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Pallas Athene—Minerva

The central idea in all the myths and representations of Pallas Athene, or Minerva, is the idea of Doctrine, Divine Teaching, proceeding immediately from the fountain-head of Divine Wisdom, and adapted to the rational comprehension of man. All the Greek Divinities represented the Divine Truth or the Word, but each one in a different plane, degree, or aspect, and in a sense each one of them also represented Doctrine, since the Word is Doctrine, in whatever degree or plane it may be. Nevertheless, there is a difference between the Word, specifically so called, and Doctrine from the Word. The former,—whether it be the Word in heaven or the Word on earth,—is a Divine Sun; Doctrine is the light from that Sun, adapted or accommodated to the rational understanding of finite beings. This discrimination may help us to understand the difference in the signification between such gods as Jupiter, Neptune, Mercury, and Apollo, on the one hand, and Minerva and Vulcan, on the other; the former represent the Word in its various degrees and senses; the latter two represent Doctrine from the Word,—Vulcan the doctrine of natural good and truth, and Minerva the doctrine of spiritual good and truth, such as it existed in the Ancient Church.

From whatever side we may examine the glorious figure of Minerva, we shall find that this central idea prevails. In the story of her birth and deeds, in all her various offices and emblems, she uniformly and consistently represents spiritual doctrine, definite, systematic, rational, and Divine; pure and undefiled by human self-intelligence; teaching, illuminating, and upbuilding; defending the right and opposing the wrong.

The etymology of her names,—Pallas Athene, and Minerva, —must still be considered as unknown or at least doubtful. Pallas has been variously derived from pallo, to leap forth, or to wield or brandish a weapon, or from pallax, a maiden. Athene, also written Athena and Athana, has been traced to the Sanscrit Ahana or Dahana, which signifies the dawn, the light of the morning, springing forth from the brow of the rising sun, and as such she has been identified with Ushas, the Aryan goddess of the dawn, in the Rig Veda. Others have derived the name from athanatos, without death, immortal, and others, again, from the Egyptian war-goddess, Neith, by a not unparalleled transposition of letters. The name Minerva, finally, is an Etruscan word, which is clearly related to the Latin mens, mind, and the Greek menos, spirit, strength, and mimnesko, to remember.

According to Homer and the earliest traditions, Minerva had no mother, human or Divine, but sprang forth, full-grown, and clad in full panoply of glittering armor, from the pregnant brow of Jove. The later poets have it, that Zeus, having been warned that a son of his would ultimately dethrone him, swallowed his pregnant consort, Metis, whereupon he soon began to suffer from a most terrific headache, from which he could find no relief until Vulcan obligingly split open his father's head with a brazen axe. Then out sprang Minerva with a shout at which Olympus shook, the earth resounded, the sea was moved, and Helios himself checked his fiery chariot, until the newborn goddess took off her radiant armor and forthwith drove out of Olympus the deadly genius of Dulness,—daughter of Chaos and Nyx, who until then had infested heaven and earth.

"Whatever be the meaning of the obscure fable respecting Jupiter swallowing Metis, the essential feature in the story of the birth of Minerva is that she sprang forth immediately from the brow of the supreme god,—a virgin born by no mother, a doctrine conceived by no mortal mind, human or angelic, but revealed and descending immediately from the Divine Wisdom itself. There must have been such a Doctrine in the Ancient Church, for otherwise the Ancient Word could not have been understood; all facts of Archeology and Mythology point to the existence of such a fund of spiritual-rational doctrine of systematic Theology in the ancient world, and the Writings of the New Church frequently refer to it. Nevertheless, it could have been an immediate revelation only in a relative sense, for the Ancient Church was a representative Church in which the naked truth still had to be clothed in figures, types, emblems, and symbols. Essentially, Minerva stands forth as a prophecy, which found no actual fulfillment, until, in the fulness of time, the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem descended from God out of heaven,—an immediate revelation in the absolute sense.

Minerva always remained a virgin, for the Divine Doctrine of the Church must remain pure and undefiled by the notions of finite intelligence. Hence she was called Parthenos, the Virgin, and her chief temple was called the Parthenon. And she is always represented as clothed, in long flowing garments, because no mortal eye can bear the sight of the naked Truth, such as it is in its inmost Divinity; even though rational, the Divine Truth must be clothed in appearances and accommodations. It is related that Tiresias, the Theban prophet and seer, once came upon Athene disrobed, in her bath, but the vision cost him his eye-sight.

