Poseidon God: The Legend of the Grumpy, Greedy God of the Sea
Poseidon, god of the sea, had a temper. Though the ancient Greeks prized civility, dignity, and morality in their ordered society, the Greek gods were incredibly fallible. They regularly indulged in the less flattering of human emotions: anger, jealousy, narcissism, and of course, lust. While these emotions seem far from “godly,” they served to make the gods more relatable and thereby more memorable. Find out more about the most impetuous god of all: Poseidon.
The Main Traits of Poseidon
Poseidon’s particular peccadilloes were moodiness and selfishness. When he couldn’t have something he wanted, he lashed out like a petulant child. Furthermore, he would take revenge for the slightest perceived insult.
In truth, these are good personifications for the sea itself. The water can change from calm to choppy with little warning, and storms at sea can be particularly intimidating. Those riding the waves are in constant danger of being devoured by the greedy waves.
Who Is Poseidon in Greek Mythology?
Poseidon was one of the original six Olympian gods and, therefore, a founding father of Greek mythology itself. Primarily, he was the Greek god of the sea. Since the Greeks believed that the continents floated freely and all rivers and lakes connected, Poseidon was in charge of governing all bodies of water, with minor gods protecting individual rivers or lakes.
He was also the patron and protector of sailors, who made sacrifices to the god to ensure safe passage. Therefore, he had a strong connection with navigation. Since the Greeks were a maritime nation, appeasing the god that influenced their livelihood was essential. At the time, Poseidon’s persecution of Odysseus was a popular story, and fishers and sailors of all types were careful to show respect.
Poseidon’s powers extended onto land as well. He caused earthquakes and could stop them. Also, he invented the horse and taught humans how to create and ride chariots. Sometimes he receives credit for the creation of the zebra as well, due to its equine qualities.
The worship of Poseidon took place in seafaring cities and landlocked villages alike. One notable place of worship was the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, built in the 5th century BCE. Sailors could use the temple as a landmark, showing they were nearing the harbors of Attica.
Poseidon had several marine-based epithets, such as “Leader of Nymphs,” “Encircler of Earth,” and “Savior of Sailors.” He was also called “Earth Shaker” and “Creator and Tamer of Horses.”
What Is Poseidon’s Symbol?
By far, the trident is the symbol most associated with Poseidon, so much so that virtually every piece of art depicts him while holding one. In modern times, even a stick figure carrying a trident would likely be recognized as Poseidon.
The trident was originally a fishing spear. Poseidon’s was fashioned by the master artisans of the Cyclopes. When Poseidon was feeling grumpy, he would strike it on the ground, causing the earth to shake. The Iliad records a passage about one particular earthquake that even made Hades frightened.
“Fearing the god who rocks the ground above his realm,
Giant Poseidon, would burst the earth wide open now
And lay bare to mortal men and immortal gods at last
The houses of the dead…”
-Homer, the Iliad
Classical artists depicted him as a mature, bearded man, resembling his brother, Zeus. He rode in a chariot pulled by a hippocampus, a beast that was half horse, half fish. He had a palace under the sea, made of gems and coral, but he spent more of his time with the other gods on Olympus. Dolphins, tuna, and horses were closely linked to Poseidon.
What Is Poseidon Known For?
There are several myths about Poseidon recorded in epics such as the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid and other classical works. You can find the most notable stories later in this article.
Besides significant roles in classic writing, Poseidon often appears in modern stories or inventions, either as an inspiration or an actual character. In the popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, he is the father of Percy Jackson. The Poseidon Adventure is a disaster story about a capsized luxury liner. Poseidon’s trident serves as the logo for Maserati, the Italian luxury car manufacturer.
Many countries also possess military weapons bearing his name. The Boeing P-8 Poseidon is a maritime aircraft used by navy forces for submarine detection and defense. The Russians also have a nuclear unmanned underwater vehicle named The Poseidon.
In Roman mythology, Poseidon is called Neptune, and he lends his name to the bluest planet in the solar system. However, the planet gets its blue color not from water, but the methane in its atmosphere.
How Was Poseidon Born?
Poseidon was the second son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea and their fifth child. The story of Poseidon and his siblings is the foundational myth for all of the Olympian pantheon.
Cronus was the ruler of the world after he betrayed and defeated his father, Uranus, the primordial god of the sky. Cronus’s reign from Mount Othrys was so peaceful and prosperous that it gained the name of the Golden Age. However, Cronos became increasingly obsessed with a prophecy that his children would overthrow him, just like he did to his father.
