Weird myths: the birth of Athena

Greek mythology contains a lot of myths. A lot. Some of them are epic and exciting, some are beautiful and heartbreaking, and some… some are just plain weird. (Often it’s a combination of all or some of these.) And while the birth of Athena has highly symbolic elements, it’s also pretty funny.

I never thought of it that way until I had to read a ridiculous text in secondary school about this very myth. We were just learning about questions in ancient Greek, so this text consisted mostly of questions followed by answers in which the entire question was repeated. This silly text made the awkward situation in the myth especially clear. I will now tell you the myth as I learned it in secondary school (without the awkward questions).

The time Zeus ate his wife

Before Zeus married Hera, he was married to Metis (meaning ‘wisdom’ or ‘counsel’). Or maybe he just had a thing with her one time and our schoolbook was trying to make the story a little more kid proof. Or maybe (definitely) there are different versions of the story. Anyway. Metis got pregnant. Unfortunately, there was a prophecy that she would bear very powerful children – stronger even than Zeus. So Zeus did the sensible thing – as soon as he found out she was pregnant, he ate her whole. No chance of the child being born then, right?

As you might have guessed, he was wrong.

The time Zeus had a splitting headache

Nine months later (I think – I’m not sure if divine pregnancies last as long as human ones), the strangest thing happened… Zeus got a headache. A really, really bad headache. Now he either realised that his headache felt remarkably similar to contractions, or his headache was so bad that the only thing he could think of to relieve it was having his head split open with an axe, because he called over his son Hephaistos and asked him to split open his head with an axe. Not entirely unexpected, Hephaistos was not immediately inclined to comply. Zeus managed to convince him, however, so Hephaistos swung his axe and cut Zeus’s head open – and out jumped Athena, fully grown and clothed, carrying a shield and spear and screaming a terrifying war cry.

260px-amphora_birth_athena_louvre_f32

The Birth of Athena on a 6th century BCE amphora. Source: wikimedia commons.

Just think on that image for a second.

All right. Continue reading.

The time Zeus got a new favourite daughter

Hephaistos, upon seeing this impressive goddess, immediately fell in love with her (of course) and asked Zeus if he could marry her. Zeus answered that he would totally agree, but he knew Athena would say no, so it would be best to avoid heartbreak and never ask her (he did end up asking her and there’s another super weird myth about that). He already knew Athena would stay a girl forever, aka take a vow of chastity. Which, I guess, she did right after that. That wasn’t in the story but it seems logical.

Zeus had apparently forgotten about the prophecy that made him eat Metis in the first place, or maybe he realised immediately that Athena wasn’t stronger than him, because in all the stories it’s clear that he shared a very strong bond with Athena. That’s often attributed to the fact that he was her only parent, because I guess you don’t count as a mother if you’ve been eaten before giving birth, and Zeus is jokingly described as being both mother and father to Athena. Of course, besides her being his favourite child, listening to the goddess of wisdom and strategy is probably the smart thing to do, anyway.

 

I hope you enjoyed this, but whether you did or not, I’d love to hear your feedback! Would you like to know more relatively well-known myths like this one, or would you rather hear about the lesser known ones? Do you have any specific requests? Let me know!

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6 thoughts on “Weird myths: the birth of Athena

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