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date: 19 June 2018

Summary and Keywords

Erichthonius is one of the original, legendary kings of the Athenians. In his myth, he was born directly from the soil of Attica, after Hephaestus attempted to rape Athena, but instead cast his seed upon the ground. Athena conceals the child in a basket and entrusts the child to the daughters of Cecrops with a command to never look inside. Some (or all) of the daughters disobey this command and, in response, Athena forces them to jump off of the Acropolis. This sequence of events suggests that his existence was heavily tied to aitiologies of the cults and cult buildings of the Cecropides on the Acropolis, as well as the Arrhephoria ritual, which seemingly recreates this narrative sequence. As a king, he was thought to have created the Panathenaea festival. In general, although his earth-born origin means that he is sometimes connected to the development of Athenian autochthony in the 5th century bce, he is not particularly prominent in myth or cult. One notable exception is that Erichthonius is sometimes referred to as the guardian snake that often accompanies Athena in statues and, according to Herodotus, may actually have inhabited Athena’s oldest temple. Most scholarship on Erichthonius has revolved around whether or not he is a double of the similar autochthon, Erechtheus—separated either in the 6th or 5th century bce—albeit inconclusively.

Keywords: autochthony, Athens, Erechtheum, Panathenaea, Arrhephoria, Erechtheus, Athena, Hephaestus, Gaia, Pisistratus

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