Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Autochthones

AUTOCHTHONES, in Greek Mythology, the first human beings who appeared in the world, and who, as their name implies, were believed to have sprung from the earth itself. Instead of one pair as the first parents of the whole race, each district of Greece had its own autochthones, who, according to the prominent physical features of the neigh bourhood, were supposed to have been produced from trees, rocks, or marshy places, the most peculiar, and apparently the most widely-spread belief being that which traced the origin of mankind to the otherwise unproductive rocks. Whether the first appearance of mankind was regarded as having been simultaneous in the various districts or not, at what time or times such appearance was made with refer ence, for example, to the origin of the gods who also had sprung from the earth (Pindar, Nem. vi. 1 ; Hesiod, Works and Days, 108), and whether the first men possessed the full human form, are questions which there is no material to answer satisfactorily. On the last point it is to be observed that Erysichthon at Athens was said to have had legs in the form of serpents, and that this is taken to denote his origination from a marshy place. Similarly the earth-born giants, who made war against the gods, had legs in the form of serpents. In Thebes, the race of Sparti were believed to have sprung from a field sown with dragons teeth. The Phrygian Corybantes had been forced out of the hill-side like trees by Rhea, the great mother, and hence were called SevSpo^uets, But whatever the primitive form of men was believed to have been, it is clear from ^Eschylus (Prometheus, 447, foil.) that they were supposed to have at first lived like animals in caves and woods, till by the help of the gods and heroes they were raised to a stage of civilisation. The practice of describing legendary heroes and men of ancient lineage as " earth- born/ y^yevct?, strengthened greatly the doctrine of autochthony, and nowhere so much as in Attica.