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Chapter 8: Athena


Read the Commentary for Chapter 8.

Maps Familiarize yourself with the map of Attica.



From the Perseus Project:

Read the Historical Overview 9.4.4- to learn about the building program of Pericles, and especially the Acropolis and Parthenon.

Investigate the sculptural decoration of the Parthenon, which included metopes, an interior frieze, pedimental sculpture, and the cult image of Athena Parthenos. What significance do these images have? Why did the designers choose these particular subjects? What may the Parthenon with its decoration have meant for the generation of Athenians that saw its construction?

Examine the images of Athena from The Museum of the Goddess Athena. Pay particular attention to the justly famous sculptural piece entitled Mourning Athena.


Read Apollodorus’ accounts of Athena’s birth and exploits.

In conjunction with the images you have viewed in the Links section, it would be worthwhile to read Pausanias’ description of the sculpture of the Parthenon, which he was able to see undamaged.

What is the nature and importance of Athena’s friendship with Pallas?

Athena as the patroness of weaving represents an important archetype. To appreciate more fully its historical and mythological universality, you should peruse Womens’ Work: The First 20,000 Years, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. What are some of the facets of this archetypal motif?

After you have studied the Parthenon and know the character of its various sculpture, you may want to concentrate upon its interior Ionic frieze and investigate the debate about what scene it is meant to depict. An article by Evelyn B. Harrison, “The Web of History: A Conservative Reading of the Parthenon Frieze” (in Worshipping Athena, edited by Jenifer Neils) champions the traditional view that its theme is the Panathenaic procession; she argues against Joan B. Connelly, who maintains that its subject is the sacrifice of the Erechtheids (“Parthenon and : A Mythical Interpretation of the Parthenon Frieze,” AJA 100, 53–80). Whose side are you on, and why?

Read Edmund Spenser’s “Muiopotamos, or, The Fate of the Butterfly,” in which he recounts the contest between Athena and Poseidon.

Compact Discs and Videos

If you enjoy New Age music, listen to “Athena” in Goddess, by David Arkenstone; you may want to go on to listen to his tribute to two other classical goddesses, Diana and Venus, and as well Oya, Zorya, Kuan Yin, Gwenhwyfar, and Inanna.

The operetta Phi-Phi, by Henri Christiné, about Pheidias (nicknamed Phi-Phi), the sculptor of the Parthenon, is full of imaginative fun.


In English, to what does arachnid refer? What is a palladium?

Essay Questions

  1. Discuss the sculptural details of the Parthenon and how they celebrate the patron goddess of Athens.

  2. Discuss the evidence that might support the claim that Athena was originally a fertility goddess.

  3. How does the story of Athena’s contest with Arachne illustrate the “severe, moral earnestness” of the goddess?

  4. Discuss the masculine and feminine elements in the character and appearance of Athena.

  5. Explain the close relationship between Zeus and his daughter.

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