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Athena and Poseidon

June 20, 2013

The myth of Athena’s patronage of Athens is particularly interesting. In summary Athena and Poseidon were each asked to offer a gift to the city; Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and a salt water spring came forth and Athena gave the city the first olive plant. In order to determine the winner of the contest Zeus charged the other Gods and Goddesses to decide who had given the greatest gift. Athena’s gift was deemed more worthy due to the many uses the olive plant had (oil, wood and trade) and so was named patron goddess, with the city henceforth being known as Athens.

Graves (2000:66) proposes that the mythological undertaking by Poseidon to take possession of Athens is a political myth and likely indicates a failed attempt to transfer patronage of the city. This viewpoint point is certainly noteworthy, but without any contemporary evidence is merely speculative. However, Graves’ assertion it is not to dissimilar to Dowden’s (1992:64) suggestion that myth much, ‘like propaganda, is worthwhile because people will believe it’. In this circumstance the myth reasserts Athens importance within Greece because of it’s divine connection with Athena; goddess of wisdom, protector of the city and daughter of Zeus.

There are similar patriarchal overtones within both the myth of Athena’s birth and the contest with Poseidon. Athena is patron of many female activities but is also a warrior goddess; frequently depicted in battle dress. The various mythical accounts of Athena present her as, ‘the archetype of the masculine woman who find’s success in what is essentially a man’s world by denying her own femininity and sexuality’ (Helen Deutsch in Pomeroy 1994:4). It is Athena’s use of wisdom, an attribute traditionally associated with men, that enables her success in the competition. Athena identifies the multiple benefits of the olive plant over Poseidon’s (undrinkable) salt water spring.


Dowden, K. The Uses of Greek Mythology London: Routledge, 1992.

Graves, R. The Greek Myths Volume I The Folio Society, 2000.

Pomeroy, S. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves Women in Classical Antiquity London: Pimlico, 1994.


From → Mythical Figures

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