Why, I asked myself, should certain birds have been allotted to certain gods and goddesses in the Greek and Roman mythology? Why should the eagle go with Zeus, the peacock with Hera, the dove with Venus, the swan with Apollo, the woodpecker with Ares, the owl with Pallas Athene? It could not be mere chance that so many gods and goddesses had each their attendant bird; the attribution was too regular; it was done too much on a system. What was the original meaning of it all?
Charles de Kay attempts to answer his question in Bird Gods (1898), a study of the mythological and religious import of birds through the ages. Illustrator George Wharton Edwards was an American artist who worked in the Impressionist style when painting but here deliveries a range of bird portraits embellished with bits of imitation Celtic knotwork. The interlacings of Celtic art underwent a resurgence of interest with the development of Art Nouveau. Edwards’ illustrations aren’t the best examples of this (Mucha’s Hamlet poster is much better) but they give an idea of the trend. Browse the rest of De Kay’s book here or download it here.