Minerva della Rimmel, or, Athena of the Eyeliner



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 owl—er, I mean the little owl—very 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.









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