Housemates of the Serpent
The Aglaurides are the three daughters of Aglauros, a Nymph, and Cecrops, snake spirit and first king of Athens:
• Aglauros: “Dweller on Tilled Land”
• Herse: “Dewfall”
• Pandrosos: “All Bedewed” or “All Bedewing”
The eldest daughter shares her name with her mother. Aglaurides means “children of Aglauros,” emphasizing their maternal lineage and indicating that they were born before Athens was dedicated to Athena, the point when children first began to be named after their fathers. They are sometimes known as the Cecropids, after their father who was famed as the first to discover the secret of paternity and insist on monogamy, at least for women.
Cecrops was a devotee of Athena; the girls tended her shrine. Athena entrusted them with a round, closed casket, asking them to guard it vigilantly and forbidding them to ever open it or look within. You know how this fairy tale goes. For a while, the Aglaurides were obedient, but finally Aglauros became too curious and peeked inside. What she saw was either:
• A snake (possibly a really big snake)
• An infant guarded by a snake
• A human/snake composite: baby on top, snake below the waist; or a snake with a human face
Herse peeked, too. Both were instantly struck mad. They leaped suicidally from the high rock that would eventually become the Acropolis. (An alternative version has them chased off the rock by the snake that emerged from the basket.) It is unclear why daughters of a snake-man would react so negatively to what was contained within Athena’s basket; perhaps some details have been omitted. Allegedly the sisters still haunt the cliffs and have been witnessed dancing near Pan’s cave.
It is theorized that the Aglaurides sisters are goddesses who actually precede Athena in the area. Their family may have initially introduced veneration of Athena, who was then a snake goddess. The story of the girls’ suicide may refer to Athena’s transition to Olympian spirit and her banishing of the earlier facets of her personality and veneration.
Aglauros; Arachne; Athena; Erichtonios; Medusa; Pallas; Pan