Poseidon: Myths and Facts about the Greek God of the Sea
Known as the Greek sea god, stories about Poseidon have fascinated both ancient and modern cultures. There are literally a plethora of myths and literature works about him. In Hollywood, for example, several movies have been made about this great Greek Olympian god of the sea and oceans. He’s the brother of the Olympian god king Zeus and Hades, the boss of the Underworld. In the eyes of the ancient Romans, Poseidon is the equivalent of the god Neptune. Regardless of Greek or Roman mythology, Poseidon has always been identified in imagery by his trident.
In today’s piece of writing, we have carefully summarized some very interesting Greek myths and facts about Poseidon. It includes everything that you need to know about Poseidon in terms of his powers, symbols, and family history.
Who is Poseidon?
Poseidon was born to first generation titans Cronus and Rhea. It is said that Cronus swallowed his children for fear that they would one day overthrow him. Some lores state that he swallowed Poseidon along with Hades, Hestia, Demeter, and Hera.
However, other accounts state that Poseidon was not swallowed by his father because Rhea, his mother, hid him among a flock of lambs. Instead, Rhea pretended she gave birth to a colt which Cronus swallowed.
Another lore states that he was sent to Rhodes by his mother to be taken care of by the daughter of Oceanus, Capheira, and the Telchines. This was his mother’s way of hiding him from Cronus.
Poseidon was not just a sea god but was also believed to be the god of all the other waters, earthquakes, the storms, and even horses. According to ancient Greek religion, he was one of the twelve Olympians that domiciled at Mount Olympus. Additionally, he was hailed as the highest deity at Pylos and Thebes. Poseidon’s Roman equivalent is Neptune.
Lord of the Sea and Oceans
Shortly after the Olympians (that is the new gods) overthrew Cronus and his titan gods, the world was divided into three sections among three Olympian brothers: Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Greek mythology has it that the brothers drew straws to determine which part of the world they would rule.
Zeus had control of the skies; Hades was in charge of the underworld and; Poseidon ruled the seas and all water bodies. The Iliad by Homer is the only piece of literary reference to this division by the Greek gods.
Common Characteristics of Poseidon
Poseidon’s name was Greek for “husband”. As a result, he was worshiped as a fertility god. Sailors also relied on him for safe passage across the seas. Because of this, he was worshiped as the god of navigation.
In all his imagery, he is seen wielding a trident. It is believed he could produce an earthquake by striking his trident on the earth. For this reason, he was nicknamed the ‘Earth-shaker’. Some Greek mythological accounts depict him as a very hot-headed god. Whenever he was furious, seas would rise and the mountains would tremble very violently.
Works and Attributions of Poseidon
He is praised as the god that created horses. The ancient Greeks believed that the first horse, Skyphios, came to being after Poseidon hit a rock with his trident.
Furthermore, he had a reputation for being in disputes with gods and even men. His most famous disputes were with Athena and Odysseus.
Poseidon had a palace made of coral and gems which were located on the ocean floor. However, it was believed that he spent more time on Mount Olympus rather than in his magnificent palaces in the ocean. It was also believed that he liked to force his power and manliness on women.
Typically, Poseidon got around places by riding his four-horse chariot while carrying his trident across the waves.
Another great feat of work by the god of the sea is that he buried the giant Polybotes under a piece of the island of Kos. He formed this island by breaking the earth with his trident.
Poseidon’s Battles and Fights
Sometimes, Poseidon’s temper was as rough and chaotic as the oceans. His inability to control this often resulted in him coming into direct confrontations with many Olympian gods and goddesses. The following are some examples of the fights Poseidon had with his fellow gods:
Poseidon fought both gods and men. He was very impulsive and violent. He felt Zeus was arrogant as a ruler and he could not tolerate it. He, therefore, partnered with Athena and Hera to challenge Zeus. In the end, and with the support of Thetis and Briareus, Zeus came out on top.
Owing to some conflict, Zeus punished Poseidon by sending him and Apollo to work for Laomedon, the Trojan king. Zeus ordered them to build fortified walls all around Troy. After a great deal of effort, the wall was completed. To the surprise of the two gods, Laomedon refused to pay them for their labor. Zeus advised Poseidon to let it go but he refused. As punishment for Troy’s betrayal, Poseidon supported the Greek side during the Trojan war. He sent the sea monster Cetus to frustrate and terrorize the Trojans.
With the Greeks and Odysseus
The Greeks felt the wrath of Poseidon when he broke down their walls. Poseidon did this because he believed only walls built by him were worthy. He also had a feud with Odysseus for years for blinding his son.
Greek god Poseidon hit his trident against a rock, creating a stream of seawater, which gathered in the temple of Frechtheion. He did this because he was envious of the manner in which the Athenians revered Athena, goddess of strategic warfare and wisdom.
Poseidon desired to bring Athens under his control. He insinuated that their lands will fare better under his rule. Athena, in turn, gave roots to an olive tree in Athens. Looking favorably on those olive roots, Cecrops (the first king of Athens) decided that Athena’s gift was of more value. The Athenians valued the olive tree because it gave them wood, fruit, and oil. As a result, Athena was allowed to keep Athens. Today, the olive branch is considered a symbol of peace universally.
