Poseidon (Greek: Ποσειδῶν; Latin: Neptūnus) was the god of the sea, storms, and, as "Earth-Shaker," of earthquakes in Greek mythology. The name of the sea-god Nethuns in Etruscan was adopted in Latin for Neptune in Roman mythology: both were sea gods analogous to Poseidon. Linear B tablets show that Poseidon was venerated at Pylos and Thebes in pre-Olympian Bronze Age Greece, but he was integrated into the Olympian gods as the brother of Zeus and Hades. Poseidon has many children. There is a Homeric hymn to Poseidon, who was the protector of many Hellenic cities, although he lost the contest for Athens to Athena.
Worship of Poseidon
Poseidon was a major civic god of several cities: in Athens, he was second only to Athena in importance, while in Corinth and many cities of Magna Graecia he was the chief god of the polis. 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 climacteric 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 holy water for the foundation-sacrifice. Xenophon's Anabasis describes a group of Spartan soldiers in 400–399 BCE 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 BCE, On the Sacred Disease says that he was blamed for certain types of epilepsy.
Bronze Age Greece
The name seems to transparently stem from Greek pósis "lord, husband" with a less-transparent -don element, perhaps from dea, "goddess". 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 a precursor of Amphitrite. Tablets from Pylos record sacrificial goods destined for "the Two Queens and Poseidon" and to "the Two Queens and the King". The most obvious identification for the "Two Queens" is with Demeter and Persephone, or their precursors, goddesses who were not associated with Poseidon in later periods. In Mycenaean Knossos, Poseidon is already identified as "Earth-Shaker" (E-NE-SI-DA-O-NE), a powerful attribute (earthquakes had accompanied the collapse of the Minoan palace-culture). In the heavily sea-dependent Mycenaean culture, no connection between Poseidon and the sea has yet surfaced; among the Olympians it was determined by lot that he should rule over the sea: the god preceded his realm.
Demeter and Poseidon's names are linked in one Pylos tablet, where they appear as PO-SE-DA-WO-NE and DA, referred to by the epithets Enosichthon, Seischthon and Ennosigaios, all meaning "earth-shaker" and referring to his role in causing earthquakes.
Poseidon in myth
Birth and triumph over Cronus
Poseidon was a son of 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.
The foundation of Athens
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. It is interesting to note that Athens at its height was a significant sea power, at one point defeating the Persian fleet at Salamis Island in a sea battle.
The walls of Troy
Poseidon and Apollo, having offended Zeus, were 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 (it was later killed by Heracles).
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, begetting the Attic hero Hippothoon. Cercyon had his daughter buried alive but Poseidon turned her into the spring, Alope, near Eleusis.
Poseidon rescued Amymone from a lecherous satyr and then fathered a child, Nauplius, by her.
After having raped Caeneus, Poseidon fulfilled her request and changed her into a male warrior.
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 raped 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. There is also Triton, the merman; Polyphemus, the cyclops; and Oto and Ephialtae, the giants.
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.
Poseidon in literature and art
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 in the Trojan War, 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 Mount Helicon and wide Aegae, and specificies his twofold nature as an Olympian: "a tamer of horses and a saviour of ships."
- Papyrus Oxyrrhincus Fragmenta Graecorum Historicorum 148, 44, col. 2; quoted by Robin Lane Fox, Alexander the Great (1973) 1986:168 and note. Alexander also invoked other sea deities: Thetis, mother of his hero Achilles, Nereus and the Nereids
- (Hippocrates), On the Sacred Disease, Francis Adams, tr.
- The illuminating exception is the archaic and localised myth of stallion Poseidon and mare Demeter at Phigalia in isolated and conservative Arcadia, noted by Pausanias (second century CE) as having fallen into desuetude; the violated Demeter was Demeter Erinys.
- Adams, Professor John Paul. "Mycenaean Divinities". List of Handouts for Classics 315. http://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/mycen.html. Retrieved 2 September 2006.
- (Hesiod, Theogony 456)
- In the second century CE, a well with the name of Arne, the "lamb's well", in the neighbourhood of Mantineia in Arcadia, where old traditions lingered, was shown to Pausanias. (Pausanias viii.8.2.)
- Tzetzes, ad Lycophron 644.
- Diodorus, v. 55.
- Discussed by Walter Burkert, Homo Necans, (1972, tr. 1983143-49).
- Another version of the myth says that Poseidon gave horses to Athens.
- Burkert, Homo Necans (1972, tr. 1983:157). "That Poseidon and Erechtheus were merely two names for a single god, a fact that is stated by Euripides, is also clearly visible in the cult." (p. 149).
- Gill, N.S. (2007). "Mates and Children of Poseidon". http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/grecoromanmyth1/a/poseidonmates.htm. Retrieved 5 February 2007.
- Strabo, ix. p. 405
- Virgil, Aeneid iii. 74, where Servius erroneously derives the name from the Aegean Sea
- Schmitz, Leonhard (1867). "Aegaeus". in Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 1. Boston. pp. 24. http://www.ancientlibrary.com/smith-bio/0033.html
- The ancient palace-city that was replaced by Vergin]
- Walter Burkert, Greek Religion (1977) 1985.
- GML Poseidon
- Theoi.com: Poseidon
- The story of Poseidon and Pelops
- Gods found in Mycenaean Greece; a table drawn up from Michael Ventris and John Chadwick, Documents in Mycenaean Greek second edition (Cambridge 1973)
- Jenks, Kathleen (April 2003). "Mythic themes clustered around Poseidon/Neptune". Myth*ing links. http://www.mythinglinks.org/euro~west~greece~Poseidon.html. Retrieved 13 January 2007.
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