1. There can be little doubt but that the names Erichthonius and Erechtheus are identical; but whether the two heroes mentioned by Plato, Hyginus, and Apollodorus, the one of whom is usually called Erichthonius or Erechtheus I. and the other Erechtheus II., are likewise one and the same person, as Müller (Orchom.
p. 117, 2d edit.) and others think, is not so certain, though highly probable. Homer (Hom. Il. 2.547
, &c., Od. 7.81
) knows only one Erechtheus, as an autochthon and king of Athens; and the first writer who distinguishes two personages is Plato. (Crit.
The story of Erichthonius is related thus: When Hephaestus wished to embrace Athena, and the goddess repulsed him, he became by Ge or by Atthis, the daughter of Cranaus, the father of a son, who had either completely or only half the form of a serpent. Athena reared this being without the knowledge of the other gods, had him guarded by a dragon, and then entrusted him to Agraulos, Pandrosos, and Herse, concealed in a chest, and forbade them to open it. (Hygin. Poet. Astr.
But this command was neglected; and on opening the chest and seeing the child in the form of a serpent, or entwined by a serpent, they were seized with madness, and threw themselves down the rock of the acropolis, or, according to others, into the sea.
The serpent escaped into the shield of Athena, and was protected by her. (Apollod. 3.14.6
; Hyg. Fab. 166
; Paus. 1.2.5
; Eur. Ion 260
, &c.; Ov. Met. 2.554
.) When Erichthonius had grown up, he expelled Amphictyon, and usurped the government of Athens, and his wife Pasithea bore him a son Pandion. (Apollod. l.c.
) He is said to have introduced the worship of Athena, to have instituted the festival of the Panathenaea, and to have built a temple of Athena on the acropolis. When Athena and Poseidon disputed about the possession of Attica, Erichthonius declared in favour of Athena. (Apollod. 3.14.1
He was further the first who used a chariot with four horses, for which reason he was placed among the stars as auriga (Hygin. P. A. l.c.; Verg. G. 1.205
; Aelian, Ael. VH 3.38
); and lastly, he was believed to have made the Athenians acquainted with the use of silver, which had been discovered by the Scythian king Indus. (Hyg. Fab. 274
He was buried in the temple of Athena, and his worship on the acropolis was connected with that of Athena and Poseidon. (Apollod. 3.14.6
; Serv. ad Aen. 7.761
.) His famous temple, the Erechtheium, stood on the acropolis, and in it there were three altars, one of Poseidon, on which sacrifices were offered to Erechthens also, the second of Butes, and the third of Hephaestus. (Paus. 1.26.6
Erechtheus H., as he is called, is described as a grandson of the first, and as a son of Pandion by Zeuxippe, so that he was a brother of Butes, Procne, and Philomela. (Apollod. 3.14.8
; Paus. 1.5.3
After his father's death, he succeeded him as king of Athens, and was regarded in later times as one of the Attic eponymi.
He was married to Praxithea, by whom he became the father of Cecrops, Pandoros, Metion, Orneus, Procris, Creusa, Chthonia, and Oreithyia. (Apollod. 3.15.1
; Paus. 2.25.5
; Ov. Met. 6.676
.) His four daughters, whose names and whose stories differ very much in the different traditions, agreed among themselves to die all together, if one of them was to die. When Eumolpus, the son of Poseidon, whose assistance the Eleusinians had called in against the Athenians, had been killed by the latter, Poseidon or an oracle demanded the sacrifice of one of the daughters of Erechtheus. When one was drawn by lot, the others voluntarily accompanied her in death, and Erechtheus himself was killed by Zeus with a flash of lightning at the request of Poseidon. (Apollod. 3.15.4
; Hyg. Fab. 46
; Plut. Parall. Gr. et Rom.
In his war with the Eleusinians, he is also said to have killed Immaradus, the son of Eumolpus. (Paus. 1.5. 2
; comp. AGRAULOS.) According to Diodorus (1.29
), Erechtheus was an Egyptian, who during a famine brought corn to Athens, instituted the worship of Demeter, and the Eleusinian mysteries.