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THE most ancient name in Attic archaeology, as far as our means of information reach, is that of Erechtheus, who is mentioned both in the Catalogue of the Iliad and in a brief allusion of the Odyssey. Born of the Earth, he is brought up by the goddess Athene, adopted by her as her ward, and installed in her temple at Athens, where the Athenians offer to him annual sacrifices. The Athenians are styled in the Iliad, “the people of Erechtheus”. This is the most ancient testimony concerning Erechtheus, exhibiting him as a divine or heroic, certainly a superhuman person, and identifying him with the primitive germination (if I may use a term, the Grecian equivalent of which would have pleased an Athenian ear) of Attic man. And he was recognized in this same character, even at the close of the fourth century before the Christian era, by the Butadae, one of the most ancient and important Gentes at Athens, who boasted of him as their original ancestor: the genealogy of the great Athenian orator Lycurgus, a member of this family, drawn up by his son Abron, and painted on a public tablet in the Erechtheion, contained as its first and highest name, Erechtheus, son of Hephaestos and the Earth. In the Erechtheion, Erechtheus was worshipped conjointly with Athene: he was identified with the god Poseidon, and bore the denomination of Poseidon Erechtheus: one of the family of the Butadae, chosen among themselves by lot, enjoyed the privilege and performed the functions of his hereditary priest. Herodotus also assigns the same earth-born origin to Erechtheus but Pindar, the old poem called the Danais, Euripides and Apollodorus—all name Erichthonius, son of Hephaestos and the Earth, as the being who was thus adopted and made the temple-companion of Athene, while Apollodorus in another place identifies Erichthonius with Poseidon. The Homeric scholiast treated Erechtheus and Erichthonius as the same person under two names: and since, in regard to such mythical persons, there exists no other test of identity of the subject except perfect similarity of the attributes, this seems the reasonable conclusion.

We may presume, from the testimony of Homer, that the first and oldest conception of Athens and its sacred acropolis places it under the special protection, and represents it as the settlement and favorite abode of Athene, jointly with Poseidon; the latter being the inferior, though the chosen companion of the former, and therefore exchanging his divine appellation for the cognomen of Erechtheus. But the country called Attica, which, during the historical ages, forms one social and political aggregate with Athens, was originally distributed into many independent demes or cantons, and included, besides, various religious clans or hereditary sects (if the expression may be permitted); that is, a multitude of persons not necessarily living together in the same locality, but bound together by an hereditary communion of sacred rites, and claiming privileges, as well as performing obligations, founded upon the traditional authority of divine persons for whom they had a common veneration. Even down to the beginning of the Peloponnesian war, the demots of the various Attic demes, though long since embodied in the larger political union of Attica, and having no wish for separation, still retained the recollection of their original political autonomy. They lived in their own separate localities, resorted habitually to their own temples, and visited Athens only occasionally for private or political business, or for the great public festivals. Each of these aggregates, political as well as religious, had its own eponymous god or hero, with a genealogy more or less extended, and a train of mythical incidents more or less copious, attached to his name, according to the fancy of the local exegetes and poets. The eponymous heroes Marathon, Dekelus, Kollinus, or Phlyus, had each their own title to worship, and their own position as themes of legendary narrative, independent of Erechtheus, or Poseidon, or Athena, the patrons of the acropolis common to all of them.

But neither the archaeology of Attica, nor that of its various component fractions, was much dwelt upon by the ancient epic poets of Greece. Theseus is noticed both in the Iliad and Odyssey as having carried off from Crete Ariadne, the daughter of Minos — thus commencing that connection between the Cretan and Athenian legends which we afterwards find so largely amplified—and the sons of Theseus take part in the Trojan war. The chief collectors and narrators of the Attic myths were, the prose logographers, authors of the many compositions called Atthides, or works on Attic archaeology. These writers—Hellanikus, the contemporary of Herodotus, is the earliest composer of an Atthis expressly named, though Pherekydes also touched upon the Attic fables — these writers, I say, interwove into one chronological series the legends which either greatly occupied their own fancy, or commanded the most general reverence among their countrymen. In this way the religious and political legends of Eleusis, a town originally independent of Athens, but incorporated with it before the historical age, were worked into one continuous sequence along with those of the Erechtheids. In this way, Kekrops, the eponymous hero of the portion of Attica called Kekropia, came to be placed in the mythical chronology at a higher point even than the primitive god or hero Erechtheus.


