Minerva in Roman Mythology
Minerva, goddess of wisdom in Roman mythology, was one of the most important goddesses in the state of Rome.
She was also considered the goddess of craftsmanship, art, intelligence, inspiration, and philosophy.
In later years, she was linked to war and military strategy. In this article, you will discover all about her position as a powerful woman in a man’s world.
Who Is Minerva in Roman Mythology?
– Minerva Goddess Symbol: Wisdom and Victory
Minerva was part of the Capitoline Triumvirate with Jupiter and Juno. She oversaw everything in Rome that was connected with thought, planning, and strategy. Even though she and Athena became connected after Rome brought on more of Greek religion’s characteristics, Minerva was Roman through and through.
Originally, the goddess was based on the Etruscan goddess Menre, and her connection to Athena only came much later, around the 3rd or 4th century BC. Therefore, they do share a lot of the same characteristics. Minerva was Jupiter’s daughter, and like her aunt Vesta, she was proud and protective of her chastity.
She spurned the romantic advances of other gods, most famously Mars, the god of war. In an interesting twist, she later took Mars’ place in the Archaic Triad, which previously consisted of Jupiter, Quirinus, and Mars. When the change took place, it showed Roman’s change in the world perspective. Now it was a superpower.
– Minerva’s Importance
She was a woman held in high esteem in military strategy and intelligent thought, which was super progressive for the time. She was one of the most revered goddesses in Roman mythology.
The Romans celebrated her in various festivals throughout the year, and she also had numerous temples throughout the empire. Like all the other goddesses, though, she ruled in Roman religion until Christianity eventually took over in the fourth century AD.
– How Was Minerva Born: The Story of Jupiter and Minerva
The odd birth of Minerva is one of the most interesting things about her. It was one of the attributes she took from the Greek goddess Athena. Not surprisingly, she was one of the multiple children of the god Jupiter, but she wasn’t Juno’s daughter. That’s, again, not a surprise, as Jupiter had numerous extramarital affairs, some consensual, some not.
In the myth, Jupiter raped a woman named Metis. She might have been a Titan. After Metis became pregnant, Jupiter began to worry that what had happened between him and his father would also happen to him and his child. Saturn, Jupiter’s father, had overthrown his own father. Later, Jupiter and his siblings overthrew Saturn as well.
So, after Metis became pregnant, Jupiter put a plan into motion. He decided that the best course of action would be to swallow Metis whole along with her unborn child. Interestingly, Jupiter’s father Saturn had done the same to his children to avoid being overthrown. So, Jupiter swallowed Metis and Minerva and thought he’d prevented his overthrow. At the same time, he hid the affair from his jealous wife, Juno.
– Victory of Minerva
Minerva was not to be hidden and defeated so easily. She took a little time, but eventually, she burst out through Jupiter’s forehead. When she was “born,” she was fully grown and was prepared to fight.
This moment was special, not only because of its uniqueness but also because it was a symbol of Minerva and her power over thought and inspiration. Ideas emerge from the mind, and so did Minerva. Her surprising birth made her special, and according to myth, Minerva became Jupiter’s favorite child.
– A Second Version of the Tale
Like in all myths, there are always various versions of the same story. In a slight variation, the story goes that after Jupiter swallowed Metis, she stayed alive inside his body and gave birth to Minerva. Then, while they were in there, she forged weapons for Minerva so that when she emerged from Jupiter’s head, she would be clad and ready for battle against her father.
In this story, Minerva didn’t just burst out of Jupiter’s head on her own. Metis was inside of Jupiter, angry at him for what he’d done. She caused him such headaches, and so he requested the help of his son Vulcan, the iron forger and the god of metalworking.
Vulcan used a hammer to split open his father’s head. When he did, Minerva came out, fully grown and dressed, matching the original story. Another addition to the tale is that Metis remained inside Jupiter’s mind and became the source of his wisdom.
– Minerva’s Family
As the child of Jupiter, Minerva had a very long list of relatives, especially half-siblings.
