Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare. She was also connected to the arts, trade, and strategy. There is also some connection between her and medicine, poetry and handicrafts. Wisdom is used for many things!
She is the Roman version of the Greek goddess Athena. The Greeks stressed the warlike, battling side of Athena where the Romans focused on Minerva’s power for wisdom and the planning and strategic aspects of war.
Minerva’s father was Jupiter, the Roman equivalent of the greek god Zeus. Her mother was Metis, a titaness who was swallowed by Jupiter. There was a prophecy that Jupiter’s child would overthrow him. He worried that Metis’s child would be a boy who would be able to overpower him. To prevent this, he swallowed Metis whole when she took the form of a fly.
Minerva was born inside of her father’s head, where she lived with her mother. While they were in there, Metis made armor for her daughter, a very loud process. The constant clang of her hammer on Minerva’s armor gave Jupiter constant pain. Trying to get rid of the pain, the god Vulcan cracked open Jupiter’s skull. This released Minerva, who came out of her father’s head and into the world fully clothed in the armor her mother made for her.
Always a clever crafter, Minerva was known for her weaving skills. A woman named Arachne developed her own skills so much that she bragged that she was better at weaving than Minerva was. There was a competition between the goddess and the woman. Minerva, clever as could be, wove a tapestry showing her beating all other gods in competition, bordered with images of all of those who had challenged the gods and lost. Arachne wove a tapestry of the gods tricking humans. Although her tapestry was beautiful, Minerva’s was better. As punishment for challenging her skills, Minerva turned Arachne into a spider. She was known for her wisdom, not her kindness.
The Roman gods were often in competition, even with each other. One time, they had a competition to see who could make an item that was most useful to humans. Although Jupiter created a horse, which could be used by the humans in many ways, Minerva created the olive tree. Olives–and many things made from olives–were very common and important in the Roman world. Because of their importance, Minerva won the competition with her creation.
A common image that represents wisdom is the owl, even to this day. This is because the owl was Minerva’s sacred animal. She is often pictured with an owl and an olive branch, including her images on Roman coins. She was put on coins by several Roman Emperors, including the Emperor Domitian late in the first century AD.
Minerva was part of several groups of Roman gods and goddesses. She was so important to the Romans that she was part of the Capitoline Trio, the three Roman deities that were thought of as the patron gods of Rome. They were worshiped on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, the source of the English word “capitol.”
Minerva was also one of three virgin goddesses, the others are Diana and Vesta. These goddesses pledged to focus their time and energy on their talents and the service of others, rather than on marriage and family.
Minerva’s festival days in Rome were shared with Mars, and the celebration was called Quinquartus. The feast days ran from March 19-23. During the festival days, no one could shed any blood in Rome. However, the end of the festival was marked with plenty of blood during Gladiator Games on the final day.
Minerva’s symbol of wisdom is still common today, and her statue is often found in front of schools and libraries