|God of the sea, earthquakes, soil, storms, and horses|
|Abode||Mount Olympus, or the Sea|
|Symbol||Trident, fish, dolphin, horse and bull|
|Consort||Amphitrite, Aphrodite, Demeter, and various others|
Theseus, Triton, Polyphemus, Orion, Belus, Agenor, Neleus, |
Atlas (the first king of Atlantis)
|Parents||Cronus and Rhea|
|Siblings||Hades, Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Zeus, Chiron|
Poseidon (;Greek: , pronounced [pose?ed?n]) was one of the Twelve Olympians in ancient Greek religion and myth. He was god of the Sea and other waters; of earthquakes; and of horses. In pre-Olympian Bronze Age Greece, he was venerated as a chief deity at Pylos and Thebes.
Poseidon was protector of seafarers, and of many Hellenic cities and colonies. In Homer's Iliad, Poseidon supports the Greeks against the Trojans during the Trojan War. In the Odyssey, during the sea-voyage from Troy back home to Ithaca, the Greek hero Odysseus provokes Poseidon's fury by blinding his son the Cyclops Polyphemus, resulting in Poseidon punishing him with storms, the complete loss of his ship and companions, and a ten-year delay. Poseidon is also the subject of a Homeric hymn. In Plato's Timaeus and Critias, the island of Atlantis was Poseidon's domain. His Roman equivalent is Neptune.
The earliest attested occurrence of the name, written in Linear B, is ? Po-se-da-o or Po-se-da-wo-ne, which correspond to (Poseida?n) and (Poseidawonos) in Mycenean Greek; in Homeric Greek it appears as (Poseida?n); in Aeolic as (Poteida?n); and in Doric as (Poteidan), (Poteida?n), and (Poteidas). The form ? (Poteidawon) appears in Corinth. A common epithet of Poseidon is Enosichthon, "Earth-shaker", an epithet which is also identified in Linear B, as , E-ne-si-da-o-ne, This recalls his later epithets Ennosidas and Ennosigaios indicating the chthonic nature of Poseidon.
The origins of the name "Poseidon" are unclear. One theory breaks it down into an element meaning "husband" or "lord" (Greek (posis), from PIE *pótis) and another element meaning "earth" ( (da), Doric for (g?)), producing something like lord or spouse of Da, i.e. of the earth; this would link him with Demeter, "Earth-mother".Walter Burkert finds that "the second element da- remains hopelessly ambiguous" and finds a "husband of Earth" reading "quite impossible to prove."
Another theory interprets the second element as related to the word * dâwon, "water"; this would make *Posei-daw?n into the master of waters. There is also the possibility that the word has Pre-Greek origin.Plato in his dialogue Cratylus gives two alternative etymologies: either the sea restrained Poseidon when walking as a "foot-bond" (?), or he "knew many things" ( ? or ).
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 a lost consort goddess, in effect the precursor of Amphitrite. Poseidon carries frequently the title wa-na-ka (wanax) in Linear B inscriptions, as king of the underworld. The chthonic nature of Poseidon-Wanax is also indicated by his title E-ne-si-da-o-ne in Mycenean Knossos and Pylos, a powerful attribute (earthquakes had accompanied the collapse of the Minoan palace-culture). In the cave of Amnisos (Crete) Enesidaon is related with the cult of Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth. She was related with the annual birth of the divine child. During the Bronze Age, a goddess of nature, dominated both in Minoan and Mycenean cult, and Wanax (wa-na-ka) was her male companion (paredros) in Mycenean cult. It is possible that Demeter appears as Da-ma-te in a Linear B inscription (PN EN 609), however the interpretetion is still under dispute.
In Linear B inscriptions found at Pylos, E-ne-si-da-o-ne is related with Poseidon, and Si-to Po-tini-ja is probably related with Demeter. Tablets from Pylos record sacrificial goods destined for "the Two Queens and Poseidon" ("to the Two Queens and the King": wa-na-soi, wa-na-ka-te). The "Two Queens" may be related with Demeter and Persephone, or their precursors, goddesses who were not associated with Poseidon in later periods.
The illuminating exception is the archaic and localised myth of the stallion Poseidon and mare Demeter at Phigalia in isolated and conservative Arcadia, noted by Pausanias (2nd century AD) as having fallen into desuetude; the stallion Poseidon pursues the mare-Demeter, and from the union she bears the horse Arion, and a daughter (Despoina), who obviously had the shape of a mare too. The violated Demeter was Demeter Erinys (furious) . In Arcadia, Demeter's mare-form was worshiped into historical times. Her xoanon of Phigaleia shows how the local cult interpreted her, as goddess of nature. A Medusa type with a horse's head with snaky hair, holding a dove and a dolphin, probably representing her power over air and water.
