When I attended Cypriot public school, I remember glancing at the back cover of many textbooks in moments of boredom. Staring back at me from some corner of the textbook’s cover was almost always an owl standing on a pile of books. Many years later, I visited the RISD museum and stopped in front of their display of ancient Greek coins. There again was that same owl, staring at me with its bulging eyes. As it turns out, at the time I was in primary school many Cypriot textbooks were published by the Οργανισμός Εκδόσεως Διδακτικών Βιβλίων (Organismos Ekdoseos Didaktikon Vivlion, State Organisation for the Publication of School Textbooks), or ΟΕΔΒ for short. This organization was founded by the Metaxas dictatorship in 1937, which had close ties with Greek nationalism.1 ΟΕΔΒ has long played a crucial role in the propagation of state ideology, as might be expected from a state-sanctioned publisher. For example, ΟΕΔΒ is tasked with producing history textbooks by the Ministry of Education. The aims provided by the ministry include “developing an ‘awareness of Hellenic continuity’” and “cultivating genuine national pride.”2 The role of ΟΕΔΒ in the construction of Hellenism intertwines state authority and the legacy of classical antiquity. Nowhere is this better symbolized than in ΟΕΔΒ’s logo, which is little more than a stylized version of the Athenian owl (see above). The owl was a symbol of Athena and of wisdom. In this role, the owl was famously used as the reverse of the tetradrachm – a type of silver coin – minted in Athens from at least 500 BCE.3 ΟΕΔΒ clearly paid homage to this coin in its choice of logo, thus also identifying classical Athens as the root of education in the modern Greek state.
- Yannis Hamilakis, “‘Learn History!’ Antiquity, National Narrative and History in Greek Educational Textbooks,” in The Usable Past: Greek Metahistories, ed. K. S. Brown and Yannis Hamilakis (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2002), 42–44, https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/28810/.
- Ephe Avdela, “The Teaching of History in Greece,” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 18, no. 2 (October 1, 2000): 242, doi:10.1353/mgs.2000.0025.
- In various forms, the Athenian owl has persisted on coinage right through the present day; the one-euro coin circulated by Greece today features the same design. See http://athenianowlcoins.reidgold.com/.