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Poseidon is the ancient Greek god of the seas, protector of sailors, and patron of many Greek cities and colonies. His ability to create earthquakes gained him the title of “Earth Shaker” by those who worshipped him. As one of the Twelve Olympians, Poseidon appears throughout Greek mythology and art. His powerful role as god of the sea meant he interacted directly with many Greek heroes as well as various other gods and goddesses.
Poseidon was one of the children of the Titans Uranus and Rhea, along with Demeter, Hades, Hestia, Zeus, and Hera. As the myth goes, Uranus was afraid because there existed a prophecy stating that one of his children would overthrow him. As his children were born and began to grow, Uranus felt he had to thwart destiny. So, he went about it in a most unnatural way by deciding to swallow all his children.
But luckily, Zeus conspired with his mother Rhea and overthrew Cronus. He freed his siblings, including Poseidon, by having Cronus disgorge them. After his father, Cronus, was defeated, the world was divided between Poseidon and his brothers, Zeus and Hades. Poseidon became lord of the seas, Zeus received the sky, and Hades ruled the underworld.
Who is Poseidon?
Poseidon was a major god and as a result was worshipped in many cities. When he was feeling magnanimous, he would create new islands and calm the seas to aid sailors and fishermen.
When angered, however, he would cause floods, earthquakes, drownings, and shipwrecks to punish those who had caused his anger. Poseidon could also cause certain human disorders, specifically epilepsy. Poseidon’s association with the sea and sailing meant that sailors venerated him, frequently praying to him and sometimes even sacrificing horses to him by drowning them.
Amongst the peoples of the isolated island Arcadia, Poseidon usually appeared as a horse and the river spirit of the underworld.
The Children and Consorts of Poseidon
Poseidon had many lovers (both male and female) and even more children. While he fathered quite a few minor gods and goddesses as well as mythological creatures, he was also believed to have sired some heroes, such as Theseus. Here are some of the most significant consorts and children connected with Poseidon. Note that there are different versions of many of these stories but as it would take too long to list, we’ve only noted the most well-known.
- Amphitrite is a sea goddess as well as the wife of Poseidon. They had a son named Triton, who was a merman.
- Theseus the mythical king and founder of Athens is sometimes said to be a son of Poseidon.
- Tyro was a mortal woman who fell in love with a river god named Enipeus. Although she attempted to be with him, Enipeus refused her. Poseidon, seeing an opportunity to bed the beautiful Tyro, disguised himself as Enipeus and took her. Tyro soon gave birth to the twin boys Pelias and Neleus.
- Poseidon had an affair with Alope, his granddaughter, and through her fathered the hero Hippothoon. Horrified and angered by their affair, Alope’s father (and son of Poseidon) had her buried alive. In a moment of kindness, Poseidon turned Alope’s body into the spring, Alope, located near Eleusis.
- The mortal Amymone was pursued by a lecherous chthonic satyr who was attempting to rape her. Poseidon rescued her and together they had a child named Nauplius.
- A woman named Caenis was abducted and raped by Poseidon. Afterwards, Poseidon offered to grant Caenis a single wish. Caenis, disgusted and distraught, wished that she could be changed into a man so that she couldn’t be violated again. Poseidon granted her wish, and he also gave her impenetrable skin. Caenis was thereafter known as Caeneus and went on to become a minor Greek hero.
- Poseidon raped Medusa inside a temple dedicated to Athena. In some versions, she was a willing participant. This angered Athena who punished Medusa by changing her into a monster. Upon being killed by the hero Perseus, two children emerged from Medusa’s body. These were Chrysaor, a young man, and the winged horse Pegasus, both sons of Poseidon.
- Poseidon fathered the Cyclops Polyphemus as well as the giants Alebion, Bergion, Otos, and Ephialtae.
- One of Poseidon’s male lovers was a minor sea deity, known as Nerites. Nerites was thought to be in love with Poseidon. Poseidon returned his love and their mutual affection was the origin of Anteros, the god of requited love. Poseidon made Nerites his charioteer and showered him with his attentions. Possibly out of jealousy, the sun god Helios turned Nerites into a shellfish.
- Arcadians believe that while in horse form, the stallion Poseidon pursued the goddess Demeter (who was also in horse form as a mare). Soon after, Demeter gave birth to the stallion Arion and mare Despoina. More widely, however, he is known as the tamer of horses or simply as their father.
Myths Involving Poseidon
Many of the myths involving Poseidon reference his quick temper and easily offended nature. These stories also tend to involve Poseidon’s children and his powers.
- Poseidon and Odysseus
During the Odyssey, the hero Odysseus comes upon one of Poseidon’s sons, the cyclops Polyphemus. Polyphemus was a one eyed, man-eating giant that captures and kills many of Odysseus’ crew. Odysseus tricked Polyphemus, ultimately blinding his single eye and escaping with the remainder of his men. Polyphemus prayed to his father, Poseidon, asking for him to never allow Odysseus to arrive home. Poseidon heard his son’s prayer and thwarted Odysseus journey back to his home for almost twenty years, killing many of his men in the process.