Some of the most notable were:
- Vulcan, god of the forge
- Mars, god of war
- Bellona, goddess of war
- Juventas, goddess of youth
- Mercury, god of commerce and messenger god
- Venus, goddess of love and beauty
- Proserpina, maiden goddess who was taken by Pluto to the underworld
Tales of Minerva: Mythology of the Wise Goddess
Minerva was involved in many tales and stories in Roman mythology. Often, virgin goddesses didn’t have many exciting stories to tell because they weren’t involved in so many liaisons, but Minerva showed that she could be a virgin goddess and still have an exciting life.
Her list of famous tales tied her to multiple gods and goddesses who might have had very different endings to their stories if not for her. Her stories include memorable people such as Arachne, Hercules, Medusa, Pegasus, Odysseus, and more!
– Minerva and Arachnids
This legend of Minerva can be found in the famous Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which he details the stories of many gods and goddesses in the Roman pantheon. His collection of tales are one of our important resources for the Roman religion during this time. In this story, Minerva is credited with the creation of spiders.
Minerva was the goddess of craftsmanship because she had many talents, and one day a young girl named Arachne made a terrible boast. She threw her pride in the face of the gods, saying that she was such a talented weaver that even Minerva could not match her skill at the craft.
Minerva changed herself into an old woman and traveled to see the young, bold Arachne. She asked the young woman to take back her claim that she was better than the famous goddess. However, Arachne refused.
She boasted once more about her skill and said that she would take the consequences for it if she were wrong. So Minerva challenged her to a contest. They each created a beautiful tapestry.
Minerva’s tapestry showcased the gods taking over Athens. Meanwhile, Arachne’s tapestry displayed an image of the gods seducing mortal women. This was a taboo subject and very offensive to the gods.
– Arachne’s Fate
Arachne’s end was a sorrowful one. In her fury, Minerva touched Arachne on the head. It was then that Arachne realized her folly at trying to mock the gods.
She felt a great shame and subsequently hung herself. Minerva felt pity for the young girl, and she brought her back to life but in the form of a spider. Arachne still needed to pay for what she’d done. We can still see Arachne today, hanging in her web, still working on her weaving and showcasing her talented skills.
– The Goddess and the Founding of Rome
Minerva was also involved in the Aeneas and the founding of the great city of Rome. According to Virgil’s Aeneid, Minerva hated Troy because just like the goddess Athena in the Greek tradition, she was spurned by the very handsome Paris, prince of Troy. So she wanted revenge against them.
Virgil stated that it was Minerva who planted the idea of the Trojan Horse into the minds of the Greeks, calling it “Minerva’s gift of death.” But the call to the alarm was raised when the horse made it into the city, and as punishment, Minerva sent serpents to devour the one who raised it.
Troy was destroyed after all, just as Minerva had hoped, but Aeneas escaped from it. He was hurrying away to the shores of Italy, but he carried something special with him.
As he journeyed, he kept a statuette of Minerva with him. He kept it close and protected it. Minerva saw his devotion, and even though she’d been pursuing him for a long time, she decided to spare him.
Aeneas eventually arrived in Italy, and the small statue of Minerva was placed in the Temple of Vesta. The story goes that as long as the statue could remain there, Rome would never be taken over.
– Minerva and Medusa: Rebel Priestess
Not many know that Medusa was once a human woman. She had been beautiful, and shockingly enough, was a priestess of Minerva.
She worshipped and lived in one of the temples of Minerva, and Neptune and Medusa were found kissing there one day. Enraged, she turned Medusa into a horrible monster as punishment.
Her hair was replaced by writhing, hissing snakes, and she became Medusa, the character we know so well. Minerva also removed Medusa’s ability to charm men, but she did have the power to turn anyone who looked directly at her into stone.
Her end came eventually, though, and the god Perseus used his shield to only look at Medusa’s reflection before he caught and beheaded her. He gave the head to the goddess of wisdom, and she took it, putting it on one of her most important symbols: Minerva’s shield.
– The Origin of Pegasus
After Perseus killed Medusa, there was a lot of blood. Some of that blood spilled onto the ground, and out of that blood came Pegasus, the majestic flying horse. Minerva is the one who named this noble creature, and she tamed it before giving it as a gift. She gifted the famous horse to the Muses.
