Athena Glaukopis is a form of the Wisdom-Goddess Athena in Her
aspect of a bright-eyed Owl Goddess. Glaukopis is related to the Greek
glaux, the name for the little owl (in the Latin Athene noctua),
the specific type of owl sacred to Her (though despite its Latin name it is
just as likely to be out during the day as at night). The wittle owler,
I mean the little owlvery much lives up to its common name, as
it generally does not clear eight inches tall even on its tippy-talons. Athena
may have some of Her origins in an Owl-Goddess Who (ha!) could take both owl
and human form; and in the Odyssey Athena typically disappears in a rush
of wings or in the form of a fellow bird of prey such as a seahawk. If She was
in fact first an Owl-Goddess then it may be that Her role as Wisdom-Goddess
springs out of the Owl-Goddess role; for the intense staring eyes of the owl
made it emblematic of bright wisdom and intelligence.
The name Glaukopis most likely originally meant "owl-faced"
or "owl-eyed"; over time, through association with Athena, it came
to mean "blue-eyed" or "grey-eyed", and it is a very familiar
epithet of Athena in the Odyssey. How it got from "owl" to
"blue-grey" is an interesting question; my guess is that from meaning
"owl-eyed" it went to "bright-eyed" or "gleaming-eyed".
Now in the owl's case "bright" or "gleaming" would refer
to a clear yellow; but since humans (and one would assume, human-formed Goddesses)
do not usually have bright yellow eyes, the brightest, most startling natural
color possible would be a light blue or grey. Related to this alternate meaning
are such Greek words as glaukinos, "bluish-grey", and even
Glaukos, the name of a sea-God (referring to the ocean's blue-grey color);
in English the word glaucous derives from the Greek, and means "bluish-green"
or "sea-green". As the color of the Sea it may also make reference
to Athena as Poseidon's daughter (a different parentage than the usual in which
Zeus is Her father), which is said to explain Her blue eyes.
Athena is of course closely associated with the city of Athens
(though there is debate as to whether the Goddess was named for the city or
the city for the Goddess), especially the Akropolis, the sacred center of the
town built on a limestone outcropping. The Athenians connected Athena and the
owl so closely that portraits of the two were depicted on each side of the silver
coins of Athens, which were then known colloquially as "owls" (which
inspired one of my favorite quotes, from Aristophanes's The Birds: "Lauritic
owls will never leave you; they will dwell in your home and nest in your purse,
hatching out small change", "Lauritic" referring to the silver
mines of Laurium which supplied Athens). And in ancient times as well as in
modern ones, the Akropolis is a favorite home of little owls.
I was inspired to do this piece when somewhere in reading about
Athena I saw Her referred to as "the owl-eyed girl"; I really liked
the idea of the Wisdom and Ability Goddess, Who can do anything, as a young
teenager with great big eyes ringed with kohl in imitation of or solidarity
with Her owl. She is shown here wearing a woven peplos (a type of robe
or garment), with a little owl and Her olive tree in the background. The medium
is watercolor pencil.