Chastity, nobility, and fearless strength are characteristics of the ancient representatives of Pallas Athene. Her statues uniformly present the figure of a beautiful, majestic, yet maidenly woman, with a serious and thoughtful countenance, a broad, serene brow, large and steady eyes, and a somewhat stern mouth. On her head is a crested helmet, on her breast a cuirass with a small representation of the Gorgon's head; in her right hand is the figure of winged Victory or else a gleaming lance, and with her left hand she leans upon the famous aegis or shield, upon which is embossed Medusa's terrific head, encircled with serpents in the place of hair. And, finally, at her feet is seen a great serpent, and sometimes an owl. Among her other symbols and emblems we find a lamp, a scroll, a distaff, the olive-tree, the laurel, a ship, and also horses and a chariot.

The most famous of all her ancient statues was the one executed by Phidias, in the Parthenon, made of pure ivory and solid gold, forty feet in height,—Pallas Athene in all her glory and beauty, surrounded by all her weapons and emblems,—the crowning masterpiece of Hellenic art. But to our own taste the finest statue of the goddess is the "Pallas de Velletri," now in the Louvre, representing her as a helmeted virgin of superb beauty, unembellished by any weapons or symbols, but simply standing in an attitude of a spirited teacher, with one hand pointing to heaven, and the other hand out-stretched, explaining and reasoning.

At Rome, in the temple of Vesta, there was preserved an archaic image of Pallas, known as the "palladium," which was guarded as the apple of the eye, for upon its preservation the safety of the city was considered to depend. This statue, made of olive wood, was said to have been carried to Latium from Troy, by Aeneas; originally it had fallen from heaven, like the sacred black stone in Mekka, and it had been prophesied that when the palladium was taken, Troy would fall. To secure this event, Diomedes and Ulysses had stolen it, but it was in some way recovered by Aeneas; the Greeks, however, denied this, and a palladium was preserved in Athens as the most sacred possession of the city. From the extreme reverence paid to the image, the word '' palladium'' has come to stand for the holy of holies of any doctrinal system, and it is used in this sense in the Writings of the New Church, as where it is said that the dogma of Predestination was

conveyed into the Church by the Supra- and Infra-lapsarians, as the palladium of religion, or, rather, as the head of the Gorgon or Medusa engraved on the shield of Pallas. (B. E. 66.)

The Synod of Dort as it were kissed the dogma of Predestination as the Greeks kissed the palladium in the temple of Minerva. (T. C. R. 759.)

According to the modern naturalistic interpreters, the worship of Athene was simply part and parcel of the archaic Sun-worship of their Aryan ancestors, Zeus being nothing but the natural sun and Athene the light from the sun. We accept the interpretation, with the modification that by the sun the ancients understood the spiritual sun, and by the light, the spiritual light of Divine Doctrine, or that ''immediate influx of Truth from the Lord, from which is the Light which gives the faculty of understanding." (A. C. 8707.) Hence Athene was regarded by the classic philosophers as a representation of the ''universal Logos,'' the all-penetrating Divine Reason and Intelligence which they termed "the Insight of Zeus." And, in relation to man, she was looked upon as the embodiment of wisdom, intelligence, and science, on every plane of the human understanding and life.

She was the special patroness of the philosophers, whose lamps were ever burning in her honor. Many of the ancient sages believed that they were inspired directly by Pallas Athene, but this belief had its origin in the representations of the spiritual world, as may be seen from the following account of Swedenborg's interview with the spirit of Aristotle:

A woman was seen by me, who stretched out her hand, desiring to stroke his cheek. When I wondered at this he said that while he was in the world such a woman had often appeared to him, who as it were stroked his cheek, and that her hand was beautiful. The angelic spirit said that such women were sometimes seen by the ancients, and were called by them Pallases, and that such a one appeared to him from those spirits who, when they lived as men in ancient times, were delighted with ideas and indulged in thoughts, but without philosophy. And because such spirits were attendant upon him, and were delighted with him in consequence of his thinking from an interior principle, therefore they representatively exhibited such a woman. (A. G. 4658.)

In the Spiritual Diary, n. 3952, it is added that "such women were called Pallases, not Minervas, but Pallases,"—probably because the Greeks had a much more philosophical idea of their Pallas Athene, than the Romans had of their Minerva. Raw-linson justly observes that the universally received myth of Pallas Athene "acted as a strong reinforcement to the power of conscience, which the young Greek felt might be the voice of Athene speaking within him, advising him for his true good, and pointing out to him the path of honor and duty." (Religions of the Ancient World, p. 198.)

In Rome, Minerva was the goddess of Memory as well as of Wisdom, and all schools were placed under her special protection. Her statues were to be found in most places of instruction, and it was a custom for the scholars each year to present to their teachers a fee or gift, called the "minerval." In common with Apollo she was also the patroness of all liberal arts, sciences, and learning in general, but more especially of skillful handicraft and inventions, and most particularly she was the genius presiding over the feminine arts of spinning, weaving, and embroidering. She herself was the Divine and incomparable weaver who not only attired Juno in queenly garments but also is said to have ''woven the robe of the universe,'' a beautiful way of stating the fact that Heavenly Doctrine not only clothes the Church specific with genuine truths, but also covers the Church Universal, for it is a universal Doctrine.

