It was a beautiful, clear day. The sky was a deep azure, and the sun, in its chariot, tumbled across the heavens in its course. King Kekrops stood upon the hill above the thriving city he had founded. Work was going on. Houses were being built below. A market was convening. City walls were being erected. Ports were being built by the sea. And here on the hill, shrines and temples were being prepared for the Gods.
It had taken many years to civilize the people of Attica and the Thriasian Plain. Kekrops taught them to reverence Zeus, and the Gods of Olympus. He set up altars for them, and taught the people to sacrifice to the Gods. He instituted marriage amongst the people. He gave them laws, and taught them how to administer their affairs. He taught them the arts of navigation, and commerce. And now, to make this city complete, he needed a divine patron.
Kekrops and his daughters, Herse, Pandrosus, and Aglaurus, went up upon the Acropolis and made offerings of cakes, baked into the shape of oxen, and supplicated Zeus. And they raised their voices in song, crying
“We will sing of Zeus-
Chiefest among the Gods, and Greatest!
All-Seeing, the Lord of all,
The fulfiller who whispers words of wisdom to Themis,
As she sits leaning toward him;
Be gracious, All-Seeing Son of Kronos,
Most excellent and great!
Be gracious, Zeus of the Council!
Oh, Watcher of the Sea-Havens, and Giver of Good,
Look down upon us, and grant unto our city a patron!
Grant unto us a guardian and guide,
Zeus, Gracious and Merciful!”
From the distant peaks of Olympus, the home of the Gods, Zeus hearkened to Kekrops’ prayer. He called together the Gods who dwelt there with him: Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo and Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and Hestia. And also Persephone, the Grim Mistress came, though her husband Hades remained in his place, not caring to venture forth. And Dionysus answered Zeus’ summons, and The Muses as well.
And Zeus made known to them that Kekrops sought a patron for his city. “Is there such a man anywhere else in the world? One who honors the Gods with his whole heart? Who loves his people, and has handed down laws and customs for them, that they might prosper and live long on the face of the earth? Come– Who would be patron and protector of his city?”
Hera declined, for she was a jealous and vindictive Goddess, and wished to preside as mother over her children, and as queen over the Gods. Demeter declined, for she wished to devote her energies to the turning of the seasons, and to the blessings of agriculture and fertility. Apollo declined, for he was occupied with commanding the sun in its course, and his sister Artemis also declined, being occupied with commanding the moon in her course. Ares was rejected, for his concern was for carnage, blood, and death. Aphrodite was also rejected for her feckless character, and her innumerable adulterous affairs. Hephaestus declined the honor, as he cared only to ply his craft for the Gods and Heroes of Olympus. Hermes declined, for he devoted his energies to comforting and escorting mortals down to Hades’ realm when their time came. Hestia declined, for she was devoted to safeguarding the hearths of all families, no matter their city. And The Grim Mistress was rejected, for she was too terrible a Goddess, inspiring fear amongst mortals, and she spent her time with either Demeter, her mother, or Hades, her consort.
In the end, there were two who offered themselves as patrons for Kekrops’ city; Poseidon and Athena.
“They are a good sea-faring people, and the riches of the sea and their commerce upon it, will make them a great power,” said Poseidon. “I will be their patron.”
“Kekrops is full of Wisdom and Understanding. And his people are industrious and skilled, and will one day be great warriors,” said Athena. “I will be their patroness.”
And the contention between Athena and Poseidon was so sharp, that they descended to Mount Lycabettus to do battle. Poseidon rose up from the sea, brandishing his trident, the earth quaking beneath his feet as he stood on the plain between Kekrops’ city and sea. Athena descended upon the north side of the hill, wielding her spear, the tasseled Aegis about her, and shook the very foundations of the mountain with thunder. They raised their weapons, and rushed at each other.
But before the battle was joined in earnest, Kekrops cried out to the Gods, lest in their furious rivalry, they destroy the city. And Athena and Poseidon stayed their hands, and turned to the king, and stood by him.
“Your city is built by the sea, and the sea will make your city wealthy and powerful,” Poseidon declared. “I will be your patron.”
“This is a place of Learning and Knowledge, and your people are industrious and skilled,” Athena spoke. “I will be your patroness.”
And again, the contention between the two Gods grew heated, and they again nearly came to blows. But Athena, full of wisdom and counsel, relented, and prevailed upon Poseidon, saying “If we contend over this city, we will bring destruction upon it.” She turned, to look at Kekrops. “Let us allow the king to choose between us.”
“But how shall he make his choice?” Poseidon asked. And he also turned to Kekrops, awaiting an answer.
“Let us hold a contest,” Kekrops suggested. “Whichever one of you offers the best gift, as judged by the people, will be patron of this city.” And Poseidon and Athena agreed to Kekrops’ idea. The next day, Kekrops and his daughters, and the elders of the city, and a great crowd of citizens, met on the Acropolis. Athena and Poseidon descended and met them there, and they both` swore by Styx that they would abide by the king’s judgement.
The elder of the two, Poseidon went first. He lifted his trident, and with a broad flourish, he struck the ground with it. Immediately, there sprung up a great spring of water. At first, the people were delighted, for sources of fresh water were scarce in that place. But when the people came to taste the spring Poseidon had called forth, they found it to be salty, like the sea.
Laughing, Athena took her turn next. She quietly knelt there upon the hill, and planted something in the ground. Then, standing, she pointed at the spot with her spear, and from that spot, an olive tree sprung up. This pleased the people very much, for the fruit was good for food, the oil was useful for cooking and lighting their lamps, and the wood was good for the construction of their ships and homes.
Kekrops judged that Athena’s gift was the superior of the two, and so he decided the contest in her favor. Henceforth, Athena would be the patroness of the city.
But Poseidon was furious at this humiliation, and in his fury, he caused the sea to come up and flood Thriasian Plain, and tried to drown all of Attica. Athena then stood up against him, and rolled the waters back to their place, saving the land. But Poseidon pronounced a curse upon Kekrops’ city, declaring that they would forever suffer shortages of fresh water. The people tried to placate the Earth-Shaker by dedicating a temple to him, the Erechtheion. But Poseidon’s anger would not be soothed.
He turned to Athena and told her, “This city should have been mine. One day, dear Niece, I will take away something precious of yours.”