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The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 49, November 27, 2011, Article 7

QUERY: ATHENA/MINERVA SYMBOLISM

John Sallay ( sallay@comcast.net ) submitted this question about the symbolism of -Editor

1717 Medal Athena and King Louis XV I’m working on a presentation for the early January meeting of the Medal Collectors of America on the symbolism surrounding Athena/Minerva used on coins and medals, and would appreciate some input from the readers of The E-Sylum. The presentation is titled “Athena Leading the Way: The History of Her Medallic Iconography” and will trace the evolution the symbolism related to Athena/Minerva on coins and medals since first used on ancient coins.

The example shown here, for example, is a French commemorative medal dated 1717 with Athena guiding a young King Louis XV to the Temple of Fame, an allegory related to his early education. It has the motto “Accipe Quae Peragenda Prius” or “Learn what is necessary to reach there”, which comes from Virgil’s Aeneid (Book 6, line 136).

Here are some questions:

• I’m familiar with several ancient Greek and Roman coins with Athena/Minerva motifs, but can anyone suggest a good reference discussing specifically this iconography as used on ancient coins?

• Steve Scher has been very helpful suggesting both references and people to contact regarding the use of the Athena/Minerva symbolism on Renaissance medals, though I’m still open to more input since the early development of the modern medal occurred during this period and there are some fantastic Renaissance medals using the Athena motif.

• The Britannia figure is clearly based on these earlier classical designs, and I believe Athena in particular. Can anyone recommend a good book or article discussing the creation and early numismatic use of the Britannia figure?

• Similarly, the French Marianne figure is often shown with an ancient Greek or Roman helmet, evoking the both the wisdom and military strength that Athena represents. Where can I find a discussion of the French use of this motif (hopefully written in English!)?

• And of course, the seated Liberty figure on American coins is based on these earlier European and classical designs, and there is a great discussion of this in Bob Julian’s chapter on the historical background to the Gobrecht dollars in “Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States - A Complete Encyclopedia” by Dave Bowers. Any other key resources?

• In the ANS volume “The Medal in America” there’s a great chapter by Yvonne Korshak on the symbolism on the Libertas Americana medal, which shows on the reverse Athena (France) protecting the young Hercules (America). Any other suggested references focusing on this iconography?

Thanks in advance for any help. The presentation will be given at the MCA meeting being held at the New York International Numismatic Convention, at the Waldorf on Saturday, January 7.

Wayne Homren, Editor

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