Neptune, with a stroke of his trident, formed a horse, but Minerva causing an olive-tree to spring from the ground, obtained from the god the prize. She was the goddess of war, wisdom, and arts, such as spinning, weaving, music, and especially of the pipe. In a word, she was patroness of all those sciences which render men useful to society and themselves, and entitle them to the esteem of posterity.
She is described by the poets, and represented by the sculptors and painters in a standing attitude, completely armed, with a composed but smiling countenance, bearing a golden breast-plate, a spear in her right hand, and the Aegis in her left, having on it the head of Medusa, entwined with snakes. Her helmet was usually encompassed with olives, to denote that peace is the end of war, or rather because that tree was sacred to her: at her feet is generally placed the owl or the cock, the former being the emblem of wisdom, and the latter of war.
Minerva represents wisdom, that is, skilful knowledge joined with discreet practice, and comprehends the understanding of the noblest arts, the best accomplishments of the mind, together with all the virtues, but more especially that of chastity. She is said to be born of Jupiter's brain, because the ingenuity of man did not invent the useful arts and sciences, which, on the contrary, were derived from the fountain of all wisdom. She was born armed, because the human soul, fortified with wisdom and virtue, is invincible; in danger, intrepid; under crosses, unbroken; in calamities, impregnable.
The owl, a bird seeing in the dark, was sacred to Minerva; this is symbolical of a wise man, who, scattering and dispelling the clouds of error, is clear-sighted where others are blind.