Obviously because her eyes are that color, but I suspect there are deeper, symbolic reasons for that particular color and description.

This is in regard to the epithet γλαυκῶπις, in the lexicon defined as "bright eyed", but which is often translated as "gray eyed" by poets.

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    Remind in the Iliad we have the terrible wine-dark see...It is sure that the way greek "perceive" (i mean in a metaphoric way) colour is totally different than how we are doing. by the way in french athena is caracterize by being "aux yeux pers", pers being a fairly old medieval term for a kind of pale bleu. – Gibet Jul 14 '17 at 4:18
  • A very considerable part of the reason she is thus characterized is simply that the collocation γλαυκῶπις Άθήνη conforms to metrical requirements for the last two and a half feet of the dactylic hexameter line. – Brian Donovan Jul 19 '17 at 21:44
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    For more info on the translation, Guy Duetscher's book "Through The Language Glass" talks about the difference of perception of color culturally, giving examples of problems in translations from Ancient Greek – mrcasals Dec 15 '20 at 8:10

The word γλαυκῶπις shares its root with γλαύξ, the word for owl.

Owls are known for their large and distinctive eyes, which are adapted for low light hunting. Thus, I believe the epithet is a comment on Athena's perceptiveness, telling us that the goddess of wisdom can see even through the dark.

You may find more information on Athena's association with owls in Wikipedia.


It depends, as Yannis said, on the translation. Wikipedia says:

In Homer's epic works, Athena's most common epithet is Glaukopis (γλαυκῶπις), which usually is translated as, "bright-eyed" or "with gleaming eyes". The word is a combination of glaukós (γλαυκός, meaning "gleaming, silvery", and later, "bluish-green" or "gray") and ṓps (ὤψ, "eye, face"). It is interesting to note that glaúx (γλαύξ, "little owl") is from the same root, presumably according to some, because of the bird's own distinctive eyes.


The currently preferred view of Greek etymologists is that γλαύξ "owl" and the colour-adjective γλαυκός (in Homer the colour of the sea, later generally “grey”) are not etymologically connected. If γλαυκῶπις is connected with the former, then it means "with the eyes of an owl", not "grey-eyed". The owl is Athena’s special animal; she is generally represented with an owl on her shoulder.

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    You make a really good point about how the scholarship can change as the science of etymology continues to progress. (Science notwithstanding, associations made by later poets and translators still dominate in the literary sphere. In some sense, this was an impetus for the question.) Very useful answer! – DukeZhou Sep 1 '17 at 17:46

If the word for "grey-eyed" and "owl" share a linguistic history, then the correct translation would be "bright-eyed" since literally it would read, "with the eyes of an owl" which generally fall in the spectrum of yellow or a neighboring color. This would make sense being that the owl is almost always associated with Athene

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    Not necessarily, the feathers of Athenian owls are grey(ish). Although the more common translations for γλαυκῶπις assume it's a reference to the distinctiveness of owl eyes, there's no reason why the epithet can't be a poetic reference to the bird's colour. "grey-eyed" isn't an incorrect translation. – yannis Sep 1 '17 at 2:59
  • @yannis This prompts me to go deeper into the descriptions of Athena's eyes being highly metaphoric--never is she thought of as having yellow or orange eyes. So she may be owl-eyed and bright-eyed, but the owlishness and brightness would relate to her keen perception, as you note in your answer, as opposed to the literal color. Solsdottir also notes the association of γλαυκός first with silvery, then bluish-green or gray. (Through Pallas-daughter-of-Triton, Athena is associated with the sea, often bluish-green or gray.) – DukeZhou Sep 1 '17 at 18:09
  • @C-2 PS, welcome to Mythology! – DukeZhou Sep 1 '17 at 18:09

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