by Paige Sellers
Poseidon is a god of many names. He is most famous as the god of the sea. The son of Cronus and Rhea, Poseidon is one of six siblings who eventually "divided the power of the world." His brothers and sisters include: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Zeus. The division of the universe involved him and his brothers, Zeus and Hades. Poseidon became ruler of the sea, Zeus ruled the sky, and Hades got the underworld. The other divinities attributed to Poseidon involve the god of earthquakes and the god of horses. The symbols associated with Poseidon include: dolphins, tridents, and three-pronged fish spears.
Poseidon was relied upon by sailors for a safe voyage on the sea. Many men drowned horses in sacrifice of his honor. He lived on the ocean floor in a palace made of coral and gems, and drove a chariot pulled by horses. However, Poseidon was a very moody divinity, and his temperament could sometimes result in violence. When he was in a good mood, Poseidon created new lands in the water and a calm sea. In contrast, when he was in a bad mood, Poseidon would strike the ground with a trident and cause unruly springs and earthquakes, ship wrecks, and drownings.
Poseidon was similar to his brother Zeus in exerting his power on women and in objectifying masculinity. He had many love affairs and fathered numerous children. Poseidon once married a Nereid, Amphitrite, and produced Triton who was half-human and half-fish. He also impregnated the Gorgon Medusa to conceive Chrysaor and Pegasus, the flying horse. The rape of Aethra by Poseidon resulted in the birth of Theseus; and he turned Caeneus into a man, at her request, after raping her. Another rape involved Amymone when she tried to escape from a satyr and Poseidon saved her. Other offspring of Poseidon include: Eumolpus, the Giant Sinis, Polyphemus, Orion, King Amycus, Proteus, Agenor and Belus from Europa, Pelias, and the King of Egypt, Busiris.
One of the most notorious love affairs of Poseidon involves his sister, Demeter. Poseidon pursued Demeter and to avoid him she turned herself into a mare. In his lust for her, Poseidon transformed himself into a stallion and captured her. Their procreation resulted in a horse, Arion. Poseidon is Greek for "Husband" (possibly of wheat), and therefore it is thought that he and Demeter (goddess of wheat) are a good match because they reign as the god and goddess of fertility.
Another infamous story of Poseidon involves the competition between him and the goddess of war, Athena, for the city of Athens. To win the people of the city over, Poseidon threw a spear at the ground and produced the Spring at the Acropolis. However, Athena won as the result of giving the people of Athens the olive tree. In his anger over the decision, Poseidon flooded the Attic Plain. Eventually, Athena and Poseidon worked together by combining their powers. Even though Poseidon was the god of horses, Athena built the first chariot. Athena also built the first ship to sail on the sea over which Poseidon ruled.
Poseidon often used his powers of earthquakes, water, and horses to inflict fear and punishment on people as revenge. Though he could be difficult and assert his powers over the gods and mortals, Poseidon could be cooperative and it was he who helped the Greeks during the Trojan War. Poseidon is an essential character in the study of Greek mythology.
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This article is about the Greek god. For other uses, see Poseidon (disambiguation) or Neptune (disambiguation).
Neptune reigns in the city centre, Bristol, formerly the largest port in England outside London.
In Greek mythology, Poseidon (Greek: Ποσειδών) was the god of the sea, as well as horses and, as "Earth-Shaker", of earthquakes. He figured as Rodon in Illyrian, Nethuns in Etruscan, and Neptune in Roman mythology.