When Rhea brought Cronos their firstborn daughter, Hestia, Cronos swallowed her whole. He did the same for Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon. Finally, Rhea decided to do something about this heinous practice.
Rhea fled to Crete and gave birth to her sixth child, Zeus, in secret. She presented Cronus with a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, and he ate that instead. When he grew up, Zeus came back to Mount Othrys disguised as Cronus’s cupbearer. Zeus slipped an emetic into Cronus’s wine, causing him to be violently sick. He vomited up Poseidon and the other four siblings, and they joined Zeus in preparing for battle.
The War of the Titans, or the Titanomachy, lasted ten years, and eventually, Zeus and the Olympians won. After they imprisoned the Titans in the deep abyss called Tartarus, the three brothers drew straws to determine which parts of the world they would rule. Zeus straw granted him the skies, Hades won the underworld, and Poseidon received the seas.
An obscure retelling of Poseidon’s birth suggests that Zeus and Poseidon both were spared from Cronus’s cruelty. According to this version, Rhea hid Poseidon in a flock of lambs and gave Cronus a colt to swallow instead.
Who Were Poseidon’s Consorts and Their Children?
When Poseidon first pursued the Nereid Amphitrite as his wife, she was having none of it. She fled to the Atlas Mountains to escape him. Poseidon sent the dolphin demigod Delphinus to find her and woo her for him. Surprisingly, this worked wonders. Amphitrite returned and married the god of the sea. As a sign of gratitude, Poseidon set Delphinus’s image among the stars.
Poseidon was quite promiscuous, and second only to Zeus in the number of affairs. However, since Amphitrite was reluctant to marry him, she likely didn’t mind as much as the jealousy-stricken Hera, the wife of Zeus.
It is not surprising that some of the children of Poseidon took the form of horses. He seduced his sister Demeter while disguised as a stallion, and their child was the horse Areion. Unfortunately, Medusa did not willingly succumb to Poseidon’s charms. She was so enraged by the rape that snakes grew from her head, and her angry face was hideous to behold. After Perseus beheaded her, the winged horse Pegasus sprang from her neck.
Here is an abbreviated list of the consorts of Pegasus and the children born of those unions. Many of his children were legendary figures in Greek mythology.
- Aethra (princess of Troezen) – Theseus
- Amphitrite (one of the Nereids) – Triton (the first merman), Benthesikyme, Rhodos
- Aphrodite (goddess of love) – Herophile
- Demeter (goddess of agriculture) – Arion (a talking horse), Despoena (a nymph)
- Euryale (daughter of King Minos) – Orion
- Eurynome (Titan goddess of meadows) – Bellerophon
- Gaea (primordial goddess of the earth) – Antaeus, Charybdis
- Iphimedeia (a Thessalian princess) – Otus and Ephialtes (The Aloadae)
- Medusa (the Gorgon) – Pegasus (winged horse), Chrysaor
- Phoenice (a Phoenician princess) – Proteus
- Thoosa (a nymph) – Polyphemus
Poseidon was also said to have three male lovers: Nerites, Pelops, and Patroclus.
Poseidon, Athena and the Patronage of Athens
The Parthenon in Athens was covered in carvings that commemorated many essential myths. On the west pediment, the sculptors captured the competition between Poseidon and Athena to see who would become the city’s patron.
Poseidon and Athena both offered gifts to please the people and secure their votes. Whichever gift was deemed most useful by the people would win that god the honor. As his gift, Poseidon created the horse, a new beast that would prove to be quite helpful. However, Athena’s gift was the olive tree, which the people deemed to be more valuable. Athena obtained the patronage of the city, and Poseidon had a temper tantrum that caused a flood.
Thus, the capital city was named Athens, and not Poseidonia. Despite Poseidon being a sore loser, the Athenians still honored him. They named their midwinter month “Posideon” after him, and they honored him in the annual Posedai Festival.
Poseidon also fought with various gods for the patronage of other cities. He and Athena also desired the city of Troezen, and Zeus declared that they must share it. When Helios disputed with him over the city of Corinth, Poseidon was given the isthmus, while Helios received the acropolis.
Poseidon’s grumpiness showed again when he and Hera contested for the sovereignty of Argolis. Three river gods decided the suit in Hera’s favor, and Poseidon dried up their rivers in a fit of pique.
Poseidon’s Role in the Iliad and the Odyssey
Poseidon’s attitude toward the Trojans was exacerbated by his mistreatment by a Trojan king. After rebelling against Zeus, Poseidon and Apollo were punished by temporarily serving as paid laborers of King Laomedon of Troy. Apollo tended the king’s flocks, and Poseidon built the mighty walls surrounding the city.However, King Laomedon refused to give the gods the promised tribute and banished them from the city.