It seems that the Arcadian myth is related with the first Greek speaking people who entered the region during the Bronze Age. (Linear B represents an archaic Greek dialect). Their religious beliefs were mixed with the beliefs of the indigenous population. It is possible that the Greeks did not bring with them other gods except Zeus, Eos, and the Dioskouroi. The horse (numina) was related with the liquid element, and with the underworld. Poseidon appears as a beast (horse), which is the river spirit of the underworld, as it usually happens in northern-European folklore, and not unusually in Greece. Poseidon "Wanax", is the male companion (paredros) of the goddess of nature. In the relative Minoan myth, Pasiphaë is mating with the white bull, and she bears the hybrid creature Minotaur. The Bull was the old pre-Olympian Poseidon. The goddess of nature and her paredros survived in the Eleusinian cult, where the following words were uttered : " Mighty Potnia bore a strong son"
In the heavily sea-dependent Mycenaean culture, there is not sufficient evidence that Poseidon was connected with the sea. We do not know if "Posedeia" was a sea-goddess. Homer and Hesiod suggest that Poseidon became lord of the sea following the defeat of his father Kronos, when the world was divided by lot among his three sons; Zeus was given the sky, Hades the underworld, and Poseidon the sea, with the Earth and Mount Olympus belonging to all three. Given Poseidon's connection with horses as well as the sea, and the landlocked situation of the likely Indo-European homeland, Nobuo Komita has proposed that Poseidon was originally an aristocratic Indo-European 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, or a god of fresh waters who was assigned a secondary role as god of the sea, where he overwhelmed the original Aegean sea deities such as Proteus and Nereus. Conversely, Walter Burkert suggests that the Hellene cult worship of Poseidon as a horse god may be connected to the introduction of the horse and war-chariot from Anatolia to Greece around 1600 BC.
It is almost sure that once Poseidon was worshiped as a horse, and this is evident by his cult in Peloponnesos. However he was originally a god of the waters, and therefore he became the "earth-shaker", because the Greeks believed that the cause of the earthquakes was the erosion of the rocks by the waters, by the rivers who they saw to disappear into the earth and then to burst out again. This is what the natural philosophers Thales, Anaximenes and Aristotle believed, which could not be different from the folklore belief. Later, when the Myceneans travelled along the sea, he was assigned a role as god of the sea.
In his benign aspect, Poseidon was seen as creating new islands and offering calm seas. When offended or ignored, he supposedly struck the ground with his trident and caused chaotic springs, earthquakes, drownings and shipwrecks. Sailors prayed to Poseidon for a safe voyage, sometimes drowning horses as a sacrifice; in this way, according to a fragmentary papyrus, Alexander the Great paused at the Syrian seashore before the climactic battle of Issus, and resorted to prayers, "invoking Poseidon the sea-god, for whom he ordered a four-horse chariot to be cast into the waves."
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, Delphic Apollo provided the authorization to go out and settle, while Poseidon watched over the colonists on their way, and provided the lustral water for the foundation-sacrifice. Xenophon's Anabasis describes a group of Spartan soldiers in 400-399 BC singing to Poseidon a paean--a kind of hymn normally sung for Apollo.
Like Dionysus, who inflamed the maenads, Poseidon also caused certain forms of mental disturbance. A Hippocratic text of ca 400 BC, On the Sacred Disease says that he was blamed for certain types of epilepsy.
Poseidon was known in various guises, denoted by epithets. In the town of Aegae in Euboea, he was known as Poseidon Aegaeus and had a magnificent temple upon a hill. Poseidon also had a close association with horses, known under the epithet Poseidon Hippios, usually in Arcadia. He is more often regarded as the tamer of horses, but in some myths he is their father, either by spilling his seed upon a rock or by mating with a creature who then gave birth to the first horse. He was closely related with the springs, and with the strike of his trident, he created springs. Many springs like Hippocrene and Aganippe in Helikon are related with the word horse (hippos). (also Glukippe, Hyperippe). In the historical period, Poseidon was often referred to by the epithets Enosichthon, Seisichthon and Ennosigaios, and Gai?ochos all meaning "earth-shaker" and referring to his role in causing earthquakes.
