Friday, May 20, 2011
Minerva: the Goddess of a Thousand Works
Minerva: the Goddess of a Thousand Works (Ovidus Fasti III)
“O Minerva, You have always come to my aid with Your counsels, witness to the existence of my works”
Cicero De Domo sua ad Pontifices 144
Minerva is wisdom, She is a goddess of many attributes, She is the guardian of life, preserving the intellectual and spiritual principle through Her protective power and under the providence of divine intelligence.
We have come to know Minerva as having shared characteristics with the Greek Athena, including Her parentage. Minerva’s father was thought to be Pallas the Giant (although Pallas could be a variety of mentors or figures) or the daughter of Metis and Iuppiter (Tinia) springing from His head, reminiscent of Athena; tales of how She came to be are many and varied.
Some scholars believe She, Menrva, came from Falerii, now known as Civita Castellana, then a small hamlet on the right side of the Tiber. There She was worshipped as the protectress of handicraft and also of the working man, a very important aspect to the Ancient Roman people. The Etruscans brought this Goddess to Rome as part of the Capitoline Triad of Iuppiter, Iuno and Minerva.
Under the reign of the last King of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, a Temple was constructed to rever them on Capitoline Hill; Aedes Iovis Optimi Maximi Capitolini. There were three separate chambers for these most important Deities: Iuno Regina on the Left, Iuppiter in the center and Minerva on the right. This was the second Capitoline Triad, the first predated the Roman Republic and came to be known as the Archaic Triad of Iuppiter, Mars and Quirinus. Tuscan craftsmen built the magnificent Etruscan Temple of Minerva and to honor them the area where they lived, at the foot of the Capitoline, was named for them in perpetuity; the Vicus Tuscus. 
Minerva is not just a symbol of divine intellect but She gifts humans who seek Her guidance and induces meditations of intellectual illumination; wisdom.
“Come now, golden haired Minerva, to favor the task I've begun”
Ovidus Fasti 6.652
She is a God of the people, revered by patricians and plebians alike, Her sense of fairness and equity endears Her to those who talents, rather than birth, set them apart from others.
Minerva’s Temple on the Aventine in the 3rd century was host to the collegium of scribae and histriones who were dramatic authors and actors and where their archives were held. As a result of this an entire community of poets, including Ennius, took up residency on the Aventine, the traditional home of the plebs, close to Her Temple. In Mid March plebian festivals were celebrated at the sanctuary of Minerva. These were guild festivals held during the Quinquatrus (March 19-26) to celebrate the anniversary of the consecration of Her Temple on the Aventine and included all the arts and trades sacred to Minerva: sculptors, painters, physician, teachers, weavers, fullers, dyers and cobblers. The Temple of Minerva Medica on the Esquiline also was very much of the celebration with four days of sacrifices and competitions, mostly gladiatorial. Outstanding teachers were rewarded with the title “minerval” which is still continued today in various societies. 
"After a one day interval, the rites of Minerva are performed, which take their name from the sequence of five days. The first day is bloodless, and sword fights are unlawful, because Minerva was born on that very day. The next four are celebrated with gladiatorial shows, the warlike goddess delights in naked swords. Pray now you boys and tender girls to Pallas: he who can truly please Pallas, is learned. Pleasing Pallas let girls learn to card wool, and how to unwind the full distaff. She shows how to draw the shuttle through the firm Warp, and close up loose threads with the comb. Worship her, you who remove stains from damaged clothes, Worship her, you who ready bronze cauldrons for fleeces. If Pallas frowns, no one could make good shoes, Even if he were more skilled than Tychius: and even if he were cleverer with his hands Than Epeus once was, he'll be useless if Pallas is angry. You too who drive away ills with Apollo's art, bring a few gifts of your own for the goddess: and don't scorn her, you schoolmasters, a tribe so often cheated of its pay: she attracts new pupils: nor you engravers, and painters with encaustics, nor you who carve the stone with a skilful hand. She's the goddess of a thousand things: and song for sure: If I'm worthy may she be a friend to my endeavors. Where the Caelian Hill slopes down to the plain, at the point where the street's almost, but not quite, level, you can see the little shrine of Minerva Capta, which the Goddess first occupied on Her birthday. The source of the name is doubtful: we speak of `Capital' ingenuity: the goddess is herself ingenious. Or is it because, motherless, she leapt, with a shield from the crown of her father's head (caput)? Or because she came to us as a `captive' from the conquest Of Falerii? This, an ancient inscription claims. Or because her law ordains `capital' punishment for receiving things stolen from that place? By whatever logic your title's derived, Pallas, Shield our leaders with your aegis forever."
Ovidus, Fasti III; 809-848
In the Eleusinian mysteries it is Minerva herself who preserves the very heart of Bacchus protecting the freedoms He represents and also His mysteries which gifts his cultores with possession and empowerment directly by the God’s divine self. Although this article is about Minerva I mention Bacchus and the mysteries (incl. Orphic) because She is inextricably tied to Bacchus as His birth, the rising sun, is the rising of intellectual light and its manifestations and therefore under her dominion. Her connection with Bacchus is thusly immortalized in the following poem:
“Daughter of ægis-bearing Jove, divine,
Propitious to thy votaries’ prayer incline;
From thy great father’s fount supremely bright,
Like fire resounding, leaping into light.
