Greece’s capital and largest city is Athens. With records dating back to 3,200 BC, it is one of the oldest cities in the world! Although Athens is generally renowned for being the cradle of democracy, how did the city get its name? Greek mythology is where the legend of how Athens got its name comes from.
The walled city of ancient Athens was a strong city-state that grew with its port, which was first named Faliro and eventually Piraeus. Athens is frequently referred to as the birthplace of Western civilization because of its prominence as a center of the arts and philosophy, the location of the illustrious Plato Academy and the Lyceum of Aristotle, as well as the influence of its political and cultural achievements in the 5th and 4th centuries BC.
How was Athens Called before?
Athens’ original name, Aktaio or Akti, was derived from Aktaios, the city’s first ruler. From King Kekropas, it got its second name, Kekropia. The interesting history of Athens, the once-powerful city-state of Greece, dates back thousands of years. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of this lengthy history cannot help but be filled with awe and adoration as they stroll through the city’s streets. It is like traveling through time and retracing the steps of illustrious predecessors to meander through the passageways beneath the Parthenon. But how did this renowned city come to be called Athens?
The Myth Of Athens’ Naming
The solution appears to be revealed in an ancient narrative of a battle between two powerful gods of Olympus over control of the city that was almost lost to the depths of time. The current capital of Greece is named after the goddess Athena, who won the battle against the sea deity Poseidon, in Greek mythology. The new city patron god was chosen after a special court was convened atop Acropolis Hill.
The gods at that time desired to have towns under their protection so that people would build temples and make sacrifices and gifts to them in order to respect them. They started off by splitting up the cities among themselves, but when two gods were after the same city, they started fighting. Since Poseidon and Athena both opposed the city’s patronage, this was the case with Athens.
The Kekropas, a half-human, half-snake creature who was the monarch of Kekropia (as Athens was then known) was the eyewitness to this celestial dispute. Another interpretation of the same myth claims that King Kekropas presided over the dispute as the judge.
To adjudicate this dispute, the remaining gods of Olympus descended upon Acropolis Hill, which had a bird’s-eye view of the entire city. The scene was prepared, and the battle was about to start! It was agreed that the winner will be the one who presents the best gift to the city!
The Gift Of Poseidon
First, Poseidon gave his gift. He moved forward and struck the stony ground forcefully with his trident. Instantly, water erupted from the ground, creating the “Erechtheida Sea,” a small lake. Yet because it was seawater, it was salted and not fit for human consumption.
Gift of Athena
Then it was Athena’s turn to give the gift. She approached the rock and sowed a seed there. A fruit-laden olive tree appeared overnight in the ground. (Reports claim that the olive tree currently growing on the Acropolis adjacent to the Erechtheion structure is Athena’s and has been sprouting repeatedly over the centuries. It was a tree that would last for thousands of years.
Zeus asked Kekrops for this opinion after both gods had presented their gifts. The King peered about from the high rock, but wherever he went, his eyes met sea water (salty water). But, the tree that Athena had cultivated was the first in the entire nation and held out the hope of honor and happiness for the city. It was certainly a special and practical gift. The olive tree can provide air, shade, food, olive oil, wood for the winter, etc.
As a result, it was determined that Athena’s gift was more beneficial, and the city granted her patronage. In honor of the goddess of knowledge, Athena, Athens was called. But, Poseidon became upset with the choice and swore a curse that the city would always run out of water. Water shortages have been an ongoing issue in the city ever since.
The myth holds that the world’s first olive tree was Athena’s, and all subsequent olive trees descended from it. The twelve olives of Plato’s Academy, which correspond to its twelve gates, also came from same olive tree. They were clones of the Holy Olive of Athena, according to tradition! These gave rise to the renowned Athens Olive Grove, which gave the region its name (Elaionas).