goddess becomes the representation of a modern woman and how she wants to be accepted by society.
As for the policymaking and authority, these two aspects should also be mentioned if to speak about the image of Athena and her impact on women and feminism. As it has already been stated, she was one of the mightiest gods with the ability to impact states and their further development. In such a way, Greeks put these features in a female character as an acceptance of women’s ability to interfere with the work of states and introduce changes that impact their further evolution. For women, at that period of time, it meant that they could perform some ritual activities and give pieces of advice that might be followed by rulers (Deacy, 2008). However, in contemporary society, it acquires a new sense as the image of Athena can be employed to demonstrate females’ ability to be active policymakers and possess authority that can influence the development of nations. In such a way, the symbolic meaning that is associated with Athena remains relevant today as they might inspire women to move forward and destroy stereotypes that limit their evolution.
Finally, as for warfare and might, for women of the past, these two aspects were important. War was one of the important parts of their lives, even though it was considered a male occupation. However, in complex situations, they were ready to protect their homes with weapons in their hands. This idea was embodied in the image of Athena, a goddess-warrior who punished her enemies with justice. Being an archetypical combination of all traits that are important for women, this figure can also be used regarding contemporary society and the reconsideration of gender roles in it. More and more women start to work in the military sector and participate in warfare. There are multiple factors that precondition the given tendency, including civil rights and feminist movements and the desire to participate in various spheres of people’s lives (Enderstein, 2018). However, the impact of Athena and her symbolic meaning on the formation of people’s mentalities and models of behaviors should also be considered a potent force that stimulated the development of ideas of equality and the existence of multiple opportunities for women who want to play various roles in society.
Altogether, Athena is a powerful good belonging to the ancient Greek pantheon. She was created as the embodiment of qualities that were important to people at that period of time. For this reason, she became a symbol of wisdom, might, warfare, and craft. The importance of the culture and its spread to different regions of the world preconditioned the popularity of her image among wide populations. With the development of communities, it evolved and acquired fresh features that rested on the old ones. It means that the character of Athena served as a stimulus for the emergence of the concept of a new woman that becomes peculiar to contemporary society. This reconsidered image includes archetypical features of a female that were used as the basis for the creation of the goddess in ancient times. Her character was one of the factors that preconditioned the appearance of alterations in the vision of a woman and became one of the fundamental perquisites for their participation in policymaking, warfare, and other critical spheres of people’s activity.
Cashford, J., & Baring, A. (1993). The myth of the goddess: Evolution of an image. New York, NY: Penguin.
Deacy, S. (2008). Athena (Gods and heroes of the ancient world). London, England: Routledge.
Enderstein, A.-M. (2018). (Not) just a girl: Reworking femininity through women’s leadership in Europe. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 25(3), 325–340. Web.
Interpreting Athena: Ancient times and now. (n.d.). Web.