- Poseidon and Athena
Poseidon and Athena both competed to become the patron of Athens. It was agreed that both of them would give a gift to the Athenians and then the king, Cecrops, would choose the better one between them. Poseidon thrust his trident into the dry ground and a spring appeared. However, the water was salty and therefore undrinkable. Athena offered the Athenians an olive tree which could provide wood, oil, and food to the Athenian people. Cecrops chose Athena’s gift, and incensed from losing, Poseidon sent a flood to the Attic Plain as punishment.
- King Minos and Poseidon
To justify his new position as King of Crete, the mortal Minos prayed to Poseidon for a sign. Poseidon sent a gigantic white bull, who walked out of the sea with the expectation that Minos would later sacrifice the bull. Minos became fond of the bull and instead sacrificed a different one, which angered Poseidon. In his rage, Poseidon cursed Mino’s wife, Pasiphaë, to love the white bull. Pasiphaë eventually gave birth to the famous monster, the Minotaur who was half man and half bull.
- Lecherous and Lustful: Poseidon is frequently lascivious and driven by his need to possess others sexually. His thoughtless actions impact many of those around him, although rarely himself.
- The Destroyer: Poseidon’s powers lean far more strongly towards destruction than they do towards creation. He is the god of earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes. He takes out his anger and frustration on those who are often innocent of helpless to stop him.
- Temperamental: Poseidon’s emotions run deep. He is a poor loser, and often displays uncontrollable rage. He can be either cruel or kind and seemingly change between the two on a dime. He often operates from based in emotions rather than logic.
- Powerful: Poseidon was one of the most powerful gods in the Greek pantheon. His power is often depicted by his possession of the trident, which he used to manipulate the ocean, cause earthquakes, and summon storms.
- Competitive: Poseidon was known for his competitive spirit. A notable instance of this is his contest with Athena for the patronage of Athens.
- Respected and Feared: Given his power over the sea – a critical aspect for the sea-faring Greeks – and his temperamental nature, Poseidon was both respected and feared. Mariners sought his favor for safe sea voyages, and his wrath was blamed for adverse sea conditions and natural disasters.
Symbols of Poseidon
Poseidon has several symbols associated with him. Here are the most well-known.
- Trident: This is probably the most famous symbol associated with Poseidon. The trident is a three-pronged spear that Poseidon used to rule the sea. He also used it to create water sources. It represents his power over the seas.
- Dolphin: Dolphins are frequently associated with Poseidon and are often depicted alongside him in art. In fact, delphins, which were dolphin-shaped daimons, worked in the service of Poseidon.
- Horse: Poseidon is also known as the god of horses, and fathered many horses himself, including Pegasus. He is credited with creating the first horse, and he’s often depicted riding a chariot pulled by horses.
- Bull: Poseidon has also been linked to bulls. For example, when Minos didn’t sacrifice a certain bull to Poseidon because it was too beautiful, Poseidon was furious and made the bull rampage all over Crete. This eventually led to the birth of the Minotaur.
- Sea and Sea Creatures: As the god of the sea, any sea creature, such as fish, could be seen as a symbol of Poseidon. They all paid homage to him and he ruled over them all.
- Waves: Since Poseidon is the god of the sea, waves are often used to represent him. They can symbolize his power and temper, which can be as turbulent as the sea itself.
Poseidon vs. Neptune: Subtle Differences
Poseidon’s equivalent in Roman mythology is Neptune. Poseidon and Neptune are essentially the same deity but come from different mythological traditions. However, there are some subtle differences between the two that emerge from the different contexts they come from.
Neptune, although a major deity, was not considered as important in the early Roman pantheon as Poseidon was to the Greeks. The Romans, initially being more land-focused, didn’t emphasize Neptune until later periods, particularly when their expansion brought them greater interaction with the sea.
Neptune shares many of Poseidon’s attributes, and is often depicted with a trident and associated with horses and sea life. However, Neptune is also sometimes linked to freshwater sources, a trait not usually associated with Poseidon.
Temples to Poseidon were built on coastlines but also in inland areas, particularly near horse racing tracks. For the Romans, the festival of Neptunalia was celebrated, but it was not as significant as some other Roman religious festivals.
Apart from these main differences, their core characteristics as rulers of the sea and their famously temperamental natures remain consistent across both Greek and Roman interpretations.
Poseidon’s parents are the Titans Cronus and Rhea.
Yes, Poseidon had numerous children. Some of the most notable include Pegasus, Chrysaor, Theseus and Triton.
Poseidon’s siblings include Hera, Demeter, Chiron, Zeus, Hestia and Hades.
Poseidon’s consorts include Demeter, Aphrodite, Medusa and many others.
Poseidon is the god of the sea, storms, earthquakes and horses.
Poseidon could control the sea, creating storms, manipulating tides, lightning and tsunamis. He could also make the earth quake.
Like Zeus, Poseidon could transform into other shapes. He often did this to have affairs with mortals.
Poseidon’s impact on Greek mythology is enormous. As one of the Twelve Olympians as well as ruler of the seas, Poseidon interacts with other gods, monsters, and mortals alike. Frequently, he can be seen granting boons to heroes or, conversely, raining destruction upon them. He is a prominent figure in pop culture today, appearing in books and television, in addition to still being worshipped by modern day people.