"During the reign of ancient Greece, back when mortals and gods mingled freely, a king sent a prayer to the heavens. His exact words were lost to time, but they were urgent enough to be heard from Mount Olympus.
The king’s name was Cecrops, a half-human, half-serpent ruler of the Attic Peninsula.
Cecrops was a great king, but he was also terribly busy. He oversaw everything —whether it was governing the bustling cities or protecting the sleepy villages near the coastline.
With more responsibilities than any one person could manage (and since Cecrops rarely had time for himself), the king was over the moon when not one, but two gods responded to his prayer.
The first was Poseidon, the god of the seas. He insisted that his familiarity with the oceans and the Underworld made him the obvious choice.
Next to arrive was Athena. Upon seeing the great goddess, Cecrops was in awe. Athena was a fierce warrior and the wisest being to ever grace Mount Olympus.
She was also a queen of strategy.
But a city can only have one patron deity, and it was up to Cecrops to choose. Not wanting to upset either god, the king asked Athena and Poseidon to help devise a competition where the winner would be crowned the guardian of Attica.
Athena suggested a weaving contest.
Poseidon suggested a battle.
Cecrops suggested a vote.
The three went round and round for what felt like days until Athena suggested something out of the ordinary:
A gift-giving competition.
Athena said that instead of battling one another, they would fight for the hearts of the people. In this competition, whoever gave Attica the best gift would become its tutelary deity.
Poseidon agreed and went to work on his gift straight away. With his spear, he struck the earth and water shot from the ground. When he raised his arms, the water swirled skyward. When he interlaced his fingers, water flowed here, there, and every which way. In mere minutes, Poseidon had crafted an elaborate fountain in the center of town.
But when people put their lips to the water, they were gifted with a mouthful of salt.
In his haste, Poseidon hadn’t considered that a fountain of seawater wasn’t actually useful in the mortal realm. Beautiful, yes, but perhaps a freshwater fountain would have been a wiser choice…
Meanwhile, as Poseidon displayed his ego, Athena visited the villagers. She asked people about their gardens, books, and art. They showed her how they cooked, fed their fires, and what kept their hands busy.
Poseidon watched Athena with a wary eye. He believed the goddess was stalling, but since neither Cecrops nor the gods had put any time limit on the competition, Poseidon could only watch and wait.
And truth be told, Athena wasn’t stalling; she was learning . In exchange for her time and empathy, she’d discovered what the villagers needed, what they feared, and what they’d outgrown.
With her mind finally made up, Athena picked up her staff. When it pierced the earth, instead of water, an olive tree sprouted from the dirt.
The villagers ooh’d and aah’d over the exotic tree—the first one they’d ever seen!
What a valuable gift , the townsfolk whispered. Not only could they eat the olives, but the oil could be used for cooking and to fuel their lanterns. They could also burn the bark and use the tree trimmings for handicrafts. And when the day came that people had more than they needed, they could use the surplus to barter with neighbors.
After a while, the crowd quieted, and all eyes turned to the king. Despite Athena being the obvious winner, Cecrops was nervous to announce his decision. After all, the gods could be cruel, and he feared that Poseidon might retaliate against Attica.
But to the king’s delight, Poseidon did the exact opposite. Instead of challenging his loss, he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Athena, for he too was impressed with the olive tree.
No words were exchanged (because what else could anyone say?), and instead, the goddess plucked off an olive branch and handed it to her competitor.
Shortly after, Poseidon returned to the sea. He’d lost to Athena but had gained wisdom through his defeat.
Athena stayed in Attica (better known as Athens), where her gift is still a highly regarded treasure. Throughout the world, olive trees are said to represent peace, prosperity, forgiveness, and goodwill towards all."
This retelling was inspired by and adapted from the Greek myth of how Athens received its name.
Authored by Kristin Lisenby