A daughter of Zeus and a "patron of human ingenuity" (Fables and Knox, p. 524), Athena is the one who first sent Odysseus on his wanderings as part of the punishment for a desecration of her temple by one of the Greek warriors at Troy. In The Odyssey, however, she is a consistent supporter of Odysseus, intervening repeatedly on behalf of the hero and his son, Telemachus.
Athena often appears in disguise, most significantly as Mentor, the family friend and adviser who instructs Telemachus in his father's absence. She is also adept at changing the appearance of humans. When Odysseus returns to Ithaca and needs a disguise in order to gather information without revealing his true identity, Athena makes him over to look like an old beggar, even wrinkling his skin and taking the fire out of his eyes (13.454-460.). When appropriate, she renews his vigor, making him look taller, stronger, and young. She breathes strength into aged Laertes and empowers him to kill Eupithes near the end of the epic.
Homer strikes a delicate balance with Athena. Her intervention is essential, but she allows the humans to earn their destinies. In the battle with the suitors, for example, she intervenes just enough to encourage Odysseus and help him to turn the tide; but then she recedes into the background and allows the mortals the victory.