Poseidon’s Life with Women and His Children
Poseidon absolutely adored women, but unfortunately, they didn’t like him in return. Since he couldn’t get them to like him, he decided to use wit and violence to bring them under his control. Here are examples of Poseidon’s encounters and shenanigans with women:
Medusa and Caenus
Poseidon forced himself on both women. In a very weird turn of events, Athena, hearing of it, decided to punish Medusa for allowing Poseidon to have his way with her. According to Greek mythology, just after Perseus beheaded Medusa, Medusa gave birth to Poseidon’s children: Chrysaor and Pegasus.
Aethra, Demeter, and Amymone
Demeter turned into a mare in order to escape Poseidon’s advances but he transformed himself into a stallion and got her pregnant. Afterward, she gave birth to the nymph Despoena and the talking horse Arion. Poseidon also impregnated Amymone and fathered Nauplius with her. Similarly, he and Aethra had a child together called Theseus.
Amphitrite the Neried
In the case of Amphitrite, she also did not want Poseidon so she fled to the Atlas Mountain. Incorrigible as Poseidon was, he refused to give up. He sent Delphinus to win her over on his behalf. So skilled was Delphinus that he succeeded in accomplishing his task in no time.
As an appreciation for Delphinus’ kind gesture, the god of the sea set Delphinus’ image, the constellation dolphin, among the stars. Amphitrite was faithful to Poseidon and bore him three children: Triton, Rhode, and Benthesikyme.
Other consorts and children of Poseidon
Poseidon’s countless amorous relationships with many Greek gods and creatures produced several offspring. Below are some of the most famous consorts and children of Poseidon:
After the mortal woman Tyro’s advances were rejected by the river god Enipeus, Poseidon swooped in and took advantage of the situation. He disguised himself as Enipeus and thereafter slept with Tyro. From that union came forth Pelias and Neleus.
A known abductor of women, Poseidon abducted Caenis and thereafter raped her. After the horrendous act, Poseidon complied with Caenis wishes to be turned into a man who later came to be called Caeneus.
By Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty, love and sex, Poseidon fathered two daughters called Herophilos and Rhodos.
Abilities and powers
He is famed in the myths for having the ability to create new islands and submerge existing islands beneath the sea. Poseidon also has the extraordinary power to calm the wildest of storms at sea. He was also brutal in the sense that he could unleash powerful waves and storms upon sailors that wronged him.
Another bad side to the god is that he could cause massive natural disasters like floods and earthquakes. Sailors that drowned or got shipwrecked at sea were believed to have incurred the wrath of this Olympian sea god.
For the above reasons, ancient Greek sailors and fisherman had a strong reverence for Poseidon. It was also not uncommon for sailors to put up a horse at the altar as a sacrifice to the god. In some cases, to appease the very turbulent god, sailors will throw a horse into the sea.
To many inhabitants of ancient Greek islands, especially the Arcadians, Poseidon was seen as a horse. His association with horses meant that he was sometimes known as “The Tamer of Horses”. Other symbols of Poseidon are dolphin, horse, bull, and fish.
Poseidon’s Trident and Chariot
Of all the items associated with Poseidon, the trident is perhaps the most famous symbol of the sea god. The trident of Poseidon is a three-pronged powerful spear that Poseidon wields to wreck unimaginable devastation on his enemies. In some cases, he uses the trident to control waves and even fish.
For his transportation, Poseidon rides a powerful chariot that is pulled by a fierce hippocampus. In ancient Greece, the hippocampus was considered a mythical creature that has the body of a horse and fins for hooves. Poseidon’s chariot has the ability to move both on sea and on land.
Poseidon and Demeter
Quite typical of many Greek gods, Poseidon was known as a shapshifter in the myths. He once shape shifted into a horse in order to pursue the goddess Demeter. The goddess had earlier shapshifted into a mare in order to avoid the unwelcomed glances of Poseidon. However, a relentless Poseidon one-upped the goddess and turned himself into a stallion. The union between Poseidon and Demeter produced the mare Despoina and the stallion Arion.
Poseidon and Aethra
In some versions, famous Greek hero and founder of Athens Theseus is sometimes considered the son of Poseidon. In that account, Aethra – the daughter of King Pittheus of Troezen – slept with both King Aegeus of Athens and Poseidon in a single night. The story goes on to say that Aethra got pregnant by both the mortal Aegeus and the god Poseidon. This explains why in some other versions, Theseus is considered the son of King Aegeus.
The above myth also explains why Theseus has demi-god-like abilities. Such were those abilities that Theseus accomplished many feats, including slaying the Minotaur, a half-man half-bull that lived in the center of the Labyrinth.
Poseidon’s birth story
Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, was one of the five Olympian gods that was eaten by the mad titan Cronus. The titan Cronus, like his father before him Uranus, lived in constant fear that his children would grow to remove him from power. Cronus therefore resorted to gulping up every child he bore (with Rhea). Poseidon and his siblings – Hestia, Hera, Hades, and Demeter – were swallowed at birth.
