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
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.