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So What IS Menrva, the Owl in Final Fantasy XIII?

Updated on January 15, 2015

Final Fantasy XIII, WHY ARE YOU SO ODD?

Final Fantasy XIII has a bad habit of throwing half the plot into the Datalog, and even then some bits are incomprehensible. One of these bits is the owl, Menrva, serving as spy and vehicle for Primarch Galenth Dysley, aka Barthandalus, the Big Bad Evil Overlord of Final Fantasy XIII.

What IS this owl creature? Is it just a blatant spinoff from Athena's Owl in Clash of the Titans, or what? I've got a hunch about the weird owl which may explain a chunk of the WTF?ness in the ending of Final Fantasy XIII, so bear with me.

Screencap of owl from Final Fantasy XIII.

From FFXIII's Datalog

Barthandalus' entry gives us our only canon information on the owl:

"Unbeknownst even to his closest aides, he has kept careful watch on the fugitive l'Cie through the eyes of his rukh, Menrva, forcing them to grow stronger while at times aiding secretly in their flight."

Menrva, the owl in Final Fantasy XIII
Menrva, the owl in Final Fantasy XIII

In-Game: What The Owl Is, and Does

It's Barthandalus' eyes and ears.

The weird-ass owl first shows up at Lake Bresha, spying on the party immediately after they're turned into L'Cie. From that point on, it appears in the background almost everywhere they go, watching them. It even follows them to Gran Pulse. At least twice (I think?) the owl turns into an airship, helping transport the party to whatever place Barthandalus wishes them to go, such as the Ark where he wants them to level up.

Right: Owl Puppet from
Clash of the Titans

REAL subtle, Squeenix.

It reports back to Barthandalus and fights alongside him in at least one boss battle. During the end game, something very odd happens. (1) The party defeats Barthandalus, and he sinks into a pool. (2) The owl flies down, dives into the pool, and triggers a chain reaction. Out of the pool rises a tripartite being, a fusion of Barthandalus, a babyface in the chest, and an unidentified female figure. More on her below. This being calls itself Orphan, but it also refers to itself in the plural. (3) After this being is defeated, the babyface "awakens." This is the true Orphan (I think), after its "parents" are destroyed in the battle after (2).

So what does this have to do with the Owl, and how is the Owl connected to Barthandalus, Orphan, and that female figure?

Orphan, Form I, FFXIII Final Boss Battle
Orphan, Form I, FFXIII Final Boss Battle

The Female Side of the "Unholy Trinity"

Look closely at the owl's head, and at this endgame boss...

The Final Fantasy Wiki's Menrva entry guesses that "It is really an extension of Dysley's power, absorbed back into its master whenever he assumes his true fal'Cie form Barthandelus".

I'm not sure. That sort of fits, but I noticed something in the last boss battle: the head of the owl (above) looks an awful lot like the head of the female figure in the first, tripartite form of Orphan during the endgame (right). The gray-white coloring and plate armor shell of the female figure also look like the owl. The female figure is holding the infant, unborn baby (the real Orphan, who survives to become the really-truly-Final Boss.) That babyface also appears on the breast of the owl Menrva. And the female figure is winged.

I think Menrva is the feminine aspect of Barthandalus -- either a part of him, OR a separate, complementary entity, Yin to his Yang. With some interesting variants on what it means to be "feminine," in keeping with the largely active, Chess Queen characters of the women in this game (Okay, Fang and Lightning more than Vanille and Serah.)

Goddess Menrva (Roman Coin from area formerly ruled by Etruscans)
Goddess Menrva (Roman Coin from area formerly ruled by Etruscans)

Aside: The Mythological Origin of Menrva

She's ATHENA, Roman Style

In Real Life, Menrva is an Etruscan goddess of wisdom, the mind, intellect, mens (Latin word from the same root, which gives us all our "mental" words). She became Roman Minerva, who fused with, and borrowed attributes from, the similar Greek goddess Athena.

Etruscan Menrva is depicted as winged. Roman Minerva (here's a statue) loses the wings and picks up Athena's owl.

Menrva is more associated with the mind, arts and craftsmanship. She's also a war goddess, like her Greek counterpart Athena. Her dominant trait is strategy, skill, tactics. She's a commander, an asexual figure (a little like Lightning).

Incidentally, Etruscan deities usually manifest as and are worshipped in a trio, although it's usually Minerva/Jupiter/Juno, as opposed to Mother/Father/Child, since Minerva is a virgin.

Eden's "Gatekeeper" Avatars in Orphan's Cradle
Eden's "Gatekeeper" Avatars in Orphan's Cradle

This Way to Eden (Final Fantasy Style)

Eden = Menrva?

So here's where things get interesting. The Fal'Cie Eden in Final Fantasy XIII is both the capital city AND the CPU of Cocoon, serving to guide it.

From the Datalog:

EDEN: The namesake of Cocoon's capital, this fal'Cie directs the others of its kind who support the world's day-to-day existence. While Cocoon's other fal'Cie do not communicate with humans, Eden does. Presiding over the Sanctum's otherwise human administration, the fal'Cie is known to issue orders to the Primarch and step in to correct political gaffes on occasion.

As the sole operational nexus linking untold numbers of fal'Cie, it is not unthinkable that the loss of Eden could spell the end of Cocoon itself.

So... do we ever SEE Eden?

Yes. I think we do. In the final crackstastic sequence leading up to the final battle, we're whizzing around a freeform platform-space called "Orphan's Cradle." This area is like the platforming in Tron: it's supposed to represent being inside Eden's CPU-space, with virtual manifestations of Eden serving as gatekeepers (right). That whole area, essentially, is Eden's headspace. Or rather, her MENTAL space.

You see where I'm going here?

Mental space = Menrva = Minerva = Eden, the CPU, the brains, the tactician, the architect and commander.

There's some funky stuff going on here, fusing pagan and Christian Trinity symbolism (which FFX did too: its trappings of the Catholic Church of Yevon overlaying Shingon Buddhism), but I think that's the explanation of Dysley's weird owl.

All of which is a lot of explication for a terribly flawed game with fantastic bits and facepalm bits. Which leads me to...

Final Fantasy 13's Ending: FAQ
Final Fantasy 13 gives us a classic Squeenix cracktastic-landscape, Die-and-STAY-DEAD ultimate boss fight with a WTF-just-happened mind-bending FMV finale. ...

Please tell me whether this idea makes sense to you, or whether you think FFXIII's endgame insanity has caused me to grasp at straws!

What do YOU think the owl is?

© 2012 auronlu

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    • newbizmau profile image

      Guided Abundance 5 years ago from Mobile, AL

      I was drawn to your lens by the title and what turned out to be a very interesting lens about the Final Fantasy series and the curious owl.

      -Blessed by a Squid Angel

    • auronlu profile image
      Author

      auronlu 5 years ago from Spira

      @ImmatureEntrepr: No topic too obscure! Thanks. :)

    • ImmatureEntrepr profile image

      ImmatureEntrepr 5 years ago

      Very creative lens! Squid Angel blessings for you. :)