Gateway to the Classics: Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by Mary E. Burt
Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by  Mary E. Burt


How Coronis Became a Crow

It has been the impression in times past, that people sprang from the earth. That the sun shining on the earth or the rain falling there, in some mysterious way caused races of people to spring up. I suppose that is because there are so many things which do spring from the earth in unaccountable ways. Old king Cecrops was a hero so ancient, that all we know of him is, that he was said to have sprung from the earth in the form of a snake, and that a high hill (the Acropolis) is named after him; and, further, it was during his reign that Poseidon and Athena contested the naming of Athens, which before that had been called Cecropia. Cecrops had three daughters, whose names all showed that they were really drops of dew. Whenever it is very warm and the ground is moist, great numbers of snakes and worms are found, and there is apt to be dewdrops every morning.

After Cecrops died, there came another king. He was a huge snake and sprang from the ground. The Earth was said to be his mother, and the God of Fire his father, and he might have died only that the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, saved him. She wove a basket of twigs and bulrushes (perhaps you can go to a swamp and find such a basket), and concealed the snake-like baby in it, and gave it to the three maidens, the dew-drops by name and nature, to care for, and she told them not to pry into its secrets but to keep the basket closed.

Another maiden whose name was Coronis, was hiding in the bushes when the dew-maidens took the basket. Coronis was a very bright creature. Her face shone like a golden sunbeam, and she seemed to be crowned with light. Coronis was beloved of the goddess Athena, and she served her whenever she could. So she stood in the hiding-place and watched the three maidens who had the basket to see what they would do. She suspected that they would be too curious to keep the basket closed.

Sure enough they peeped in, at least two of them did, and when they saw the snaky child they were so frightened that they ran and threw themselves into the sea. Now the dewy maidens and the sea are mysteriously related, and the ocean god was very angry when he found that his relatives were watched by Coronis. He found out, too, that she had gone to Athena and told that goddess that the maidens had opened the basket.

So he pretended to love Coronis, and he begged her to throw herself into the water that he might carry her about in his great arms, and give her a beautiful home. But Coronis was afraid of him and fled, and he rose in anger and pursued her with his great waves, hoping to drown her in the boiling waters. Coronis ran as fast as she could, but he had almost captured her, when she threw up her arms in a beseeching manner to the Goddess of Wisdom and begged to be saved. Athena, seeing her danger, looked with mercy upon her. The arms of Coronis began to be covered with feathers. Her garments became black and took root in her flesh.

She was lifted up from the ground and began to fly into the heavens, and was seated on Athena's right hand. She had become a crow, and there she sat and chattered to her heart's content. Her punishment is that she must always tell tales and be black.

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