Foundation myths were considered to be an important mean of passing and conserving cultural and historical information about a city and its residents. These myths not only incorporated what a city and its residents might view to be culturally important but also were used to answer questions about its identity, cultural practices and beliefs. The foundation myths of a city could also contain the physical features which were associated with its landscape. In this paper I will discuss the foundation myth about Athens.
These myths give people the sense of a common ancestry and explain their place and the place of their city in relation to the Greek world. Some of these myths for instance, the story of the early kings of Athens, its founders or first inhabitants who come from the earth itself and in these myths the people of Athens vowed to be the most Greek of Greeks. Famous founders such as Danaos, Kadmos and Pelops were just descendants from non-Greek places. Kadmos was an immigrant from Phoenicia and he founded the Greek city of Thebes and all the early kings of Thebes were his descendants for instance his sister Europa gave her name to present day Europe (Loraux, 16).
On other hand, Pelops was an immigrant from Lydia to Greece, he married Hippodameia and gave his name to the Peloponnese and originated one of the most key families in Greek myth, the House of Atreus. Danaos was another descendant of Io who came from Egypt to Greece. He did not found any city but his known descendants were Herakles and Perseus. These fa...
mous immigrants linked the world of the Greeks the great world of the Mediterranean.
These founders of important families, founders of colonies outside Greece and founders of cities in Greece were the foundation myths, inventors of important social rituals and customs, culture heroes and also can be associated with the features of the landscape which normally share their names with members of the founding families. All these stories of foundation make part of the present day Athens mythic tradition.
Kekrops was the first king of Athens and he was born from the rather than from the biological union pf female and male. In his reign Athena and Poseidon held a contest to determine the owner of the city. In accordance to Apollodorus, Poseidon was the first to arrive in Athens and with his blow of trident he made a saltwater sea on the Acropolis. Athena on the other hand claimed by planting an olive tree. The gods gave the city to the Athena and Poseidon became very angry and flooded the Thriasian plain to the north west of Athens (Loraux, 23).
Kekrops was somehow of a culture hero because he established the bloodless sacrifices to the gods, he founded the twelve townships of Attica and he also started the custom of marriage. Kekrops had three daughters Pandrosos, Aglauros and Herse and a son Erysichthon but he died and Kekrops was succeeded by another king, Kranaos. According to Pausanias, the Athenians appealed that Deukalion lived in Athens, also they claimed that he had built the sanctuary to Olympian Zeus and they
pointed out a crack in the earth where the water from the flood run into the ground. Kranaos had a daughter, Atthis, and after she passed away Kranaos gave her name to Attica. The king who came after Kranaos was the Amphictyon.
Because of Erichthonios was born from the earth, the people of Athens had a special connection to their land which was the closer than that of the Greek and come to their land from elsewhere. Autochthony was an important element in Athenian thought. Not just the birth of Erichthonios from the earth often depicted on vases but the idea of autochthony comes up from in many literary works.
Lysias in his funeral speech clearly says that it was fitting for their ancestors to be of on mind in regard to the fight for justice since the beginning of their culture was just, neither did they like the rest nor live in a land belonging to others but being autochthonous they possessed the same mother and fatherland. Plato also in the funeral speech he puts in the mouth of Socrates the significant of the Athenian autochthony (Castriota, 103). He starts by praising their forefathers before his praise to the dead noble.
All these speeches assume that autochthony gives the Athenian a special status in the Greek world although the clear insinuation of the autochthony are not precisely stated. It was a matter of self-understanding rather than any real consequence in the real world. The myths of the Athenian autochthony can be viewed as part of Athenian understanding about their relation to their land, their claim to be the most Greek of the Greeks and also their position as leaders of the Ionian Greeks.
These Athenian myths left their traces both in the Athenian landscape, Athenian ritual and also in the Athenian thought. Erechtheus and Kekrops were among the most eponymous heroes of the Athenian statues and tribes and also the eponymous heroes in the Agora (Cook, 54). According to Pausanias, there was a shrine to Hephaistos above the Kerameikos with a statue of Athena alongside it. He still mentions Ion’s tomb in Africa.
Although Athenians myth claimed that the Athenians solely were autochthonous and the people of all other Greek states were immigrants not everyone in Greece thought the situation was quite so simple. Some of the founders were immigrants and myths of immigration were essential part of the Greek mythic repertoire. The most familiar immigrants were Danaos, Pelops and Kadmos but there were autochthonous founders outside Athens and some foundation myths merge immigration and autochthony.
People imagine that Pelasgos who is the antecedent of the Arcardians was born from the earth. Pausanias quotes part of a poem by Asios of Samos to that effect and Apollodorous argues that Hesiod made similar claim. Apollodorus seems to favor a story by Acusilaos which said that Pelasgos was the nymph Niobe and the son of Zeus (Castriota, 123). His son was the Arcadian king Lykaon so the Arcadians were the immigrants to their land. The Greek agreed that the Arcadians had existed in Arcadia from the beginning. Autochthony therefore can have more than one inference, Arcadian autochthony