ATHENE CULT 1
ATHENA was the Olympian goddess of the defense of towns and the crafts of weaving, pottery and sculpture.
She had numerous shrines throughout Greece, many of which were established on the fortified, hill-top citadels of towns--her presence was believed to ensure the security of a settlement in times of war. The most significant of her shrines in the Peloponnese were located on the Acropoli of Athens and Sparta.
In classical sculpture Athena was portrayed as a handsome woman with a kindly demeanor, dressed in a long robe and wearing a war-helm and snake-trimmed aigis-breastplate set with the head of the Gorgon. She was usually armed with a spear.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Suidas s.v. Athenaion (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Athenaion (temple of Athena) : Note that Apollonion is short for the temple of Apollon. Thus one must construe it in Thukydides. Also Poseidonion, that of Poseidon, like Athenaion, that of Athena, and Dionysion and Demetrion and all such [temples] which have proper names transferred to them in the same way."
CULT IN ATTICA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
Ovid, Fasti 3. 81 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Sons of Cecrops [i.e. Athenians] worship Pallas [i.e. as their patron goddess]."
Suidas s.v. Palladion Chyrsoumenon (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Palladion Khyrsoumenon (Gilded statues of Athena) : On the prows of their triremes the Athenians used to set up certain wooden images to Athena, which they would attend to when about to set sail."
I. ATHENS (ATHENAI), ACROPOLIS (AKROPOLIS) Main City of Attica (Attika)
Plato, Hippias Major 290b (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"Pheidias . . . did not make the eyes of his Athena [of the Parthenon] of gold, nor the rest of her face, nor her hands and feet . . . but he made them of ivory."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 14. 6 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Having been brought up by Athena herself in the precinct [on the Akropolis], Erikhthonios [early mythical king] expelled Amphiktyon and became king of Athens; and he set up the wooden image of Athena in the acropolis, and instituted the festival of the Panathenaia."
Strabo, Geography 9. 1. 11 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Some say that Salamis is foreign to Attika, citing the fact that the priestess of Athena Polias [of the temple in Athens] does not touch the fresh cheese made in Attika, but eats only that which is brought from a foreign country, yet uses, among others, that from Salamis. Wrongly, for she eats cheese brought from the other islands that are admittedly attached to Attika, since those who began this custom considered as foreign any cheese that was imported by sea."
Strabo, Geography 9. 1. 12 :
"Iktinos built the Parthenon on the Akropolis in honor of Athena, Perikles superintending the work."
Strabo, Geography 9. 1. 16 :
"The city [of Athens] itself is a rock situated in a plain and surrounded by dwellings. On the rock is the sacred precinct of Athena, comprising both the old temple of Athena Polias, in which is the lamp that is never quenched, and the Parthenon built by Iktinos, in which is the work in ivory by Pheidias, the Athena."
Strabo, Geography 13. 1. 38 :
"The poet Alkaios [of Lesbos C8th B.C.] says that he himself, being sorely pressed in a certain battle [between the Athenians and Lesbians], threw away his arms. He addresses his account of it to a certain herald, whom he had bidden to report to the people at home that ‘Alkaios is safe, but his arms have been hung up as an offering to Ares by the Attic army in the temple of Athena Glaukopis [in Athens].’"