Ogyges is said to have reigned in Attica 1020 years before the first Olympiad, or 1796 years BC. In his time happened the deluge of Deucalion, which destroyed most of the inhabitants of the country: after along interval, Kekrops, an indigenous person, half man and half serpent, is given to us by Apollodorus as the first king of the country: he bestowed upon the land, which had before been called Akte, the name of Kekropia. In his day there ensued a dispute between Athene and Poseidon respecting the possession of the acropolis at Athens, which each of them coveted. First, Poseidon struck the rock with his trident, and produced the well of salt water which existed in it, called the Erechtheis: next came Athene, who planted the sacred olive-tree ever afterwards seen and venerated in the portion of Erechtheion called the cell of Pandrosus. The twelve gods decided the dispute; and Kekrops having testified before them that Athene had rendered this inestimable service, they adjudged the spot to her in preference to Poseidon. Both the ancient olive-tree and the well-produced by Poseidon were seen on the acropolis, in the temple consecrated jointly to Athene and Erechtheus, throughout the historical ages. Poseidon, as a mark of his wrath for the preference given to Athens, inundated the Thriasian plain with water

During the reign of Kekrops, Attica was laid waste by Carian pirates on the coast, and by invasions of the Aonian inhabitants from Boeotia. Kekrops distributed the inhabitants of Attica into twelve local sections—Kekropia, Tetrapolis, Epakria, Dekeleia, Eleusis, Aphidna, Thorikus, Brauron, Kytherus, Sphettus, Kephisius, Phalerus. Wishing to ascertain the number of inhabitants, he commanded each man to cast a single stone into a general heap: the number of stones was counted, and it was found that there were twenty thousand.

Kekrops married the daughter of Aktaeus, who (according to Pausanias’s version) had been king of the country before him, and had called it by the name of Aktaea. By her he had three daughters, Aglaurus, Erse and Pandrosus, and a son, Erysichthon.

Erysichthon died without issue, and Kranaus succeeded him, another autochthonous person and another eponymous,—for the name Kranai was an old denomination of the inhabitants of Attica. Kranaus was dethroned by Amphiktyon, by some called an autochthonous man; by others, a son of Deucalion Amphityon in his turn was expelled by Erichthonius, son of Hephaestus and the Earth,—the same person apparently as Erechtheus, but inserted by Apollodorus at this point of the series. Erichthonius, the pupil and favored companion of Athene, placed in the acropolis the original Palladium or wooden statue of that goddess, said to have dropped from heaven: he was moreover the first to celebrate the festival of the Panatherinae. He married the nymph Pasithea, and had for his son and successor Pandion. Erichthonius was the first person who taught the art of breaking in horses to the yoke, and who drove a chariot and four.

In the time of Pandion, who succeeded to Erichthonius, Dionysus and Demeter both came into Attica: the latter was received by Keleos at Eleusis. Pandion married the nymph Zeuxippe, and had twin sons, Erechtheus and Butes, and two daughters, Prokne and Philomela. The two latter are the subjects of a memorable and well-known legend. Pandion having received aid in repelling the Thebans from Tereus, king of Thrace, gave him his daughter Prokne in marriage, by whom he had a son, Itys. The beautiful Philomela, going to visit her sister, inspired the barbarous Thracian with an irresistible passion: he violated her person, confined her in a distant pastoral hut, and pretended that she was dead, cutting out her tongue to prevent her from revealing the truth. After a long interval, Philomela found means to acquaint her sister of the cruel deed which had been perpetrated; she wove into a garment words describing her melancholy condition, and dispatched it by a trusty messenger. Prokne, overwhelmed with sorrow and anger, took advantage of the free egress enjoyed by women during the Bacchanalian festival to go and release her sister: the two sisters then revenged themselves upon Tereus by killing the boy Itys, and serving him up for his father to eat: after the meal had been finished, the horrid truth was revealed to him. Tereus snatched a hatchet to put Prokne to death: she fled, along with Philomela, and all the three were changed into birds —Prokne became a swallow, Philomela a nightingale, and Tereus an hoopoe. This tale, so popular with the poets, and so illustrative of the general character of Grecian legend, is not less remarkable in another point of view—that the great historian Thucydides seems to allude to it as an historical fact, not however directly mentioning the final metamorphosis.

