Here's an old watercolor of Athena defeating the god of war, Ares. (See the "my sketching..." section for the larger version). I just can't picture Athena wearing thick sandals, hoplite armor and a helmet. Why would an immortal as powerful as Athena need a helmet? That is, ceremonial occasions aside, where tradition, formality, etc., stop you from wearing what you really want to wear.
What would a goddess really do if she wants to make an appearance on the battlefields of Troy? She definitely wouldn't show up looking like a man. She’s going to have Hephaistos bang out some cool divine armor, something a little flashy that shows off her figure, especially if she also has to deal with that meddling bitch, Aphrodite (who always seems to get the credit for looking good).
Athena's the goddess of wisdom, war, the arts, industry, you name it. The Parthenon is the temple of Athena Parthenos. The little temple of victory perched on the edge of the Acropolis is the temple of Athena Nike. She presides over the greatest city of the greatest culture the world has ever known. She's powerful enough to defy the other gods, even Poseidon, to help her friend, Odysseus get home to his kingdom in Ithaka. She persuades the other gods to defy the dictates of Zeus in the war against Troy, and emerges victorious
She's my daughter’s favorite. I started reading her the Children’s Homer four or five years ago, modifying some of the more brutal sections in the story. This is a great starter book by the way, with both the Iliad and Odyssey combined and told from the point of view of Telemachus after he's grown up and begins searching for his father. It's not too long, contains most of the action and is nicely broken up with some fantastic ink drawings by Willy Pogany. (Children's Homer: The Adventures of Odysseus and the Tale of Troy by Padraic Colum).
My favorite trans. is Richmond Lattimore's, although I also like both Robert Fagles' and Robert Fitsgerald's. Give me any verse translation that doesn't replace Athena with Minerva!
The Iliad's one of those stories you can read over and over again and still be intrigued by new details that you'd previously read but hadn't pulled out of the tale and really focused on. You find yourself thinking about these details long after you've finished the story. One of the obvious points that every first time reader picks up is that Aias/Ajax goes through the whole thing with little interference from the gods. Every other major hero is directly affected one way or the other by Zeus, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Apollo, except gigantic Aias. He seems to be able to hold his own, even against the divinely aided Trojans, and, although his life’s story ends tragically, you can't help but like Telamonian Aias, and think that this huge, brawling, loyal warrior was, for the most part, unstoppable.
During my last reading of Homer I dwelled on how powerful Athena is, and that, even though I've read those same passages several times, it never really struck me that she's the most influential god next to Zeus. The particular passage that stands out is in book 21 where she defeats Ares. And I’m not talking about a little scuffle between Athena and the god of war. She gives him a good sound thrashing, beats him with a stone and lays him out cold:
But Athena laughed and vaunted over Ares saying, "Fool, have you not learned how far stronger I am than you, but you must still match yourself against me? Therefore you are paying atonement to your mother’s furies since she is angry and wishes you ill, because you abandoned the Achaians, and have helped the insolent Trojans."
Homer, Iliad 21 408-414