Minerva, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom represents an image of civilization itself. She is a virgin goddess that also represents poetry, arts, music, medicine, commerce, weaving, trade, war and strategy. Though she represents war, she is not an image of violence, as she depicts defensive war as her only form of violence, which is more noble than her counterpart, Mars, the God of War. Minerva’s Roman counterpart, Athena, is named and depicted extensively in Western culture.
Minerva is often depicted with her sacred creature, an owl, usually referred to as the Owl of Minerva. Though she is female, she is often depicted with an athletic and muscular build, wearing armor and carrying a spear. Ancient Roman writer Marcus Terentius Varro considered her to be ideas and plans for the universe personified.
Minerva appears often throughout Greek mythology including assisting Hercules, assisting Odysseus, appearing in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, inventing the flute, and turning Medusa, once a great beauty, into a monster. The first kind of beauty contest in history is depicted involving Minerva in the myth the Judgement of Paris. In this myth, Paris is tasked by Zeus to choose which goddess is fairest: Hera, Athena (Minerva), or Aphrodite. Each goddess attempted to bribe Paris of their beauty and Athena offered him wisdom and skill in war… Eventually, Paris accepted Aphrodite’s bribe, which she offered the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen of Sparta. He gained the enemy of the Greeks, especially of Hera. The Greeks expedition to retrieve Helen from Paris is the basis for the Trojan War. Ultimately, this tale shows how Paris should have selected Minerva…
At the Acropolis in Athens, there is a temple that was where Minerva and Poseidon could be worshipped, the Erechtheion. This temple, built between 421 and 406 BC, is flanked by Caryatids, maidens made of marble. They are unnamed and continue to be unnamed. At the museum in Athens which they are today, they are referred to as “A, B, C, D, and E.” Under the Ottoman Empire, the temple was turned into a harem. The Caryatids have seen much throughout their history. Their recent laser restoration by the Acropolis Museum brought their appearance new life.
The temple has been recreated throughout Western culture, most notably outside of the Austrian Parliament buildings in Vienna, Austria. Appearances of the Caryatids in architecture also appear in New York City in the SoHo neighborhood. An ancient concept is alive and well in our current civilization, which speaks volumes for the enduring nature of Minerva’s representation.