A brief historical review of the significance of the Greek Goddess Athena, and how she was commemorated with statues and coins bearing her likeness and that of the sagacious Owl with which she is linked.
In the patriarchal society of Greece, Athena was revered as being a Goddess of industries and intelligence in warfare strategy. Not as a goddess of warriors, yet her very name implies wisdom and strategy for fighting and winning wars. The owl is synonymous and familiar with her and it is not so much determined to be seen as “The Owl of Athena” as it is that “Owl = Athena”.
In some views, the owl is more than her patron as she is sometimes depicted as being the owl. It was her excellence in war intelligence that lead to victories, and it was this that made her so revered.
The Greeks were always fighting Amazons but as such, Greek warriors were unhappy to have to fight women. They tolerated the Grecian Athena whom was, in their eyes, virtually no different than an Amazonian woman warrior except that she was on the side of the Greeks. She so aided the Greek cause and was such a brilliant military tactician that she had earned their reverence. So happy were they for her help and strategies during the Persian War they in the 5th century B.C. the constructed a monument on the Athenian Acropolis, they Parthenon, to honor her.
The patroness of Athens, Athena is not ever shown to be with an owl and only rarely shown with any symbol for the owl, so much as being depicted as the owl.
Modern day statuette of Athena’s owl.
This is a souvenir that my father-in-law bought for my wife while on a stop-over at Heathrow Airport, in London, England about ten years ago. Holding this small but weighty object is a pure delight. At only 1-inch wide and approximately 1 3/4-inch tall, it is surprisingly heavier than it looks.
The Owl is Strength and Wisdom
The very appearance of this Athenian Owl exudes a feeling of great wisdom, strength and intelligence. A perfect symbol to represent a Goddess.
Athena is quoted to have said to Odysseus to quell his doubts of her:
“Most people are content to put their trust in far less powerful allies, mere men and not equipped with wisdom such as mine. But I that have never ceased to watch over you in all your adventures am a goddess.”
There is some allusion to Athena’s ability to shape-shift back and forth, transitioning between both female human form and that of an owl. The owl is Athena. Athena is the owl. Her intellectual campaign in war, depicted as a warrior owl, shows her presence, her strategy and her exceptional skill in the art of successful warfare campaign against the enemy. The owl represents pure wisdom. It is a powerful symbolic duality, Athena and the Owl. It is possibly this Greek mythology why the owl is so revered to this day as being supremely wise and scholarly in so many cultures.
The Athenian Owl tetradrachm
Honored in a silver coin (specifically, called a tetradrachm) that originated from Athens, for over 300 years (approx. 430 – 99 B.C.) the Athenian Owl coin was accepted everywhere as legal tender for trade and commerce. It is cited to have had a stabilization effect on the economy of the known world for it’s far reaching recognition and purity, uniformity of weight, it’s standard was accepted across borders much like the U.S. dollar has enjoyed for most of the last century.
Several different versions of the designs were known, and all were all individually hand-stuck and there are enough variations to make specimens of the same issue noticeably unique from it’s contemporaries. -Despite a reusable die, no two coins were struck exactly alike. It is cited that if even as many as 50 coins of the same type of Athenian Owl coin were compared closely, every one would be slightly different with an identifiable unique provenance. Such is what happens with hand-struck coins.
Modern reproductions, Russian Novodels, Collectible, and Novelty Coins
Some very talented modern day metal workers make reproductions for sale as novelty collectibles, such as this one here from my personal collection, purchased from an online coin dealer for a reasonable price.
Modern day reproduction of the Owl of Athena coin, shown larger than actual size.
(All photos by thestickman, -that’s me)