Did Athena have a son?
What makes Greek myths so popular is that like a good recipe they balance sweet and sour ingredients to make the story tastier and more appealing. The story of Athena raising a boy named Erichthonius is one of those stories. But how does Athena, who never marries and remains Athena Pallas—“the virgin”–have a child? According to most accounts, Erichthonius was born of Gaia, mother earth and Hephaestus, the smith god. Because the birth was unwanted, Gaia gave the boy to Athena to raise. But of course the rest of the story gets complicated and has several versions.
Athena kept the boy in a basket to conceal his identity and brought him to her temple, the Parthenon, where she told her priestesses – Aglauros, Herse and Pandrosos, the daughters of the first Athenian king Cecrops , not to open the basket. Being a Greek myth, they disobey the goddess, open the basket and are shocked to find a baby inside. A crow witnessed that the sisters ignored Athena and flew off to tell her. Athena, enraged at their disobedience, either threw or scared the sisters off the Acropolis. Either way, the sisters meet a horrible death.
The happier side of the story is that with the guidance of Athena, Erichthonius becomes king of Athens. He becomes a great king and teaches the people how to tame wild horses, how to use a plow to cultivate the earth, and teaches them silver-smithing. At that time silver is more valuable than gold. Remember, it is the discovery of a silver mine that allows Athens to become the dominant city-state in Greece and help the Greeks defeat the Persians during the Persian Wars.
A Greek vase painting shows Gaia handing Erichthonius to Athena