Gateway to the Classics: Gods and Heroes by R. E. Francillon
Gods and Heroes by  R. E. Francillon

Minerva; or, Wisdom

O NE day Jupiter had a very bad headache. He had never had one before, so he did not know what it was or what to do. One god recommended one thing and another proposed another, and Jupiter tried them all; but the more things he tried the worse the headache grew. At last he said:—

"I can't stand this any more. Vulcan, bring your great sledge-hammer and split open my skull. Kill or cure."

Vulcan brought his sledge-hammer and split open Jupiter's skull with a single blow. And out there came a fine, full-grown goddess, clad in complete armor from head to foot, armed with a spear and shield, and with beautiful large blue eyes. She was Minerva (or, in Greek, Athēnē), the Wisdom that comes from Jupiter's brain, and makes it ache sometimes.

Minerva was wonderfully good as well as wonderfully wise: not that there is much difference between goodness and wisdom. She is the only goddess, or god either, who never did a foolish, an unkind, or a wrong thing. By the way, though, she once took it into her head that she could play the flute, and the gods laughed at her; but when she looked into a brook and saw what ugly faces she made when she played, she knew at once what made the gods laugh, laughed at herself, threw the flute away, and never played it again; so she was even wise enough not to be vain, or to think she could do well what she did badly.

The only bad thing about good people is that there are so few good stories to tell of them. She was Jupiter's favorite daughter, and no wonder; and she was the only one of all the gods and goddesses whom he allowed to use his thunder. She was the only one he could trust, I suppose. She was rather too fond of fighting, considering that she was a lady, but she was as good at her needle as her sword. She was so good at spinning, that a woman named Arachne, who was the best spinner and seamstress in the world, hanged herself in despair because she could not spin a web so neatly and finely as Minerva. The goddess turned her into a spider, who is still the finest spinner in the world, next to Minerva alone.

Once the people of Attica wanted a name for their capital, which they had just been building. They asked the gods, and the gods in council decreed that the new city should be named by the god who should give the most useful new present to mankind. Neptune struck the earth with his trident, and out sprang the horse, and nobody thought that his gift could be beaten. But Minerva planted the olive, which is the plant of peace. So the gods gave the honor of naming the new city to Minerva, because the emblem of peace is better than the horse, who is the emblem of war. The name she gave was from her own—Athēnæ; and the city is called Athens to this day. The Athenians always paid their chief worship to their goddess-godmother.

Minerva was very handsome, but rather manly-looking for a goddess, and grave; her most famous feature was her blue eyes. "The Blue-eyed Maid" is one of her most usual titles in poetry. She wore a large helmet with waving plumes; in one hand she held a spear; on her left arm she carried the shield on which was the head of the Gorgon Medusa, with living snakes darting from it. But sometimes she carried a distaff instead of a spear. The olive was of course sacred to her, and her favorite bird is the owl, who is always called the Bird of Wisdom.

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