Poseidon, The Olympian God of The Sea

Poseidon is one of the Olympians. He is the Greek god of the sea, storms, earthquakes, and horses. Poseidon was one of the two brothers of Zeus and the oldest Greek deity of the waters. He took control of the sea after the Olympians won Titanomachy. He was described as violent, ill-tempered, and hot-blooded as he had many disputes with gods and men. His main symbol and weapon is the trident. 

Key Facts

Family tree

ParentsCronus and Rhea
Partner(s)Amphitrite, Aphrodite, Demeter
SiblingsHestia, Hades, Hera, Zeus, Demeter, and Chiron
OffspringTheseus, Triton, Polyphemus, Orion, Belus, Agenor, Neleus, Atlas, Pegasus, Chrysaor, Cymopolea

Names

Roman NameNeptune
Other NamesPosidon
Ancient GreekΠοσειδῶν
The God ofSea, storms, earthquakes, and horses
SymbolsTrident, fish, dolphin, horse, bull

Poseidon’s Origins 

As attested by an archaic Greek dialect, Linear B inscriptions, Poseidon is a deity dating back to the Bronze Age and Mycenean civilization. He was one of the most significant gods of Mycenae. They probably had excellent navigational skills because Poseidon had given them to them.

Poseidon
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Poseidon appears to have features based on an indigenous, pre-Greek Indo-European god named Potis. The Greek-speaking people, who entered Arcadia back in the Bronze age, mixed their religious beliefs with the beliefs of the indigenous people. So, Poseidon has features described in northern-European folklore. One of these features is that he appears to be a beast, looks like a horse, is related to the liquid element, and is presented as the underworld’s river spirit.

In later Greek mythology, Poseidon was one of the sons of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. Like all his siblings except Zeus, he was swallowed by his father, as Cronus feared being dethroned by his children. However, when Zeus reached maturity, he made Cronus cough back up all his siblings, including Poseidon. 

He was one of the strongest Olympian gods. As such, he had an essential role in the Titanomachy, the battle for taking control of the universe between the Titans and the Olympians. After the Olympians’ victorious outcome, Poseidon and his two brothers, Zeus and Hades, reigned over the sea, the sky, and the underworld, respectively. 

Underneath the sea, Poseidon stayed in beautiful golden mansions, while his palace had the god’s stables of fine white horses located near Aegae in Euboea. 

The Lovers of Poseidon

Poseidon had many lovers, like his brother Zeus, both females and males. Some of these love affairs were mutual, while in others, he didn’t precisely have the consent of his love interest. They were a good mix of both mortals and immortals. Amphitrite, Demeter, Aphrodite, Medusa, Alcyone, Patroclus, Pelops, Cleito, Nerites, Larisa, Libya, and  Euryale are the most known.

Amphitrite

Amphitrite was a Nereid, Oceanid, and Poseidons’ official consort and wife. She was the mother figure of seals, dolphins, and many sea monsters. She was respected as a queen along with Poseidon, as different portrayals show her standing next to him on his chariot or his throne. 

They first met in Naxos when Amphitrite was dancing with her sisters, the Nereids. For Poseidon, it was love at first sight, but in some versions of the story, Amphitrite didn’t want him as her lover, so she fled from him. Poseidon then sent a dolphin to chase her and make her change her opinion. 

At last, Amphitrite returned, and she became queen. The dolphin became a constellation as a reward for his service. As one can assume, Poseidon wasn’t faithful to his wife, but they didn’t seem to have many conflicts about this matter.

Demeter

Demeter is one of the original six Olympians, one of the daughters of Cronus and Rhea, and Poseidon’s sister. Regardless of being Poseidon’s sister, he desired her. However, Demeter didn’t want him, and she didn’t like his persistence. So, to avoid his advances, she decided to transform into a mare and hid among the horses. 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t difficult for him to find her, as he was the god of horses. To not be seen by Demeter, he transformed into a stallion and captured her. While they were both horses, they mated, impregnating Demeter in the process.