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 17. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Pictures of Athenians fighting Amazones : this war they have also represented on the shield of their Athena [on the Akropolis]."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 23. 4 :
"Near the statue of Diitrephes [on the Akropolis of Athens] . . . are figures of gods; of Hygeia (Health) . . . and of Athena, also surnamed Hygeia (Health)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 24. 1 :
"In this place [on the Akropolis, Athens] is a statue of Athena striking Marsyas the Seilenos for taking up the flutes that the goddess wished to be cast away for good."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 24. 2 :
"Next [on the Akropolis in Athens] come other statues, including one of . . . Athena coming up out of the head of Zeus."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 24. 5 :
"[The Parthenon :] As you enter the temple [of Athena] that they name the Parthenon, all the sculptures you see on what is called the pediment refer to the birth of Athena, those on the rear pediment represent the contest for the land between Athena and Poseidon. The statue itself is made of ivory and gold. On the middle of her helmet is placed a likeness of the Sphinx--the tale of the Sphinx I will give when I come to my description of Boiotia--and on either side of the helmet are Grypes (Griffins) in relief . . . The statue of Athena is upright, with a tunic reaching to the feet, and on her breast the head of Medousa is worked in ivory. She holds a statue of Nike (Victory) about four cubits high, and in the other hand a spear; at her feet lies a shield and near the spear is a serpent. This serpent would be Erikhthonios. On the pedestal is the birth of Pandora in relief. Hesiod and others have sung how this Pandora was the first woman; before Pandora was born there was as yet no womankind."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 25. 7 :
"[The Athenian dictator] Lakhares took golden shields from the Akropolis, and stripped even the statue of Athena of its removable ornament; he was accordingly suspected of being a very wealthy man, and was murdered by some men of Koronea for the sake of this wealth."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 26. 4 :
"Endoeos was an Athenian by birth and a pupil of [the mythical craftsman] Daidalos . . . Made by him is a statue of Athena seated, with an inscription that Kallias dedicated the image, but Endodeos made it."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 26. 6 - 7 :
"Both the city [of Athens] and the whole of the land [of Attika] are alike sacred to Athena; for even those who in their parishes have an established worship of other gods nevertheless hold Athena in honor. But the most holy symbol, that was so considered by all many years before the unification of the parishes, is the image of Athena which is on what is now called the Akropolis, but in early days the Polis (City). A legend concerning it says that it fell from heaven; whether this is true or not I shall not discuss. A golden lamp for the goddess was made by Kallimakhos. Having filled the lamp with oil, they wait until the same day next year, and the oil is sufficient for the lamp during the interval, although it is alight both day and night. The wick in it is of Karpasian flax, the only kind of flax which is fire-proof, and a bronze palm above the lamp reaches to the roof and draws off the smoke. The Kallimakhos who made the lamp, although not of the first rank of artists, was yet of unparalleled cleverness, so that he was the first to drill holes through stones, and gave himself the title of Refiner of Art, or perhaps others gave the title and he adopted it as his."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 27. 1 - 3 :
"In the temple of Athena Polias (Of the City) is a wooden Hermes, said to have been dedicated by [the mythical king] Kekrops, but not visible because of myrtle boughs. The votive offerings worth noting are, of the old ones, a folding chair made by [the mythical craftsman] Daidalos, Persian spoils, namely the breastplate of Masistios, who commanded the cavalry at Plataia, . . . About the olive they have nothing to say except that it was testimony the goddess produced when she contended for their land. Legend also says that when the Persians fired Athens the olive was burnt down, but on the very day it was burnt it grew again to the height of two cubits.
Adjoining the temple of Athena is the temple of Pandrosos, the only one of the sisters to be faithful to the trust. I was much amazed at something which is not generally known, and so I will describe the circumstances. Two maidens dwell not far from the temple of Athena Polias, called by the Athenians Bearers of the Sacred Offerings. For a time they live with the goddess, but when the festival comes round they perform at night the following rites. Having placed on their heads what the priestess of Athena gives them to carry--neither she who gives nor they who carry have any knowledge what it is--the maidens descend by the natural underground passage that goes across the adjacent precincts, within the city, of Aphrodite in the Gardens. They leave down below what they carry and receive something else which they bring back covered up. These maidens they henceforth let go free, and take up to the Akropolis others in their place."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 27. 6 :
"[Next to the temple of Athena Polias on the Akropolis of Athens] there are also old figures of Athena, no limbs of which indeed are missing, but they are rather black and too fragile to bear a blow. For they too were caught by the flames when the Athenians had gone on board their ships and the [Persian] King captured the city emptied of its able-bodied inhabitants."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 28. 2 :
"In addition to the works I have mentioned [on the Akropolis, Athens], there are two tithes dedicated by the Athenians after wars. There is first a bronze Athena, tithe from the Persians who landed at Marathon. It is the work of Pheidias, but the reliefs upon the shield, including the fight between Kentauroi and Lapithai, are said to be from the chisel of Mys, for whom they say Parrhasios the son of Euenor, designed this and the rest of his works. The point of the spear of this Athena and the crest of her helmet are visible to those sailing to Athens, as soon as Sunion is passed."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 11. 10 :
"On the Athenian Acropolis the ivory of the image they call Parthenos (the Maiden) is benefited, not by olive oil, but by water. For the Acropolis, owing to its great height, is over-dry, so that the image, being made of ivory, needs water or dampness."
Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 17 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"This creature [the serpent] is said to be devoted to gold and whatever golden thing it sees it loves and cherishes . . . And the drakon (serpent) of Athena, that even to-day still makes its home on the Akropolis in my opinion has loved the people of the Athenians because of the gold which they make into grasshopper pins for their hair."
Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 27 :
"[From a description of an ancient Greek painting at Neapolis (Naples) :] The Birth of Athena . . . Two peoples are already sacrificing to Athena [i.e. on the day of her birth] on the acropolis of two cities, the Athenians and the Rhodians, one on the land and one on the sea, [sea-born] and earth-born men; the former offer fireless sacrifices that are incomplete, but the people of Athens offer fire, as you see yonder, and the savour of burnt flesh. The smoke is represented as fragrant and as rising with the savour of the offerings. Accordingly the goddess has come to the Athenians as to men of superior wisdom who make excellent sacrifices."
Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 6. 19 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to 2nd A.D.) :
"If you would fashion an image of Athene, as Pheidias in his day endeavoured to do [in the Parthenon], you must image in your mind armies and cunning, and handicrafts, and how she leapt out of Zeus himself."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 13 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Erichthonius [early mythical king of Athens] first invented the four-horse chariot, as we said before, and also first established sacrifices to Minerva [Athena], and a temple on the citadel of the Athenians."
Suidas s.v. Nike Athena (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Nike Athena : Lykourgos in the speech On the priestess mentions her. That the xoanon of Nike, wingless, holding a pomegranate in her right hand and a helmet in her left, was worshipped by the Athenians Heliodoros the Periegete has shown in the first book of his On the Akropolis. Alternatively she stands allegorically for the notion that even winning is completely dependent on thought; for thought contributes to victory, but being thoughtless and impetuous while fighting leads to defeat. When she has wings she symbolizes that aspect of the mind that is sharp and, so to speak, swift-winged; but when she is depicted without wings she represents that aspect of it that is peaceful and quiet and civil, that by which the things of the earth flourish, a boon of which the pomegranate in her right hand is a representation. Just as the helmet in her left is a representation of battle. Thus she has the same capability as Athena."
Image S8.6 is a scaled down Roman marble replica of the gold and ivory statue of Athena which was housed in the Parthenon. She holds a winged Nike in one hand and wears an elaborate helm.
I. ATHENS (ATHENAI), LOWER CITY Main City of Attica
Callimachus, Hecale Fragment 27 (from Scholiast on Euripides Hippolytus 32) (trans. Trypanis) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"By the Rock of Pallas he [the playwright Euripides] means the Glaukopion in Attika [i.e. as opposed to the Akropolis] which Kallimakhos mentions in the Hekale."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 2. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"From the gate to the Kerameikos [in Athens] there are porticoes . . . One of the porticoes contains shrines of gods . . . here there are images of Athena Paionia (Healer)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 8. 4 :
"Near the statue of Demosthenes is . . . [a statue] of Athena made by a Parian of the name of Lokros."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 14. 6 :
"Above the Kerameikos [in Athens] and the portico called the King's Portico is a temple of Hephaistos. I was not surprised that by it stands a statue of Athena, because I knew the story about Erikhthonios. But when I saw that the statue of Athena had blue eyes I found out that the legend about them is Libyan. For the Libyans have a saying that the Goddess is the daughter of Poseidon and Lake Tritonis, and for this reason has blue eyes like Poseidon."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 24. 3 :
"I have already stated that the Athenians are far more devoted to religion than other men. They were the first to surname Athena Ergane (Worker) . . . and the temple of their goddess is shared by the Daimon Spoudaion (Spirit of Good men). Those who prefer artistic workmanship to mere antiquity may look at the following : . . . a group [of statues] dedicated by Alkamenes. Athena is represented displaying the olive plant, and Poseidon the wave."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 28. 5 :
"There is an altar to Athena Areia (Warlike) [in the Areopagos, Athens], which he [Ares] dedicated on being acquitted [for the murder of Hallirhothios]."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 30. 2 :
"In the Academy is . . . an altar to Athena, and they have built one to Herakles. There is also an olive tree, accounted to be the second that appeared."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 30. 4 :
"There is also pointed out a place called the Hill of Horses [outside of Athens], the first point in Attika, they say, that Oidipous reached . . . and an altar to Poseidon Hippios (Horse God), and to Athena Hippia (Horse Goddess)."