To spin and to weave signifies to construct Doctrine. The first process is to spin, that is, to gather together loose ideas and knowledges into one connected train of thought, a continuous truth. Then comes the weaving, which consists in placing thought by the side of thought in a warp of parallel truths, which are connected together by the weft of rational comparisons in the loom of the mind. Hence comes the cloth of systematic Doctrine, which preserves and protects the spiritual body, preserves its own vital heat of good affections, and protects it against the deadening influence of evil.

The Heavenly Doctrine is such a system of ''Truth continuous from the Lord," firmly knit together by the Divine Wisdom, but the doctrines schemed by human self-intelligence are the flimsy structures spun from the tail-end of the spider. This difference between Divine and human doctrine is strikingly illustrated by the story of Athene and Arachne. The latter was a maiden so proud of her skill in the loom that she dared to challenge Athene to a weaving contest. The goddess assented and easily won the prize, but the defeat so embittered Arachne that she immediately committed suicide by hanging herself, whereupon Athene changed her into a spider, and condemned her to spin and weave forever webs of no consistency or use. Such is the fate of human reason, when in inordinate conceit it presumes itself superior to the authority of Divine Doctrine. Self-centered, like the spider, it spins its false reasonings by a backward process, sticky and excrementitious, to be torn asunder every day by the slightest wind of genuine truth. In the words of the prophets: ''They trust in vanity and speak lies; they weave the spider's web. Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works." (Isaiah 59:5,6.)

City-building, like weaving, signifies construction of Doctrine, but on a grander scale, the city with its system of streets being like a web with its warp and weft.

Cities signify things of Doctrine, because doctrinal things were taught in the cities, for there were the synagogues, and in Jerusalem was the Temple. (A. R. 712.)

A city also signifies Doctrine because men live spiritually in and according to the doctrines of their Church, as naturally they live in cities. In ancient times all cities were enclosed in walls,—fundamental doctrines, protecting against the attacks of falsity; they had their gates, introductory doctrines; their streets,—leading and general doctrines, their houses,—individual conceptions of doctrine; their high places, or citadels,— interior and supreme doctrines, to which men may flee in times of distress. Thus we may understand why Athene, the Divine Doctrine, was worshiped as the protector of cities in general, and of the high citadels of cities in particular, and most especially of the Akropolis of Athens, her favorite city which was named in her honor.

The worship of Athene was the very soul of ancient Athens. She it was who nurtured and educated the founder of the city, the autochthon Erichthonius, taught him the art of yoking the horse, and brought to his new settlement the Divine gift of fire. When the question of naming the city arose, Athene and Poseidon contended for the honor of bestowing the name. The dispute being referred to Zeus, he decided that the privilege should be given to that deity who should create an object of the greatest usefulness to man. Poseidon then struck the rock of Akropolis with his trident, and a noble horse sprang forth, the admiration of all the witnessing gods. Athene in her turn struck the same rock with her lance, and there grew up—a homely olive tree, at whose dusty-looking appearance the gods laughed in derision. But the tune changed, and to Athene was awarded the prize, after she had explained all the various and essential uses to which the fruit and every part of the tree could be put. The horse, the understanding of truth, was useful, indeed, as a means of conveyance, but the olive, the celestial good, was after all more necessary, not only for food, but also for habitation, by its wood, and for illumination in the dark, by its oil.

In Athens, therefore, the goddess was worshiped as nowhere else on earth, and here were raised in her honor the grandest temple and the most famous statue of all ancient art. In the Parthenon she shone in transcendent glory as the champion of eternal justice, truth, and right; and the city of Athens itself, through its devotion to her and to the Doctrine which she represented, became that focus of intellectual Light, which, through the doctrines of her three greatest philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, shed its radiance not only over all Greece, but over all the classic world. And that Light, the Light of Pallas Athene, survived the Dark Ages, reappeared in the Renaissance, paved the way for the Reformation, and finally prepared the mind of her greatest servant, the immortal Swedenborg, to receive the Divine Light itself, the crowning Light of the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem.

Athene was essentially a goddess of peace and of the peaceful pursuits of intelligence and culture. But she represented not only the doctrine of good but also the doctrine of truth, and as such she was the great goddess of War and intelligent and systematic combat against falsity and evil, superior in might to Ares himself, who represented only the external side of warfare. With the exception of the spear, all her weapons are those of defensive war: the helmet, the breastplate, and the shield.

