Weird myths: accidental child

This is a post for my March book challenge, #marchmonthofmythology.

In my post on the birth of Athena I told you Hephaestus wanted to marry Athena the moment she was born (she was born as a full-grown adult though so it’s not that weird). Though Athena and Hephaestus remained good friends, he didn’t immediately give up on his hopes. This is once again a myth I learned in school – and by now I’m pretty sure my teachers just loved weirding out their students.

I don’t even know what to call this, it’s just too weird

One day, Athena visited Hephaestus workshop to request some weapons and somehow this got Hephaestus all hot and bothered. Unsurprisingly, Athena rejected his advances, wanting to stay a virgin forever and all, but well, Hephaestus was a little over excited. I’m trying my best to keep this PG13, but what happened is: some of Hephaestus sperm accidentally got on Athena’s leg, she was grossed out and wiped it off immediately with a piece of cloth, and where it landed on the dirt, a child was born. Hephaestus and Athena probably stopped talking for a couple of years after that.

What to do with the baby?

Some people say that the baby that was created in this way was Athena’s child, but I personally don’t think it counts. Most people say the child was Gaia’s, because it was conceived in/by the earth, which makes more sense. It also explains why the boy was half snake. Anyway, Athena was so ashamed of being remotely associated with a baby, she put the child in a covered basket, gave it to the three daughters of the king of Athens and told them not to look. I guess embarrassment does strange things to a person, even the goddess of wisdom, because of course they looked.

This is why you don’t mess with Athena

I exaggerated a little there – only one or two of the princesses looked (there are different versions). According to some versions of the myth they threw themselves of a cliff because they were so frightened by the half-human half-snake baby, but the version Ovid tells in his Metamorphoses is more complicated and more fun. Athena was so upset with Aglauros, the princess who had looked in the basket, that she went to the goddess of jealousy for help. Lady Jealousy visited Aglauros at night and corrupted her heart and mind.

Aglauros’ sister, you see, often received nightly visits from the god Hermes. Aglauros had promised to help them and not tell anyone – but she got jealous and asked Hermes for gold to pay for her efforts. Her jealousy didn’t stop, however, and the next time Hermes came by, Aglauros blocked him in the doorway to her sister’s room. She wouldn’t move – so Hermes did the logical thing and turned her into a rock.

Where are they now?

You might be wondering where the snake-human hybrid baby ended up. He was adopted by the king of Athens and became king after him. His name was Erichtonios, one of the mythical first kings of Athens.

Hephaestus and Athena made up, somehow. I guess Hephaestus finally realised they were better off as friends. As they are both patrons of arts and crafts (it sounds like a joke but these really are the best terms), they could work together well and even shared temples.

Athena/Hephaestus – a technical book


In ancient Greece, the term ‘craft’ applied to a lot of  things. Architecture, sculpture, painting, smithing, robotics, etc. were Hephaestus’ expertise; Athena was related to crafts traditionally done by women, such as weaving and spinning, but also anything to do with wisdom and strategy. In modern terms, most of these crafts are now considered art; to the ancient Greeks, things like painting and sculpture were seen as crafts because they saw them as products of craftsmanship, less than creativity. The word ‘technical’ is derived from the Greek word for craft, τέχνη (technè). To make things more complicated, the natural sciences that we now might call technical, were connected to the Muses and Apollo, patron deities of the arts (and science)! So if you’re a scientist or artist, it’s gonna take a little research to figure out whether you should pray to Athena, Hephaestus, or Apollo – or maybe even all three.


5 thoughts on “Weird myths: accidental child

  1. I remember this one from high school, and yes, it’s so weird! Also, the question of whether Athena is to be considered the kid’s mother is pretty relevant as it raises questions about consent and abuse. Because of FREAKING course she’s not the kid’s mother! Why even think so? Did she wear a particularly short skirt that day? Because that’s usually seen as quite the excuse…


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