From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The goddess of wisdom, especially strategic warfare, the arts, and especially crafts, in particular, weaving; daughter of Zeus and Hera and one of the goddesses in the Judgement of Paris myth. Athena's beauty is rarely commented in in the myths, perhaps because Greeks held her up as an asexual being, being able to "overcome" her "womanly weaknesses" in order to become both wise and talented in war (both considered male domains by the Greeks).
Athena Parthenos: Virgin Athena
Athena never had a consort or lover and thus, also was known as Athena Parthenos, "Virgin Athena". Her most famous temple, the Parthenon, on the Acropolis in Athens takes its name from this title. It was not merely an observation of her virginity, but a recognition of her role as enforcer of rules of sexual modesty and ritual mystery. This role is expressed in a number of stories about Athena. Marinus reports that when Christians removed the statue of the Goddess from the Parthenon, a beautiful woman appeared in a dream to Proclus, a devotee of Athena, and announced that the "Athenian Lady" wished to dwell with him.
Athena put the infant Erichthonius in a small box (cista) which she entrusted to the care of three sisters, Herse, Pandrosus, and Aglaulus of Athens. The goddess did not tell them what the box contained, but warned them not to open it until she returned. One or two sisters opened the cista to reveal Erichthonius, in the form (or embrace) of a serpent. The serpent, or insanity induced by the sight, drove Herse and Pandrosus to throw themselves off the Acropolis. Jane Harrison (Prolegomena) finds this to be a simple cautionary tale directed at young girls carrying the cista in the Thesmophoria rituals, to discourage them from opening it outside the proper context.
Another version of the myth of the Athenian maidens is told in Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD); in this late variant Hermes falls in love with Herse. Herse, Aglaulus, and Pandrosus go to the temple to offer sacrifices to Athena. Hermes demands help from Aglaulus to seduce Herse. Aglaulus demands money in exchange. Hermes gives her the money the sisters had already offered to Athena. As punishment for Aglaulus's greed, Athena asks the goddess Envy to make Aglaulus jealous of Herse. When Hermes arrives to seduce Herse, Aglaulus stands in his way instead of helping him as she had agreed. He turns her to stone.
With this mythic origin, Erichthonius became the founder-king of Athens, where many beneficial changes to Athenian culture were ascribed to him. During this time, Athena frequently protected him.
Medusa and Tiresias
In a late myth, Medusa, unlike her two sister-Gorgons, came to be thought of by the Classical Greeks during the fifth century as mortal and extremely beautiful, but she had sex with —or was raped by— Poseidon in a temple of Athena. Upon discovering the desecration of her temple, Athena changed Medusa's form to match that of her sister Gorgons as punishment. Medusa's hair turned into snakes, her lower body was transformed also, and meeting her gaze would turn any living creature to stone. In the earliest of myths there is but one Gorgon and the only snakes were two wrapped around her waist as a belt.
In one version of the Tiresias myth, Tiresias stumbled upon Athena bathing, and was blinded by her nakedness. To compensate him for his loss, she sent serpents to lick his ears, which gave him the gift of prophecy.