After the death of Pandion, Erechtheus succeeded to the kingdom, and his brother, Butes, became priest of Poseidon Erichthonius, a function which his descendants ever afterwards exercised, the Butadae or Eteobutadae. Erechtheus seems to appear in three characters in the fabulous history of Athens—as a god, Poseidon Erechtheus—as a hero, Erechtheus, son of the Earth—and now, as a king, son of Pandion: so much did the ideas of divine and human rule become confounded and blended together in the imagination of the Greeks in reviewing their early times.


The daughters of Erechtheus were not less celebrated in Athenian legend than those of Pandion. Prokris, one of them, is among the heroines seen by Odysseus in Hades: she became the wife of Kephalus, son of Deiones, and lived in the Attic dome of Thorikus. Kephalus tried her fidelity by pretending that he was going away for a long period; but shortly returned, disguising his person and bringing with him a splendid necklace. He presented himself to Prokris without being recognized, and succeeded in triumphing over her chastity. Having accomplished this object, he revealed to her his true character: she earnestly besought his forgiveness, and prevailed upon him to grant it. Nevertheless he became shortly afterwards the unintentional author of her death: for he was fond of hunting, and staid out a long time on his excursions, so that Prokris suspected him of visiting some rival. She determined to watch him by concealing herself in a thicket near the place of his midday repose; and when Kephalus implored the presence of Nephele, (a cloud) to protect him from the sun's rays, she suddenly started from her hiding-place: Kephalus, thus disturbed, cast his hunting-spear unknowingly into the thicket and slew his wife. Erechtheus interred her with great magnificence, and Kephalus was tried for the act before the court of Areopagus, which condemned him to exile.

Kreusa, another daughter of Erechtheus, seduced by Apollo, becomes the mother of Ion, whom she exposes immediately after his birth in the cave north of the acropolis, concealing the fact from everyone. Apollo prevails upon Hermes to convey the new-born child to Delphi, where he is brought up as a servant of the temple, without knowing his parents. Kreusa marries Xuthus, son of Eolus, but continuing childless, she goes with Xuthus to the Delphian oracle to inquire for a remedy. The god presents to them Ion, and desires them to adopt him as their son: their son Achaeus is afterwards born to them, and Ion and Achaeus become the eponyms of the Ionians and Achaeans.

Oreithyia, the third daughter of Erechtheus, was stolen away by the god Boreas while amusing herself on the banks of the Ilissus, and carried to his residence in Thrace. The two sons of this marriage, Zetes and Kalais, were born with wings: they took part in the Argonautic expedition, and engaged in the purrsuit of the Harpie: they were slain at Tenos by Heracles. Cleopatra, the daughter of Boreas and Oreithyia, was married to Phineus, and had two sons, Plexippus and Pandion; but Phineus afterwards espoused a second wife, Idaea, the daughter of Dardanus, who, detesting the two sons of the former bed, accused them falsely of attempting her chastity, and persuaded Phineus in his wrath to put out the eyes of both. For this cruel proceeding he was punished by the Argonauts in the course of their voyage.

On more than one occasion the Athenians derived, or at least believed themselves to have derived, important benefits from this marriage of Boreas with the daughter of their primeval hero: one inestimable service, rendered at a juncture highly critical for Grecian independence, deserves to be specified. At the time a of the invasion of Greece by Xerxes, the Grecian fleet was assembled at Chalcis and Artemision in Euboea, awaiting the approach of the Persian force, so overwhelming in its numbers as well by sea as on land. The Persian fleet had reached the coast of Magnesia and the south-eastern corner of Thessaly without any material damage, when the Athenians were instructed by an oracle “to invoke the aid of their son-in-law”. Understanding the advice to point to Boreas, they supplicated his aid and that of Oreithyia, most earnestly, as well by prayer as by sacrifice, and the event corresponded to their wishes. A furious north-easterly wind immediately arose, and continued for three days to afflict the Persian fleet as it lay on an unprotected coast: the number of ships driven ashore, both vessels of war and of provision, was immense, and the injury done to the armament was never thoroughly repaired. Such was the powerful succor which the Athenians derived, at a time of their utmost need, from their son-in-law Boreas; and their gratitude was shown by consecrating to him a new temple on the banks of the Ilissus.

