Birth of Athena

The goddess Athena was born of Zeus himself. He, the Thunderbolt, knew that the goddess of reason, Metis, would have two children: a daughter, Athena, and a son with extraordinary intelligence and extraordinary strength. The Moiras, the goddesses of fate, revealed to Zeus the secret that the son of the goddess Metis would dethrone him and take away his power over the world. The great Zeus was frightened. In order to avoid the terrible fate foretold to him by the moirs, he, after putting the goddess Metis to sleep with kind words, devoured her before she gave birth to her daughter, the goddess Athena.

Head of Athens, detail of a bronze stamnoid situla, 340 – 320 BC.

After a while, Zeus felt a terrible headache. Then Hephaestus called his son and ordered him to cut off his head to save him from the unbearable pain and noise in it. Hephaestus swung his axe hard, splitting Zeus‘ skull with one blow without harming him, and the powerful and warlike goddess Athena was born from the thunderbolt’s head. Fully armed, with a shining helmet, spear, and shield, she stood before the astonished eyes of the Olympian gods. She waved her shiny spear terribly. Her battle cry spread far across the sky, and the bright Olympus shook to its foundations. Beautiful, majestic she stood before the gods. Divine wisdom shone in the blue eyes of Athena; it all shone with wonderful, unearthly, domineering beauty. The gods glorified his beloved daughter, born of the head of father Zeus, defender of the cities, goddess of wisdom and knowledge, the warlike and invincible Athena.

Athena patronizes the heroes of Greece, gives them its wise advice and helps them – fearlessly – in times of danger. She protects cities, fortresses and their walls. Gives wisdom and knowledge, teaches people arts and crafts. And girls in Greece revere Athena for teaching them needlework. None of the mortals and goddesses can compete with Athens in the art of weaving. Everyone knows how dangerous it is to compete with her in this, they know how much Arachna, Idmon’s daughter, who wanted to surpass Athena in this art, paid dearly.

Athena and Arachne

Arachne became famous throughout Lydia for her art. Nymphs on the slopes of Tmol and on the banks of the gold-bearing Pactol often gathered to admire her work. Arachna wove from threads like fog, fabrics as transparent as air. She was proud that there was no equal in the world in the art of weaving. She once shouted:

“If you want, let Athena herself come to compete with me! She won’t beat me, I’m not afraid of the race.”

Here that the goddess Athena, standing like a white-haired and hunched grandmother, stood before Arachne and said to her:

“Not only evil brings with it old age, Arachne; the years also bring experience. Listen to my advice: strive to surpass only mortals with your art. Don’t challenge the goddess to a race. Humbly ask her to forgive you for your haughty words. The goddess forgave those who prayed to her.”

Arachna dropped the thin yarn, her eyes gleaming angrily. Confident in her art, she boldly replied:

“You’re unreasonable, Grandma. You’ve been stupid since old age. Give such instructions to your daughters-in-law and daughters, and leave me alone. I will be able to handle it myself. Whatever I said will be. Why didn’t Athena come, why doesn’t she want to compete with me?”

“Here I am, Arachne!” , yelled the goddess, taking up her true image again.

The nymphs and Lydian women bowed low to the beloved daughter of Zeus and paid homage to her. Only Arachne was silent, As the sky blazed in the early morning with red light, when the pink-fingered Dawn – Eos was flying in the sky on its shining wings, so the face of Athena blushed with anger. Arachne sticks to her decision, still passionate about competing with Athens. She does not feel threatened with imminent doom.

The race begins. The great goddess Athena wove a tablecloth, on which she depicted in the middle the majestic Acropolis of Athens, and on it her dispute with Poseidon for power over Attica. Twelve bright gods from Olympus, and among them her father, Zeus the Thunderer. They sit as judges in this dispute. Poseidon, lifts his trident, strikes a rock with it, and a salt spring gushes from the barren rock. And Athena, with a helmet, shield and aegis, sharpens her spear and plunges it deep into the ground. From there grows the sacred olive tree. The gods judged that she had defeated Athena, recognizing her gift to Attica as more valuable. In the corners, the goddess depicted the gods punishing people for their disobedience, and woven a wreath of olive leaves around it.

Arachne, on the other hand, painted on her tablecloth many scenes from the life of the gods, where they are presented as weak, ruled by human passions. And around these scenes Arachne wove a wreath of flowers intertwined with ivy. Arachne’s work was the pinnacle of perfection; she was not inferior in beauty to the work of Athena, but in her paintings there was disrespect, even contempt for the gods. Athena was terribly angry, interrupted Arachne’s work, and hit her with the shuttle. The unfortunate Arachne could not bear this disgrace; she twisted a rope, made a noose, and hung herself. Athena freed Arachne from the snare and told her:

“Long live the rebellious woman. But you will hang forever and weave forever, and this punishment will continue in your offspring.”

Athena sprayed Arachna with the juice of magic grass and immediately her body shrank, her thick hair fell from her head and she turned into a spider. Since then, the Arachne spider has been hanging on its cobweb and weaving it forever, as it used to weave as a woman.

Minerva (Athena) and Arachne, René-Antoine Houasse, 1706