While of course descending from a diverse cultural genealogy, Greek deities appear to have become consistent with what would have been familiar gender associations to the Greeks. This can especially be seen among the twelve Olympians, with one notable exception, Athena (and an arguable second, Artemis, mentioned here for comparative purposes). Why is this the case?
I realize that the Greek concept of wisdom might have eschewed a gender role or been considered a female gender role, and I can certainly see this being the case with Hekate. It is however the combination of wisdom with Athena's prominent martial role which seems particularly strange. She holds after all, not herbs, but a spear, which I assume the Greeks would have seen as symbolism at odds with her female nature.
In trying to answer this question for myself I have consulted mainly tertiary non-authoritative sources, so apologies for that. These include:
- This reddit AskHistorians thread. I initially found the suggestion that Athena might descend from a more “feminine and wild” (as one redditor puts it, citing sources I cannot access) mythology compelling, but it does seem incongruous with her attributes. This explanation would seem natural for the aforementioned Artemis as a goddess of the hunt, but there is certainly nothing “wild” about wisdom paired with organized warfare.
- The relevant Wikipedia article, which showcases that the warrior goddess was not at all an uncommon phenomenon in ancient religions (another interesting, but different question), but does not address how this divine attribute in particular remained exempt from gender conformity in the otherwise conforming array of major Olympians.
The second part of the question, is what the Greeks made of this. This rationalization might of course be unrelated to the historical origin and evolution of the deity, but certainly a female figure with a spear and a helmet would have stood out from the other gods. Is there any recount of ancient Greek commentary on this?