Some other epithets of Poseidon are:
Poseidon was the second son of titans Cronus and Rhea. In most accounts he is swallowed by Cronus at birth but later saved, with his other brothers and sisters, by Zeus. However, in some versions of the story, he, like his brother Zeus, did not share the fate of his other brother and sisters who were eaten by Cronus. He was saved by his mother Rhea, who concealed him among a flock of lambs and pretended to have given birth to a colt, which she gave to Cronus to devour.
According to John Tzetzes the kourotrophos, or nurse of Poseidon was Arne, who denied knowing where he was, when Cronus came searching; according to Diodorus Siculus Poseidon was raised by the Telchines on Rhodes, just as Zeus was raised by the Korybantes on Crete.
According to a single reference in the Iliad, when the world was divided by lot in three, Zeus received the sky, Hades the underworld and Poseidon the sea. In the Odyssey (v.398), Poseidon has a home in Aegae.
Athena became the patron goddess of the city of Athens after a competition with Poseidon. Yet Poseidon remained a numinous presence on the Acropolis in the form of his surrogate, Erechtheus. At the dissolution festival at the end of the year in the Athenian calendar, the Skira, the priests of Athena and the priest of Poseidon would process under canopies to Eleusis. 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 sprang 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. After the fight, infuriated at his loss, Poseidon sent a monstrous flood to the Attic Plain, to punish the Athenians for not choosing him. The depression made by Poseidon's trident and filled with salt water was surrounded by the northern hall of the Erechtheum, remaining open to the air. "In cult, Poseidon was identified with Erechtheus," Walter Burkert noted; "the myth turns this into a temporal-causal sequence: in his anger at losing, Poseidon led his son Eumolpus against Athens and killed Erectheus."
The contest of Athena and Poseidon was the subject of the reliefs on the western pediment of the Parthenon, the first sight that greeted the arriving visitor.
This myth is construed by Robert Graves and others as reflecting a clash between the inhabitants during Mycenaean times and newer immigrants. Athens at its height was a significant sea power, at one point defeating the Persian fleet at Salamis Island in a sea battle.
Poseidon and Apollo, having offended Zeus by their rebellion in Hera's scheme, were temporarily stripped of their divine authority and sent to serve King Laomedon of Troy. 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. The monster was later killed by Heracles.
Poseidon was said to have had many lovers of both sexes (see expandable list below). His consort was Amphitrite, a nymph and ancient sea-goddess, daughter of Nereus and Doris. Together they had a son named Triton, a merman.
Poseidon was the father of many heroes. He is thought to have fathered the famed Theseus.
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 were born the heroes Pelias and Neleus, twin boys. Poseidon also had an affair with Alope, his granddaughter through Cercyon, his son and King of Eleusis, begetting the Attic hero Hippothoon. Cercyon had his daughter buried alive but Poseidon turned her into the spring, Alope, near Eleusis.
A mortal woman named Cleito once lived on an isolated island; Poseidon fell in love with the human mortal and created a dwelling sanctuary at the top of a hill near the middle of the island and surrounded the dwelling with rings of water and land to protect her. She gave birth to five sets of twin boys; the firstborn, Atlas, became the first ruler of Atlantis.
Not all of Poseidon's children were human. In an archaic myth, Poseidon once pursued Demeter. She spurned his advances, turning herself into a mare so that she could hide in a herd 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 also had sexual intercourse with Medusa on the floor of a temple to Athena. Medusa was then changed into a monster by Athena. When she was later beheaded by the hero Perseus, Chrysaor and Pegasus emerged from her neck.
In Plato's myth of Atlantis, Poseidon consorted with Cleito, daughter of the autochthons Evenor and Leucippe, and had by her ten sons: Ampheres, Atlas, Autochthon, Azaes, Diaprepes, Elasippus, Euaemon, Eumelus (Gadeirus), Mestor, Mneseus.
|Poseidon's family tree |
In Greek art, Poseidon rides a chariot that was pulled by a hippocampus or by 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.
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 who blinded the god's son, the cyclops 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.
A 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 specifies his twofold nature as an Olympian: "a tamer of horses and a saviour of ships."
Poseidon appears in Percy Jackson and the Olympians as the father of Percy Jackson and Tyson the Cyclops. He also appears in the ABC television series Once Upon a Time as the guest star of the second half of season four played by Ernie Hudson. In this version, Poseidon is portrayed as the father of the Sea Witch Ursula.
Bibliography of reconstruction:
Bibliography of reconstruction: