We were in Athens a few years ago, and as always, I was researching interesting and exciting stories about the ancient city. I was on a mission to keep my kids entertained and engaged in the traveling process. One of the coolest stories is how Athens got its name.
My kids love stories of the ancient gods, so this made finding cool stories much easier in Athens.
A long, long time ago, there was a king. The King’s name was King Cecrops; he was a pretty cool character. He was half human and half snake and had a fantastic and vibrant city, on an island, in the Mediterranean Sea. He decided he needed to have a patron of this awesome place. A patron is someone who backs, protects, and supports the city. He decided that he would call upon two of the most powerful gods/goddesses, Poseidon and Athena, to ask if they would like to become patrons.
The truth is, these two gods had already been fighting each other over becoming the protector of the beautiful city! Poseidon was known as the god of the seas. You can always tell when you are looking at an image or statue of Poseidon because he will have the trident, or three-pronged spear. Poseidon was also the brother of the great god, Zeus.
Athena was the goddess of wisdom and was the daughter of Zeus. She was very smart and offered that instead of a war, she and Poseidon could have a contest of sorts. She thought they should each give a gift to the city, and whomever gave the best gift would become the patron of the city! King Cecrops was going to judge the contest in front of the entire population of the island.
The whole city gathered together to watch the competition, and they were not disappointed. Poseidon was the first to go. He stood tall, pulled back his mighty trident, and threw it toward the ground! A large spring burst through the dry soil and produced a wonderful spring of water in a very dry city. The people rushed forward to drink the water and found that it was salty and not drinkable. The people of the city thought, “This was cool, but what could we do with the salty water?!”
Now the great and intelligent Athena stepped forward and threw her spear into a nearby rock. In just moments this rock sprouted an olive tree! The olive tree could multiply into many olive trees from its seeds. It could supply the city with olives and olive oil for lamps and cooking. The tree could also be used for wood to build houses and buildings. Clearly, Athena’s gift was better than the salty water. The crowd cheered, and the King decided Athena was the winner; she was named Patron of the city! Thus, the city was named Athens!
Fun Fact – If you are visiting the Acropolis in Athens, stop to look around. The largest structure at the top is called the Parthenon of Athena. “Parthenon” is the Greek word for “virgin” (relating to Athena – her full name was Athena of Parthenon), and this was the temple built for her after she became the patron of Athens.
If your kids are with you, you might want to show them the exact place where this amazing contest took place, which is in the photo below. This is the temple Erechtheion at the Acropolis. It is built on the exact site where this competition took place. Some say if you look really hard you can still the scar of Poseidon’s trident and the original rock where the tree sprouted. Have your kids look – you never know they might find it!
Some say that Poseidon did not take losing lightly and cursed the city with a water shortage that is still a problem for modern-day Athens.
Here are my boys – one is throwing the trident and the other is going to sprout the olive tree! I hope you enjoyed the story of Athens and watch for our upcoming posts on the top five stories to tell your kids about Athens!
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