Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Divine birth: Athena, born from her father’s head

Athena (Minerva), the goddess of war and wisdom, had a strange birth. Her father Zeus (Jupiter) had swallowed his pregnant consort Metis (“wisdom”), because he was afraid she would bear a son who would overthrow him. Then he developed a severe headache that nothing would cure. So Hephestos, god of fire and blacksmiths, took an axe and split open Zeus’ head (an approach not recommended for the milder forms of headache or migraine).

Out sprang Athena, fully grown, a beautiful young woman in full armor and carrying a spear, announcing her arrival with a loud war cry. The manner of her birth allegorically defines her basic nature. Having arisen from the head of a god, she is wise. Being born from a male and not from a female, she maintains a special bond of affection with her father, protects male heroes, and champions male causes. She is a powerful goddess of war and has remained a virgin.


Birth of Minerva
The birth of Minerva
René-Antoine Houasse


the birth of minerva birth of minerva

The birth of Minerva
From the Emblem book titled Parvus Mundus, published in 1579

Birth of Athena who emerged from Zeus’ head, 550–525 BCE
Detail an Attic black-figured amphora
Louvre Museum



George Dunea, MD, Editor-in-Chief


Highlighted in Frontispiece Fall 2012 – Volume 4, Issue 4
Fall 2012  |  Sections  |  Birth, Pregnancy, & Obstetrics

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