How Athens got its Name

By Aspasia Giannelou ESMol S1FRA

Introduction to the world of Greek mythology

Greek mythology isn’t just filled with stories of beings with supernatural powers, even if it does include them. Greek mythology is the root of ethics and arts such as the theatre. It is also the first attempt the ancient Greeks made to discuss their surroundings and express themselves. The ancient Greeks built a belief system centered around their mythology which was used to incorporate their philosophy about bravery, loyalty, duty, etc. Therefore mythology was a very important part of their lives. It was also based on their idea of ethics, so when someone in mythology does something worth being punished for, the Greek gods would punish them in a way the ancient Greeks thought was fair. Furthermore, when a character in the stories did something worth being rewarded, the Greek gods would reward them in the way ancient Greeks thought fit.

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The story of how Athens got its name is a Greek myth from before 1200 B.C.

At first, Cecrops, a strange creature, half-man half-snake, was the founder of a city which he had named after himself, Cecropia. However, the gods of Olympus saw his land and wanted to name it after themselves. The rivals were Poseidon, the sea god, and Athena, the goddess of wisdom.  To solve their dispute, Zeus decided that each of them should make a gift to the city.

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Description automatically generated with low confidence Cecrops and the residents of the city went to watch the gods give their gifts. Poseidon was the first to present his gift. He struck a rock with his trident and caused a spring of water to gush from the ground. This signified that the citizens wouldn’t face any time of drought. However, the people were not exactly enchanted with his gift because the water from the spring was salty.

A statue of a person holding a sword
Description automatically generated with medium confidenceNext, it was the goddess Athena’s turn. She planted a seed in the ground, which grew to become a lovely olive tree. The citizens of the city embraced this gift because it would give them food, oil and firewood. From those ancient times, olive branches also signified peace.

This is how the goddess Athena received the everlasting honour of being the namesake of this magnificent city. Indeed, the residents of Athens built numerous glorious temples dedicated to Athena and organized festivals to honour her . When currency was invented, the ancient Greeks depicted Athena and her owl on both sides of their coins. Moreover, it is well worth mentioning that this myth has a point of reality: a wealth of olive trees are still found today in the beautiful suburbs of Athens!

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