One of the major deities in Greek mythology, Poseidon was the supreme ruler of the seas. The Romans called him Neptune. An awesome, unruly, and powerful god, Poseidon was associated with storms, earthquakes, and some other violent forces of nature. When angry, he could stir the sea to a fury. But he could also calm the raging waters with just a glance. One of his titles, Enosichthon (Earth-shaker), reflected his ability to cause earthquakes by striking the earth and mountains with his trident. Another name for Poseidon was Hippios (lord of horses), and the god presented horses as gifts to various individuals.
Poseidon rode the waves in a swift chariot drawn by golden sea horses. He used his mighty trident not only to provoke earthquakes and stir ocean waves but also to raise new land from beneath the sea or cause existing land to sink below the waters. Although often helpful to humans—protecting sailors at sea, guiding ships to safety, and filling nets with fish—Neptune could be a terrifying figure as well. Quick to anger, he directed his fury at anyone who acted against him or failed to show proper respect.
Poseidon's Siblings. The son of the Titans Cronus* and Rhea, Poseidon was swallowed at birth by his father. He was saved by his brother Zeus*, who tricked Cronus into taking a potion that caused him to vomit up Poseidon and the other siblings—Hades*, Demeter*, Hera*, and Hestia. Poseidon later joined Zeus and Hades in overthrowing Cronus, and the three brothers then divided the universe among themselves. Zeus received the sky, Hades ruled the underworld, and Poseidon became god of the seas.
deity god or goddess
trident three-pronged spear, similar to a pitchfork
Titan one of a family of giants who ruled the earth until overthrown by the Greek gods of Olympus
underworld land of the dead
Although Zeus was king of the gods, Poseidon often asserted his independence. Once he even plotted with the goddesses Hera and Athena* to overthrow Zeus. Together they managed to put Zeus in chains. However, the sea goddess Thetis saved Zeus by bringing a giant from Tartarus—a realm beneath the underworld—to release the king of the gods from his chains. As punishment for this rebellion, Zeus made Poseidon serve as a slave to King Laomedon of Troy for a year. During this time, Poseidon helped build great walls around the city. When the king refused to
*See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.
pay for this work, Poseidon took revenge by siding with the Greeks against Troy in the Trojan War*.
Love Life and Children. Poseidon had a turbulent love life and fathered many children, including a number of monsters and sea creatures. With his wife, the sea nymph Amphitrite, he had three offspring. One was the sea god Triton, a merman who resembled a human above the waist and a fish from the waist down.
Poseidon had children with other partners as well. After seducing his sister Demeter while disguised as a horse, he had two children: the divine horse Arion and a daughter, Despoina. A beautiful woman named Medusa* also bore Poseidon two children: the winged horse Pegasus and a son named Chrysaor. The goddess Athena, angered that Poseidon had made love to Medusa in one of her temples, turned the woman into a hideous monster, a Gorgon. Through his son Chrysaor, Poseidon became ancestor to some of the most fearsome monsters in Greek mythology, including Cerberus, the Hydra, the Nemean Lion, and the Sphinx.
Gaia, the earth, bore Poseidon two children: Antaeus, a giant, and Charybdis, a sea monster that almost destroyed Odysseus* during his journey home after the Trojan War. Another giant offspring of Poseidon—the one-eyed Cyclops Polyphemus—also threatened Odysseus on his voyage home. When Odysseus blinded the giant, he became a target of Poseidon's hatred.
When Poseidon tried to seduce the beautiful sea nymph Scylla, his wife, Amphitrite, became jealous and transformed her into a horrible sea monster with six dogs' heads. Like Charybdis, Scylla terrorized sailors, and she devoured several of Odysseus's companions.
Among Poseidon's other children were the evil Cercyon and Sciron, normal-sized offspring who threatened and killed travelers in Greece, and the giant Amycus, who forced people to fight with him and then killed them. Various ordinary mortals also claimed Poseidon as their father, including the famous Greek hero Theseus*.
Poseidon's Quarrels. Poseidon had numerous quarrels with other gods. One of his most famous disputes involved the goddess Athena. Both Poseidon and Athena claimed the city of Athens and the surrounding region of Attica as their own. A contest was held to see which god could give Athens the best gift. Athena created an olive tree; Poseidon produced a saltwater spring. When the Athenians judged Athena's gift to be superior, the angry Poseidon flooded the surrounding plain.
nymph minor goddess of nature, usually represented as young and beautiful
Gorgon one of three ugly monsters who had snakes for hair, staring eyes, and huge wings
Poseidon, the god of the seas, was one of the 12 Olympian gods in Greek mythology. Known for his terrible temper, Poseidon was associated with storms, earthquakes, and other violent forces of nature.
Poseidon also quarreled with the sun god Helios over control of the Greek city of Corinth. The giant Briareos settled the argument by giving the hill overlooking the city to Helios and the surrounding land to Poseidon. Satisfied with this decision, Poseidon caused no problems for the people of Corinth.
Another of Poseidon's famous quarrels was with Minos, the king of Crete. Minos asked Poseidon to send him a bull that he could sacrifice to the god. Poseidon sent such a magnificent bull that the king decided to keep it for himself instead of sacrificing it. Furious, Poseidon caused Minos's wife, Pasiphae, to fall in love with the bull and to give birth to the Minotaur, a monstrous beast that had the body of a man and the head of a bull.