Cecrops (Greek: Κέκρωψ, Kékrōps; gen.: Κέκροπος) was a mythical king of Athens who is said to have reigned for fifty six years. The name is not of Greek origin according to Strabo, or it might mean 'face with a tail': it is said that, born from the earth itself, he had his top half shaped like a man and the bottom half in serpent or fish-tail form. He was the founder and the first king of Athens itself, which he is said to have founded, though preceded in the region by the earth-born king Actaeus of Attica. Cecrops was a culture hero, teaching the Athenians marriage, reading and writing, and ceremonial burial.
He is said to have been the first who deified Zeus, and ordained sacrifices to be offered to him as the supreme Deity. He is likewise affirmed to have been the first who set up altars and statues of the Gods, offered sacrifices, and instituted marriage among the Athenians, who, before his time, it seems, lived promiscuously. Pausanias tells us that he forbade the sacrificing of any living creatures to the gods, as well as any sort of other offering, only allowing cakes formed into the shape of an ox with horns, called by the Athenians Pelanous, which signifies an ox. He is likewise said to have taught his subjects the art of navigation; and, for the better administration of justice and intercourse among them, to have divided them into the four tribes called Cecropis, Autochthon, Actea, and Paralia. Some likewise make him the founder of the areopagus.
During his reign, Athena became the patron goddess of the city of Athens in a competition with Poseidon which Cecrops judged. They agreed that each would give the Athenians one gift, and Cecrops would choose whichever gift they preferred. Poseidon struck the rock of the Acropolis with his trident and a spring sprang up; the water was salty and was not thought very useful, whereas Athena struck the rock with her lance and an olive tree sprung up. Cecrops judged the olive tree to be the superior gift, for the olive tree brought wood, oil and food, and consequently accepted Athena as their patron. Poseidon, in a rare show of magnanimity, decided to grant his gift regardless, although its nature was initially misunderstood: it was meant to represent sea power, which Athens was to exercise gloriously in the future.
The Acropolis was also known as the Cecropia in his honor. The Athenians are said to have called themselves Cecropidæ, during the reigns of the five following kings, in his honor.
Cecrops I was the father of three daughters: Herse, Pandrosus and Aglaurus. To them was given a box or jar containing the infant Erichthonius to guard unseen. They looked, and terrified by the two serpents Athena had set within to guard the child, they fled in terror and lept from the Acropolis to their deaths. Some accounts say one of the sisters was turned to stone instead.
Apparently Cecrops married Aglaurus, the daughter of Actaeus (former king of the region of Attica). It is unknown if this woman was the mother of Cecrops's son Erysichthon. Erysichthon predeceased him, and he was succeeded by Cranaus, who is said to have been one of the wealthiest citizens of Athens at that time.
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