Another Virgin Mother

Rick Riordan’s Greek mythology series have touched several times on the fact that some of its characters, most notably Percy Jackson’s girlfriend Annabeth Chase, are children of Athena. If you’ve studied mythology, you’d know that Athena is a perpetual virgin, like Hestia and Artemis. That’s what she’s sometimes given the title Athena Parthenos. Don’t worry; Aphrodite has more than enough sex to make up for them. But anyway, as stated in Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods, there is somewhat of a precedent for Athena having children. This is the tale of Erichthonius, the King of Athens, and it’s so bizarre that I’m surprised I can’t recall having come across it before. Apparently Hephaestus had a thing for the goddess of wisdom, and tried to rape her when she came to his workshop seeking weapons. Someone really needs to tell the gods that no means no. Hephaestus didn’t succeed, but he apparently ejaculated prematurely and got some of his semen on Athena’s leg. She wiped it off with a cloth and threw it to the ground, where it gave birth to a child. As such, it’s sometimes said that Erichthonius’ biological mother was Gaea, but she was raised by Athena for a while. She placed the child in a box and took it to the daughters of King Cecrops of Athens, telling them not to open the box. Of course they opened it, proving that the goddess of wisdom is pretty clueless about human nature. Inside, they either saw Ericthonius in the embrace of a snake, or the child was part snake himself.

This drove them crazy, and they committed suicide by jumping off the top of the Acropolis. Oddly, Cecrops himself was also said to have been born from the earth and to have been part snake, so apparently the daughters didn’t know their father’s history.

Or maybe there was just confusion over which ruler of Athens was part snake. Anyway, Erichthonius became the fourth king of the city, and became known for introducing plowing and the use of silver. He was also famous as a chariot racer and inventor of the four-horse chariot, and as such is often identified with the constellation Auriga.

He married a nymph named Praxithea, and was succeeded as king by his son Pandion. I believe the hero Theseus was Erichthonius’ descendant, or at least half-descendant, as he had two fathers.

As far as Athena’s motherhood, Percy states that Annabeth was probably not born from a semen-soaked handkerchief, but he really doesn’t want to know. It’s suggested elsewhere in the series that Athena gives birth through thought, much like how she herself was born inside the head of Zeus.

Picture by KooriAkuma

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