They did not even know how to make bows and
arrows, but used slings and clubs and sharp
sticks for weapons; and the little clothing
which they had was made of skins. They lived
on the top of the hill, because they were
safe there from the savage beasts of the
great forest around them, and safe also from
the wild men who sometimes roamed through
the land. The hill was so steep on every
side that there was no way of climbing it
save by a single narrow footpath which was
always guarded by some one at the top.
One day when the men were hunting in the
woods, they found a strange youth whose face
was so fair and who was dressed so
beautifully that they could hardly believe
him to be a man like themselves. His body
was so slender and lithe, and he moved so
nimbly among the trees, that they fancied
him to be a serpent in the guise of a human
being; and they stood still in wonder and
alarm. The young man spoke to them, but they
could not understand a word that he said;
then he made signs to them that he was
hungry, and they gave him something to eat
and were no longer afraid. Had they been
like the wild men of the woods, they might
have killed him at once. But they wanted
their women and children to see the serpent
man, as they called him, and hear him talk;
and so they took him home with them to the
top of the hill. They thought that after
they had made a show of him for a few days,
they would kill him and offer his body as a
sacrifice to the unknown being whom they
dimly fancied to have some sort of control
over their lives.
But the young man was so fair and gentle
that, after they had all taken a look at
him, they began to think it would be a great
pity to harm him. So they gave him food and
treated him kindly; and he sang songs to
them and played with their children, and
made them happier than they had been for
many a day. In a short time he learned to
talk in their language; and he told them
that his name was Cecrops, and that he had
been shipwrecked on the seacoast not far
away; and then he told them many strange
things about the land from which he had come
and to which he would never be able to
return. The poor people listened and
wondered; and it was not long until they
began to love him and to look up to him as
one wiser than themselves. Then they came to
ask him about everything that was to be
done, and there was not one of them who
refused to do his bidding.
So Cecrops the serpent man, as they still
called him became the king of the poor
people on the hill. He taught them how to
make bows and arrows, and how to set nets
for birds, and how to take fish with hooks.
He led them against the savage wild men of
the woods, and helped them kill the fierce
beasts that had been so great a terror to
them. He showed them how to build houses of
wood and to thatch them with the reeds which
grew in the marshes. He taught them how to
live in families instead of herding together
like senseless beasts as they had always
done before. And he told them about great
Jupiter and the Mighty Folk who lived amid
the clouds on the mountain top.
II. CHOOSING A NAME
By and by, instead of the wretched caves
among the rocks, there was a little town on
the top of the hill, with neat houses and a
market place; and around it was a strong
wall with a single narrow gate just where
the footpath began to descend to the plain.
But as yet the place had no name.
One morning while the king and his wise men
were sitting together in the market place
and planning how to make the town become a
rich, strong city, two strangers were seen
in the street. Nobody could tell how they
came there. The guard at the gate had not
seen them; and no man had ever dared to
climb the narrow footway without his leave.
But there the two strangers stood. One was a
man, the other a woman; and they were so
tall, and their faces were so grand and
noble, that those who saw them stood still
and wondered and said not a word.
The man had a robe of purple and green
wrapped round his body, and he bore in one
hand a strong staff with three sharp spear
points at one end. The woman was not
beautiful, but she had wonderful gray eyes;
and in one hand she carried a spear and in
the other a shield of curious workmanship.
"What is the name of this town?" asked the
The people stared at him in wonder, and
hardly understood his meaning. Then an old
man answered and said, "It has no name. We
who live on this hill used to be called
Cranae; but since King Cecrops came, we have
been so busy that we have had no time to
think of names."
"Where is this King Cecrops?" asked the
"He is in the market place with the wise
men," was the answer.
"Lead us to him at once," said the man.
When Cecrops saw the two strangers coming
into the market place, he stood up and
waited for them to speak. The man spoke
Neptune," said he, "and I rule the
"And I am
Athena," said the woman, "and I
give wisdom to men."