The three remaining daughters of Erechtheus—he had six in all—were in Athenian legend yet more venerated than their sisters, on account of having voluntarily devoted themselves to death for the safety of their country. Eumolpus of Eleusis was the son of Poseidon and the eponymous hero of the sacred gens called the Eumolpids, in whom the principal functions, appertaining to the mysterious rites of Demeter at Eleusis, were vested by hereditary privilege: he made war upon Erechtheus and the Athenians, with the aid of a body of Thracian allies; indeed it appears that the legends of Athens, originally foreign and unfriendly to those of Eleusis, represented him as having been himself a Thracian born and an immigrant into Attica. Respecting Eumolpus however and his parentage, the discrepancies much exceed even the measure of license usual in the legendary genealogies, and some critics, both ancient and modern, have sought to reconcile these contradictions by the usual stratagem of supposing two or three different persons of the same name. Even Pausanias, so familiar with this class of unsworn witnesses, complains of the want of native Eleusinian genealogists, and of the extreme license of fiction in which other authors had indulged.


In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the most ancient testimony before us,—composed, to all appearance, earlier than the complete incorporation of Eleusis with Athens,—Eumolpus appears (to repeat briefly what has been stated in a previous chapter) as one of the native chiefs or princes of Eleusis, along with Triptolemus, Diokles, Polyxeinus and Dolichus; Keleos is the king, or principal among these chiefs, the son or lineal descendant of the eponymous Eleusis himself. To these chiefs, and to the three daughters of Keleos, the goddess Demeter comes in her sorrow for the loss of her daughter Persephone; being hospitably entertained by Keleos she reveals her true character, commands that a temple shall be built to her at Eleusis, and prescribes to them the rites according to which they are to worship her. Such seems to have been the ancient story of the Eleusinians respecting their own religious antiquities; Keleos, with Metaneira his wife, and the other chiefs here mentioned, were worshipped at Eleusis, and from thence transferred to Athens as local gods or heroes. Eleusis became incorporated with Athens, apparently not very long before the time of Solon; and the Eleusinian worship of Demeter was then received into the great religious solemnities of the Athenian state, to which it owes its remarkable subsequent extension and commanding influence. In the Atticized worship of the Eleusinian Demeter, the Eumolpids and the Kerykes were the principal hereditary functionaries: Eumolpus, the eponym of this great family, came thus to play the principal part in the Athenian legendary version of the war between Athens and Eleusis. An oracle had pronounced that Athens could only be rescued from his attack by the death of the three daughters of Erechtheus; their generous patriotism consented to the sacrifice, and their father put them to death. He then went forth confidently to the battle, totally vanquished the enemy, and killed Eumolpus with his own hand. Erechtheus was worshipped as a god, and his daughters as goddesses, at Athens. Their names and their exalted devotion were cited along with those of the warriors of Marathon, in the public assembly of Athens, by orators who sought to arouse the languid patriot, or to denounce the cowardly deserter; and the people listened both to one and the other with analogous feelings of grateful veneration, as well as with equally unsuspecting faith in the matter of fact.

Though Erechtheus gained the victory over Eumolpus, yet the story represents Poseidon as having put an end to the life and reign of Erechtheus, who was (it seems) slain in the battle. He was succeeded by his son Kekrops II, and the latter again by his son Pandion two names unmarked by any incidents, and which appear to be mere duplication of the former Kekrops and Pandion, placed there by the genealogizers for the purpose of filling up what seemed to them a chronological chasm.

