Athena, the goddess of wisdom, was the favorite child of Zeus. She had sprung fully grown out of her father's head.
Her mother was Metis, the goddess of prudence, the first wife of Zeus. He depended on her, for he needed her wise council, but Mother Earth warned him that, were Metis to bear him a son, this son would dethrone him as Zeus had dethrone Cronus, his father who had dethrone his own father, Uranus. This must not happen, thought Zeus, but he could not do without her advise, so he decided to swallow her. Slyly, he proposed that they played a game of changing shapes, and Metis forgetting her prudence, playfully turned herself into al kinds of animals, big and small. Just as she had on taken the shape of a little fly, Zeus opened wide his mouth, took a deep breath, and zip! he swallowed the fly. Even after, Metis sat in his head and guided him from there.
Now it happen that Metis was going to have a daughter, and she sat inside Zeus's head hammering out a helmet and weaving a splendid robe for the coming child. Soon Zeus began to suffer form pounding headaches and cried out in agony. All the gods came running to help him, and skilled Hephaestus grasped his tools and split open his father's skull. Out sprang Athena, wearing the robes and the helmet, her gray eyes flashing. Thunder roared and the gods stood in awe.
Athena's constant companion was Nike, the spirit of victory. With Nike at her side, Athena led armies, but only does who fought for just causes. In times of peace she stood behind the artists of Greece an thought them the fine and useful arts. She had great pride in her own skills at the loom and the potter's wheel, but was happy to see her pupils excel as long they showed her proper respect.
One of her pupils was Arachne, a simple country girl, who was wonderfully skilled at the loom. People came from far and wide to admire her weavings. Stupidly she boasted that she had learned nothing from Athena; indeed, that she was better than the goddess!
That hurt Athena's pride. Disguised as an old woman, she went to the girl and tried to talk some sense into her.
"Your work is beautiful," she said "but why compare yourself to the gods? Why not be contented with being the best among mortals?"
"Let the goddess Athena herself come and measure her skill against mine" Arachne answered haughtily.
Angrily Athena threw of her disguised and stood before the girl in all her glory.
"Vain girl," she said "you may have your wish. Sit down at your loom and let us compete."
Athena wove the most beautiful tapestry ever seen, every thread and knot was perfect and the colors sparkle. It picture the Olympians gods in all their glory and majesty.
Arachne's was also beautifully woven; Athena herself had to admit that the girl's craftsmanship was flawless. But kind of picture had she woven? An irreverent scene making fun of Zeus and his wives!
In wrath the goddess turn the tapestry to shreds and struck the girl with the shuttle. Immediately Arachne felt her head shrink almost to nothing, her nimble fingers change into long, spindly legs. Athena had turned her into a spider.
"Vainglorious girl, go on and spin your thread and weave your empty net forever," said Athena to Arachne, the spider. Athena was a just goddess and she could be very stern. She knew that the gods were great only as long as they were properly worshiped by mortals.
Athena was very fond of a certain city in Greece, and so was her uncle, Poseidon. Both of them claimed the city, and after a long quarrel they decided that the one who could give it the finest gift should have it.
Leading a procession of citizens, the two gods mounted the Acropolis, the flat-topped rock that crowned the city. Poseidon struck the cliff with his trident, and a spring welled up. The people marveled, but the water was salty as the sea Poseidon ruled, and not very useful. Then Athena gave the city her gift. She planted an olive tree in a crevice on the rock. It was the first olive tree the people had seen. Athena's gift was judged the better of the two, for it gave food, oil, and wood, and the city was hers. From her beautiful temple on top of the Acropolis, she watched over Athens, her city, with the wise owl, her bird, on her shoulder, and under her leadership the Athenians grew famous for their arts and crafts.