The Odyssey

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Athena Character Analysis

The goddess of wisdom, justice, and courage. She takes a particular liking to Odysseus, and by extension Telemachus – perhaps because Odysseus's suffering is greater than his crimes, perhaps because he embodies the values she champions. Secretively and light-handedly, she guides Telemachus and helps Odysseus when she can. She usually appears to mortals disguised as another mortal or as a bird; it might be that she is naturally reticent (as Zeus is naturally dramatic and ostentatious), or it might be that she takes pains to allow her heroes freedom of choice. Her partiality to Odysseus sometimes conflicts with Zeus and Poseidon's resentments, so she must act indirectly.

Athena Quotes in The Odyssey

The The Odyssey quotes below are all either spoken by Athena or refer to Athena. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Odyssey published in 1996.
Book 3 Quotes

Some of the words you'll find within yourself,
the rest some power will inspire you to say.
You least of all – I know –
were born and reared without the gods' good will.

Related Characters: Athena (speaker), Telemachus
Page Number: 3.29-32
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, young Telemachus gets a visit from the goddess Athena. Athena tells Telemachus that she's going to help his father return to his home, and that Telemachus needs to take action as well. Telemachus is reluctant to follow Athena's advice and ask Nestor about Odysseus, but Athena encourages him nonetheless, assuring him that he'll "find the right words."

In one sense, this passage further complicates the idea of free will in the poem. Telemachus must choose to take action on his own, but Athena, a goddess, is also blatantly advising him what to do, and she tells him that he will be inspired by "some power" to say the right things when the time comes. As is typical of Homer and Greek mythology in general, there is a complicated mixture of human freedom, divine intervention, and overarching fate involved in every action.

The passage is also important because it establishes speech and eloquence as a vital part of maturity. Telemachus's story in the poem is a coming-of-age tale: with Athena's help, he'll learn to take control over his own life. The first step in doing so, it's suggested, is learning how to express his opinions with courage and conviction. Homer, a poet, is a little biased in portraying speech as the most important part of maturity, perhaps. He even makes a comparison between Telemachus's speech to Nestor and his own duty to recite the Odyssey--in both cases, the mortals look to the gods for inspiration, but also receive glory for rhetorical skill and power.

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Book 13 Quotes

Any man – any god who met you – would have to be
some champion lying cheat to get past you
for all-round craft and guile! You terrible man,
foxy, ingenious, never tired of twists and tricks –
so, not even here, on native soil, would you give up
those wily tales that warm the cockles of your heart!

Related Characters: Athena (speaker), Odysseus
Page Number: 13.329-334
Explanation and Analysis:

Odysseus has finally returned to Ithaca, and Athena appears before him in the guise of a poor shepherd. When the shepherd asks Odysseus who he is, Odysseus tells a lie, thinking on the spot. At this point, Athena reveals that she's really a goddess. Moreover, she affectionately praises Odysseus for being such a quick-witted hero: even when he's back in Ithaca, Odysseus loves to tell lies.

Athena knows her man (Odysseus has always been her favored hero) well, and she recognizes that Odysseus's greatest asset is his brain. Odysseus has used his wit to lie his way to safety again and again: with Polyphemus, with Nausicaa, etc. As the goddess of wisdom, Athena is understandably impressed with her hero's abilities: by using his mind so skillfully, Odysseus does honor to Athena, and Athena rewards him in turn.

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Athena Character Timeline in The Odyssey

