Although Athena appears before Zeus at Knossosin Linear B, as , a-ta-na po-ti-ni-ja, "Mistress Athena"in the Classical Olympian pantheon, Athena was remade as the favourite daughter of Zeus, born fully armed from his forehead. The story of her birth comes in several versions. In the one most commonly cited, Zeus lay with Metis, the goddess of crafty thought and wisdom, but he immediately feared the consequences. It had been prophesied that Metis would bear children more powerful than the sire, even Zeus himself. In order to prevent this, Zeus swallowed Metis but it was too late because Metis had already conceived.
Eventually Zeus experienced an enormous headache; Prometheus, Hephaestus, Hermes, Ares, or Palaemon (depending on the sources examined) cleaved Zeus head with the double-headed Minoan axe, the labrys. Athena leaped from Zeus head, fully grown and armed, with a shout"and pealed to the broad sky her clarion cry of war. And Ouranos trembled to hear, and Mother Gaia" (Pindar, Seventh Olympian Ode). Plato, in the Laws, attributes the cult of Athena to the culture of Crete, introduced, he thought, from Libya during the dawn of Greek culture. Classical myths thereafter note that Hera was so annoyed at Zeus for having produced a child that she conceived and bore Hephaestus by herself, but in Imagines 2. 27 (trans. Fairbanks), the third century AD Greek rhetorician Philostratus the Elder writes that Hera "rejoices" at Athena's birth "as though Athena were her daughter also." In accordance with this mythological tradition, Plato, in Cratylus (407B), gives the etymology of her name as signifying "the mind of god", theou noesis. The Christian apologist of the 2nd century Justin Martyr takes issue with those pagans who erect at springs images of Kore, whom he interprets as Athena:
They said that Athena was the daughter of Zeus not from intercourse, but when the god had in mind the making of a world through a word (logos) his first thought was Athena.
Classically, Athena is portrayed wearing a full-length chiton, and sometimes in armor, with her helmet raised high on the forehead to reveal the image of Nike. Her shield bears at its centre the aegis with the head of the gorgon (gorgoneion) in the center and snakes around the edge. It is in this standing posture that she was depicted in Phidias's famous lost gold and ivory statue of her, 36 m tall, the Athena Parthenos in the Parthenon. Athena also often is depicted with an owl sitting on one of her shoulders.
The Mourning Athena is a relief sculpture that dates around 460 BC and portrays a weary Athena resting on a staff. In earlier, archaic portraits of Athena in black-figure pottery, the goddess retains some of her Minoan-Mycenaean character, such as great bird wings although this is not true of archaic sculpture such as those of Aphaean Athena, where Athena has subsumed an earlier, invisibly numinousAphaeagoddess with Cretan connections in her mythos.
Apart from her attributes, there seems to be a relative consensus in late sculpture from the Classical period, the 5th century onward, as to what Athena looked like. Most noticeable in the face is perhaps the full round strong, chin with a high nose that has a high bridge as a natural extension of the forehead. The eyes typically are somewhat deeply set. The unsmiling lips are usually full, but the mouth is depicted fairly narrow, usually just slightly wider than the nose. The neck is somewhat long. The net result is a serene, serious, somewhat aloof, and very classical beauty.