World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Owl of Athena

Article Id: WHEBN0003206672
Reproduction Date:

Title: Owl of Athena  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Athena, Greek drachma, Tetradrachm, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Illuminati
Collection: Athena, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Owls
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Owl of Athena

Silver tetradrachm coin at the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon depicting the owl of Athena (circa 480–420 BC). The inscription "ΑΘΕ" is an abbreviation of ΑΘΗΝΑΙΩΝ, which may be translated as "of the Athenians". In daily use the Athenian drachmas were called glaukes (γλαῦκες, owls).

In Greek mythology, a little owl baby (Athene noctua) traditionally represents or accompanies Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom, or Minerva, her syncretic incarnation in Roman mythology.[1] Because of such association, the bird — often referred to as the "owl of Athena" or the "owl of Minerva" — has been used as a symbol of knowledge, wisdom, perspicacity and erudition throughout the Western world.[2][3]


  • Classical World 1
    • Greece 1.1
    • Rome 1.2
  • As a philosophical metaphor 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4

Classical World


Athena holding a helmet and a spear, with an owl. Attributed to the Brygos Painter (circa 490–480 BC). The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The reasons behind the association of Athena and the owl are lost in time. Some mythographers, such as David Kinsley and Martin P. Nilsson suggest that she may descend from a Minoan palace goddess associated with birds[4][5] and Marija Gimbutas claim to trace Athena's origins as an Old European bird and snake goddess.[6][7]

On the other hand, Cynthia Berger theorizes about the appeal of some characteristics of owls —such as their ability to see in the dark— to be used as symbol of wisdom[2] while others, such as William Geoffrey Arnott, propose a simple association between founding myths of Athens and the significant number of little owls in the region (a fact noted since antiquity by Aristophanes in The Birds and Lysistrata).[8]

In any case, the city of Athens seems to have adopted the owl as proof of allegiance to its patron virgin goddess,[8][9] which according to a popular etiological myth reproduced on the West pediment of the Parthenon, secured the favor of its citizens by providing them with a more enticing gift than Poseidon.[10]

Owls were commonly reproduced by Athenians in vases, weights and prize amphoras for the Panathenaic Games.[8] The owl of Athena even became the common obverse of the Athenian tetradrachms after 510 BC and according to Philochorus,[11] the Athenian tetradrachm was known as glaux (γλαύξ, little owl)[12] throughout the ancient world and "owl" in present day numismatics.[13][14] They were not, however, used exclusively by them to represent Athena and were even used for motivation during battles by other Greek cities, such as in the victory of Agathocles of Syracuse over the Carthaginians in 310 BC —in which owls flying through the ranks were interpreted as Athena’s blessing[2]— or in the Battle of Salamis, chronicled in Plutarch's biography of Themistocles.[15]


The association between the owl and the goddess continued through Minerva in Roman mythology, although the later sometimes simply adopts it as a sacred or favorite bird. For example, in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Cornix the crow complains that her spot as the goddess' sacred bird is occupied by the owl, which in that particular story turns out to be Nyctimene, a cursed daughter of Epopeus, king of Lesbos.[16]

As for ancient Roman folklore, owls were considered harbingers of death if they hooted while perched on a roof and placing one of its feathers near someone sleeping could prompt him or her to speak and reveal their secrets.[1]

As a philosophical metaphor

The owl of Minerva perched on a book was the original insignia of the Bavarian Illuminati.

The 19th-century [17] Philosophy cannot be prescriptive because it understands only in hindsight.

Translated by S W Dyde, 1896

See also


  1. ^ a b Eason, Cassandra (2008). Fabulous Creatures, Mythical Monsters, and Animal Power Symbols: A Handbook. Westport, CT, USA: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 71.  
  2. ^ a b c Berger, Cynthia (2005). Owls. Mechanicsburg, PA, USA: Stackpole Books. p. X.  
  3. ^ Deacy, Susan J.; Villing, Alexandra (2001). Athena in the Classical World. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.  
  4. ^ Kinsley, David (1989). The goddesses' mirror: visions of the divine from East and West. New York: SUNY Press. p. 141.  
  5. ^  
  6. ^  
  7. ^  
  8. ^ a b c Arnott, William Geoffrey (2007). Birds in the Ancient World from A to Z. London: Routledge. pp. 84–85.  
  9. ^ Sacks, David (1995). Murray, Oswyn, ed. A dictionary of the ancient Greek world. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 41.  
  10. ^ Palagia, Olga (1998). "The Pediments of the Parthenon". Monumenta Graeca et Romana (Brill) 7: 40.  
  11. ^ Philochorus: Scholion to Aristophanes, Birds 1106.
  12. ^ Thompson, D'Arcy Wentworth. A glossary of Greek birds. Oxford, Clarendon Press 1895, pp 45-46.
  13. ^ Philip Harding: The story of Athens: The Fragments of the Local Chronicles of Attika.
  14. ^ Kraay, C.M. The archaic owls of Athens: classification and chronology.
  15. ^ Rich, John; Rich, John; Shipley, Graham, eds. (2012). War and Society in the Greek World. London: Routledge.  
  16. ^ Anderson, William Scovil (1998). Ovid's Metamorphoses, Books 1-5. Tulsa: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 301.  
  17. ^ Smith, John E. (30 October 2009). "When Dusk Is Only Dusk". New York Times. Retrieved 28 February 2013. Hegel’s claim, however, bestows no special importance on a closing phase; it refers instead to the end of an era, which is confirmed as such by the appearance of philosophical critique and appraisal that involves making explicit the ideas and beliefs that drove that era but could not be fully articulated until it was over 

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.