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  • The Polyvalence of Pallas in the Aeneid
  • Sarah Spence

Pallas quas condidit arces / ipsa colat Let Pallas herself attend to the citadels she builds

Eclogue 2.61–62

Of all the deities portrayed in the Aeneid, Pallas (Minerva, Tritonia) is the least discussed. 1 There is reason for this, of course, given that she appears as a character only once (in 2.615–16, as Aeneas is shown the gods orches-trating the fall of Troy), and even that is mediated through Venus:

iam summas arces Tritonia, respice, Pallas insedit nimbo effulgens et Gorgone saeva. 2

Look there, now, Tritonian Pallas rests firm on the lofty citadel, harsh and resplendent with her stormcloud and Gorgon.

Her presence, however, is felt, strongly, and in ways that would suggest that she remains an important figure in the poem. 3 This is not to argue that her [End Page 149] very absence ensures her importance—such arguments do not usually hold up under scrutiny. But in the case of Pallas, the ways in which Vergil evokes the deity suggest that her role in the text remains important despite her elusiveness.

I wish to address two questions here: why does Vergil seemingly ignore or withhold a character prominent in the Homeric poems, and why Pallas? This last question is only complicated by the fact that the role granted Pallas in the literary tradition inherited by Vergil is hardly one of absence or silence. On the contrary, she, more than any goddess, would seem to be a character who deals in the direct rather than the covert. She may be coy, as indeed she is with Odysseus, but she is, most often, tangibly, palpably present. It will be my contention that this fact is relevant in the Aeneid as she appears, coyly, finally, at the end.

Moreover, she is exceedingly important in both the contemporary Augustan mythology and its Trojan and Etruscan antecedents. While serv-ing essentially the same function as the Greek Athena, she does take on certain attributes in Roman culture that are new. Some of these are due to the apparent existence of an early Etruscan deity, Menerva, who was associ-ated with more domestic issues than the Greek Athena, though Servius, citing the Etrusci libri, claims that Menerva is among the goddesses who can throw the thunderbolt. 4 A iusta urbs (“lawful city”), again according to Servius, will have three temples dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, a sentiment that is also voiced by Vitruvius. 5 This trio of deities, according to Varro (L.L. 5.32.158), constituted the Capitoline triad starting around 580 B.C.E. and, as a member of the Capitoline triad, Minerva is at least as important as Jupiter and Juno 6 (arguably she is more important as she becomes assimilated to the figure of Roma). 7 However, it is Jupiter and Juno who guide the action of the Aeneid while Minerva virtually never appears. This becomes even more unsettling when we take into account the [End Page 150] fact that, in her association with the Palladium, Pallas was the dea poliade (“divine guardian of the city”) of Rome. 8 Finally, Pallas is associated with, if not assimilated to, the Magna Mater and, as such, looms large in Au-gustan mythologies. 9

The ways in which she does figure in the Aeneid have been sur-veyed in two studies, by Elisabeth Henry and Michelle P. Wilhelm, and these supply many important details and observations. 10 Henry, in particular, provides a good catalogue of the scenes in which Minerva is used. They are, without exception, critical moments in the text: she seems to preside over the Laocoon scene (2.199–227); she choreographs the fall of Troy (2.615–16); denies the Trojan women (1.479–81) and, later, the Latin women (11.477–85) their appeals; appears via her temple and four white horses on the first headland of Italy (3.530–40); and sides with Augustus on the shield (8.699). 11

Pallas’ role throughout is perhaps best illustrated by two scenes in which she figures largely even though she does not appear: the Judgment of Paris, mentioned at 1.27, and the conversation between...

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