Apollodorus passes at once from Erechtheus to his son Kekrops II, then to Pandion II, next to the four sons of the latter, Egeus, Pallas, Mins and Lykus. But the tragedians here insert the story of Xuthus, Kreusa and Ion; the latter being the son of Creusa by Apollo, but given by the god to Xuthus, and adopted by the latter as his own. Ion becomes the successor of Erechtheus, and his sons (Teleon, Hoples, Argades and Aigikores) become the eponyms of the four ancient tribes of Athens, which subsisted until the revolution of Kleisthenes. Ion himself is the eponym of the Ionic race both in Asia, in Europe, and in the Aegean islands: Dorus and Achaeus are the sons of Kreusa by Xuthus, so that Ion is distinguished from both of them by being of divine parentage. According to the story given by Philochorus, Ion rendered such essential service in rescuing the Athenians from the attack of the Thracians under Eumolpus, that he was afterwards made king of the country, and distributed all the inhabitants into four tribes or castes, corresponding to different modes of life, — soldiers, husbandmen, goatherds, and artisans. And it seems that the legend explanatory of the origin of the festival Boedromia, originally important enough to furnish a name to one of the Athenian months, was attached to the aid thus rendered by Io.


We pass from Ion to persons of far greater mythical dignity and interest,—Egeus and his son Theseus.

Pandion had four sons, Egeus, Nisus, Lykus, and Pallas, between whom he divided his dominions. Nisus received the territory of Megaris, which had been under the sway of Pandion, and there founded the seaport of Nistea. Lykus was made king of the eastern coast, but a dispute afterwards ensued, and he quitted the country altogether, to establish himself on the southern coast of Asia Minor among the Termilae, to whom he gave the name of Lykians. Egeus, as the eldest of the four, became king of Athens; but Pallas received a portion both of the southwestern coast and the interior, and he as well as his children appear as frequent enemies both to Egeus and to Theseus. Pallas is the eponym of the deme Pallene, and the stories respecting him and his sons seem to be connected with old and standing feuds among the different demes of Attica, originally independent communities. These feuds penetrated into the legend, and explain the story which we find that Egeus and Theseus were not genuine Erechtheids, the former being denominated a suppositious child to Pandion.

Egeus has little importance in the mythical history except as the father of Theseus: it may even be doubted whether his name is anything more than a mere cognomen of the god Poseidon, who was (as we are told) the real father of this great Attic Heracles. As I pretend only to give a very brief outline of the general territory of Grecian legend, I cannot permit myself to recount in detail the chivalrous career of Theseus, who is found both in the Kalydonian boar-hunt and in the Argonautic expedition —his personal and victorious encounters with the robbers Siunis, Procrustes, Periphetes, Sciron and others — his valuable service in ridding his country of the Krommyonian sow and the Maratonian bull—his conquest of the Minotaur in Crete, and his escape from the dangers of the labyrinth by the aid of Ariadne, whom he subsequently carries off and abandons—his many amorous adventures, and his expeditions both against the Amazons and into the under-world along with Peirithous.