In Mycenean culture, Poseidon's importance was greater than that of Zeus. At Pylos he is the chief god, if surviving Linear B clay tablets can be trusted; the name PO-SE-DA-WO-NE (Poseidon) occurs with greater frequency than does DI-U-JA (Zeus). A feminine variant, PO-SE-DE-IA, is also found, indicating the existence of a now-forgotten consort goddess. Tablets from Pylos record sacrificial goods destined for "the Two Queens and Poseidon" and to "the Two Queens and the King". The most obvious identification for the "Two Queens" is with Demeter and Persephone, or their precursors, goddesses who were not associated with Poseidon in later periods. Poseidon is already identified as "Earth-Shaker"— E-NE-SI-DA-O-NE— in Mycenaean Knossos , a powerful attribute where earthquakes had accompanied the collapse of the Minoan palace-culture. In the heavily sea-dependent Mycenean culture, no connection between Poseidon and the sea has yet surfaced; among the Olympians it was determined by lot that he should rule over the sea (Hesiod, Theogony 456): the god preceded his realm.
Demeter and Poseidon's names are linked in one Pylos tablet, where they appear as PO-SE-DA-WO-NE and DA-MA-TE, in the context of sacralized lot-casting. In one etymology , the 'DA' element in each of their names would be connected to a Proto-Indo-European root relating to distribution of land and honors (compare Latin dare "to give"), thus 'Poseidon' would mean something like "distribution-lord" or "husband of the distributor", to match 'Damater' "distribution-mother". Walter Burkert finds that "the second element da- remains hopelessly ambiguous" and finds a "husband of Earth" reading "quite impossible to prove" (Burkert 1985 III.2.3).
Given Poseidon's connection with horses as well as the sea, and the landlocked situation of the likely Indo-European homeland, some scholars have proposed that Poseidon was originally an aristocratic horse-god who was then assimilated to Near Eastern aquatic deities when the basis of the Greek livelihood shifted from the land to the sea.
In any case, the early all-importance of Poseidon can still be glimpsed in Homer's Odyssey, where Poseidon rather than Zeus is the major mover of events.
Neptune's horses, by Walter Crane
In the historical period, Poseidon was often referred to by the epithets Enosichthon, Seischthon and Ennosigaios, all meaning "earth-shaker" and referring to his role in causing earthquakes. Poseidon was a major civic god of several cities: in Athens, he was second only to Athena in importance; while in Corinth and many cities of Magna Graecia he was the chief god of the polis.
According to Pausanias, Poseidon was one of the caretakers of the Oracle at Delphi before Olympian Apollo took it over. Apollo and Poseidon worked closely in many realms: in colonization, for example, Apollo provided the authorization to go out and settle from Delphi, while Poseidon watched over the colonists on their way, and provided the lustral water for the foundation-sacrifice. Xenophon's Anabasis describes a groups of Spartan soldiers singing to Poseidon a paean - a kind of hymn normally sung for Apollo.
Like Dionysus and the Maenads, Poseidon also caused certain forms of mental disturbance. One Hippocratic text says that he was blamed for certain types of epilepsy.
Homeric Hymn to Poseidon
The hymn to Poseidon included among the Homeric Hymns is a brief invocation, a seven-line introduction that addresses the god as both "mover of the earth and barren sea, god of the deep who is also lord of Helicon and wide Aegae, and specificies his two-fold nature as an Olympian: "a tamer of horses and a saviour of ships."
Role in society
Sailors prayed to Poseidon for a safe voyage, sometimes drowning horses as a sacrifice. In his benign aspect, Poseidon created new islands and offered calm seas. When offended or ignored, he struck the ground with his trident and caused chaotic springs, earthquakes, drownings and shipwrecks.
Poseidon's chariot was pulled by a hippocampus or horses that could ride on the sea. He was associated with dolphins and three-pronged fish spears (tridents).
He lived in a palace on the ocean floor, made of coral and gems.
Neptune was worshiped by the Romans primarily as a horse god, Neptune Equester, patron of horse-racing. He had a temple near the race tracks in Rome (built in 25 BC), the Circus Flaminius, as well as one in the Campus Martius, where on July 23, the Neptunalia was observed.