Enraged, Poseidon sent a sea monster, called the Trojan Cetus, to attack the city. The sea monster could only be appeased by sacrificing a virgin to the beast from time to time. It was on the verge of devouring Laomedon’s daughter Hesione when Heracles killed it. Incidentally, Laomedon reneged on his promised payment to Heracles as well.
Due to the bad blood between them, Poseidon hated the Trojans and opposed them fervently during their ten-year war with the Greeks. Often, he observed the battle and cheered the Greeks from Thrace. When Agamemnon was discouraged and considered sailing home in defeat, Poseidon disguised himself as the prophet Calchas and encouraged Agamemnon to continue the war.
Odysseus and Poseidon’s Son Polyphemus
While Poseidon wasn’t fond of Odysseus in general, his wrath was assured after the Trojan War was over. On the way home, Odysseus’s ship landed on an island inhabited by the Cyclops Polyphemus, who was Poseidon’s son. When Polyphemus began eating his crew, Odysseus tricked the one-eyed giant into drinking himself senseless. Odysseus and the crew then took a large tree and blinded him.
Like a good father, Poseidon ignored Polyphemus’s transgression and concentrated on avenging the wrongs inflicted upon his son. For ten years, Poseidon created winds and storms that kept Odysseus’s ship from reaching his home in Ithaca. One of the creatures that Odysseus encountered during his delay was another of Poseidon’s sons, the sea monster Charybdis.
Poseidon’s Role in the Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur
Technically, Poseidon was responsible for the beginning and the end of this famous myth. One day, Poseidon gave King Minos of Crete a beautiful, healthy bull. The Greek god of water was likely perturbed that he had to provide the animal for the sacrifice. Worse yet, the sacrifice didn’t happen.
The King thought the beast was too magnificent to lose. In anger, Poseidon caused Minos’ daughter, Pasiphae, to fall in love with the bull. After nine months, she gave birth to the notorious half man, half bull called the Minotaur.
King Minos imprisoned the unruly beast in a labyrinth and demanded that Athens send him a tribute of seven young men and seven young women each year to feed the Minotaur. The hero Theseus, son of Poseidon, volunteered to serve as one of the tributes. He slew the Minotaur and found his way out of the labyrinth by following a silk thread he had tied to the entrance.
Poseidon’s Role in the Myth of Perseus and Andromeda
Another story of Poseidon’s testy nature is recorded in the myth of Perseus and Andromeda. For this tale as well, Poseidon’s creations are both the problem and solution.
Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, boasted to her friends that her daughter was more beautiful than the fifty sea nymphs called the Nereids. When the Nereids heard of this prideful slight, they complained to Poseidon.
He released a sea monster, Cetus, and sent it to attack the city of Ethiopia. An oracle advised them that they must sacrifice a princess to pacify the Cetus. In this case, the hero Perseus came to the rescue, but he saved Andromeda out of love, not for payment.
Incidentally, Perseus used the head of the gorgon Medusa to turn the Cetus into stone. Medusa’s hideousness was due to her deep rage from being raped by Poseidon. When Perseus slew Medusa, she was carrying Poseidon’s child. As she died, she gave birth to the winged horse, Pegasus.
Poseidon is one of the most recognized and influential gods in the Greek pantheon. Of the Olympians, he was second only to Zeus, both in terms of power and number of love interests. Unfortunately, he always felt slighted by being the “second best.” Here are the facts to remember about Poseidon.
- Poseidon was the god of the sea, water, storms, earthquakes, and horses. Like these elements, he was irritable and greedy.
- He was one of the original six Olympian gods, born from the Titans Cronus and Rhea.
- Cronus swallowed him after birth, along with his four older siblings: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, and Hades. Their sixth sibling, Zeus, rescued them.
- The trident is his most recognizable symbol.
- His chief consort was the Nereid Amphitrite, though he did have affairs with many women, and possibly even a few men.
- He also sired several children, including Orion, Theseus, Polyphemus, Triton, and even Pegasus.
- He built the walls of Troy but sided with the Greeks in the Trojan War.
- The Odyssey was Poseidon’s ten-year revenge on Odysseus for blinding his son, Polyphemus the Cyclops.
- He caused the creation of the Minotaur and fathered Theseus, who defeated the beast in the Labyrinth.
- He created Cetus, the sea monster that threatened Andromeda.
Despite his turbulent nature, Poseidon was a favorite subject of the Greek poets, and he continues to influence creative works even today.