As I am looking more into the Etruscan side of things as it is directly attached to my ancestors, I came across a statement that a significant difference between the Etruscan Menrva and the Hellenic Athena is that the latter was concerned with the activity of men almost exclusively…whereas Menrva was directly attached to the stages of the life of women and had associations with bearing children.
I thought this to an odd contrast until I started really thinking about it. A lot of this assumption about Athena is based off poetic tragedies where she aides men. In fact in the Orestes a small she shows little sympathy for the shade of the mother of Orestes on the account that she has no mother and so naturally is aligned with father’s.
Yet this apparent disassociation from women in poetic works seems odd when we consider the strong tie that Athena had to women’s work…namely like many goddesses concerned in the affairs of women, she too has connections to spinning….and is herself the mistress of loom. The art of weaving was one in which girls were trained and brought up into womanhood doing (for which a wife of the house would be responsible with aide of her daughters if she had any) weaving cloth for the family for clothes, bridal veils and burial shrouds (recall Penelope spent years making and undoing the burial shroud of Odysseus).
Although Athena is widely known as patron of heroes, which makes it easy to dismiss connections to Athens in the common lives of women, it is clear that she must have a very strong influential role in the maturing lives of girls and women. This much seems to be indicated when girls aged between 7-11 would tend her sacred olive and assist women in weaving a robe for the goddess. This as much was likely linked to the chore they had to learn at a young age in order to accomplished at by the time that they were of age to marry. A maiden with great skill at the loom was valuable. Then girls ground grain for Athena as girls learn to bake bread that will eventually feed their families. This does not seem to be quite right for a goddess who wasn’t involved in the lives of women. Seems like bread baking and weaving were daily chores of women that she was directly and regularly involved.
As for childbirth I will draw attention that Athena is a supportive presence for mothers. Whereas Artemis was considered responsible for lure or death of mother and infant, Athena was probably viewed as a supporter of the pregnant mother. To indicate this we can look to Leto who mythical lyrics often represents idealized motherhood. Pausanias in his recounting of the city where Leto loosened her girdle he makes us also aware that Athena is present with her through her travels to find sanctuary for birth.
I had thought initially that this may have been because of the close relationship between Athena answer Apollon…or even as a favor to Zeus. Yet neither are even mentioned in context to her company with Leto. Clearly it was directly about Leto.
Whereas boys are trained in their craft and art and trade or to train as warriors we see Athena uplifting them and at their side. Why then is it surprising to find Athena uplifting women and girls in their essential tasks and duties as companion and aide. But we are blinded by this via her role with heroes…yet either end in these mythic dialogues we see a goddess who unfailing support for those with labor and fight with focus and intelligence in their activity. If you ever had to hand craft any food or textile you would known physical strength, focus and a certain amount knowledge is necessary that take years of labor and education. Then there is the rigors of pregnancy and birth. Such qualities are hardly then limited to men.
So I would say that just as Etruscan Menrva, that Athena too is regularly engaged in the tasks and lives of women and the difference isn’t as sharp as we may be lead to believe. It may also give women a further way to relate to Athena who is held up more often than not as a man’s god.