Since the ancient times of the Greeks, owls have been perceived as being wise.
Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom is often depicted with an owl perched on her head or on one of her shoulders, symbolising knowledge and scholarship. Athena and her ‘Little Owl’ appear on opposite sides of ancient Athenian coinage. The Latin name for Little Owl, Athene noctua translates to ‘Athena’s Night’ or ‘Athena of the Night’.
In Hindu mythology, the Goddess of Wealth Lakshmi has an owl as her vehicle. In Bengal she is worshipped on the brightest night of the year. It is believed that on this night she, along with the great white owl, descends to Earth and takes away the darkness of poverty, stagnation, anger and laziness from our lives.
In early Indian folklore, owls represent wisdom and helpfulness and have powers of prophecy.
Owls are also popular figures in literature. They pop up in Shakespeare’s works as well as in Aesop’s fables where animals go to wise old owls for advice. A.A. Milne’s Owl in Winnie-the-Pooh has "the gift of brains" and offers advice, anecdotes and opinions to the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood. In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the wizards each own an owl for carrying messages, packages and brooms.
The nursery rhyme A Wise Old Owl refers to the traditional image of owls as the symbol of wisdom:
A wise old owl
lived in an oak
The more he saw
the less he spoke
The less he spoke
the more he heard.
Why can’t we all be like
that wise old bird?
Today, a person who appears wise or serious is said to be owlish or have owl-like characteristics. Owls are popular logos for institutions of learning and are included in the crest of arms of many universities.
An owl is the unofficial mascot of the high-IQ society Mensa .
Collective nouns for owls include ‘a parliament of owls’ or ‘a wisdom of owls’.
The truth is, research shows that a bird’s intellect is tied to how big its brain is compared to its body, which means owls in their own right aren’t particularly clever. In fact, a goose has a larger brain than an owl, although I can’t imagine ‘as wise as a goose’ catching on. Can you?
PS: Why not put your owlish qualities to the test with a round or two of Quiz Time - our most popular General Knowledge Trivia Quiz?
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