Athena is a Greek goddess known to have attributes of wisdom and war. She is often confused with Minerva, which is a Roman goddess with almost similar attributes to Athena. Athena was the daughter of Zeus and Metis. She was born fully grown and ready for battle. She was the ruler of Greek cities and was believed to oversee handcrafts made by women and other areas in industry and the arts. Athena gave many gifts to man including the art to tame animals and make shoes. She is also believed to have given mankind the olive tree by striking her spear on the ground and having invented the flute and plow.
In those days, Athena was mostly associated with birds especially the owl. She is believed to have had two main symbols, the olive tree and the owl. The olive tree was a symbol of peace and harmony whereas the owl signified wisdom and watchfulness. Legend has it that Athena made the owl her favorite animal because she was impressed by its attributes.
Owls have a solemn appearance and big wise eyes. In many cultures, owls are associated with intelligence, brilliance, wisdom, power and knowledge. In some cultures owls are considered to be a witch’s companion with secret powers of the night. They are believed to have eyes big enough to see through deception and uncover hidden truths.
Some communities consider owls to be guardians of the afterlife or a ruler of the night. Greeks attributed the owl to Athena. Many of them believed that the association of Athena and the owl was attributed to the fact that owls were able to see in the dark- something that was considered a sign of wisdom. The light that reflected off their eyes in the dark signified an inner light or wisdom. There are also those who believe that Athena’s association with owls was due to the fact that there were so many owls at the hilltop that was dedicated to Athena.
Athenians used to produce owls in vases. They were used as a motivator during battles. Greek armies would go with an owl to war as a symbol of protection from Athena. During battle, the Greek army believed they would win whenever an owl flew over the soldiers. They took it as a sign of victory from the goddess herself.
However there is a distinct type of owl that was considered Athena’s owl- Athene Noctua or “Athena of the Night”. This owl is about 9” in size and it was mostly found in Europe and North America. The owl usually nests in tall high-rise buildings and is common in Athens. It is considered a very durable species.
Artists have come up with beautiful pieces of art that try to evoke the mysterious power of Athena. The beautiful images represent the power of Athena and beauty showcased by the owls. In Greek, owls are not only used in military banners but also in their coins and pieces of artwork. They signify wealth, wisdom and power.