II. PIRAEUS (PEIRAIOS) Town in Attica
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 1. 3 :
"The most noteworthy sight in the Peiraeus [in Attika] is a precinct of Athena and Zeus. Both their images are of bronze; Zeus holds a staff and a Nike (Victory), Athena a spear."
Image S8.1 is a marble copy of the bronze Athena of Pieraios
III. MUNYCHIA (MOUNYKHIA) Town in Attica
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 1. 4 :
"Here [at Mounykhia, Attika] there is also a temple of Athena Skiras."
IV. SUNIUM (SOUNION) Promontory in Attica
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 1. 1 :
"When you have rounded the promontory [of Sounion in Attika] you see a harbor and a temple to Athena Sounia (of Sunion) on the peak of the promontory."
V. ZOSTER Village in Attica
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 31. 1 :
"At Zoster (Girdle) on the coast [of Attika] is an altar to Athena."
VI. PHYLA & MYRRHINUS (MYRRHINOS) Villages in Attica
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 31. 4 :
"Phlya and Myrrhinos [in Attika] have altars of . . . Tithrone Athena."
VII. ACHARNAE (AKHARNAI) Village in Attica
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 31. 6 :
"There is a parish [in Attika] called Akharnai, where . . . there is an altar of Athena Hygeia (Health). And they call upon the name of Athena Hippia (Horse-goddess)."
VIII. MT. PENTELICUS (PENTELIKOS) Mountain in Attica
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 32. 2 :
"The Athenians have also statues of gods on their mountains. On Pentelikos is a statue of Athena."
IX. PHALERON Village in Attica
Strabo, Geography 9. 1. 9 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Skiron is] a peninsula-like place which borders on Attika. In early times it was called by different names, for example, Skiras [after the hero Skiron] and Kykhreia [after the hero Kykhreus], after certain heroes. It is from one of these heroes that Athena is called Skiras."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 36. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[In Attika on the road from Athens to Eleusis is] a place called Skiron, which received its name for the following reason. The Eleusinians were making war against Erekhtheus when there came from Dodona a seer called Skiros, who also set up at Phaleron the ancient sanctuary of Athena Skiras. When he fell in the fighting the Eleusinians buried him near a torrent, and the hero has given his name to both place and torrent."
X. LACIADAE (LAKIADAI) Village in Attica
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 37. 2 :
"[In Attika is] a parish called Lakiadai . . . [with] sanctuary of Demeter and her daughter. With them Athena and Poseidon are worshipped."
XI. CEPHISUS R. (KEPHISOS) River in Attica
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 37. 6 :
"[Across the river Kephisos on the road from Athens to Eleusis :] Here is a sanctuary [of Apollon] in which are set statues of Demeter, her daughter, Athena, and Apollon."
FESTIVALS OF ATHENA IN ATHENS
I. PANATHENAEA (PANATHENAIA) FESTIVAL
See the PANATHENAIA FESTIVAL
II. PLYNTERIA FESTIVAL
Suidas s.v. Plynteria (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Plynteria (Washing-Day) : An Athenian festival." [N.B. A festival held in early summer where a cult image of Athena Polias was ritually cleansed.]
III. CHALCEIA (KHALKEIA) FESTIVAL
Suidas s.v. Khalkeia :
"Khalkeia (Bronzes) : A festival at Athens, which some call Athenaia (festival of Athena); but others call it Pandemos (All the People), because it is observed by all."
Suidas s.v. Khalkeia :
"Khalkeia (Bronzes) : An ancient and popular festival long ago, but subsequently observed by the craftsmen only, because Hephaistos worked bronze in Attika. It is on the last day of the month Pyanepsion; the day when priestesses, together with the arrephoroi, preserve the peplos of Athena."
Suidas s.v. Khalkeia :
"Khalkeia (Bronzes) : An Athenian festival, celebrated on the last day of the month Pyanepsion, for craftsmen in general and bronze-smiths in particular, as Apollonios says. But Phanodemos maintains that the festival is celebrated not for Athena but for Hephaistos."
IV. PROTELEIA FESTIVAL
Suidas s.v. Proteleia :
"Proteleia (Preliminary sacrifices) : Thus they name the day on which parents lead the about-to-be wedded virgin onto the akropolis in Athens to the temple of the goddess and make offerings."