Thucydides delineates the character of Theseus as a man who combined sagacity with political power, and who conferred upon his country the inestimable benefit of uniting all the separate and self-governing demes of Attica into one common political society. From the well-earned reverence attached to the assertion of Thucydides, it has been customary to reason upon this assertion as if it were historically authentic, and to treat the romantic attributes which we find in Plutarch and Diodorus as if they were fiction superinduced upon this basis of fact. Such a view of the case is in my judgment erroneous. The athletic and amorous knight-errant is the old version of the character—the profound and long-sighted politician is a subsequent correction, introduced indeed by men of superior mind, but destitute of historical warranty, and arising out of their desire to find reasons of their own for concurring in the veneration which the general public paid more easily and heartily to their national hero. Theseus, in the Iliad and Odyssey, fights with the Lapithae against the Centaurs : Theseus, in the Hesiodic poems, is misguided by his passion for the beautiful Egle, daughter of Panopeus: and the Theseus described in Plutarch’s biography is in great part a continuation and expansion of these same or similar attributes, mingled with many local legends, explaining, like the Fasti of Ovid, or the lost Aitia of Callimachus, the original genesis of prevalent religious and social customs. Plutarch has doubtless greatly softened down and modified the adventures which he found in the Attic logographers as well as in the poetical epics called Theseis. For in his preface to the life of Theseus, after having emphatically declared that he is about to transcend the boundary both of the known and the knowable, but that the temptation of comparing the founder of Athens with the founder of Rome is irresistible, he concludes with the following remarkable words: “I pray that this fabulous matter may be so far obedient to my endeavors as to receive, when purified by reason, the aspect of history: in those cases where it haughtily scorns plausibility and will admit no alliance with what is probable, I shall beg for indulgent hearers, willing to receive antique narrative in a mild spirit”. We see here that Plutarch sat down, not to recount the old fables as he found them, but to purify them by reason and to impart to them the aspect of history. We have to thank him for having retained, after this purification, so much of what is romantic and marvelous; but we may be sure that the sources from which he borrowed were more romantic and marvelous still. It was the tendency of the enlightened men of Athens, from the days of Solon downwards, to refine and politicize the character of Thesuas : even Peisistratus expunged from one of the Hesiodic poems the line which described the violent passion of the hero for the fair Egle : and the tragic poets found it more congenial to the feelings of their audience to exhibit him as a dignified and liberal sovereign, rather than as an adventurous single-handed fighter. But the logographers and the Alexandrine poets remained more faithful to the old fables. The story of Hekale, the hospitable old woman who received and blessed Theseus when he went against the Marathonian bull, and whom he found dead when he came back to recount the news of his success, was treated by Callimachus : and Virgil must have had his mind full of the unrefined legends when he numbered this Attic Heracles among the unhappy sufferers condemned to endless penance in the under-world.

Two however among the Theseian fables cannot be dismissed without some special notice,—the war against the Amazons, and the expedition against Crete. The former strikingly illustrates the facility as well as the tenacity of Grecian legendary faith; the latter embraces the story of Daedalus and Minos, two of the most eminent among Grecian ante-historical personages.


The Amazons, daughters of Ares and Harmonia, are both early creations and frequent reproductions of the ancient epic—which was indeed, we may generally remark, largely occupied both with the exploits and sufferings of women, or heroines, the wives and daughters of the Grecian heroes—and which recognized in Pallas Athene the finished type of an irresistible female warrior. A nation of courageous, hardy and indefatigable women, dwelling apart from men, permitting only a short temporary intercourse for the purpose of renovating their numbers, and burning out their right breast with a view of enabling themselves to draw the bow freely,—this was at once a general type stimulating to the fancy of the poet and a theme eminently popular with his hearers. Nor was it at all repugnant to the faith of the latter—who had no recorded facts to guide them, and no other standard of credibility as to the past except such poetical narratives themselves — to conceive communities of Amazons as having actually existed in anterior time. Accordingly we find these warlike females constantly reappearing in the ancient poems, and universally accepted as past realities. In the Iliad, when Priam wishes to illustrate emphatically the most numerous host in which he ever found himself included, he tells us that it was assembled in Phrygia, on the banks of the Sangarius, for the purpose of resisting the formidable Amazons. When Bellerophon is to be employed on a deadly and perilous undertaking, by those who indirectly wish to procure his death, he is dispatched against the Amazons. In the Ethiopis of Arktinus, describing the post-Homeric war of Troy, Penthesileia, queen of the Amazons, appears as the most effective ally of the besieged city, and as the most formidable enemy of the Greeks, succumbing only to the invincible might of Achilles. The Argonautic heroes find the Amazons on the river Thermadon, in their expedition along the southern coast of the Euxine. To the same spot Heracles goes to attack them, in the performance of the ninth labor imposed upon him by Eurystheus, for the purpose of procuring the girdle of the Amazonian queen, Hippolyte; and we are told that they had not yet recovered from the losses sustained in this severe aggression when Theseus also assaulted and defeated them, carrying off their queen, Antiope. This injury they avenged by invading Attica,—an undertaking (as Plutarch justly observes) "neither trifling nor feminine," especially if according to the statement of Hellanikus, they crossed the Cimmerian Bosporus on the winter ice, beginning their march from the Asiatic side of the Pallus Maeotis. They overcame all the resistances and difficulties of this prodigious march, and penetrated even into Athens itself, where the final battle, hard-fought and at one time doubtful, by which Theseus crushed them, was fought—in the very heart of the city.

