Oh graceful Goddess of Poetry and Wisdom, incarnation in disguise of Athena of Greece, you were once the focus of worship, at a time when Rome was at its zenith. They revered you at one time as one of the three virgin goddesses, with Diana and Vesta as the other two of the triumfeminae. They say that you were also regarded as the Goddess of Medicine. You are no longer celebrated every year soon after the Ides of March in a temple erected in your honor in the heyday of Rome. But you have not been forgotten altogether. Today your name and emblem are incorporated in the Sapienza Universitá di Roma.
The ancient Romans performed a rite in your honor. On that day they did not do any bloody sacrifice because it was your birthday. You were also known with your Greek association as Pallas. Did not Ovid say, referring to you, “Ye boys and tender girls, pray now to Pallas; he who shall have won the favor of Pallas will be learned. When once they have won the favor of Pallas, let girls learn to card the wool and to unload the full distaffs. She (Minerva) also teaches how to traverse the upright warp with the shuttle, and she drives home the loose threads with the comb. Worship her, thou who dost remove stains from damaged garments; worship her, thou who dost make ready the brazen caldrons for the fleeces. If Pallas frown, no man shall make shoes well, though he were more skilful than Tychius … yet shall he be helpless, if Pallas be angry with him.… And spurn her not, ye schoolmasters, ye tribe too often cheated of your income, she attracts new pupils; and spurn her not, thou who dost ply the graving tool and paint pictures in encaustic colors, and thou who dost mould the stone with deft hand. She is the goddess of a thousand works: certainly she is the goddess of song; may she be friendly to my pursuits, if I deserve it [1: I Fasti, 809].
Ovid tells us where your temple stood, and says how you were ancient even in his time: “Where the Caelian Mount descends from the height into the plain, at the point where the street is not level but nearly level, you may see the small shrine of Minerva Capta, which the goddess owned for the first time upon her birthday.” He conjectures how you might have received the name of Minerva Capta: “We call ingenuity capital; the goddess herself is ingenious. Did she get the name of Capta because she is said to have leapt forth motherless with her shield from the crown of her father’s head (caput)? Or because she came to us as a captive at the conquest of the Falerii?” This very fact is attested by an ancient inscription. Or was it because she has a law which ordains capital punishment for receiving objects stolen from that place? From whatsoever source thou doest derive the title, O Pallas, do thou hold thine aegis ever before our leaders.
Your name and fame and worship were taken by the ancient Romans to England too. And in our own times your name and statue are displayed in a number of universities beyond the shores of Italy: in Vienna and Albany, NY, in South Africa and Berkeley, and in many more centers of learning. Your statue adorns many libraries too.
As Averil Joop lamented, “His name the smirking tourist scrawls upon Minerva’s temple walls where thundered once Olympian Zeus…”
So I close with this prayer to you: “Ad Minervae, deae sapientiae, p.f.v.attica donum fecit; Sanctissima.”