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Before Poseidon became the foremost god related to water in Greek mythology, Oceanus was the main water god. He was one of the first beings to exist, and his descendants would give the earth its rivers and streams. Here’s a closer look.
Who Was Oceanus?
In some accounts, Oceanus was the eldest of the 12 Titans born from the union of Gaia, the primordial deity of the earth, and Uranus, the primordial deity of the sky. Some other sources propose that he existed even before the Titans and that he was the son of Gaia and Chaos. Oceanus had several siblings, including Themis, Phoebe, Cronus and Rhea, who would go on to become the mother of the first Olympians that ended the rule of the Titans.
In Ancient Greece, people believed the earth was flat, and the common belief was that there was a great river surrounding the land, known as Oceanos. Oceanus was the primordial deity of the great earth-encircling river. Oceanus was the source of water from which every lake, stream, river, spring, and rain cloud sprang. The word ocean, as we know it nowadays, derives from Oceanus.
From the waist up, Oceanus was a man with bull horns. From the waist down, his depictions show him to have the body of a serpent fish. Later artworks, however, show him as a normal man since he was the personification of the sea.
Oceanus was married to Tethys, and together they made the water flow on earth. Oceanus and Tethys were a very fertile couple and had more than 3000 children. Their sons were the Potamoi, the gods of the rivers, and their daughters were the Oceanids, the nymphs of the springs and fountains. To create their springs and rivers, these gods took parts of the great Oceanus and directed them through the land. They were the minor deities of the freshwater sources on earth. Some of these children, such as Styx, had more prominent roles in Greek mythology.
Oceanus in the Wars
Oceanus was not involved in the castration of his father Uranus, the event in which Cronus mutilated his father and took control of the universe with the other Titans. Oceanus refused to participate in those events and, unlike the other Titans, would also refuse to participate in the war between the Titans and the Olympians, known as the Titanomachy.
Both Oceanus and Tethys were pacific beings who did not interfere in the conflict. Oceanus sent his daughter Styx to offer her children to Zeus so that he could protect them and have their favor for the war. The myths say that Oceanus and Tethys also received Hera in their domain for the goddess to be safe during the war.
After the Olympians deposed the Titans, Poseidon became the all-powerful god of the seas. Yet, both Oceanus and Tethys could keep their powers and their rule over the freshwaters. They also had the Atlantic and the Indian oceans under their domain. As they hadn’t fought against the Olympians, they were not viewed as a threat to the new gods who allowed them to reign over their domain in peace.
The Influence of Oceanus
Since the myth of Oceanus was pre-Hellenistic and preceded the Olympians, there are not many sources or myths pertaining to him. His appearances in literature are limited, and his role, secondary. This, however, has nothing to do with his influence since, as the primordial deity of water, Oceanus was deeply involved in the creation of the world. His sons and daughters would take part in several other myths, and his legacy would remain in Greek mythology thanks to his decision to aid Zeus.
One of the most famous portrayals of Oceanus is at the Trevi Fountain, where he stands in the center in an authoritative, impressive manner. Many wrongly believe this statue to be one of Poseidon, but no – the artist chose to depict the original god of the seas.
Oceanus is the Titan god of the river Oceanos.
Oceanus is the son of Uranus and Gaia.
Oceanus is married to Tethys.
Oceanus has several siblings, including Cyclopes, Titans and Hekatonkheires.
Oceanus lives in the River Oceanus.
Oceans opts out of the battle between the Titans and the Olympians. Zeus rewards him by allowing him to continue as the god of the rivers, even though he is a Titan.
The Roman equivalent of Oceanus is known by the same name.
Oceanus has several thousand children, including the Oceanids and innumerable river gods.
Although Oceanus’ involvement in the myths and conflicts of Greek myth was scant, he remains one of the deities to be conscious of for his significant influence on the earth. Poseidon might be the most famous water god in modern culture, but before him, the great Oceanus ruled over the rivers, oceans, and streams.