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Essay/Term paper: Athena

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Greek Mythology

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Athena

by Jason Stowe
Period 2

The god to be the topic of discussion in this report is Athena. Athena was an
important member of the Olympic pantheon. She was born fully armed from the
forehead of Zeus, the chief god. Athena was Zeus's favorite child. He
entrusted her with the Aegis, his breastplate, and with his thunderbolt.
Athena's role as a goddess varied. She was a major warrior and most images
depict her dressed in armor and holding a spear. In Homer's Iliad, she is
described as a fierce battle goddess who continually intervened on the side of
the Greeks. She also took an interest in handicrafts and agriculture. The
olive tree, which she said to have created, is sacred to her. She was noted for
her wisdom which explains her close association with the owl, an ancient symbol
of wisdom and reason. The most famous temple to Athena was the Parthenon (5th
century BC) which was named for Parthenos ("the Maiden"), which still stands
atop the Acropolis in Athens. The interior of the Parthenon stands a statue of
Athena Parthenos, sculpted by Phidais. When I was reading through myths, I
decided I would talk about "The Gift of Athena" which, in my opinion, best
illustrates Athena's colorful personality. Here is how "The Gift of Athena"
goes:

Long, long ago, when this old world was a very young place, and when the few
people there were had just begun to live together in groups for their own
protection, the great gods selected the places for humans to build the cities.
They looked down upon the earth, through the clouds that shrouded their home on
the very peak of the high mountain called Olympus, and they chose the sites they
thought would provide everything mortals needed to live and prosper. Now, each
god and goddess was eager to have a great city built in his or her honor, and so
the prime locations-the very best places for the great cities to be built came
to cause much bickering and jealousy among the many deities for all wanted a
great city built in their honor, a city whose people would worship that
particular god or goddess above all others. It happened that great Zeus, the
king and ruler of all the gods, had found a spot on earth that appeared
absolutely ideal for the building of a noble city; indeed, he foresaw that the
city that would be built there would someday become the noblest city on earth.
Well, you can imagine that all the gods and goddesses wanted this city for their
own, and you would be right. But the two who wanted it most of all were Athena,
the goddess of wisdom, and Poseidon, the god of the seas and rivers. Now,
Athena was one of Zeus's daughters, and you might expect that her father would
honor her request, but Poseidon was Zeus's brother, and Zeus did not want to
disappoint him, either. Poseidon appealed to Zeus, saying that this location
would provide the city with the greatest natural harbor in all of the world and
destine it to be a great seaport. Therefore, as god of the sea, it was only
right that he, Poseidon, should be its chief god. But Athena argued just as
earnestly that the greatness of this city would not lie in its commerce, but
rather in the respect its people would someday have for art and learning. As
goddess of wisdom, therefore, she should be its guardian. Zeus, at last, decided
upon a way to end this quarrel and to choose, fairly, between the two. He
called for a great council to be held at the very site of the new city, and
there, with all of the gods and goddesses arrayed before him, Zeus spoke from
his golden throne in a clear, commanding voice. "Listen," he said, "to the will
of Zeus, who judges now between Poseidon and Athena. The city that is desired
by each shall bear the name of that god who shall bring forth from the earth the
better gift for the mortals who will dwell here. If Poseidon's gift be judged
more useful, this city shall be called Poseidonia, but if Athena's gift be
deemed the better, the city shall forever after be known as Athens." Upon
hearing this, Poseidon arose in all his majesty, and he struck his trident (that
is, the long, three-pronged spear that he always carried)-he struck this trident
hard into the ground right where he stood. The earth shook violently all around
until, at last, a great crack opened up in the surface. Out of this steaming
chasm leaped a magnificent horse, his powerful white body fully arrayed in
battle gear, a war-horse like none had ever seen before. "Behold my gift," said
Poseidon, "and call the city after my name, for who can give these mortals a
better present that the horse, which will ensure their protection from all their
enemies." But Athena looked steadfastly with her keen gray eyes at the assembled
gods, and she stooped slowly down to touch the earth where she stood. She said
nothing but continued to gaze calmly on that great council. Presently they all
witnessed a small shoot growing from the ground where Athena had touched her
hand. It grew swiftly and in minutes had sprouted thick and luscious boughs and
leaves; higher and higher it rose until green fruit appeared on its clustering
branches. "My gift is better, O Zeus, than that of Poseidon," she said. "The
horse he has given shall bring war and strife and anguish to these morals and
their children, but my gift-the olive tree-is the sign of peace and plenty, of
health and strength, and the pledge of happiness and freedom. Is it not more
fitting, then, that the city to be founded here should be called after my name?"
Then the voices of the gods rose in the air as one: "The gift of Athena is
better by far, for it is the token that this city shall be greater in peace than
in war, and nobler in its freedom than it its power. Let the city be called
Athens forevermore." Hearing their appeal, Zeus then bowed his head as a sign of
his judgment that the city should be named for Athena. The earth trembled as he
rose from his golden throne to return to the halls of Olympus. Athena stood
gazing over the land that her victory had given her, and she decided that it was
here that she would make her home. "Here," she said, "my children will grow up
in happiness, and they will come to understand that freedom is the greatest gift
a people can receive. And when the torch of freedom has gone out in Athens, it
will be passed on to other peoples in other lands throughout the world."

This myth shows how Athena longed for peace and wisdom rather than war. Also,
Poseidon held a trident. Trident is actually a combination of a Latin prefix
tri-, meaning "three" and the Latin root or stem dent-, meaning "tooth". So,
the trident is like a spear with three teeth! Words like tricycle, triangle,
etc. also originated from this tri- prefix. Words like dentist and denture
originated from this dent- stem. So, these are good examples of how today's
words originated from the Greek and Roman times!



 

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