Show Summary Details

Text and bibliography expanded to reflect current scholarship. Keywords, images, and links to digital materials added.

Updated on 26 February 2018. The previous version of this content can be found here.
Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD CLASSICAL DICTIONARY ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 20 January 2019

Summary and Keywords

Erichthonius is one of the original, legendary kings of the Athenians. In his myth, he was born directly from the soil of Attica, after Hephaestus attempted to rape Athena, but instead cast his seed upon the ground. Athena conceals the child in a basket and entrusts the child to the daughters of Cecrops with a command to never look inside. Some (or all) of the daughters disobey this command and, in response, Athena forces them to jump off of the Acropolis. This sequence of events suggests that his existence was heavily tied to aitiologies of the cults and cult buildings of the Cecropides on the Acropolis, as well as the Arrhephoria ritual, which seemingly recreates this narrative sequence. As a king, he was thought to have created the Panathenaea festival. In general, although his earth-born origin means that he is sometimes connected to the development of Athenian autochthony in the 5th century bce, he is not particularly prominent in myth or cult. One notable exception is that Erichthonius is sometimes referred to as the guardian snake that often accompanies Athena in statues and, according to Herodotus, may actually have inhabited Athena’s oldest temple. Most scholarship on Erichthonius has revolved around whether or not he is a double of the similar autochthon, Erechtheus—separated either in the 6th or 5th century bce—albeit inconclusively.

Keywords: autochthony, Athens, Erechtheum, Panathenaea, Arrhephoria, Erechtheus, Athena, Hephaestus, Gaia, Pisistratus

Access to the complete content on Oxford Classical Dictionary requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription. If you are a student or academic complete our librarian recommendation form to recommend the Oxford Research Encyclopedias to your librarians for an institutional free trial.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.