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One of the principal Olympian deities, Minerva (in Greek myth, Athene) was goddess of wisdom and war, but, unlike Mars (Ares), she fought in defence of justice. The owl of wisdom was sacred to her. She possessed a noble beauty and is usually shown in armour, carrying a lance or halberd and a shield, which may bear the image of Medusa. The daughter of Jupiter (Zeus), she often gave him counsel. She was born from his head, because Jupiter had been told in a prophecy that his first wife, Metis, would give birth to one who would surpass him, so when she became pregnant he swallowed her. As a result he suffered so much pain that he had to beg Vulcan (Hephaestus) to split open his head - and Minerva issued forth.

Minerva competed with Neptune (Poseidon) for the region of Attica, which was promised as the prize for whichever of them gave the most useful present to its inhabitants. Neptune hit the ground with his trident and brought forth a spring or, in some accounts, a horse; Minerva created the olive tree, a symbol of peace, and the land was awarded to her. The olive tree was cultivated by Cecrops, who founded Athens, capital of Attica. Minerva became the city's patroness, her temple being built on the Acropolis.

Minerva was the goddess of crafts, particularly spinning and weaving; she invented the flute, and was invoked by those in pursuit of reason, learning and the civilized arts.