If you have ever wandered outside after the last rays of daylight have slipped beneath the horizon and darkness has fallen on the silent world around you, you have probably heard the unmistakable hoot of great horned owls in the distance at some point in your life. These unique creatures that have graced our planet for thousands of years have been a symbol of earned intellect since the days when a Greek goddess by the name of Athena walked the earth. If you have ever wondered, “Why are owls considered wise?” you must discover the link between these birds of prey and the goddess of wisdom in order to find the answer you are searching for.
What are owls?
More than 200 species of owls have been identified by biologists, one of the most famous of which is the great horned owl. Characterized by their feathered bodies, bright yellow-colored eyes, sharp talons and tufts of fur that resemble furry horns on the top of their heads, great horned owls are the most common species of owl to call North America home. Although they typically only weigh between 2 and 6 pounds, great horned owls have a body that extends from 18-to-25 inches and a wingspan of 3-to-5 feet. These nocturnal birds hunt in the dim light of the night and have a very distinctive call that is most frequently heard in the hours following sunset or just before dawn begins to break.
Why are owls considered wise?
Whether you have been called one yourself or you have heard a friend or family member be referred to as such, you have most likely heard the term “wise owl” used to describe someone who is highly intellectual and displays sound judgment in every aspect of their life. The primary reason owls are considered wise has to do with their historical association with the Greek goddess Athena. Athena was known to the Greeks as both the goddess of war and the goddess of wisdom. The daughter of Zeus—the king of the Greek gods—and his first wife, Metis, Athena was intrigued by the tactical strategies required to wage a successful war rather than violence that often accompanied one. Perhaps the most important role Athena played in ancient Greece was protector and guardian of the city of Athens, a position she was awarded after winning a competition again Poseidon, who also sought to become patron of the highly coveted city. This competition required both Athena and Poseidon to produce a gift for the people of Athens, the most valuable of which would determine the winner.
Although Poseidon created a spring that quickly paved the way for a port to the city simply by striking the surface of the earth with his trident, the water that flowed from this spring was too salty for the people of Athens to drink and therefore only served one purpose: providing a route for trade by sea. In a display of her craftiness, creativity and intellectual superiority, Athena awarded the Greek city an olive tree. Despite its simplistic appearance and seemingly limited potential offerings, this now-famous olive tree provided the people with renewable resources ranging from food to firewood, and Athena was deemed the winner due to her wise choice when determining what gift the city could benefit from the most. Because Athena was often seen in ancient Greece accompanied by an owl—and believed by many to have the capability to transform into an owl when certain occasions arose—this bird of prey has long been associated with the goddess and is frequently used in cultures the world over to symbolize the wisdom the Greek goddess possessed thousands of years ago.