Attic antiquaries confidently pointed out the exact position of the two contending armies: the left wing of the Amazons rested upon the spot occupied by the commemorative monument called the Amazoneion; the right wing touched the Pnyx, the place in which the public assemblies of the Athenian democracy were afterwards held. The details and fluctuations of the combat, as well as the final triumph and consequent truce, were recounted by these authors with as complete faith and as much circumstantiality as those of the battle of Plataea by Herodotus. The sepulchral edifice called the Amazoneion, the tomb or pillar of Antiope near the western gate of the city—the spot called the Horkomosion near the temple of Theseus—even the hill of Areiopagus itself, and the sacrifices which it was customary to offer to the Amazons at the periodical festival of the Theseia—were all so many religious mementos of this victory; which was moreover a favorite subject of art both with the sculptor and the painter, at Athens as well as in other parts of Greece.

No portion of the ante-historical epic appears to have been more deeply worked into the national mind of Greece than this invasion and defeat of the Amazons. It was not only a constant theme of the logographers, but was also familiarly appealed to by the popular orators along with Marathon and Salamis, among those antique exploits of which their fellow-citizens might justly be proud. It formed a part of the retrospective faith of Herodotus, Lysias, Plato and Isocrates, and the exact date of the event was settled by the chronologists. Nor did the Athenians stand alone in such a belief. Throughout many other regions of Greece, both European and Asiatic, traditions and memorials of the Amazons were found. At Megara, at Troezen, in Laconia near Cape Taenarus, at Chaeronea in Boeotia, and in more than one part of Thessaly, sepulchers or monuments of the Amazons were preserved. The warlike women (it was said), on their way to Attica, had not traversed those countries, without leaving some evidences of their passage.

Amongst the Asiatic Greeks the supposed traces of the Amazons were yet more numerous. Their proper territory was asserted to be the town and plain of Themiskyra, near the Grecian colony of Amisus, on the river Thermodon, a region called after their name by Roman historians and geographers. But they were believed to have conquered and occupied in early times a much wider range of territory, extending even to the coast of Ionia and Eolis. Ephesus, Smyrna, Kyme, Myrina, Paphos and Sinope were affirmed to have been founded and denominated by them. Some authors placed them in Libya or Ethiopia; and when the Poetic Greeks on the north-western shore of the Euxine had become acquainted with the hardy and daring character of the Sarmatian maidens,—who were obliged to have slain each an enemy in battle as the condition of obtaining a husband, and who artificially prevented the growth of the right breast during childhood,—they could imagine no more satisfactory mode of accounting for such attributes than by deducing the Sarmatians from a colony of vagrant Amazons, expelled by the Grecian heroes from their territory on the Thermodon. Pindar ascribed the first establishment of the memorable temple of Artemis at Ephesus to the Amazons. And Pausanias explains in part the preeminence which this temple enjoyed over every other in Greece by the widely diffused renown of its female founders, respecting whom he observes (with perfect truth, if we admit the historical character of the old epic), that women possess an unparalleled force of resolution in resisting adverse events, since the Amazons, after having been first roughly handled by Heracles and then completely defeated by Theseus, could yet find courage to play so conspicuous a part in the defense of Troy against the Grecian besiegers.

It is thus that in what is called early Grecian history, as the Greeks themselves looked back upon it, the Amazons were among the most prominent and undisputed personages. Nor will the circumstance appear wonderful if we reflect, that the belief in them was first established at a time when the Grecian mind was fed with nothing else but religious legend and epic poetry, and that the incidents of the supposed past, as received from these sources, were addressed to their faith and feelings, without being required to adapt themselves to any canons of credibility drawn from present experience. But the time came when the historians of Alexander the Great audaciously abused this ancient credence. Amongst other tales calculated to exalt the dignity of that monarch, they affirmed that after his conquest and subjugation of the Persian empire, he had been visited in Hyrcania by Thalestris, queen of the Amazons, who admiring his warlike prowess, was anxious to be enabled to return into her own country in a condition to produce offspring of a breed so invincible. But the Greeks had now been accustomed for a century and a half to historical and philosophical criticism —and that uninquiring faith, which was readily accorded to the wonders of the past, could no longer be invoked for them when tendered as present reality. For the fable of the Amazons was here reproduced in its naked simplicity, without being rationalized or painted over with historical colors.

