1. The textual evidence witnesses a gradual elaboration of the myth of Athena's miraculous birth from Hesiod onward. Whether Homer was acquainted with the birth myth remains uncertain.
2. The myth suggests a more or less artificial incorporation of the goddess in the Olympic divine family. The Iliad (VIII, 39; XXII, 183f.) depicts her still inclined to take her own way independently. The elaboration of the myth goes parallel with the development of Athena herself, who during this period seems to change from a goddess of war to the city-goddess of Athens.
3. The representations collected demonstrate some details of the birth myth's development: as the full armour of the goddess even in the oldest known version of the myth is already a part of the narrative, the pictorial evidence demonstrates how essential a detail this circumstance was felt from the beginning. So we are inclined to consider Athena's warlike attributes had their place in the birth scene from the beginning.
4. In the representations of the myth only Hephaistos is acting as the masculine midwife, but we know from the texts that also Prometheus played this role. Both have one aspect in common: Prometheus provided Mankind with fire, Hephaistos taught the art of forging. Thus Athena's birth myth has come to symbolise the dawn of a new age of Society in classical times.
5. Behind these conclusions it is interesting to discern in the representations and in literature elements of fertility-cults revealing roots of the myth which are still much older than these testimonies. The figure of the nearly omnipresent goddesses must be conceived as a relict from prehistory, possibly from the Minoan culture. The name of the goddess, Athena, and some of her attributes point to relationship with this world: there is for instance in all respects a striking affinity between Athena, Helena and some other tree- and fertility goddesses.
6. The choice of the head as an organ of procreation may be connected with the belief that this part of the body contained the greatest amount of masculine seed, the brains being considered to consist of semen.
7. The choice for the miraculous birth of Athena as a main theme for the Parthenon sculpture, the most impressive monument for the city of Athens, is an isolated fact, which has to be considered as a political decision. It demonstrates the highly differentiated and in some aspects paradoxical character of the Athenian city goddess of in the fifth century B.C. Apparently it underlines the fact that this goddess of the city, daughter of Zeus himself, had become as great and mighty as her father himself.
8. Later sources reveal the myth about the birth of Athena by philosophers has been connected with eastern speculations about the origin of wisdom (Σοφια): just like Wisdom in the Jewish religion (viz. Proverbs VIII) Athena gets a cosmoligical or cosmogonical role in these philosophical speculations.
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Birth of the goddess Athena
© A.E.J. Kaal, 2004