Minerva (Menrfa, or Menrva) was the Roman goddess whom Hellenizing Romans from the second century BC onwards equated with the Greek goddess Athena. She was the virgin goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, crafts, magic, and the inventor of music. She is often depicted with an owl, her sacred creature and, through this connection, a symbol of wisdom.
This article focuses on Minerva in ancient Rome and in cultic practice. For information on Latin literary mythological accounts of Minerva, which were heavily influenced by Greek mythology, see Pallas Athena, where she is one of three virgin goddesses along with Artemis and Hestia, known by the Romans as Diana and Vesta.
The name "Minerva" is imported from the Etruscans who called her Menrva. Extrapolating from her Roman nature, it is assumed that in Etruscan mythology, Menrva was the goddess of wisdom, war, art, schools and commerce. She was the Etruscan counterpart to Greek Athena. Like Athena, Menrva was born from the head of her father, Tinia (Roman Jupiter).
Her name has the Proto-Indo-European mn- stem, linked with memory as in Greek Mnemosyne (μνημοσύνη) and mnestis (μνῆστις: memory, remembrance, recollection). The Romans could have confused her foreign name with their word from the same stem. mens meaning "mind", since one of her aspects as goddess pertained also to the intellectual.
Cult in RomeEdit
As Minerva Medica, she was the goddess of medicine and doctors. As Minerva Achaea, she was worshipped at Luceria in Apulia where votive gifts and arms said to be those of Diomedes were preserved in her temple. A head of "Sulis-Minerva" found in the ruins of the Roman baths in BathIn Fasti III, Ovid called her the "goddess of a thousand works." Minerva was worshipped throughout Italy, though only in Rome did she take on the warlike character shared by Athena. Her worship was also taken out to the empire — in Britain, for example, she was conflated with the local wisdom goddess Sulis.
The Romans celebrated her festival from March 19 to March 23 during the day which is called, in the neuter plural, Quinquatria, the fifth after the Ides of March, the nineteenth, an artisans' holiday . A lesser version, the Minusculae Quinquatria, was held on the Ides of June, June 13, by the flute-players, who were particularly useful to religion. In 207 BC, a guild of poets and actors was formed to meet and make votive offerings at the temple of Minerva on the Aventine hill. Among others, its members included Livius Andronicus. The Aventine sanctuary of Minerva continued to be an important center of the arts for much of the middle Roman Republic.
Minerva was worshipped on the Capitoline Hill as one of the Capitoline Triad along with Jupiter and Juno, at the Temple of Minerva Medica, and at the "Delubrum Minervae" a temple founded around 50 BC by Pompey on the site now occupied by the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva facing the present-day Piazza della Minerva.