According to the ancient myth, Athena became the patron deity of the city now known as Athens in a contest with Poseidon. In order to win the contest, each deity had to give a gift to the city. Athena caused an olive tree to spring up on the Acropolis. Poseidon attempted to give the citizens the gift of a spring in the city by striking the ground with his trident, but since he is the god of the sea, the water in the spring was salt. The citizens decided that Athena's gift was more useful, and took her name for their city and themselves.
Athena was not born of any woman, but sprung from the head of Zeus fully grown and dressed in armor. Some stories say that her mother was Zeus' first wife, Metis. When Zeus became afraid that any decendants would rob him of his kingly position, he swallowed the goddess Metis whole, and Athena came out of his skull.
Athena is the goddess of wisdom and war. She is also the protectress of the city and civilization and is said to have invented the horse-bit, which allowed men to tame horses. Her bird is the owl which is why owls are equated with wisdom, and her tree is the olive tree because it was her gift the citizens of Athens. On her shield she carries the head of the Gorgon Medusa.
Athena is the first of three virgin goddesses. Parthenos is the Greek word for "maiden" or "virgin" and this is where the name for the most important temple dedcated to her comes from.
The Parthenon © 2001 Leslie Norwood