Shield-bearing goddess, hear, to whom belong
A manly mind, and power to tame the strong!
Oh, sprung from matchless might, with joyful mind
Accept this hymn; benevolent and kind!
The holy gates of wisdom, by thy hand
Are wide unfolded; and the daring band
Of earth-born giants, that in impious fight
Strove with thy fire, were vanquished by thy might.
Once by thy care, as sacred poets sing,
The heart of Bacchus, swiftly-slaughtered king,
Was sav’d in Æther, when, with fury fired,
The Titans fell against his life conspired;
And with relentless rage and thirst for gore,
Their hands his members into fragments tore:
But ever watchful of thy father’s will,
Thy power preserv’d him from succeeding ill,
Till from the secret counsels of his fire,
And born from Semelé through heavenly sire,
Great Dionysus to the world at length
Again appeared with renovated strength.
Once, too, thy warlike ax, with matchless sway,
Lopped from their savage necks the heads away
Of furious beasts, and thus the pests destroyed
Which long all-seeing Hecaté annoyed.
By thee benevolent great Juno’s might
Was roused, to furnish mortals with delight.
And thro’ life’s wide and various range, ’t is thine
Each part to beautify with art divine:
Invigorated hence by thee, we find
A demiurgic impulse in the mind.
Towers proudly raised, and for protection strong,
To thee, dread guardian deity, belong,
As proper symbols of th’ exalted height
Thy series claims amidst the courts of light.
Lands are beloved by thee, to learning prone,
And Athens, Oh Athena, is thy own!
Great goddess, hear! and on my dark’ned mind
Pour thy pure light in measure unconfined;—
That sacred light, Oh all-protecting queen,
Which beams eternal from thy face serene.
My soul, while wand’ring on the earth, inspire
With thy own blessed and impulsive fire:
And from thy fables, mystic and divine,
Give all her powers with holy light to shine.
Give love, give wisdom, and a power to love,
Incessant tending to the realms above;
Such as unconscious of base earth’s control
Gently attracts the vice-subduing soul:
From night’s dark region aids her to retire,
And once more gain the palace of her sire.
O all-propitious to my prayer incline!
Nor let those horrid punishments be mine
Which guilty souls in Tartarus confine,
With fetters fast’ned to its brazen floors,
And lock’d by hell’s tremendous iron doors.
Hear me, and save (for power is all thine own)
A soul desirous to be thine alone.”
We see the connection of Bacchus and Minerva again in the celebration of the elderly Goddess, Anna Perenna on March 15th. Mars became enamored of the virgin Minerva’s beauty and asked Anna Perenna to intercede on his behalf, like most ancient tales it took an unexpected turn. Anna Perenna disguised Herself as Minerva on the wedding day but Mars found out just in time and the wedding never happened. Anna Perenna is a Goddess of “the turning of the years” or circle of life and also as a fertility procuring entity. Because of these attributes the festival of the fertility god Liber Pater, later equated with Bacchus, included a remembrance of Anna Perenna as elderly women donning ivy crowns offered sacrifice to the fertility god and through these venerable women the requests of their younger counterparts for children was channeled.  
In the context of the Orphic mysteries Minerva reveals the rhythmical dance of the celestial bodies and while she remains with Iuppiter she is wisdom but when she is in the company of the Dii Consentes she also reveals the power of Virtue.
The fiery Minerva as a Novensides is known to hurl thunderbolts, to be a Goddess of Victory, Patron Goddess of Domitian as Minerva Chaldica forever immortalized on his coinage, and interpreted by the stoics to be a moon element. The anniversary of Mens (Intelligence) on June 8 finds, at the end of a long day and night of celebration, flute players drunk, in masks and other disguises arrive at the Temple of Minerva in reverence to the Goddess who invented their flutes and their music.  She is worshipped at Luceria in Apulia as Minerva Achaea, where cultores leave votive gifts. Preserved at this Temple were arms purported to be those of Diomedes himself. Sacred to Her are the Owl and Olive.
In Rome she is also known as the Goddess of Warriors, of strategic defense in War, depicted wearing armor, a helmet and carrying a spear.
