Florence Nightingale had a pet owl. She found it in 1850 on the Parthenon, where it had fallen out of its nest. She named it Athena and carried it away in her pocket, “where I regret to say he ate a live Athenian grasshopper, but failed to make any impression on two small tortoises which I was also bringing to England.”

At home, Athena became Nightingale’s “constant & sociable companion.” He slept in her pocket and nested in a bookcase, “where he made his presence known by uttering a peculiar cry, some 150 times, like a prayer.”

That cry would come to haunt her. The owl died during her preparations for the Crimea, but he visited her dreams as late as 1855, when she was in Constantinople: “Athena came along the cliff quite to my feet, rose upon her tiptoes, bowed several times, made her long melancholy cry, and fled away.”

“Poor little beastie,” she said. “It was odd how much I loved you.”

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