The timeline below shows where the character Athena appears in The Odyssey. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
...Calypso has held Odysseus captive for seven years on the island Ogygia, and the goddess Athena has come before an assembly of the gods to plead for his release. Odysseus angered... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Athena flies to Ithaca to speak to Odysseus's son Telemachus. Droves of men courting Odysseus's wife... (full context)
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After Telemachus has given Athena a proper welcome, she tells Telemachus that Odysseus is still alive, and that he is... (full context)
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After Athena flies away, Telemachus addresses the suitors. He tells them to leave his household at once,... (full context)
Book 2
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Telemachus rises at dawn and gathers all the Achaeans to the meeting grounds. Athena makes him look particularly god-like and striking. Telemachus describes to the crowd the disgrace of... (full context)
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After the meeting, Telemachus prays to Athena with a heavy heart. In the shape of Mentes, she tells Telemachus that from now... (full context)
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In the meantime, Athena walks through the town in the shape of Telemachus: she gathers a crew of twenty... (full context)
Book 3
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...Nestor's people sacrificing bulls in honor of the god Poseidon. As the crew climbs ashore, Athena urges Telemachus to put his shyness aside and question Nestor about Odysseus. The prince worries... (full context)
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...them to say a prayer for Poseidon. With instinctive tact, Telemachus offers the wine to Athena first, and she asks Poseidon to grant Telemachus safe passage home. Telemachus repeats her prayer,... (full context)
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...Telemachus that his eloquence is similar to Odysseus's. After the fall of Troy, Nestor says, Athena created a feud between the brothers Menelaus and Agamemnon: Menelaus wanted to return home at... (full context)
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...him the affection of the gods. Telemachus says sadly that this can never be; but Athena (in the shape of Mentes) chastises him for speaking foolishly. Telemachus repeats that Odysseus will... (full context)
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Athena suggests that it's time for them to leave, but Nestor insists on giving them gifts... (full context)
Book 4
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...them to Penelope. The queen is grieved to learn of Telemachus's absence; she prays to Athena to save her son, and Athena hears her prayers. (full context)
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...twenty men and prepare a ship. Penelope lies in bed tormented; when she falls asleep, Athena sends a phantom in the shape of Penelope's sister to reassure her that her son... (full context)
Book 5
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The gods assemble on mount Olympus. Athena implores Zeus to help Odysseus, who was such a kind and just ruler, and is... (full context)
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...as she says, and Poseidon decides that Odysseus has suffered enough and lets him go. Athena controls the winds so that they blow Odysseus to the Phaeacian shore. (full context)
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...and sharp rocks separate him from shore. A wave throws him against the rocks, but Athena inspires him with the strength to cling hard to one of the reefs; then a... (full context)
Book 6
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As Odysseus sleeps, Athena flies to a Phaeacian city where the princess Nausicaa, daughter of the king Alcinous, lies... (full context)
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By Athena's design, the girls romping wakes Odysseus. He's a little apprehensive at first but he walks... (full context)
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...the queen for mercy. Odysseus does as she says; in the grove, he prays for Athena's protection. She hears his prayers, but she is too frightened of Poseidon to appear to... (full context)
Book 7
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As Odysseus walks toward the city, Athena surrounds him with a protective mist. Disguised as a little girl, she guides him to... (full context)
Book 8
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At dawn, Athena in the guise of Alcinous gathers people to the meeting grounds. When everyone arrives, Alcinous... (full context)
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He takes up the discus and throws it farther than any other competitor; Athena in disguise praises him and goads him on, and Odysseus boasts that he'll defeat anyone... (full context)
Book 13
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Back in Ithaca, Odysseus wakes from his long sleep. Athena has surrounded him with mist to protect him, so at first he doesn't recognize his... (full context)
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Odysseus notes that Athena had been kind to him during the war but that she seemed to have abandoned... (full context)
Book 15
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Athena flies to Lacedaemon and tells Telemachus to come back to Ithaca. She warns him that... (full context)
Book 16
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Athena approaches the farm, but only Odysseus and the dogs can see her. He walks outside... (full context)
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...group of suitors – over a hundred in total – but Odysseus reminds him that Athena and Zeus will stand by them as well. Odysseus tells him to go to the... (full context)
Book 17
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...Telemachus tells Eumaeus to instruct Odysseus-the-beggar to go around the table begging for scraps, and Athena seconds that advice: it's a way of separating the bad suitors from the innocent ones.... (full context)
Book 18
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Athena inspires Penelope to come down and speak to the suitors. The queen tells the suitors... (full context)
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Athena wants to rile Odysseus as much as possible, so she inspires Eurymachus to mock him... (full context)
Book 19
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...begs her to be silent, however, and she gladly promises to keep his secret. Meanwhile, Athena distracts Penelope from noticing the scene. (full context)
Book 20
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...entire crowd of suitors - and the crowds that will come to avenge their deaths. Athena reassures him and helps him fall asleep. Meanwhile, the queen lies awake and wishes for... (full context)
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Athena wants to rouse Odysseus's anger so she inspires a suitor names Ctesippus to fling a... (full context)
Book 22
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...returns for more weapons and leave him strung up in the storeroom in great pain. Athena appears in the guise of Mentor; she then turns into a swallow and flies to... (full context)
Book 23
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Athena changes Odysseus back into a handsome younger man. He chides Penelope for her cold welcome... (full context)
Book 24
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Athena appears at Zeus's side and asks him if he wants the fighting to continue; he... (full context)