After that, Demeter gave birth to Despoina, a humanoid goddess of mystery, and to Areion, who was born a black stallion. Despoina and Areion were her younger offspring, her first child being Persephone, daughter of Zeus and wife to Hades.

Aphrodite

Aphrodite is the goddess of love and beauty and niece or aunt of Poseidon, depending on different versions of mythological stories about her birth. Some of them presented Zeus as her father, while others presented Ouranos as her father.

Aphrodite was the lover of many gods, such as Hermes, Dionysus, and Ares. She was a lover of Poseidon, too. Their love affair only lasted a short time, but Poseidon was very supportive. Even after she began her tenter romantic affair with Ares, he helped them get free from a trap Hephaestus, Aphrodite’s husband, set for them.

Medusa

Medusa was, in the beginning,  a charming and beautiful young woman whom Poseidon seduced and then raped in one of Athena’s Temples. When Athena found out what happened at her temple, she was furious and transformed Medusa and her sisters into monstrous gorgons as punishment.

She had snakes instead of hair, and her gaze could turn men into stone. Unfortunately, she met an even more unfair end. Perseus, Poseidon’s nephew, killed her by slicing off her head. From her blood emerged Pegasus, the winged horse, and Chrysaor, his humanoid twin.

Alcyone and Celaeno

Alcyone was a Pleiad nymph and a daughter of the Titan Atlas and the Oceanid Pleione. She used to be a companion of the goddess of hunting, Artemis.

Poseidon and Alcyone had a mutual desire for each other, and despite Artemis’ disapproval, they started a relationship. Alcyone gave birth to many children, the number of whom remain unknown.

Another nymph of the Pleiades, Celaeno, was a lover of  Poseidon, too. 

Patroclus and Pelops

Two of the male lovers of Poseidon were Patroclus and Pelops. Patroclus was a tragic hero who fought and died in Troy. He was a great friend and lover of Achilles, but he was a lover of Poseidon, too. 

Pelops was the king of Pisa and the founder of the Pelopid dynasty at Mycenae. According to many stories, his father, Tantalus, cooked and served him to the gods, but his body was later restored. 

After this tragic incident, he started a love affair with Poseidon, who took him to heaven. However, he had to return to earth, as his father fed mortals with nectar and ambrosia. So, he couldn’t be a lover of Poseidon anymore. 

Later, when he reached adulthood, Pelops wanted to make Princess Hippodamia of Pisa his wife. Her father, Oenomaus, challenged him to a Chariot ride. Pelops desperately wanted to win this race. So, he asked  Poseidon to remember their love and support him. And he did.

Poseidon gave him winged horses as a gift, and he used them to win the race. He became king and then married Hippodamia.

Poseidon’s Offsprings 

It is well documented already that Poseidon was lustful and had a significant number of love affairs and offspring, more than even Zeus did. 

Specifically, he had three children with his wife Amphitrite they were Triton, Benthesikyme, and Eumolpus. Triton was the first merman, as he was half fish and half man, ruling the deep sea, while his sister Benthesikyme personified the waves. Eumolpus was the mythical ancestor of the priestly clan of the Eumolpids at Eleusis.

He also had two children with Medusa, Pegasus and Chrysaor. Pegasus was the winged horse that accompanied the heroes, and Chrysaor was a human who fathered the three-headed monster, Geryon.

Polyphemus
Zde, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most notorious children of Poseidon was Polyphemus. A giant cyclops, who had a huge eye in the middle of his forehead and was known as a man-eater. Moreover, he had five pairs of twins with Cleito. They were Atlas, and Eumeles, Ampheres and Evaemon, Mneseus and Autochton,  Elasippus and Mestor, and Azaes and Diaprepes.

In some texts, he was also the father of Theseus, one of the greatest heroes. Furthermore, one of his children was Cygnus, whose name means swan. His mother abandoned him on the seashore, but later, he became king of kolonai.

