The Protector of Cities: Some Prayers and Hymns to Athena

Reconstruction of East Pediment of the Parthenon, Showing the Birth of Athena

Solon, fr. 4.4-5 (6th Century BCE)
Solon emphasizes Athena’s power as a protector and connection with Zeus

“This sort of a great-hearted overseer, a daughter of a strong-father
Holds her hands above our city, Pallas Athena”

τοίη γὰρ μεγάθυμος ἐπίσκοπος ὀβριμοπάτρη
Παλλὰς ᾿Αθηναίη χεῖρας ὕπερθεν ἔχει•

Euripides, Heracleidae 770-72 (5th Century BCE)
Euripides echoes Solon but also refers to Athena as a maternal figure

“Queen, the foundation of the land
and the city is yours, you are its mother,
mistress and guardian..”

ἀλλ’, ὦ πότνια, σὸν γὰρ οὖ-
δας γᾶς καὶ πόλις, ἆς σὺ μά-
τηρ δέσποινά τε καὶ φύλαξ…

Aristophanes, Knights 581-585 (5th Century BCE)
Aristophanes echoes the defender motif and connects it with the glory of Athens as a martial and creative center (perhaps under influence of a more robust Panathenaia)

“O Pallas, protector of the city,
The most sacred city-
and defender of a land
that surpasses all others
in war and poetry.”

῏Ω πολιοῦχε Παλλάς, ὦ
τῆς ἱερωτάτης ἁπα-
σῶν πολέμῳ τε καὶ ποη-
ταῖς δυνάμει θ’ ὑπερφερού-
σης μεδέουσα χώρας,

Homeric Hymn to Athena 1 (Allen 11)
The shorter of the extant Homeric hymns focuses on Athena’s connection with war and heroes

“I begin to sing of Pallas Athena the dread
defender of cities, to whom the acts of war are a concern with Ares:
the cities sacked, the shrill sound, and the battles,
She rescues the host when it leaves and when it returns”

Παλλάδ’ ᾿Αθηναίην ἐρυσίπτολιν ἄρχομ’ ἀείδειν
δεινήν, ᾗ σὺν ῎Αρηϊ μέλει πολεμήϊα ἔργα
περθόμεναί τε πόληες ἀϋτή τε πτόλεμοί τε,
καί τ’ ἐρρύσατο λαὸν ἰόντα τε νισόμενόν τε.
Χαῖρε θεά, δὸς δ’ ἄμμι τύχην εὐδαιμονίην τε.

Homeric Hymn to Athena, 2 (Allen, 28)
The longer of the extant Homeric Hymns to Athena tells the story of her birth (but not her conception, perhaps reflecting the war-dances done in her honor

“I begin to sing the honored goddess, Pallas Athena,
The grey-eyed, very-clever one with a relentless heart,
A city-defending, revered and courageous maiden
Tritogeneia, whom counselor Zeus himself gave birth to
from his sacred head, already holding her weapons,
all gold and shining. Then awe took all the immortals
who looked on. And she rose from the immortal head
of aegis-bearing Zeus immediately in front of them
shaking her sharp spear. And great Olympos shook
terribly beneath the fury of the grey-eyed goddess
as the ground echoed frightfully around. Even the sea
was churned up with its dark waves and the brine seized
suddenly. The glorious son of Hyperion brought his
swift-footed steeds to rest for a long time until
the maiden Pallas Athena took the divine weapons
from her immortal shoulders. And counselor Zeus laughed.
Hail to you, then, child of aegis-bearing Zeus.
And I will also praise you with yet another song still.”

Παλλάδ’ ᾿Αθηναίην κυδρὴν θεὸν ἄρχομ’ ἀείδειν
γλαυκῶπιν πολύμητιν ἀμείλιχον ἦτορ ἔχουσαν
παρθένον αἰδοίην ἐρυσίπτολιν ἀλκήεσσαν
Τριτογενῆ, τὴν αὐτὸς ἐγείνατο μητίετα Ζεὺς
σεμνῆς ἐκ κεφαλῆς, πολεμήϊα τεύχε’ ἔχουσαν
χρύσεα παμφανόωντα• σέβας δ’ ἔχε πάντας ὁρῶντας
ἀθανάτους• ἡ δὲ πρόσθεν Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο
ἐσσυμένως ὤρουσεν ἀπ’ ἀθανάτοιο καρήνου
σείσασ’ ὀξὺν ἄκοντα• μέγας δ’ ἐλελίζετ’ ῎Ολυμπος
δεινὸν ὑπὸ βρίμης γλαυκώπιδος, ἀμφὶ δὲ γαῖα
σμερδαλέον ἰάχησεν, ἐκινήθη δ’ ἄρα πόντος
κύμασι πορφυρέοισι κυκώμενος, ἔσχετο δ’ ἅλμη
ἐξαπίνης• στῆσεν δ’ ῾Υπερίονος ἀγλαὸς υἱὸς
ἵππους ὠκύποδας δηρὸν χρόνον εἰσότε κούρη
εἵλετ’ ἀπ’ ἀθανάτων ὤμων θεοείκελα τεύχη
Παλλὰς ᾿Αθηναίη• γήθησε δὲ μητίετα Ζεύς.
Καὶ σὺ μὲν οὕτω χαῖρε Διὸς τέκος αἰγιόχοιο•
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ καὶ σεῖο καὶ ἄλλης μνήσομ’ ἀοιδῆς.

Birth of Athena, Full-Armed, from Zeus' Head (Ouch!)
Birth of Athena, Full-Armed, from Zeus’ Head (Ouch!)



Walter Burkert. Greek Religion. Cambridge, 1985.

L. R. Farnell. The Cults of the Greek City States. 1895.

Timothy Gantz. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore, 1993.

Simon Price. Religions of the Ancient Greeks. Cambridge, 1999.

Leave a Reply