V. PROCHARISTERIA (PROKHARISTERIA) FESTIVAL
Suidas s.v. Procharisteria :
"Prokharisteria (Thanksgiving) : A day on which all Athenian office-holders used to sacrifice to Athena, with the crops beginning to grow and winter already ending. The name of the sacrifice was Prokharisteria. Lykourgos in the speech On the Priesthood writes : ‘so the most ancient sacrifice is held because the goddess is coming up; it is named Thanksgiving because the growing crops are sprouting.’"
VI. SCIRAPHORIA (SKIRAPHORIA) FESTIVAL
Suidas s.v. Skiron :
"Skiron: The Skira is an Athenian festival, which gives rise to the name of the month Skirophorion. Those who have written about the months and festivals at Athens say that the skiron is a parasol, under which people are carried from the acropolis to a certain place called Skiron; those who make the journey are the priestess of Athena and the priests of Poseidon and of Helios. Those who convey it are Eteoboutadai. This becomes a token of the need to build and make shelters, this time being the best for building work; and[the Athenians honor Athena Skiras, whom Philochoros in book 2 of the Atthis says was named after Skiros, a certain Eleusinian seer--though Praxion in book 2 of his Megarian History says that she was named after Skiron."
Suidas s.v. Skirophorion :
"Skirophorion : The twelfth Athenian month. It got its name from Athena Skira."
Suidas s.v. Skirados :
"Skirados : Title of Athena."
CULT IN MEGARIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. MEGARA Main Town of Megaris
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 42. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"On the top of the citadel [of Megara] is built a temple of Athena, with an image gilt except the hands and feet; these and the face are of ivory. There is another sanctuary built here, of Athena Nike (Victory), and yet a third of Athena Aiantis (of the hero Aias or Ajax). About the last the Megarian guides have omitted to record anything, but I will write what I take to be the facts. [The mythical hero] Telamon the son of Aiakos married Periboia the daughter of Alkathoos; so my opinion is that Aias, who succeeded to the throne of Alkathoos, made the statue of Athena."
II. ROCK OF ATHENA Coastal Rock near Megara
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 5. 3 :
"On the coast of the Megaris is his [the mythical Megaran king Pandion's] tomb, on the rock called the rock of Athena Aithyia (of the Gannets)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 41. 6 :
"My narrative has already told how Pandion was buried on what is called the Rock of Athena Aithyia (Gannet) [in Megara]."
CULT IN CORINTHIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. CORINTH (KORINTHOS) Main City of Corinthia (Korinthia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 3. 1 :
"In the middle of the market-place [of Korinthos] is a bronze Athena, on the pedestal of which are wrought in relief figures of the Mousai (Muses)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 4. 1 :
"[In Korinthos] is the temple of Athena Khalinitis (Bridler). For Athena, they say, was the divinity who gave most help to Bellerophontes, and she delivered to him Pegasos, having herself broken in and bridled him. The image of her is of wood, but face, hands and feet are of white marble . . . Now the sanctuary of Athena Khalinitis is by their theater."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 6. 3 :
"Epopeus [mythical king of Megara, after his victory against Nykteus of Thebes], he forthwith offered sacrifice for his victory and began a temple of Athena, and when this was complete he prayed the goddess to make known whether the temple was finished to her liking, and after the prayer they say that olive oil flowed before the temple."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 11. 1 :
"Towards the gate [of Korinthos] called Holy you see, not far from the gate, a temple of Athena. Dedicated long ago by [the mythical king] Epopeus, it surpassed all its contemporaries in size and splendor. Yet the memory of even this was doomed to perish through lapse of time--it was burnt down by lightning--but the altar there, which escaped injury, remains down to the present day as Epopeus made it. Before the altar a barrow has been raised for Epopeus himself, and near the grave are the gods Apotropioi (Averters of evil). Near them the Greeks perform such rites as they are wont to do in order to avert misfortunes."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 11. 7 :
"While to the god [Euamerion son of Asklepios] are being sacrificed a bull, a lamb, and a pig, they remove Koronis [mother of Asklepios] to the sanctuary of Athena [in Korinthos] and honor her there."
- Plato, Hippias Major - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Callimachus, Fragments - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Philostratus the Elder, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
- Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana - Greek Biography C2nd A.D.
- Hyginus, Astronomica - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Fasti - Latin Poetry C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Suidas, The Suda - Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.