Birth and childhood
Poseidon was a son of Cronus and Rhea. Like his brothers and sisters, Poseidon was swallowed by his father. He was regurgitated only after Zeus forced Cronus to vomit up the infants he had eaten. Zeus and his brothers and sisters, along with the Hecatonchires, Gigantes and Cyclopes overthrew Cronus and the other Titans. According to other variants, Poseidon was raised by the Telchines on Rhodes, just as Zeus was raised by the Korybantes on Crete.
When the world was divided in three, Zeus received the earth and sky, Hades the underworld and Poseidon the sea.
Mosaic from Herculaneum depicting Neptune and Amphitrite
His wife was Amphitrite, a nymph and ancient sea-goddess, daughter of Nereus and Doris.
Poseidon fell in love with Pelops, a beautiful youth, son of Tantalus. He took Pelops up to Olympus and made him his lover, even before Zeus did the same with Ganymede. To thank Pelops for his love, Poseidon later gave him a winged chariot, to use in the race against Oenomaus for the hand of Hippodamia.
Poseidon was also thought to have raped Aethra thus fathering the famed Theseus.
In an archaic myth, Poseidon once pursued Demeter. She spurned his advances, turning herself into a mare so that she could hide in a flock of horses; he saw through the deception and became a stallion and captured her. Their child was a horse, Arion, which was capable of human speech.
Poseidon had an affair with Alope, his granddaughter through Cercyon, begetting Hippothoon. Cercyon had his daughter buried alive but Poseidon turned her into the spring, Alope, near Eleusis.
Poseidon rescued Amymone from a lecherous satyr and then fathered a child, Nauplius, by her.
A mortal woman named Tyro was married to Cretheus (with whom she had one son, Aeson) but loved Enipeus, a river god. She pursued Enipeus, who refused her advances. One day, Poseidon, filled with lust for Tyro, disguised himself as Enipeus and from their union was born Pelias and Neleus, twin boys.
With Medusa, Poseidon had sexual intercourse on the floor of a temple to Athena. Medusa was changed into a monster. When she was later beheaded by the hero Perseus, Chrysaor and Pegasus emerged from her neck.
After having sex with Caeneus, Poseidon fulfilled her request and changed her into a man.
The Greek and Roman view of the world's hydrologic cycle made Poseidon/Neptune a god of fresh waters as well; thus he was an appropriate fountain figure, as here in Berlin.
Athena became the patron goddess of the city of Athens after a competition with Poseidon. They agreed that each would give the Athenians one gift and the Athenians would choose whichever gift they preferred. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and a spring sprung up; the water was salty and not very useful, whereas Athena offered them an olive tree. The Athenians (or their king, Cecrops) accepted the olive tree and along with it Athena as their patron, for the olive tree brought wood, oil and food. This is thought to remember a clash between the inhabitants during Mycenaean times and newer immigrants. It is interesting to note that Athens at its height was a significant sea power, at one point defeating the Persian fleet at Salamis Island in a sea battle. Another version of the myth says that Poseidon gave horses to Athens
Poseidon and Apollo, having offended Zeus, were sent to serve King Laomedon. He had them build huge walls around the city and promised to reward them well, a promise he then refused to fulfill. In vengeance, before the Trojan War, Poseidon sent a sea monster to attack Troy (it was later killed by Heracles).
In the Iliad Poseidon favors the Greeks, and on several occasion takes an active part in the battle against the Trojan forces. However, in Book XX he rescues Aeneas after the Trojan prince is laid low by Achilles.
In the Odyssey, Poseidon is notable for his hatred of Odysseus due to the latter's having blinded the god's son Polyphemus. The enmity of Poseidon prevents Odysseus's return home to Ithaca for many years. Odysseus is even told, notwithstanding his ultimate safe return, that to placate the wrath of Poseidon will require one more voyage on his part.
In the Aeneid, Neptune is still resentful of the wandering Trojans, but is not as vindictive as Juno, and in Book I he rescues the Trojan fleet from the goddess's attempts to wreck it, although his primary motivation for doing this is his annoyance at Juno's having intruded into his domain.