the plan for the future

The Birth of Athena

Author: Nancy Conner, PhD

Taken from: - The Birth of Athena

Athena was the daughter of Zeus and Metis. But Athena wasn't born in the way babies usually come into the world. Her unique birth made her special even among the gods.

When Metis became pregnant with Zeus's child, Gaia warned Zeus that if Metis gave birth to a daughter, a son would then follow. That son would grow to surpass Zeus in strength and would depose his father. Zeus, like his own father and grandfather, feared being overthrown. So he decided to make sure that this fearsome son would never be born. Zeus tricked Metis into transforming herself into a tiny fly. Then, he swallowed her.

Even though Zeus had swallowed Metis, she was still pregnant. One day, Zeus was incapacitated by a massive headache. Crying out in pain, Zeus ordered Hephaestus to use his ax to split open his pounding head. Hephaestus did as he was told. (Other versions of the myth say it was Prometheus, Hermes, or Palaemon who did the deed.) As soon as the ax split Zeus's skull, his daughter Athena emerged from his head, fully grown and dressed in armor. Instead of a baby's wail, Athena met the world with a battle cry.

In her youth, Athena had a friend Pallas, whose name meant “maiden.” Pallas was the beautiful daughter of Triton, a sea god. The two girls often practiced warfare together. One day, they quarreled over some small matter, and Pallas tried to hit Athena. Zeus, playing the part of overprotective father, interfered and deflected the blow. Athena retaliated, striking at Pallas, but Pallas was frightened of Zeus and didn't defend herself. Athena's blow killed her young friend.

Athena was deeply sorry for her death and erected a statue in her friend's honor. The statue took its place next to Zeus on Mount Olympus, but later it fell to Earth in the region that would become the city of Troy. Athena also took Pallas's name and was often referred to as Pallas Athena.