He was also the father of Chrysomallus, a beautiful ram with golden fleece that could fly, and of Orion, who was a very handsome giant.

Other children of Poseidon were Lamia, Busiris, Kymopoleia, Antaneus, Despoina, Arion, Bellerophon, Peratus, Otus, Ephialtes, and Charybdis.

Etymology

The Etymology of Poseidon’s name derives from the ancient Greek Linear B script. In Mycenaean Greek, his name was Ποσειδάων (Poseidaōn) and Ποσειδάϝονος (Poseidawonos).

It is not clear what the origins of the name Poseidon are. One theory insists that it means the husband of the earth or the lord of the earth from the Greek words “Ποσις” and “ δα.” However, Robert S. P. Beekes emphasizes that there is no word “δα,” which means earth, in the Etymological Dictionary of Greek. Although, this word does appear in the  Linear B inscription E-ne-si-da-o-ne, “earth-shaker.”

Another theory suggests that it derives from the words “Ποσις” and  “δᾶϝον,” which means water. This second element derives from the Proto-Indo-European *dah₂- “water” or *dʰenh₂- “to run, flow. So, in this theory, Poseidon means the monster of the sea or the lord of the sea.

Plato gave the other two possible etymologies. The first one was that Poseidon derives from the words “foot-bond” (ποσίδεσμον), which means that the sea restrained Poseidon when he was walking. The second one was that Poseidon derives from the words “πολλά εἰδότος,” which would mean that he was very knowledgeable. .

Roles and Responsibilities

As one of the strongest gods, Poseidon had many roles and responsibilities. This is attested by the epithet Eurykleion or Eurymedon that he had, which means wide-ruling. 

Poseidon’s epithets, such as Gaieochos or Seisichton, suggest that he could cause earthquakes. Still, he could also be a protector against them, as he had the epithets Themeliouchos and Asphaleios, too. 

Another epithet that indicates one of Poseidon’s roles is Kymothales, meaning ” abounding with waves”. He was regarded as holding sway over the sea. Moreover, he has the epithet Damaios, which means that he was the taker of the horses and the tender of horses Hippokourios at Sparta.

Greeks also gave him the epithet Krenouchos, “ruler of the springs’, and Nymphagetes, which indicates that he was the leader of the nymphs. 

He could also be the father of a race or a brotherhood, based on his epithets Genesis and Phatrios. Moreover, he had the epithet Epoptes and Emphylios, which means that he was a watcher at the gate at Thebes. 

Poseidon’s sacred animals and plants

The sacred animals of Poseidon were the horse, the dolphin, and the Cretan bull. The horse was the symbol of bravery and beauty. He transformed into a horse, especially when he wanted to seduce a woman. Many of his children were horses; the best-known was Pegasus, the winged horse. 

Along with the dolphin, there seem to be other fish as sacred animals of Poseidon, such as a winged Hippocampus (Sea horse), which one can see in the Trevi Fountain in Rome. 

Poseidon hippocampus
Rijksmuseum, via Wikimedia Commons

Moreover, the Cretan bull was one of his holy animals and a symbol of an entire civilization, the Minoan civilization. He sent it to the king of Creta, Minos, and made his wife, Pasiphae, fall in love with it and lay down with it. After this incident, she gave birth to Minotaur, a monstrous creature. 

Furthermore, Poseidon’s sacred plants were the pine tree and wild celery, which were given as a crown to the winners of the god’s Isthmian Games. 

Poseidon’s powers

Being one of the three sons of Cronus, Poseidon had incredible strength. He could lift mountains and submerge islands. As the god of the sea, he controlled the water and governed marine life.

He could create tsunamis and water funnel clouds, propel himself through the water at incredible speeds, walk on water, bring about droughts and floods whenever he wanted, and ride sea waves as a means of transportation. 

