Sunday, October 6, 2013

Owls in Greek & Roman Mythology

In the mythology of ancient Greece, Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, was so impressed by the great eyes and solemn appearance of the Owl that, having banished the mischievous crow, she honored the night bird by making him her favorite among feathered creatures. Athena's bird was a Little Owl, (Athene noctua). This Owl was protected and inhabited the Acropolis in great numbers. It was believed that a magical "inner light" gave Owls night vision. As the symbol of Athena, the Owl was a protector, accompanying Greek armies to war, and providing ornamental inspiration for their daily lives. If an Owl flew over Greek Soldiers before a battle, they took it as a sign of victory. The Little Owl also kept a watchful eye on Athenian trade and commerce from the reverse side of their coins.

 Athenian silver tetradrachm                                                      Athenian silver tetradrachm
 Classical style,  5th century BC                                             Hellenistic style, 2nd century BC       .                                         

In early Rome a dead Owl nailed to the door of a house averted all evil that it supposedly had earlier caused. To hear the hoot of an Owl presaged imminent death. The deaths of Julius Caesar, Augustus, Commodus Aurelius, and Agrippa were apparently all predicted by an Owl.

"...yesterday, the bird of night did sit Even at noonday, upon the market place, Hooting and shrieking" (from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar")

The Roman Army was warned of impending disaster by an Owl before its defeat at Charrhea, on the plains between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.

According to Artemidorus, a second Century soothsayer, to dream of an Owl meant that a traveller would be shipwrecked or robbed.

Another Roman superstition was that witches transformed into Owls, and sucked the blood of babies.

In Roman Mythology, Proserpine (Persephone) was transported to the underworld against her will by Pluto (Hades), god of the underworld, and was to be allowed to return to her mother Ceres (Demeter), goddess of agriculture, providing she ate nothing while in the underworld. Ascalpus, however, saw her picking a pomegranate, and told what he had seen. He was turned into an Owl for his trouble - "a sluggish Screech Owl, a loathsome bird." (Names in brackets indicate the Greek names for the same Gods)

Here are some illustrations of Athena with Athene noctua(The Little Owl)

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