The conflict between Athens and Eleusis was brutal. The Eleusinians, under the command of Eumolpus, son of Poseidon and legendary king of Thrace, were about to invade, and nothing seemed able to stop them. The Athenians received an oracle from Delphi that Athens would prevail only if King Erechtheus sacrificed his daughter. Erechtheus had six daughters, collectively known as the Maidens: Protogenea, Pandora, Procris, Creusa, Oreithyia, and Chthonia. Since the oracle failed to specify which daughter should lose her life, the decision was left to the king. But the girls had ideas of their own and swore an oath among themselves that if one were sacrificed, the rest would commit suicide. Eventually, Chthonia gave her life for her country, and two of her sisters hurled themselves from the Acropolis: Protogenea and Pandora. The others were unable to follow their example for various reasons. Boreas had abducted Oreithyia, Procris was married to Cephalus, and Creusa was still a baby. The Athenians defeated the Eleusinians, even though Erechtheus himself also lost his life, struck by Poseidon’s thunderbolt. As for his daughters, their souls did not descend into Hades but rose into the sky after an intervention by goddess Athena who wished to honour their sacrifice. They also received annual sacrifices and dances and the first fruits of battle.
Boreas and Oreithyia, Evelyn De Morgan, 1896, painting, De Morgan Collection © De Morgan Foundation