|Athena holding a helmet and a spear, with an owl. Attributed to the Brygos Painter (circa 490-480 BC). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.|
Throughout the centuries, owls have borne the reputation of being wise. This is largely due to the influence of the owl of Athena, the companion and sometimes symbol of the Greek goddess of wisdom.
Where the association began between the goddess and the owl is unknown, however Athens, the city that claimed her as a patron, was known for possessing a large number of Little Owls, which was taken as proof of her presence there. It is also thought by some the owl’s ability to ‘see in the dark’ was taken to be representative of uncommon insight – a parallel for the hopes of many ancient philosophers, who wished to see through the murky happenings of daily life, to the essential truth of things.
Despite being thought of as clever however, owls really are quite the dim fellows in the bird family. The crow would have been a better companion for Athena, which has been shown to be able to utilise rudimentary tools in pursuit of dinner.
Owls are nevertheless distinguished for their tremendously sharp eyesight, ability to fly almost silently, and beauty.