Her crested helmet is an elaborate affair, adorned with sphinxes and griffins, and, in front, by a rising line of galloping horses, and encircled by a crown of olive-leaves. The horse, as representing intelligence, was naturally sacred to Minerva, and it is said that she was the first to tame the horse and to bridle and yoke it to the chariot, a significant fact, representing the submission of the human understanding to the authority of Divine Doctrine. It was as "Athene Hippa," that she bridled the winged horse, Pegasus, for Bellerophron, and in the Trojan war it was she who taught Epeus how to frame the famous wooden horse by means of which the Greeks gained an entrance into Troy.

The Aegis, or storm-shield of Minerva, possessed the power of inspiring terror and dismay, by its movements collecting or dispersing darkness, clouds, thunder, and lightning.

            Her shoulder bore
The dreadful Aegis with its shaggy brim,
Bordered with Terror. There was Strife and there
Was Fortitude, and there was fierce Pursuit,
And there the Gorgon's head, a ghastly sight,
Deformed and dreadful, and a sign of woe.
                 Homer, (Bryant's trans.).

The Gorgon, Medusa, was an infernal genius, of fascinating but horrible beauty, whose hair consisted of writhing serpents and who turned to stone all those who looked upon her. This monster was finally killed by Perseus, and her head was given to Minerva, who affixed it to her shield to represent the fact that infernal falsity is forever exposed by Heavenly Doctrine. The significance of the shield itself is manifest from the letter of the Word, as where it is said: "I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress. His truth shall be thy shield and buckler." (Ps. 91 :2, 4.)

A buckler, or helmet, because it defends the bead, signifies protection against the falsities which destroy the understanding of truth; and a shield, because it defends the breast, signifies protection against the falsities which destroy charity, that is, the will of good. (A. E. 734.)

A spear, finally, signifies in general, "truth combating," (A. C. 2799), "protection by the interior power of truth from good," (A. E. 734; A. C. 9141),"all things which are of Doctrine," (A. E. 257), and in the supreme sense, the Omnipotence of the Lord. (A. C. 878.)

Armed with these Divine weapons, Athene often descended to battle against the powers of darkness, and in the "War of the Giants" she overcame the monstrous Encelados, upon whom she threw the island Trinakria. She also vanquished and flayed the giant Pallas, who dared to assume her own name, and she took a very active part on the side of her favorite Greeks in the countless battles against the hated Trojans, whose city, as has been shown before, stood for the doctrine of the Old Church, the then already corrupted doctrine of the Ancient Church.

In every heroic expedition it is she who "nerves each heart for a hero's part on the battlefield of duty.'' She it was who assisted Theseus in slaying the Minotaur; she gave aid to Perseus in overcoming Medusa; she protected and counseled Hercules in all his labors and adventures, assisted Ulysses on the tempestuous sea, and personally superintended the building of the ship Argo. Ships, which also signify doctrines, were under her protection, and it was she who first taught men the art of navigation. For the sea signifies the letter of the Word, and a ship signifies the doctrine by means of which alone the Word can be safely explored.

There remain to be explained the two strange symbols of Athene, the serpent and the owl, which often are found at her feet. The serpent, in a good sense, signifies the sensual and scientific properly subordinated to the rational and spiritual. It also signifies prudence and circumspection as the lowest natural form of wisdom. The owl, though everywhere mentioned with an evil significance in the Word, may, in connection with Minerva, represent the power of genuine Doctrine to see in the dark as well as in the Light. By the poets the owl of Minerva was supposed to signify vigilant study, meditation, and learning, but it may be that the owl sits at the feet of the goddess only in order to afford a contrast between Heavenly Doctrine on the one hand, and the ludicrous conceit of self-intelligence, on the other.

The great feast of Athene in Athens was called the "Panathenaia," and was celebrated with great splendor once in four years. On these occasions a sacred ship was carried in procession, on the mast of which there was spread out as a sail the new robe for the image of the goddess, which had been woven by Athenian maidens. In Rome she had two festivals, one on the nineteenth of March, and the other on the Nineteenth of June, which day was celebrated as her birthday. (See Encyclopedia Britannica, Ninth Ed. vol. XVI., p. 437.) This adds to the significance of that day of days. The birthday of the "Doctrine of the Ancient Church" was celebrated on the Nineteenth of June. That day also witnessed the fatal birth of the Doctrine of the tri-personality of God in the Christian Church, for it was on that day that the Council of Nice met in the year 325. And, finally, the birth of the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem was completed on that day, when, in the year 1770, Swedenborg finished The True Christian Religion. This recurrence of the date, always in connection with the birth of Doctrine, may of course, be merely a coincidence, but it is certainly remarkable and noteworthy.


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Pallas Athene—Minerva

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