Sources : Owl

Bible (Leviticus 11:13-18): The law says that a variety of owls are included in "the birds you are to detest and not eat because thy are detestable".

Ovid [1st century CE] (The Metamorphosis, Book 2, 565): But what use was that to me if Nyctimene, who was turned into an Owl for her dreadful sins, has usurped my [the crow] place of honour? Or have you not heard the story all Lesbos knows well, how Nyctimene desecrated her father’s bed? Though she is now a bird she is conscious of guilt at her crime and flees from human sight and the light, and hides her shame in darkness, and is driven from the whole sky by all the birds. [Book 5, 533] Then the queen of Erebus grieved, and changed the informant into a bird of ill omen: she sprinkled his head with water from the Phlegethon , and changed him to a beak, plumage, and a pair of huge eyes. Losing his own form he is covered by his tawny wings, and looks like a head, and long, curving claws. He scarcely stirs the feathers growing on his idle wings. He has become an odious bird, a messenger of future disaster, the screech owl, torpid by day, a fearful omen to mortal creatures.- [Kline translation]

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 16): Owls see poorly in the daytime. The eagle-owl is thought to be a very bad omen, being as it is a funereal bird. It lives in deserts and in terrifying, empty and inaccessible places. Its cry is a scream. If it is seen in a city, or during the day, it is a direful portent, though several cases are known of an eagle-owl perching on private houses without fatal consequences. The owl never flies directly to where it wants to go, but always travels slantwise from its course. (Book 10, 19): Night-owls are crafty in battles with other birds; when surrounded and outnumbered they lie on their backs and fight with their feet, bunching themselves up so they are protected by beak and claws. The have an alliance with the hawk, which comes and aids them in the war. Nigidius says that night-owls hibernate for 60 days in the winter. (Book 10, 41): The night-owl is not found in the island of Crete, and if they are brought there they soon die out.

Aelianus [170-230 CE] (On the Characteristics of Animals, Book 1, chapter 20): The Owl is a wily creature and resembles a witch. And when captured, it begins by capturing its hunters. And so they carry it about like a pet or (I declare) like a charm on their shoulders. By night it keeps watch for them and with its call that sounds like some incantation it diffuses a subtle, soothing enchantment, thereby attracting birds to settle near it. And even in the daytime it dangles before the birds another kind of lure to make fools of them, putting on a different expression at different times; and all the birds are spell-bound and remain stupefied and seized with terror, and a mighty terror too, at these transformations. - [Scholfield translation]

Saint Ambrose [4th century CE] (Hexameron, Book 5, chapter 24.86): The night owl is insensible of the horrors accompanying the gloom of night because of the large yellow pupils of his eyes. Contrary to the experience of other birds the darker the night, the freer the flight of the owl. However, when dawn with its bursts of light appears, his eyes are dazzled and he flees aimlessly as if in darkness. - [Savage translation, 1961]

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:39-42): There are several kinds of owl. The screech owl (bubo) takes its name from the sound of its voice; it is a deadly bird, burdened with feathers and with a heavy laziness. It lives in caves and wanders in tombs day and night. The night-owl (noctua) is is smaller than the bubo it flies by night and cannot see during the day, because the brightness of the sun blinds it. It does not live on the island of Crete, and if brought there it dies at once. The night raven (nycticorax) loves the night and cannot stand the sight of the sun. Another kind of screech owl (strix) has its name from its strident (stridet) call. It is also called by the Greek word amma (nurse) because it loves (amando) infants and is said to offer milk to the newborn.