Gray-eyed Athena (also written Athene or Minerva in the Latin) is the Greek goddess of wisdom, handicraft, and war. The god Ares represents the brutal, bloodthirsty side of war, while Athena repesents its more disciplined, rational aspect, an opposition similar to that of Dionysus and Apollo.
In one version of the story of Athena's birth, Zeus swallowed the goddess of deep thought, Metis, in order to prevent the fulfillment of a prophesy that Metis would bear a son who would depose Zeus. A few days later, Zeus had a splitting headache. He cleaved his head open in frustration and Athena sprung out, fully formed and clad in the armor she had been hammering inside her father's head.
Athena's city was Athens, and her symbols were the owl and the olive. She was the patron of many heros, such as Jason and Perseus. She had the aegis, which is a sort of a cape made of goatskin fringed with serpents and with the severed head of Medusa glued to the middle of it. Despite what it sounds like, the aegis was quite flattering.
Another great virgin goddess of ancient Greece was Artemis, (Latin, Diana) the huntress and goddess of the moon. Artemis was twin sister to Apollo, born of the goddess Leto. Leto was forbidden to give birth on solid land by the jealous Hera, but she finally found a little island named Delos, which was not secured to earth but floated in the waters. She bore her twins there: Artemis came first and helped her mother deliver her younger brother. Because of this, she was also worshipped as a goddess of childbirth.
Artemis is a great archer, with silver arrows that bring painless death. She spends her time in the woodlands, hunting with her attendant nymphs. When you hang out in the woods, remember to wear bright colors to avoid being shot by Artemis.
When I was a kid, I was very drawn to these two romantic and powerful virgin goddesses, and could never decide which one was my favorite. Their purity, their power and magic -- they were infinitely more appealing than the matron goddesses like Hera, Demeter, and Aphrodite.
As I've gotten older, though, I find myself feeling less drawn to them. I may be influenced here by the reading I'm doing -- I grew up on Bulfinch, who whitewashes these stories -- now I go to Ovid first, who seems to emphasize the coldness and cruelty of the virgins and their seeming misogyny.
I suppose in the world of the Greeks, a world where rape was viewed in some ways as a political act and a fact of life, the division between virgin and matron was more pronounced and needed to be fiercely defended. Aphrodite is a more nuanced figure, embodying the complicated morality that comes from experiencing the erotic. Athena and Artemis have never been initiated into that mystery. They have never lost their selves in the self of another. They are still, in a way, childlike, with a child's narcissism and black-and-white thinking.
Many of the stories featuring them involve the goddesses' righteous and swift revenge agaist those who violate the atmosphere of chastity that surrounds them, even when the offenders are themselves guiltless. With Athena, we have the stories of Medusa and of Arachne (thoght this is a different case, and more of a hubris tale). With Artemis, we have Actaeon, Callisto, and, in certain versions, Orion.
The Medusa story is particularly moving. Most of us know Medusa as a snake-haired monster whose gaze turns people to stone. But Medusa began life as a woman who was known for her beautiful hair. She was raped by Poseidon in one of Athena's temples. Athena, outraged at the violation of her sacred space, punished Medusa by turning her hair to snakes.
Callisto was one of Artemis's best friends. Like all the nymphs who hunted with Artemis, Callisto had taken a vow of virginity and she was faithful to it. But she was so beautiful that she caught the eye of Zeus, who approached her disguised as Artemis. Callisto let down her guard and Zeus raped her. From Ovid, tr. H. Gregory (who uses the Roman Jove for Zeus and Diana for Artemis; Saturn's daughter is Hera; Callisto is unnamed here, referred to only as "the Arcadian nymph"). I find Ovid's rendering of the Callisto story very moving, displaying more empathy than is normally found towards the legions of nymphs that get raped by Zeus in these tales.:
She (Callisto) fought against him with a woman's valor
(O Saturn's daughter, had you seen her, even
You would have been a little sympathetic)
But how could anyone, much less a girl,
Withstand the will of Jove? He had his way
And vanished in the sky while she, because
The forest knew her fall, hated the trees
That were her witnesses and as she walked
Almost forgot her painted sheaf of arrows,
Even the branch where she had hung her bow.
But look! Diana with her troop of girls
Came winding round the sides of Maenalus,
Showing the prizes of the chase. She saw
Our heroine and called aloud; at first
The girl ran from her, fearing Jove Diana
Or Diana Jove, but when her dearest
Friends came near she dropped behind them following
Their trail. How hard it was not to show signs
Of guilt! The girl walked slowly with her eyes
To earth, not as she used to stride, the first
Of all girls close to her goddess. Her flushed face
And all she did not say told what she felt --
And if Diana had not been a virgin
She would have seen ten hundred ways the girl
Betrayed herself -- in ways, was said, the others
Knew too well. Day passed and the horned moon
Grew to a glowing circle nine times over,
When an hour after the hunt, Diana, languid
With heat of the sun, strolled to a brook which poured
Clear waters over sand. In that green shade,
The place delighted her; as she stepped in
She called her girls, "Off with your clothes, my dears,
Since no one's here to see us, we shall bathe."
The Arcadian girl flushed red: as others stripped
She stood aside till they undressed her; even
Then she tried to cover her womb with her
Two hands, and in her terror heard the cry,
"You shall not soil our sacred waters, leave us,"
And with these words the goddess banished her.
Things go from bad to worse for poor Callisto, who bears Zeus a son and is then turned into a bear by jealous Hera. Callisto's son runs into his mother one day while hunting and kills her. But Zeus takes pity on them and puts mother and son in the heavens, where they become Ursa major and Ursa minor.
Callisto was also a cool character in the Marvel comics I used to read as a kid.