In Greek Mythology, Poseidon Ποσειδών;) was the god of the sea, known to the Romans as Neptune, and to the Etruscans as Nethuns. He was also the god of earthquakes and horses.
In the heavily sea-dependent Mycenean culture, Poseidon's importance dwarfed that of Zeus, if the extant Linear B 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 goddess to match the god. Tablets from Pylos record sacrificial goods destined for "the Two Queens and Poseidon" and to "the Two Queens and the King", compounding the mystery further. The most obvious identification for the "Two Queens" is with Demeter and Persephone (or some predecessors thereof), who are not associated with Poseidon in historical times.
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. The 'DA' element in each of their names is seemingly connected to an 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".
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 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.
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 Poseidon a paean - a kind of hymn normally sung for Apollo.
Sailors prayed to Poseidon for a safe voyage, sometimes drowning horses as a sacrifice.
Role in society
When in a good mood, Poseidon created new islands and calm seas. When in a bad mood, he struck the ground with his trident and caused chaotic springs, earthquakes, drownings and shipwrecks.
Poseidon's chariot was pulled by a hippocampus or seahorses. He was associated with dolphins, tridents and three-pronged fish spears (tridents).
He lived in a palace on the ocean floor, made of coral and gems.
Birth and Childhood
Poseidon was a son of Cronus and Rhea. Like his brothers and sisters save Zeus, 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.
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 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.
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 raping Caeneus, Poseidon fulfilled her request and changed her into a man.
Athena became the patron goddess of the city of Athens, in 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 (Greece) 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.
- With Aethra
- With Alope
- With Amphitrite
- With Amymone
- With Astypalaea
- With Canace
- With Celaeno
- With Chione
- With Chloris
- With Demeter
- With Europa
- With Euryale
- With Eurynome
- With Gaia
- With Halia
- With Hiona
- With Hippothoe
- With Libya
- With Lybie
- With Melia
- With Medusa
- With Periboea
- With Thoosa
- With Tyro
- Unknown mother
Spoken-word myths - audio files
|Poseidon myths as told by story tellers|
|1. Poseidon and Pelops, part I, (integral to Tantalus myth), read by Timothy Carter|
|Bibliography of reconstruction: Homer, Odyssey, 11.567 (7th c. BC); Pindar, Olympian Odes, 1 (476 BC); Euripides, Orestes, 12-16 (408 BC); Apollodorus, Epitomes 2: 1-9 (140 BC); Ovid, Metamorphoses, VI: 213, 458 (AD 8); Hyginus, Fables, 82: Tantalus; 83: Pelops (1st c. AD); Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.22.3 (AD 160 - 176)|
|2. Poseidon and Pelops, part II (Integral to the myth of Pelops and Hippodameia), read by Timothy Carter|
|Bibliography of reconstruction: Pindar, Olympian Ode, I (476 BC); Sophocles, (1) Electra, 504 (430 - 415 BC) & (2) Oenomaus, Fr. 433 (408 BC); Euripides, Orestes, 1024-1062 (408 BC); Apollodorus, Epitomes 2, 1-9 (140 BC); Diodorus Siculus, Histories, 4.73 (1st c. BC); Hyginus, Fables, 84: Oinomaus; Poetic Astronomy, ii (1st c. AD); Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.1.3 - 7; 5.13.1; 6.21.9; 8.14.10 - 11 (c. AD 160 - 176); Philostratus the Elder Imagines, I.30: Pelops (AD 170 - 245); Philostratus the Younger, Imagines, 9: Pelops (c. AD 200 - 245); First Vatican Mythographer, 22: Myrtilus; Atreus et Thyestes; Second Vatican Mythographer, 146: Oenomaus|