Moreover, he had mastered hydrogenesis, where he could create water through his power or summon it out of thin air. He was also resistant to extreme heat and burns. 

Being the god of horses allowed him to create and rule them. He could also cause earthquakes, control the weather conditions over the sea, restrict the powers of his offspring and teleport himself anywhere between land and water. 

Poseidon’s personality

If we can describe Poseidon in one word, we can say that he was moody. He could do extraordinary things when in a good mood, such as create new lands in Mount Olympus’s water or help humans fulfill their goals. 

However, when he was ill-tempered, he could do terrible things. He could cause great earthquakes and enormous tsunamis, floods, or droughts. The outcome would often be fatal, as many people died. Moreover, he also used his trident to cause massive destruction.. 

Poseidon could be difficult to handle, quarrelsome, possessive, and greedy for power. He once tried, unsuccessfully, to dethrone Zeus and take control of heaven. He also punished both gods and humans when they disrespected him. Much like his brother Zeus, Poseidon could also be vindictive towards those who slighted him.. 

Poseidon’s appearance

Poseidon is usually pictured as an older man, always bearded, with sea-green skin and curled hair. He also had a large scar across his left eye.

He is represented with seashells and other sea life in statues or paintings, holding his trident. Most of the time, one can be confused and think that some statues of Poseidon pictures Zeus and the reverse. As brothers, they share a lot of common traits, both in their appearance and their personalities, too. 

Poseidon is shown riding his chariot pulled by horses with fish tails in other representations of him.

Myths about Poseidon

Rebellion against Zeus

Zeus used to be very strict with the other gods. As a result, Hera, Apollo, and Poseidon decided to revolt against him. Hera drugged Zeus so that the other Olympians had the chance to steal his thunderbolt. 

However, Briareus, whom Zeus had freed from Tartarus, sneaked into his chamber and untied him. Zeus got furious and punished all the gods who contributed to the rebellion. Especially, Poseidon and Apollo were sent to Phrygia to work as slaves to king Laomedon of Troy for one year. They built the famous impenetrable walls around Troy.

The rivalry of Poseidon and Athena

One year during the dissolution festival held for Athena, a competition took place between Poseidon and Athena to decide who would become the primary god of Athens. 

Poseidon & athena
Piouchat, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During their rivalry, they were asked to offer one gift to the people of Athens. So, the Athenians were to decide their preferred gift and the deity that they wanted to have as a protector. 

Athena offered an Olive tree, while Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, and up came a spring. The Athenians chose the olive tree, as it would offer them wood, oil, and food. Poseidon got furious and punished the people of Athens by causing a catastrophic flood.

Poseidon and Minos

Minos was the son of Zeus and Europa and the first King of Crete. He asked Poseidon for an oracle to justify his role as a ruler of Crete. Poseidon heard his prayers and sent a bull from the sea, which Minos had to sacrifice to honor Poseidon. 

However, he didn’t sacrifice the bull; he came to really appreciate it and replaced it with a different one. Poseidon learned about it, and he got mad. So, he punished Minos by making his wife, Pasiphae, fall in love with the bull. Pasiphae not only had feelings for the bull but mated with it. After this incident, she gave birth to Minotaur, a monster half man and half bull.

Poseidon place in Ancient Greek religion

Sites Sacred to Poseidon

The best-known site sacred to Poseidon is the majestic cape Sounion. It is located in the southern region of Attica, seventy kilometers away from Athens, on top of a sixty-meter cliff above the Aegean.

The sanctuary was built between 444 and 440 BC. It was constructed of fine marble by the renowned architect Ictinus, four kilometers north of the Sounion Cape. Ictinus built sixteen Doric columns at the temple of Poseidon to ensure that it would resist extreme weather conditions for many years. 

Another holy place devoted to Poseidon was in Tinos, close to the beach of Kionia. The exact date of its construction remains unknown, but it is believed it is dated from the 4th century A.D. 

This temple made Tinos an important religious center, where people from every corner of Greece purified themselves. 

A temple on the Isthmus of Corinth was also dedicated to the god Poseidon. It was constructed in the seventh century BC, then destroyed in 470 BC, and rebuilt as a temple of Poseidon in 440 BC. In that sanctuary the Isthmian Games were held, where Poseidon was honored. 

Furthermore, an entire city was devoted to Poseidon. The name of that city was Helike, located in Achaea, two kilometers from the Corinthian Gulf. Unfortunately, the city does not exist anymore. An enormous tsunami destroyed it. There was also a temple of Helikonian Poseidon. 

Representations in Art

In various statues or paintings in Greek art, Poseidon is pictured on his chariot, pulled by a hippocampus or accompanied by dolphins, while holding his three-pronged trident. They also show his palace, which seems enormous, made of coral and gems. 

One of the most important representations of Poseidon in classical art is on the west pediment of the Parthenon, which pictures the rivalry of Poseidon and Athena over the control of Attica. The statue of Poseidon of Melos is also housed in the National Archeological Museum in Athens, which is 2.35 meters tall. The statue was found in several pieces in 1877, but it has since been restored..

Poseidon of melos
DerHexer, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Poseidon is also pictured in many paintings, such as Poussin’s Triumph of Amphitrite, which shows him as the escort of Amphitrite. Moreover, he is a prominent figure in Rubens’ oil-sketch Neptune Calming the Tempest, representing Poseidon riding a shell-shaped chariot followed by three blonde-haired nereids. In this painting, he calms the storm to secure a safe passage for the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand, sailing from Barcelona to Genoa in 1635.

Festivals

Poseidon was the king of the sea and affected human life intensively, as their everyday activities included the sea. So there were many festivals devoted to him to ensure his protection.

First, there was the Poseidonia, a festival held in Aegina every year. This was the most anticipated and essential festival set in December or January. The island’s inhabitants celebrated the god by drinking wine, merriment, bonfires, and exchanging gifts. 

It was a veritable sixteen days of debauchery. The celebrant feast to satiety, then turn to lascivious teasing. This conduct suits Poseidon’s reputation as one of the most lustful gods, with more liaisons and offsprings than any other god.

There were also the Isthmian Games, a festival of athletic and musical competitions to honor Poseidon. It was held in the spring of each Olympiad’s second and fourth years on the Isthmus of Corinth at his sanctuary. Another festival on a larger scale was held every five years at Sunium, which included animal sacrifices.

In the old texts

Poseidon had a leading role in Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. In the Iliad, where Homer narrates the Trojan War between the Greeks and Trojans, Poseidon supported the Greeks by giving them inspirational speeches and leading them in battles.

In The Odyssey, where the central theme is Odysseus’ journey home after the Trojan War, Poseidon doesn’t seem so supportive, as he cursed Odysseus to wander the sea for ten years. The reason why he changed his attitude toward this Greek hero was the fact that Odysseus blinded his son, Polyphemus.

Another Greek poet who wrote about Poseidon was Hesiod. In his work Theogony, he described the origins of the gods. He wrote about Poseidon as the earth holder who could shake the earth. 

Hesiod and Homer referred to him as the deep-sounding Earth-shaker, but they also described him as an encircler of the earth. That epithet is connected with the ancient belief that all waterways on Earth were connected and that land floated on top of them.

FAQs

Who was Poseidon?

Poseidon was the god of the sea, the earthquakes, and the horses.

Who were the parents of Poseidon?

Poseidon’s parents were Cronus and Rhea.

Did Zeus have any siblings?

He had three brothers and sisters: Hestia, Hades, Hera, Zeus, Demeter, and Chiron.

How many Children did Poseidon have?

The number of his children remains unknown, but he had much more than Zeus had.

Who was Poseidon’s wife?

Amphitrite

Poseidon’s mythologies and powers are similar to which god?

Njord

Featured Image Credit: Stefano Bolognini, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons