According to Apollodorus1 the first king of Attica, which derived from him its name Cecropia, having previously borne the name of Acte. He is described as an autochthon, and is accordingly called a γηγενής (gēgenēs), the upper part of whose body was human, while the lower was that of a dragon. Hence he is called διφυής (diphyēs) or geminus.2 Some ancients referred the epithet διφυής to marriage, of which tradition made him the founder.
He was married to Agraulus, the daughter of Actaeus, by whom he had a son, Erysichthon, and three daughters, Agraulus, Herse, and Pandrosus.3 In his reign Poseidon called forth with his trident a well on the acropolis, which was known in later times by the name of the Erechthean well, from its being enclosed in the temple of Erichthonius.4 The marine god now wanted to take possession of the country; but Athena, who entertained the same desire, planted an olive tree on the hill of the acropolis, which continued to be shown at Athens down to the latest times; and as she had taken Cecrops as her witness while she planted it, he decided in her favor when the possession of Attica was disputed between her and Poseidon, who had no witness to attest that he had created the well.
Cecrops is represented in the Attic legends as the author of the first elements of civilized life, such as marriage, the political division of Attica into twelve communities, and also as the introducer of a new mode of worship, inasmuch as he abolished the bloody sacrifices which had until then been offered to Zeus, and substituted cakes (πέλανοι, pelanoi) in their stead.5
The name of Cecrops occurs also in other parts of Greece, especially where there existed a town of the name of Athenae, such as in Boeotia, where he is said to have founded the ancient towns of Athenae and Eleusis on the river Triton, and where he had a heroum at Haliartus. Tradition there called him a son of Pandion.6 In Euboea, which had likewise a town Athenae, Cecrops was called a son of Erichthonius (II) and Praxithea, and a grandson of Pandion.7
From these traditions it appears, that Cecrops must be regarded as a hero of the Pelasgian race; and Müller justly remarks, that the different mythical personages of this name connected with the towns in Boeotia and Euboea are only multiplications of the one original hero, whose name and story were transplanted from Attica to other places.
Cecrops is mostly known from the damaged Cecrops Group on the western facade of the Parthenon. The damaged figures of the Parthenon metope are difficult to identify but it is generally assumed that it is Cecrops and a daughter. A bowl by the Codrus Painter (fifth century BCE; Berlin), shows the hero as a bearded man whose lower body is that of a serpent.
- The Library iii, 14.1 ff.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 48; Antoninus Liberalis, 6; Diodorus Siculus, i, 28; Aristophanes. Wasps, 438; Ovid. Metamorphoses ii, 555.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus, l.c.; Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 2.5.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 26.6; Herodotus. Histories viii, 55.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece viii, 2.1; Strabo. Geography ix, 397; Eustathius on Homer, p. 1156.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ix, 33.1; Strabo. Geography ix, 407.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 15.1, 5; Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 5.3.
- Diodorus Siculus, i, 29; Scholiast on Arist. Plut. 773.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Müller, K.O. Orchomenos und die Minyer, p. 123.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
- Thirlwall. Greece, i, p. 66 ff.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.