"I hear that you are planning to make your
town become a great city," said Neptune,
"and I have come to help you. Give my name
to the place, and let me be your protector
and patron, and the wealth of the whole
world shall be yours. Ships from every land
shall bring you merchandise and gold and
silver; and you shall be the masters of the
"My uncle makes you fair promises," said
Athena; "but listen to me. Give my name to
your city, and let me be your patron, and I
will give you that which gold cannot buy: I
will teach you how to do a thousand things
of which you now know nothing. I will make
your city my favorite home, and I will give
you wisdom that shall sway the minds and
hearts of all men until the end of time."
The king bowed, and turned to the people,
who had all crowded into the market place.
"Which of these mighty ones shall we elect
to be the protector and patron of our city?"
he asked. "Neptune offers us wealth; Athena
promises us wisdom. Which shall we choose?"
"Neptune and wealth!" cried many.
"Athena and wisdom!" cried as many others.
At last when it was plain that the people
could not agree, an old man whose advice was
always heeded stood up and said:
"These mighty ones have only given us
promises, and they have promised things of
which we are ignorant. For who among us
knows what wealth is or what wisdom is? Now,
if they would only give us some real gift,
right now and right here, which we can see
and handle, we should know better how to
"That is true! that is true!" cried the
"Very well, then," said the strangers, "we
will each give you a gift, right now and
right here, and then you may choose between
Neptune gave the first gift. He stood on the
highest point of the hill where the rock was
bare, and bade the people see his power. He
raised his three-pointed spear high in the
air, and then brought it down with great
force. Lightning flashed, the earth shook,
and the rock was split half way down to the
bottom of the hill. Then out of the yawning
crevice there sprang a wonderful creature,
white as milk, with long slender legs, an
arching neck, and a mane and tail of silk.
The people had never seen anything like it
before, and they thought it a new kind of
bear or wolf or wild boar that had come out
of the rock to devour them. Some of them ran
and hid in their houses, while others
climbed upon the wall, and still others
grasped their weapons in alarm. But when
they saw the creature stand quietly by the
side of Neptune, they lost their fear and
came closer to see and admire its beauty.
"This is my gift," said Neptune. "This
animal will carry your burdens for you; he
will draw your chariots; he will pull your
wagons and your plows; he will let you sit
on his back and will run with you faster
than the wind."
"What is his name?" asked the king.
"His name is Horse," answered Neptune.
Then Athena came forward. She stood a moment
on a green grassy plot where the children of
the town liked to play in the evening. Then
she drove the point of her spear deep down
in the soil. At once the air was filled with
music, and out of the earth there sprang a
tree with slender branches and dark green
leaves and white flowers and violet green
"This is my gift," said Athena. "This tree
will give you food when you are hungry; it
will shelter you from the sun when you are
faint; it will beautify your city; and the
oil from its fruit will be sought by all the
"What is it called?" asked the king.
"It is called Olive," answered Athena.
Then the king and his wise men began to talk
about the two gifts.
"I do not see that Horse will be of much use
to us," said the old man who had spoken
before. "For, as to the chariots and wagons
and plows, we have none of them, and indeed
do not know what they are; and who among us
will ever want to sit on this creature's
back and be borne faster than the wind? But
Olive will be a thing of beauty and a joy
for us and our children forever."
"Which shall we choose?" asked the king,
turning to the people.
"Athena has given us the best gift," they
all cried, "and we choose Athena and
"Be it so," said the king, "and the name of
our city shall be Athens."
From that day the town grew and spread, and
soon there was not room on the hilltop for
all the people. Then houses were built in
the plain around the foot of the hill, and a
great road was built to the sea, three miles
away; and in all the world there was no city
more fair than Athens.
In the old market place on the top of the
hill the people built a temple to Athena,
the ruins of which may still be seen. The
olive tree grew and flourished; and, when
you visit Athens, people will show you the
very spot where it stood. Many other trees
sprang from it, and in time became a
blessing both to Greece and to all the other
countries round the great sea. As for the
horse, he wandered away across the plains
towards the north and found a home at last
in distant Thessaly beyond the River Peneus.
And I have heard it said that all the horses
in the world have descended from that one
which Neptune brought out of the rock; but
of the truth of this story there may be some
The Legend and Myth about Cecrops
The Myth of Cecrops
The story of Cecrops is featured in the book
entitled Old Greek Stories by James Baldwin
published in 1895 by the American Book