Who Was Poseidon?
Poseidon was the Greek god of the sea. As much of Greek culture centered around the Mediterranean, the ruler of the marine realm played an important role in their religion.
The Greeks believed that Poseidon was one of the most important gods to appease. Like the sea itself, he could quickly change moods to become violent and destructive.
Poseidon’s quick temper was not only a threat to ships and cities along the coast, however. Although he ruled the sea, he also had the ability to cause earthquakes and destruction far away from the coast.
From a modern perspective, it may seem unusual for a sea god to have such power over the land. Greek naturalists explained the connection by theorizing that earthquakes were connected to eroding rocks near the coast or changing water levels.
Modern historians, however, hypothesize that the answer to Poseidon’s dual powers over land and water lies in the origin of his mythology. They believe that Poseidon was once a land-based deity who, with the evolution of the Olympic pantheon, was moved to the sea.
Poseidon was one of the major gods of the Greek pantheon.
He and his brothers, Zeus and Hades, had fought together to overthrow the Titans. Zeus became king of the new gods of Mount Olympus and the three brothers had divided the realms of the world between themselves.
Zeus became the god of the sky while Hades took the realm of the dead. Poseidon became the god of the sea.
The Greeks had many deities associated with the water. The peninsulas and islands of the Mediterranean made the sea an important part of their culture and most Greek speakers lived within a short distance of the shore.
Poseidon ruled over the various nymphs and minor gods who made their home in the Mediterranean. He ruled the world under the waves just as his brothers were kings in their own domains.
The ruler of the sea was an important protective deity for sailors, fishermen, and coastal cities. He was also, however, a temperamental and merciless god.
Poseidon was quick to anger and known to hold a grudge. When Odysseus displeased him, for example, he hounded the hero for ten years until ordered by Zeus to end his campaign against the Ithacan king.
Poseidon also held mastery over the frightening mysteries of the ocean’s depths. Great sea monsters and serpents, probably inspired by brief glimpses of whales and other large marine animals, could attack both ships and coastal cities that incurred the god’s anger.
The god’s powers were not limited to the sea, however. The three sons of Cronus shared rule of the earth equally and Poseidon’s powers were often felt there.
Poseidon’s chief attribute was his trident, which had the power to cause earthquakes as well as waves. In the tectonically-active region of the Mediterranean, his power could be felt far away from his watery home.
Interestingly, Poseidon was also the god of horses. He was often credited as their creator, as well as the inventor of the chariot.
While horses are terrestrial animals, in Greece culture they were also associated with the sea. The legendary animals said to live beneath the waves included literal seahorses, with equine bodies and thick fish tails.
Poseidon’s powers over both the sea and life on solid land have given modern historians insight into how the god evolved over time and what his origins may have been.
Poseidon’s character, particularly his temperament, was typical of sea gods in the ancient world.
The ocean was a frightening place for early seafarers. Storms and rogue waves could arise seemingly out of nowhere and it was not unusual for ships to be lost at sea with no explanation.
Sea gods, like Poseidon, reflected the nature of the domain. They were usually considered to be quick to anger and violent, conjuring up storms or monsters in moments to punish those who drew their wrath.
Poseidon was most often shown in myths as a violent and easily angered god. He rarely gave out favor but, like the sea itself, was quick to harm those who crossed him.
The god’s connection to both horses and earthquakes also fits within archetypes of Indo-European and world religions. Earthquake gods were often associated with large animals as well, who could make the earth shake on a smaller scale when they ran in large numbers.
Poseidon’s quick temper certainly lent itself to being the cause of earthquakes, but it still seems unusual for the god of the sea to be so closely associated with land. A modern interpretation raises the possibility that Poseidon was not always a sea-based deity.
Historians have a great deal of evidence to show that the Greek pantheon evolved and changed over time. Gods and goddesses were adapted as culture changed and often adopted from neighboring pantheons.
Some of these historians believe that in pre-Greek culture, Poseidon was one of the major gods of the land, not the sea. As Zeus became more prominent and powerful, the ancient Mycenaean god of horses and earthquakes was re-imagined as an aquatic deity.
There is little direct evidence of how the pre-Greek people of the Eastern Mediterranean viewed Poseidon, but hints can be gleaned from ancient texts. For example in Homer’s Odyssey, a relatively early work based on much older oral accounts, it is Poseidon rather than Zeus who plays the most prominent role.
The stories of King Minos also seem to point to Poseidon as once having been a primary god on land. Many of these are believed to be retellings of Minoan myths that predate the arrival of the first Greek-speaking people to the region.
Poseidon is the god most associated with the mythology of Crete, punishing King Minos for offending him. Although he was usually associated with horses, in the stories set on Crete Poseidon sends a bull to torment the kingdom and the Minotaur, a bull-headed man, was a result.
In later myths, bulls were more associated with Zeus than his brother. Europa, for example, was carried away on the back of a white bull.
Many modern historians believe, therefore, that Poseidon was once the land-based bull god before the introduction of Zeus. The original myth of Europa may have seen the princess carried to Crete by the same god who sent the Cretan Bull to her son, Minos.
Poseidon was the Greek god of the sea. The brother of Zeus, he played an important role in the pantheon of the coastal culture.
He was known to be quick-tempered and often violent, expressing his displeasure with sudden storms or attacks by terrible sea beasts. Like the ocean itself, he was unpredictable and his mood could change in moments.
This characterization was common for ancient sea gods, whose personalities reflected their realm. Poseidon, however, held joint rule over the land as well.
His iconic trident had the power to summon earthquakes. Even far away from the possibility of rogue waves and sea monsters, people could still feel the power of Poseidon in his role as “earth-shaker.”
He was also the god of horses, who were often connected to the sea in ancient mythologies. According to the Greeks, he created the animals and often took their form.
Modern historians theorize that Poseidon’s power over the land as well as the sea is a relic of pre-Greek beliefs. Before the introduction of Zeus in the Bronze Age, they believe Poseidon was the primary god on land.
The importance of Poseidon in many older stories, such as the Odyssey and the legends of King Minos of Crete, give credence to the theory that the Greek god of the sea was once the ruler of the land as well as the water.