Later, another famous hero desired to use the horse. His name was Bellerophon, and Pegasus allowed him to mount. Together, they flew to defeat the Chimera in battle.
Worship of Minerva
Minerva was the source of wisdom, inspiration, and military strategy for the Romans, so of course, she was highly revered and worshipped. Many places in Rome housed her temples.
Her main temple was on Aventine Hill. These were near the writers, actors, and other skilled craftsmen of whom she was the patroness.
Her other temple was on Esquiline Hill, and this was called Minerva Medica. Here she was worshipped as a healer. There was another temple dedicated to her on the hill Mons Caelius. But it wasn’t just Rome that had temples built to serve and worship Minerva. During that time, one could have found temples of the goddess to the far reaches of the Roman Empire.
A record also states that the marking of the years, where someone hammers a nail to mark it, occurred in Minerva’s temple. She was credited with the development of numbers. Minerva is also displayed on many Roman coins that also have the image of famous Roman emperors.
– Festivals Dedicated to Minerva
Minerva was celebrated throughout the year through various festivals. Quinquatria, her main festival, began on March 19 and lasted for five days. It was to mark the beginning of the ‘season of war’ as afterward, the Roman armies would march off to war.
It was important to honor the goddess of military success and strategy during this tie. The craftsmen were also an honored part of this festival. There were games, plays, and poetry readings.
Another festival was the Minusulae Quinquatria, a smaller version of the March festival. This occurred on June 13. Minerva was thought to have created the instrument flute, and so the flute players would celebrate on this day. Sometimes, they offered cows in her name as a sort of celebration or a way to bring good fortune.
Depiction and Symbols of Minerva
There are numerous symbols attached to Minerva. In art, she was often shown with her owl or the “owl of Minerva.” Just like we say today, the owl is the symbol of wisdom and so very appropriate as Minerva’s symbol and companion. Sometimes, she was also pictured with a snake and an olive tree.
She was the supposed inventor of the flute, so that is one of her symbols as well as a shield, a spear, and a spider. In artwork, she is often depicted as strong, well-built, and wearing clothing suitable for warfare.
Minerva Today: Her Legacy
The name and legacy of the famed goddess of inspiration still survive today. Many Minerva statues are scattered across the world. One of the most famous ones resides in the “Minerva Roundabout” in Guadalajara, Mexico. There are also famous statues in Chester, England, Ballarat, Australia, and even Portland, Maine.
Because of her ties to intelligence and inspiration, Minerva is often a symbol at institutions of learning. She is on the seal for the University of North Carolina and the State University of New York. She is also on the state seal of California. One could also hear her name mentioned in the Harry Potter films since it is the first name of dear Professor McGonagall.
Let’s take a look at the most important points discussed in this article:
- Minerva is the goddess of wisdom, intelligence, inspiration, philosophy, craftsmen, and military strategy in Roman mythology
- She is Jupiter’s daughter, and she burst out of his head after he swallowed her pregnant mother
- She became her father’s favorite child
- She was one of the most respected goddesses of the time, and she was a part of the Capitoline Triad with Jupiter and Juno
- She was a virgin goddess. She never married nor had any children
- Her story is tied with that of Aeneas, Arachne, Medusa, and Perseus/Pegasus
- She was said to have tried to prevent the founding of Rome, cursed Medusa, and created spiders
- Minerva had many temples both in and outside of Rome, and she was worshipped throughout the year in multiple festivals. The Romans relied on her good favor for military success
- Her symbols included the owl, snake, olive tree, spear, flute, shield, and spider
- Many of her statues are scattered throughout the world, and she takes her place in many buildings and institutions dedicated to learning
- Ovid called Minerva “the goddess of a thousand works”
The goddess of a thousand works held her own in a world of men, and she had the respect of very powerful men such as emperors. She truly was a wise goddess, for her skills and abilities were seemingly endless.
She was involved in music, mathematics, as well as warfare and weaving. It’s encouraging to see the reverence and worship of goddesses in history, for it gives us hope in the future that progress and forward-thinking can happen.