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A porphyry and white marble statue of seated Minerva from the 1st century CE Domitian period, transformed into the so-called "goddess Roma" and set into the fountain of the facade of the Palazzo Senatorio in the Piazza del Campidoglio, Rome, which was designed by Matteo Bartolani de Castello and constructed from 1588-1593

Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom, justice, law, wisdom, strategic victory in war, and the sponsor of artistic creativity, commerce, and business trade. As the virgin goddess of music, poetry, medicine, weaving, and crafts, she is known to reject the amorous advances of gods and men, maintaining her chaste nature, and neither marrying nor bearing children. Unlike the Roman war god Mars, Minerva is not the patron of the violence incited by war, but the strategies devised for winning a decisive victory over one’s opponent and she is often seen as a civilizing influence who bears the olive branch of peace after conquest. She is the wisest of the Roman pantheon of deities, overseeing all things that require forethought and a calculated approach, and revered by craftspeople, merchants, state dignitaries, military leaders, artists, and philosophers alike. Temples and shrines dedicated to Minerva centered in Rome, but they can be found throughout the former Roman Empire, wherever soldiers were stationed, including in Morocco and England. Festivals were held to gain her goodwill and blessing every year. The chief festival being the Quinquatria, a five-day celebration beginning five days after the Ides of March, or March 19th. A second festival, the Minusculae Quinquatria – smaller or lesser Quinquatria – is held on the Ides of June, June 13. The most important temple of Minerva, on the Aventine Hill in Rome, was built circa 263 BCE; it was a common meeting place for craft guilds, poets, and artists. The Temple of Minerva Medica on the Esquiline Hill in Rome is where Minerva was petitioned as patron of healing. An additional temple is on Mons Caelius in Rome.

The goddess's name is derived from Menrva, also spelled Menfra or Menerva, the Etruscan goddess of war, art, wisdom, lightning, and medicine, who was the child of the Etruscan deities Uni and Tinia. However, according Roman sources, her mother was the titan Metis, a Oceanid nymph, and her father was Jupiter, the king of the gods. Minerva’s birth was unconventional, for, while Metis was pregnant Jupiter learned of a prophecy that he, like his father Saturn before him, would meet his demise at the hands of his own son. Fearing the potential birth of a male child, Jupiter swallowed Metis whole to prevent such a birth. Metis, however, continued to live within Jupiter’s body, and bided her time by forging weapons and armor for her unborn child. She continued her work even after the birth of Minerva, creating such pain in the head of Jupiter that he called upon the god Vulcan to split his head open with a hammer to relieve his suffering. From this crack Minerva emerged, fully grown and battle-ready. This same origin story, including the identity of Metis as her mother, the chief male deity of the local pantheon as her father, and her birth as a mature woman from her father's head due to a prophecy that led her father to swallow her mother alive, was obviously adapted from the origin of the earlier Greek goddess Athena. Most notably Minerva is credited with the creation of the olive tree, transforming the human woman Arachne into a spider as punishment for challenging the Roman goddess, and turning the beautiful woman Medusa into a hideous gorgon with snakes for hair as punishment for her dalliances with the god Neptune. Other tales share how it was Minerva who helped the hero Perseus kill Medusa, tamed the wild winged horse Pegasus, assisted the demi-god Hercules in killing the many-headed Hydra, protecting the traveler Ulysses several times during his journey, and invented the flute after poking holes in boxwood.

The iconography of Minerva is similar to, and borrows from, that of Athena. She is shown wearing a chiton, a type of tunic that secures at the shoulder, and an aegis, a goatskin shield bearing the head of a gorgon. She wears a Corinthian helmet pushed back on her head, may carry a spear, and is often associated with Athena's owl, snake, and olives. Due to her status as patron of wisdom, Minerva frequently features in modern statuary and on seals for governmental and educational institutions, and may be shown with quill pens and parchment or with books. She can be seen on the seals for the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, the State University of New York in Albany, Wells College in New York and is a prominent figure on the Great Seal of the State of California.


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