Some literary men indeed, among whom were Demetrius of Skepsis, and the Mitylenaean Theophanes, the companion of Pompey in his expeditions, still continued their belief both in Amazons present and Amazons past; and when it becomes notorious that at least there were none such on the banks of the Thermodon, these authors supposed them to have migrated from their original locality, and to have settled in the unvisited regions north of Mount Caucasus. Strabo, on the contrary, feeling that the grounds of disbelief applied with equal force to the ancient stories and to the modern, rejected both the one and the other. But he remarks at the same time, not without some surprise, that it was usual with most persons to adopt a middle course,—to retain the Amazons as historical phenomena of the remote past, but to disallow them as realities of the present, and to maintain that the breed had died out. The accomplished intellect of Julius Cesar did not scruple to acknowledge them as having once conquered and held in dominion a large portion of Asia; and the compromise between early, traditional, and religious faith on the one hand, and established habits of critical research on the other, adopted by the historian Arrian, deserves to be transcribed in his own words, as illustrating strikingly the powerful sway of the old legends even over the most positive-minded Greeks:—“Neither Aristobulus nor Ptolemy (he observes), nor any other competent witness, has recounted this visit of the Amazons and their queen to Alexander: nor does it seem to me that the race of the Amazons was preserved down to that time, nor have they been noticed either by any one before Alexander, or by Xenophon, though he mentions both the Phasians and the Kolchians, and the other barbarous nations which the Greeks saw both before and after their arrival at Trapezus, in which marches they must have met with the Amazons, if the latter had been still in existence. Yet it is incredible to me that this race of women, celebrated as they have been by authors so many and so commanding, should never have existed at all. The story tells of Heracles, that he set out from Greece and brought back with him the girdle of their queen Hippolyte; also of Theseus and the Athenians, that they were the first who defeated in battle and repelled these women in their invasion of Europe; and the combat of the Athenians with the Amazons has been painted by Mikon, not less than that between the Athenians and the Persians. Moreover Herodotus has spoken in many places of these women, and those Athenian orators who have pronounced panegyrics on the citizens slain in battle, have dwelt upon the victory over the Amazons as among the most memorable of Athenian exploits. If the satrap of Media sent any equestrian women at all to Alexander, I think that they must have come from some of the neighboring tribes, practiced in riding and equipped in the costume generally called Amazonian”.

There cannot be a more striking evidence of the indelible force with which these ancient legends were worked into the national faith and feelings of the Greeks, than these remarks of a judicious historian upon the fable of the Amazons. Probably if any plausible mode of rationalizing it, and of transforming it into a quasi-political event, had been offered to Arrian, he would have been better pleased to adopt such a middle term, and would have rested comfortably in the supposition that he believed the legend in its true meaning, while his less inquiring countrymen were imposed upon by the exaggerations of poets. But as the story was presented to him plain end unvarnished, either for acceptance or rejection, his feelings as a patriot and a religious man prevented him from applying to the past such tests of credibility as his untrammeled reason acknowledged to be paramount in regard to the present. When we see moreover how much his belief was strengthened, and all tendency to skepticism shut out by the familiarity of his eye and memory with sculptured or painted Amazons—we may calculate the irresistible force of this sensible demonstration on the convictions of the unlettered public, at once more deeply retentive of passive impressions, and unaccustomed to the countervailing habit of rational investigation into evidence. Had the march of an army of warlike women, from the Thermodon or the Tanais into the heart of Attica, been recounted to Arrian as an incident belonging to the time of Alexander the Great, he would have rejected it no less emphatically than Strabo; but cast back as it was into an undefined past, it took rank among the hallowed traditions of divine or heroic antiquity,—gratifying to extol by rhetoric, but repulsive to scrutinize in argument.