“Proud, warlike Goddess, great honor and wisdom of Your Father, powerful in war are You, on whom the grim helmet is borne with its frightful decoration, speckled with the Gorgon's blood that glows more violent with increasing rage, never has Mavors or Bellona with Her battle spear inspired more ardent calls to arms on the war trumpets than You. May You with Your nod accept this sacrificial offering. Whether You come from Mount Pandion to our rites by night, or from dancing happily in Ainian Itone, or from washing once more Your hair in the waters of Libyan Triton, or whether the winged axle of your war chariot, with its paired pure-bred horses carries you astride its beam, shouting aloud, now, to You, we dedicate the shattered spoils of virile men and their battered armour. Should I return to my Parthaonian fields, and upon being sighted Martian Pleuron should throw open wide her gates for me, then amid her hills, at the center of the city, I shall dedicate to you a golden temple where it may be your pleasure to look upon Ionian storms, and where Achelous tosses about his flaxen hair to disturb the sea where it leaves behind the breakers of Echinades. In here will I display accounts of ancestral wars and the death-masks of great hearted kings, and affix the arms of the proud in the rotunda that I have returned with myself, taken at the cost of my own blood, and those, Tritonia, that you will grant when Thebes is captured. There a hundred Calydonian virgins will serve in devotions at your altar, shall duly twine the Actaean torches, and weave from Your chaste olive tree purple sacrificial fillets with snow white strands of wool. At nightly vigils an aged priestess will tend your altar's fire, and never will she neglect to safeguard your modesty, attending in secret to the rites of your boudoir. To you in war, to you in peace, the first fruits of our labors shall be borne, without offence to Diana.”
Statius Thebaid 2.715-42
There is no way in this brief treatise can I cover the scope of this Great Goddesses attributes, tales of Her accomplishments and experiences and countless songs and poetry in her honor but I implore anyone to go in search of these many jewels for a rewarding experience.
I shall end with a very important aspect of Minerva with a piece of history and a finally a touching poem.
Inscribed plaques dedicated to Minerva the Mindful fashioned by a Roman Matron, Tullia Superiana commemorating the sacrifice of a white cow made in fulfillment of a vow by a slave for the recovery of his sight and a votive display of gratitude for restoring her hair:
“Felix Asianus, public slave of the pontiffs, gladly and sincerely discharged his vow of a white heifer to rustic Bona Dea Felicula (Good Goddess Felicula) for the restoration of his eyesight. He had been given up by the doctors, but after ten months he was cured by the favor of the Mistress and her remedies.” (CIL 6.68)
“In payment of her vow Tullia Superiana dedicates this plaque willingly and deservedly to Minerva the Mindful for having restored her hair.”
“In Vita Minerva”
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Vex not the Muse with idle prayers,--
She will not hear thy call;
She steals upon thee unawares,
Or seeks thee not at all.
Soft as the moonbeams when they sought
Endymion's fragrant bower,
She parts the whispering leaves of thought
To show her full-blown flower.
For thee her wooing hour has passed,
The singing birds have flown,
And winter comes with icy blast
To chill thy buds unblown.
Yet, though the woods no longer thrill
As once their arches rung,
Sweet echoes hover round thee still
Of songs thy summer sung.
Live in thy past; await no more
The rush of heaven-sent wings;
Earth still has music left in store
While Memory sighs and sings.
2. 2 Fishwick, Duncan (1987). "Seneca and the Temple of Divus Claudius" (pp. 253–254). Britannia 22 (pp. 137–141).
3. 3 Carter, Jess Benedict (1911) The Religious Life of Ancient Rome” (pp. 25-26).
4. 4. Florence Dupont, “Daily Life in Ancient Rome” (p. 154)
5. 5 Ibid. (p. 200)
6. 6 Turcan, R. (1998) “The Gods of Ancient Rome” (p.67)
7. 7 Ovidus, Fasti III; 814
8. 8 Ibid, 523-710
9. 9 Ibid. 713-808
10. 10 Takacs, Sarolta A. (2008) “Vestal Virgins, Sybils, and Matrons” (p. 42)
11. 11. Bruhl, A.(1953) “Liber Pater” (PP. 13-29)
12. 12. Proclus, Crat., p. 118
13. 13. Ibid, Tim., i.52
14. 14. Dumezil, Georges (1996) “Archaic Roman Religion” Vol II (p. 643) Servius II, Aen, 1:42
15. 15 Ibid (p. 674)
16. 16 Ibid (p. 688)
17. 17 Girard, J. (1981) “Domitien et Minerve : une predilection imperiale” (pp. 233-245)
18. 18 Turcan, R. (1998) “The Gods of Ancient Rome” (p.74)
19. 19 Ovidus, Fasti VI; 696
20. 20 Aristotle Mirab. Narrat. 117
21. 21 Warrior, Valerie M. (2006) “Roman Religion” (p. 26)
22. 22 Warrior, Valerie M. (2006) “Roman Religion, A Sourcebook” (p. 9)
Not of desire alone is music born,
Not till the Muse wills is our passion crowned;
Unsought she comes; if sought, but seldom found,
Repaying thus our longing with her scorn.
Hence is it poets often are forlorn,
In super-subtle chains of silence bound,
And mid the crowds that compass them around
Still dwell in isolation night and morn,
With knitted brow and cheek all passion-pale
Showing the baffled purpose of the mind.
Hence is it I, that find no prayers avail
To move my Lyric mistress to be kind,
Have stolen away into this leafy dale
Drawn by the flutings of the silvery wind.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich