Poseidon gave many gifts to the people of Greece. He created the horse, brought water to cities and farms, and ruled over the sea that allowed for transportation across the region
The people of the ancient world had reason to fear their sea god, however. Like the waters he ruled over, he was unpredictable and quick to anger.
Poseidon’s anger manifested itself in storms and rogue waves that threatened ships and ports alike. Even further inland, he could strike his trident to cause city-levelling earthquakes and floods.
When particularly angry, he could send beasts from the sea’s murky depths to attack coast, along with floodwaters that allowed them to move into cities and homes. His anger could be satisfied in a moment or last for decades.
The god of the sea was known for his fury.
Poseidon, like Zeus, was said to have a quick temper. Once angered, he was almost implacable and could hold a grudge for years.
In daily life, the people of Greece believed they could identify specific signs of Poseidon’s anger.
Sudden storms at sea or large waves were sure signs of Poseidon’s anger. Such storms were not only threats to ships in the water, but also to coastal communities who could be hit by storm surges.
His anger could not only manifest on the water, however. The Earth-Shaker also caused earthquakes and could reduce entire cities to rubble in a matter of seconds.
Poseidon also had the ability to cause floods, whether along the coast or from inland lakes and rivers. The people of Argolis called him The Flooder in remembrance of a legendary deluge that had destroyed the entire region in the ancient past.
Such signs of Poseidon’s displeasure were relatively common occurrences. Storms at sea can arise in moments and Greece is a seismically-active area that is prone to earthquakes.
In mythology, however, the results of incurring Poseidon’s wrath were even more dramatic and destructive.
On several occasions in mythology, his floods were only a prelude to the real manifestation of his wrath. The waters that surged inland were only sent to allow his sea monster, the ceto, to move into the nearby towns and cities.
This was said to have occurred at Troy, for example, when King Laomedon refused to pay him properly for helping to build the city’s walls. His campaign against Troy did not end there, however.
Poseidon was also well-known for holding a grudge. A generation later when Laomedon’s only surviving son, Priam, was king, Poseidon sided with the Greek coalition during the Trojan War because of the lasting bitterness he still held over his unpaid labor.
After the Trojan War, Poseidon would hold a grudge against Odysseus for over ten years. Even after Zeus ordered the sea god to allow Odysseus to finally return to Ithaca, Poseidon had to be pacified with a sacrifice to completely end his campaign against the man who had blinded his son.
In the myths of Crete, a single offense by King Minos unleashed a series of brutal punishments against the entire island. When Minos refused to sacrifice the Cretan Bull, Poseidon first drove the animal mad so that it destroyed farmland and houses, then made the king’s wife fall in love with it to both bring dishonor to the royal family and create another destructive monster, the Minotaur.
In this case, the results of the god’s wrath reached far beyond the intended target. The Cretan Bull rampaged its way across the mainland as well, and the Minotaur claimed the lives of several dozen innocent Athenian youths who had no connection to Minos’s crime.
Poseidon’s quick temper can be linked to his role as the god of the sea.
Even with modern equipment and navigational knowledge, the sea can be a dangerous and unpredictable place. It was even more intimidating to the people of the ancient world.
Sailors have long worried about the storms that seem to arise suddenly over water. In a culture that viewed such events as signs of an angry god, the rapidly-changing conditions of the sea meant that the god who controlled such storms was particularly quick-tempered.
This was particularly true as he was also the god of earthquakes. While storms give some notice of their arrival, even if it is brief, earthquakes are completely unpredictable and unannounced.
Flooding, too, can be difficult to predict. In a mountainous region like Greece, meltwater from the peaks can cause rapid flooding without the heavy rains that would have warned people of the danger.
Any of these natural disasters can be deadly and destructive in the modern world. To the ancients, who lacked the technological advances that help modern cities withstand and recover from such events, they could be catastrophic.
The threat of Poseidon’s anger was enhanced by the fact that little was known about the sea itself.
The people of the ancient world had no way to explore what lay beneath the surface of the water. It was all too easy to imagine monsters and beasts lurked in the dark depths of the Mediterranean.
The brief glimpses people did catch of these mysterious creatures only worsened their fears. The terrible sea monsters that Poseidon commanded are thought to be based on brief glimpses of whales.
Not understanding what these animals, which were relatively rarely seen, were, the Greeks made their impressions based on size alone. Such a large creature, they reasoned, must be powerful and dangerous.
When sudden floods hit the coast, due to storm surges or tidal waves, the damage caused to property and food supplies was already immense. The possibility of an enormous beast prowling for victims in the rising waters, however, created an even more intense fear.
The fact that Poseidon held on to his anger for years or even decades at a time was used to explain repeated instances of bad luck. When the storms, earthquakes, and floods that Greece was prone to struck the same area in quick succession, it was seen as proof that the people and their leaders had offended the god of the sea.
Ultimately, the actions of the angry Poseidon reflected very real threats felt by people in the ancient world. More than just the danger, however, they reflected the fear of the unknown.
Poseidon’s anger was infamous not only because of the destruction it caused, but also because of its unpredictability.
There was no technology to track the movement of storm fronts or sense the subtle clues that an earthquake will occur. The god of the sea could unleash his wrath at any time and for seemingly any reason.
When he was angered, he could summon the unknown beasts that lived out of sight in the sea’s depths. Not knowing exactly what these dangers were or when they might attack is one of the reasons that Poseidon was among the most venerated gods of the pantheon – only constant and proper worship could possible keep such a terrible temper at bay.
As the god of the sea, Poseidon’s anger often manifested itself on the water. Sailors prayed to be spared from the hazards of sudden storms and rogue waves that could sink a ship, throw men overboard, or cause them to go far off course.
These were also threats to the cities and villages along the coast. A storm surge or tidal wave could devastate a community and, if the god was particularly furious, bring with it a terrifying sea monster to devour the citizens of the ruined city.
Poseidon’s anger could also affect those far from the coast. Earthquakes and floods were also disastrous events that could come upon a region without warning.
The lack of warning was at the center of all of Poseidon’s ire. The god of the sea was quick to anger, easily offended, and ruthless in his punishments.
He could also hold a grudge for years or even decades. In places like Troy and Crete the sea god’s anger arrived quickly, but lasted for years and spread far beyond its original target.
The quick temper of Poseidon was used to explain natural disasters that came with little warning or change for escape. The fact that he held onto his anger for years meant that a long series of disasters could all be traced back to a single offense.
In Greece, it was therefore vital that Poseidon receive the proper sacrifices and a high level of respect. Any offense against the sea god could cause sudden disaster and wreak havoc on a community for decades.