English have the same word, owl, where French have " chouette " and
" hibou ". So let Francophone ornithologists deciding and lets talk
about history ... The question is : " Why owl is always associated with the
world of reading, book and library ?".
Microsoft computerized this paradigm with its famous clipart of an owl with glasses and holding a book :
Before Bill Gates in 1963, Walt Disney associated a little impish owl,
a nice wizard, Merlin, in the cartoon " The Sword in the Stone ". The title refers
directly to the legends of King Arthur, which have their origins in the Middle
At that time, the owl was considered an evil animal. His hissing, its screeches, noises in the attic it occupied and the white color of the " barn owl " were told that it was a ghostly being. We nailed it on the barns doors, legs up, to ward off diseases, the " Devil " and heretics.
Heretics, it was those who had had the temerity not to comply with what was generally accepted or taken for granted in the fields of thought, knowledge and religion. The Inquisition was in full swing and it was frowned to know too much or to think too much ! Knowledge other than that taught by the Church, as well as critical thinking, did not have any citizenship. However, " hairesis " simply means " choice, preference for an idea, a thought. "
There is therefore a double paradox that Disney solves by returning to basics. By associating this little owl with a nice wizard, Disney was reviving ancient and was associating again the bird and knowledge.
Originally, in fact, the owl is one of the attributes of the greek goddess Athena (Minerva to the Romans). Athena is the one Homer (that Greek bard who was born in the eighth century BC) called " Thea Glaukopis Athena " which is translated by Athena, bright-eyed Owl Goddess or with gleaming eyes or with green eyes. Athena is the daughter of Zeus and Metis ; she was born adult and " intellectually " formed from the head of her father. No wonder if she is the one that inspired intelligence to men. Goddess of wisdom, study, knowledge, prudence, artistic sensitivity and hence of philosophy, but also of the " strategic " war by the crafty side that must guide the " clever " warrior.
As the owl sees at night to hunt, Athena sees the night of ignorance and inspires thoughts of men. At night, probably because it is " the most favorable time to meditation and that man then being distracted by any external object, may engage fruitfully to intuitive contemplation of his soul. "(Sylvain Maréchal, Antiquité d'Herculanum, Vol. 6, CXXX planche , p. 80, 1750-1803).
Athena became the goddess of Athens and symbol of its luster and radiance. It was she who taught men the numbers and their use, as well as the art of eloquence. His attribute, the owl, which was associated to mark that the true wisdom never sleeps, was engraved on the coins and symbolized wealth. The drachma of Athens was coined with the effigy of Athena and the owl. Today in Greece, the owl is on the coin of 1 Euro.
So, today, the owl has taken back its place alongside Athena and symbolizes knowledge, erudition and wisdom. It adorns the facades of schools and universities. Thoughts movements made it their emblem and it resulted in stamps issues as the No. 2029 in Belgium. In our imaginary of the twenty-first century, it has taken back its place as symbol of the love of reading and knowledge.