One morning while the king and his wise men were sitting together in the market place and planning how to make, the town become a rich, strong city, two strangers were seen in the street. Nobody could tell how they came there. The guard at the gate had not seen them; and no man had ever dared to climb the narrow footway without his leave. But there the two strangers stood. One was a man, the other a woman; and they were so tall, and their faces were so grand and noble, that those who saw them stood still and wondered and said not a word.
The man had a robe of purple and green wrapped round his body, and he bore in one hand a strong staff with three sharp spear points at one end. The woman was not beautiful, but she had wonderful gray eyes; and in one hand she carried a spear and in the other a shield of curious workmanship.
“What is the name of this town?” asked the man.
The people stared at him in wonder, and hardly understood his meaning. Then an old man answered and said, “It has no name. We who live on this hill used to be called Cranae; but since King Cecrops came, we have been so busy that we have had no time to think of names.”
“Where is this King Cecrops?” asked the woman.
“He is in the market place with the wise men,” was the answer.
“Lead us to him at once,” said the man.
When Cecrops saw the two strangers coming into the market place, he stood up and waited for them to speak. The man spoke first:
“I am Neptune,” said he, “and I rule the sea.”
“And I am Athena,” said the woman, “and I give wisdom to men.”
“I hear that you are planning to make your town become a great city,” said Neptune, “and I have come to help you. Give my name to the place, and let me be your protector and patron, and the wealth of the whole world shall be yours. Ships from every land shall bring you merchandise and gold and silver; and you shall be the masters of the sea.”
“My uncle makes you fair promises,” said Athena; “but listen to me. Give my name to your city, and let me be your patron, and I will give you that which gold cannot buy: I will teach you how to do a thousand things of which you now know nothing. I will make your city my favorite home, and I will give you wisdom that shall sway the minds and hearts of all men until the end of time.”
The king bowed, and turned to the people, who had all crowded into the market place. “Which of these mighty ones shall we elect to be the protector and patron of our city?” he asked. “Neptune offers us wealth; Athena promises us wisdom. Which shall we choose?”
“Neptune and wealth!” cried many.
“Athena and wisdom!” cried as many others.
At last when it was plain that the people could not agree, an old man whose advice was always heeded stood up and said:
“These mighty ones have only given us promises, and they have promised things of which we are ignorant. For who among us knows what wealth is or what wisdom is? Now, if they would only give us some real gift, right now and right here, which we can see and handle, we should know better how to choose.”