Ultimately his younger Zeus, who had been kept hidden by the goddesses Rhea and Gaia, came to the rescue of Poseidon and his other siblings. Zeus disguised himself as Cronus maidservant and laced Cronus’ drink with a magical potion that caused Cronus to disgorging Poseidon and his four siblings.
Poseidon in the Titanomachy
Poseidon would then join forces with Zeus and his other siblings to topple the crazed Titan Cronus and his band of fierce titans. The two sides – the Olympians and the Titans – fought a fierce war. The Olympians were aided by their uncles – the Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires.
How Poseidon tried to overthrow Zeus
Ancient Greek myths are full of many stories about rebellions and power plays. One famous example is the time when Poseidon connived with Hera, Zeus’ wife and Queen of Mount Olympus, to overthrow Zeus. Joining the fray was Apollo, the Greek Olympian and son of Zeus. Hera used a magical potion to put Zeus to sleep. Poseidon and Apollo then proceeded to chain Zeus to his bed. The revolting gods also took away Zeus’ most favorite weapon, his thunderbolt.
Briareus – one of the three Hecatonchires in Greek myth – got wind of the treacherous act of Poseidon and Hera. Briareus felt that he owed Zeus a favor since Zeus had earlier freed him from Tartarus. Therefore Briareus – a being with hundred arms and fifty heads – deftly sneaked himself into the place where Zeus had been bound. Briareus then unshackled Zeus from his bondage.
Obviously furious, Zeus proceeded to punish Poseidon and Apollo for their treachery. Poseidon and Apollo were sent to work as servants for King Laomedon of Troy for a period of time. In that period, the two gods single-handedly built the walls around Troy, which would later Troy an impenetrable city.
Poseidon in the Trojan War
Perhaps one of the most famous wars in Greek mythology, the Trojan War saw the Greeks lock horns with the Trojans. Although a mortal affair, the Greek gods and goddesses intervened, with many working either for or against one side. Poseidon once helped lift the spirits of Greek soldiers to keep fighting courageously against the Trojans.
Poseidon and Odysseus
Poseidon is the father of the Cyclops Polyphemus, one eyed creature that feeds on humans. In the myths, Polyphemus is the creature responsible for slaughtering the Greek hero Odysseus’s crew. After blinding Polyphemus, Odysseus and the remainder of his crew manage to escape. Polyphemus then begs his father Poseidon to curse Odysseus. Poseidon obliges and punishes Odysseus by making him roam the seas for close to twenty years.
Read More: Greatest Greek Heroes in Greek Mythology
Poseidon and the Cretan Bull
In a bitter power struggle between Minos of Crete and his brother, the former prayed to Poseidon to intercede. Poseidon sends a magnificently beautiful white bull, i.e. the Cretan Bull, as a sign of Minos right to rule the Kingdom of Crete. Poseidon specifically told Minos to sacrifice the bull; however, Minos could not bring himself to sacrifice such a beautiful creature, instead he sacrificed a different bull.
Minos’ disobedience caused Poseidon to exact a steep punishment on Minos. The god cast a spell on the wife of Minos, Pasiphae, making her fall madly in love with the bull. From the union between Pasiphaë and the Cretan Bull came forth the ferocious Minotaur, a half man and half bull creature who fed only on humans to survive.
How Poseidon turned his granddaughter into a spring
The master weaver Arachne certainly did not mince words when she wove her beautiful embroidery showing how malicious and outright controlling many Greek gods and goddesses can be. This is epitomized in the myth where Greek god Poseidon has an affair with Alope, his own granddaughter. Upon hearing of the affair, Alope’s father killed Alope by burying the young woman alive. Perhaps out of remorse, Poseidon uses his magic to turn Alope’s body into a wonderful spring near Eleusis.
Frequently asked questions about Poseidon
1- Who are Poseidon’s consorts?
Poseidon took many women as his consorts, including Amphitrite, Amymone, and Aethra
2- Does Poseidon have children?
Poseidon is depicted as having numerous children, including Theseus, the Cyclops Polyphemus, Nauplius, the twins Pelias and Neleus, and Triton.
3- Who are Poseidon’s siblings?
Poseidon has two brothers – Zeus and Hades. He has three sisters – Hestia, Hera, and Demeter.
4- Who are Poseidon’s parents?
Poseidon’s parents are first generation titans Cronus and Rhea.
5- What is Poseidon’s heavenly field?
Poseidon’s spends the bulk of his time on Mount Olympus. However, his domain is in the deepest part of the ocean, where his has spectacular castles and mansions.
6- What is Poseidon the god of?
Poseidon is the god of the sea, oceans, horses, earthquakes, and sailors.
7- How does Poseidon travel?
Poseidon rides a chariot pulled by a mythical creature called hippocampus.
8- What are Poseidon’s symbols?
Poseidon’s symbols include horses, dolphin, fish, bull, and most importantly the trident.
9- What are some of the common epithets of Poseidon?
In the myths, Poseidon goes by a number of epithets, including “the Earth Shaker”, “Protector of Sailors” and “Tamer of Horses”.