Minerva In Amsterdam

“She is clad in wisdom and can turn enemies to stone with the head of the gorgon Medusa at her breast.” ~Mary Petiet, Minerva’s Owls

The faculty of law at Amsterdam University is closed on Saturday, so I had to take the picture from the dark hallway through a glass window pane in the locked door. 

The faculty of law at Amsterdam University is closed on Saturday, so I had to take the picture from the dark hallway through a glass window pane in the locked door. 

The goddess Minerva sits quietly in a mostly hidden courtyard in Amsterdam. To find her you walk through a stone hallway with a high vaulted ceiling lined with second hand book stalls.

It’s all very ancient and quiet in a stone encased old world sort of way.

The courtyard is part of the University of Amsterdam’s law faculty, and is accessed by a set of huge French doors opening from the hallway. Long before I met him, my husband studied law here in the shadow of Minerva’s stone bust.

She regards the courtyard with calm even features from her perch atop a column of grey stone. A plumed war helmet crowns her head, the hint of her blouse recalls snake scales, and the head of Medusa rests upon her breast.

Legal justice falls under Minerva’s purview, making her an obvious choice of guardian for a law faculty. Her gaze is wise and rational in the classical Roman way, but she also harks back to something even older.

“Wisdom is part of the feminine aspect of our duality and has many expressions. Before there was Minerva, there was the virgin goddess Athena, the ancient Greek embodiment of wisdom...As the patroness of Athens, Athena’s bailiwick included the boons of civilization from the peaceful feminine aspect:  the arts, including wisdom, inspiration, legal justice, music, poetry, crafts and weaving, the power to heal and magic. Her connection to wisdom is symbolized by her familiar, the owl… Athena was also the goddess of just warfare. She was a battle strategist, in contrast to Ares, her brother warrior who balances her with the pursuit of bloody, less strategist violence, while her own masculine attribute balances her feminine qualities, creating her own balanced duality. When the Romans adopted Athena as the virgin goddess of wisdom they renamed Minerva and gave her Athena's attributes. Soon the Roman empire was scattered with temples and cults to Minerva.” ~ excerpt from Minerva’s Owls

Mosaic of Minerva by Elihu Vedder, 1897  in the Library of Congress

Mosaic of Minerva by Elihu Vedder, 1897  in the Library of Congress

I grew up knowing I had a long ago grandmother named Minerva, and my husband must have passed the statue of Minerva hundreds of times in the three years he studied law, but neither of us imagined that someday I’d hear her owl and name a book for her.

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As the fall days lengthen it's the prefect time to turn inward. Join my Wisdom Journal for a free five day exploration of your inner space and automatic newsletter membership for future offerings! 

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