In this article we look at the two principal myths of Athena's birth; the long-accepted one as told in the Theogony of Hesiod and the truth as told in the Nike Story.
On Athena's birth story according to the Theogony of Hesiod.
The story is summed up as follows: Zeus slept with Metis, goddess of Thought, who was thereafter pregnant with child. Zeus was apparently warned by Gaia and Ouranos that the male child of Metis would be greater than its father and would dispose of him. Zeus feared this and as a result he devoured Metis into his stomach thus preventing himself from being overthrown by a successor. Please note that ancient Greeks thought the stomach had the function of the brain so symbolically Zeus was enhancing his wisdom too by this act as he began his meteoric rise to power. Metis, as a goddess, was immortal and lived inside and gave birth to Athena within Zeus. Zeus had a terrible throbbing in his head and Prometheus took a sharp tool to Zeus' head and out lept Athena, a fully formed bright-eyed child goddess. As a female, in a patriachial Olympic society, she was no threat to Zeus' power.
When the Muses inspired Hesiod to recite the poem, they suggested the work may contain falsities by saying: ‘we know how to speak many false things as though they were true; but we know, when we will, to utter true things.’ (Lines 26 – 28). Hesiod is aware and troubled by this and he responds with a covert and clever retort, 'But why all this about oak or stone?' (Line 35). Truth and lies, oak and stone; two things that are entirely different to one another in the eyes of a humble shepherd. Thus, in Lines 886 to 929 of the Theogony, Hesiod repeats the details surrounding Athena's birth three times to catch our attention and each time he encodes minute inconsistencies in the anticipation that the listener or the reader would spot them.
The truth of Athena's birth as told in the Nike Story.
The story is summed up as follows: Pallas laid with Metis, his wife's sister and Lord Zeus' consort, and Athena was born. Pallas was in a difficult situation and he turned to his friend Prometheus for advice. Zeus hitherto refused to sleep with Metis based on a secret prophecy that Metis would bear a child that was greater than the father so Zeus knew he was not the father. With a monumental scandal brewing, Zeus turned to the counsel of Prometheus who advised Zeus that it would be better to claim Athena as his own child or risk being disgraced in front of the whole of Olympos and since he was not the father of the child the prophecy would not hold weight. Thus, Athena was born from Zeus' head, as an idea, and not his loins; Pallas is her father and she is my sister. Furthermore, Zeus swallowed Metis for her transgression and absorbed her wisdom, the little of what remained after Athena's birth since much of it was imbued into the new-born. As for the prophecy that the child of Metis would become greater than her father; that came to pass in the battle of the Giants, where Athena defeated father Pallas, flayed him and used his skin to make herself a divine aegis and forever more allowing herself to be called Pallas Athena, signifying her great strength.