Why is the Owl Wise?

by Daniel Mackie October 30, 2015

Snowy Owl by Daniel Macke at The DM Collection
In western culture, if the owl were to take an IQ test he would probably score highly, probably, “superior intelligence!” A score between 120-129, not quite Genius, (130+) but pretty smart! Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Owl sees the bird as superior to all its countryside brethren. Looking down its beak at all that goes on around him! I have touched on lord Tennyson’s poem before. This poem was written in 1830, quite a while ago. But when did the owl become wise?

In Ancient Greece, Athena, The patron goddess of Athens and the goddess of wisdom, had the owl as her symbol. Was she wise? Or was the owl wise? It is a little bit unclear. Across cultures and across time it would seem owls are wise! Having human characteristics placed upon animals is called Anthropomorphism and it first appeared in literate in ancient Greece in a poem by Hesiod called Works and Days. It was written in about 700 BC and is a story about,”The Hawk and the Nightingale“, it was later attributed to Aesop the famous fable teller in accent Greece (two centuries later) and it’s not as punchy as some of his, i.e. The `Hare and the Tortoise, but Hesiod was first and at his doorstep all the creatures of the world can lay the blame of their Anthropomorphism.

After Hesiod the flood gates opened, next Aesop and his animals fables, The Jataka Tales and the Panchatantra, Then come fairy tales like The tale of Cupid and Psyche (Rome in the 2nd century) in which Zephyrus, the west wind (a horse), carries Psyche away. Another example is in 13th century Egypt, The Tale of Two Brothers, this one has talking cows. More recent examples are the Brothers Grim, then into the modern times, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Jungle Book, Beatrix Potter, The Wind in the Willows, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Winnie-the-Pooh and on and on an on…..

So When and how did the owl become wise, well its to do with Athena and darkness.. Athena’s wisdom and the owls are it seems intertwined. The greek goddess took the little owl and used him for her symbol. There is the suggestion that owls were her favourite birds. Did she take the owl as her symbol because in ancient Greece it represented the wise or was it because Athena was the goddess wisdom that the owl became wise by association? Still in the dark? Well here is food for thought, owls are nocturnal, and this association with the dark and being able to see in it has something to do with the “wise old owl” status. After all if you can see in dark it would suggest you can see things that others can’t. It is not much more of a leap to suggest that because you can see all things clearly you would be able to asses whether something is true or right. Very wise!

Watercolour in progress Daniel Mackie
Images © Daniel Mackie
See this design and other Owls at The DM Collection





Daniel Mackie
Daniel Mackie

Author



Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in News / Work in progress / Mythology

Emperor Pingu

by Harry Miller December 03, 2018

“Noot Noot!” That’s hello in "Pinguish" or "Penguinese”, and is the language spoken by the children’s TV sensation, ‘Pingu’ - possibly the most famous penguin in the world, having been broadcasted in no less than 150 countries.  

Read More

A Werecat in London

by Harry Miller November 05, 2018

It seems that wherever man has been, and a cat of some sort, you’ll find tales of people shapeshifting into felines.  In fact the only places on earth where it’s safe from the werecat are Australia and Antartica; two continents which don't have a native cat - I hear they have their hands full with werekangeroo’s and werepenguine’s as it is!

Read More

To Cross One's Path

by Harry Miller November 01, 2018

To see one of these animals on their own is good luck, and if it crosses your path then you can expect great gains in life, rubbing the animals fat on your bonce will cure baldness, and carrying the animals teeth around with you will treat a bad leg.   But to see one near your house, or even worse, to see many of these animals together, spells dooooom!, and if you’re bitten by one of these animals you’ll have no more than 7 years to live.

Read More