Zeus and Poseidon
Zeus and Poseidon
Zeus and Poseidon were brothers in Greek mythology, but at a glance you might think they were almost the same. Read on to learn about how alike the two gods were and why the similarities might be due to more than just kinship.
When the Titans were defeated the gods of Olympus split power between themselves. Zeus became their king and took the sky, while his brother Poseidon was given dominion over the sea.
In some myths Zeus uses his authority as king to command his brother, but in others they seem to be of similar importance. In fact, some myths seem to even show Poseidon as a more king-like figure.
In both legends and art the brothers were very similar. This could be due to the conventions of portraying gods, but other Olympians have far more varied personalities.
These similarities, along with a few key details in mythology, show that Zeus and Poseidon were probably not originally thought of as brothers. They didn’t even initially belong to the same culture.
How did two kings of the gods come to split power? Keep reading to find out!
Zeus and Poseidon as Brothers
In Greek mythology, Zeus and Poseidon were two of the ruling brothers of the pantheon along with the third brother, Hades.
According to the myths, Zeus was the king and the three divided power between the realms. Zeus had the sky, Poseidon had the sea, and Hades had the underworld.
Gaia could not be given to any single god and be ruled over, so the brothers divided the earth between them. Hades, however, rarely came to the surface so Zeus and Poseidon were most active on land.
While the brothers ruled over their individual realms, Zeus was the ultimate authority in the affairs of the gods. While Poseidon ruled the seas, he still had to defer to his brother’s authority.
This happened often as the two brothers often butted heads. Both were known for their tempers and ability to hold a grudge.
When angered by Odysseus, for example, Poseidon’s fury resulted in the sailor spending ten years on his journey home. The ruler of the sea only relented when ordered to do so by Zeus.
Both Zeus and Poseidon were gods who commanded respect and even fear more than love. They showed exceptional favor to few but their anger could be quick and relentless.
Another thing both gods had in common was that the few people they showed favor to were most often their many mistresses and children. While Zeus’s affairs were more numerous and famous, Poseidon too was the father of many legendary rulers, heroes, and minor gods.
The similarities between Poseidon and Zeus extended to the ways in which they were depicted.
Greek gods and goddesses were often portrayed in idealized and somewhat standardized forms. With a few exceptions, they were most identifiable by their symbols and attributes.
Zeus and his brother were no different. Both were shown as venerable and powerful older men.
Their bodies were generally more broad and heavily muscled than those of the gods who were presented as younger. They had the long white beards that denoted age and wisdom in Greek iconography.
In fact, the physical features assigned to the two gods were so similar that without recognizable symbols, such as Poseidon’s trident or Zeus’s eagle, they were indistinguishable.
My Modern Interpretation
The similarities in Zeus and Poseidon’s depictions, personalities, and stories are due to more than just artistic convention or even their relationship as brothers. Many historians believe that the two gods once held the same position.
The first Greek people migrated to the Peloponnesian during the Bronze Age. There they met local populations such as the Minoans who they either conquered or intermingled with.
Both groups of people had already been influenced by other cultures before they met, and the new Greek lands continued to be influenced by the religions of their neighbors throughout their history.
As a result, the gods and stories of Greek mythology were a mix of early Greek culture, pre-Greek Mediterannean beliefs, and influence from other nearby regions.
It is thought that Zeus was one of the handful of deities who were brought in with the early Greek-speaking people. Poseidon is thought to be of a non-Greek origin.
There is evidence that each of the two gods was the king of his own pantheon. When the two cultures met and melded together, both of their god kings were given a role.
Zeus remained as the ruler of the gods but lost direct dominion over the sea and underworld. Poseidon remained powerful but was placed in a position slightly below that of Zeus in the divine hierarchy.
This theory is supported not only by their many similarities but also by a few details in myths concerning the gods.
In the Odyssey, for example, Poseidon appears as the primary god in the story. While Zeus appears later to command him to let Odysseus return home, the ruler of the gods is largely absent from the narrative.
Some scholars believe that this is because Homer’s poem was based on a much older story that predated the arrival of Zeus in the region. By Homer’s time Zeus had been added to the pantheon and the story, but Poseidon’s former position as the primary god still drove the story.
The abduction myth of Europa may also contain clues that many of Zeus’s myths had once centered around Poseidon. The story centered around the island of Crete, home to the ancient Minoan culture whose religion is thought to have influenced that of later Greece.
Europa was abducted from Phoenicia by Zeus in the form of a white bull and taken across the sea to Crete to be his mistress.
The fact that Zeus took the princess across the sea, instead of through the sky, strikes many as an unusual aspect of the story. In other abduction stories Zeus took his lovers as an eagle or other bird, more in keeping with his role as the god of the sky.
Poseidon is also associated with the white bull elsewhere in Cretan stories. He was the god who sent the white bull to King Minos and his son Theseus ultimately defeated its offspring, the Minotaur.
Bulls are believed to have been central to Minoan religion, based on surviving art from the era. As Poseidon predated Zeus in the region, it is often supposed that he was worshipped on Crete.
It seems likely, therefore, that the abduction of Europa was once a legend centering on Poseidon. As Zeus became more prominent he was recast as the major god in the abduction myth, but the connection to the sea and Poseidon’s association with the island’s bulls did not change.
Zeus and Poseidon were brothers in Greek mythology. Together with Hades, they split dominion over the realms of the universe between themselves after the defeat of the Titans.
Zeus was the king of the gods, however, so Poseidon ultimately deferred to his younger brother’s orders. Despite this, however, the god of the sea was still a powerful ruler in his own right.
The two had many similarities. They both had quick and often violent tempers, called up storms to punish those who offended them, had many mistresses and children, and were even depicted in almost identical fashion.
The similarities were due to more than their familial relationship or conventions of iconography. Evidence from both archaeology and text suggests that the gods once held almost identical positions.
When the first Greek people arrived in the region, they encountered the area’s native cultures, including the Minoans. The two religions combined and continued to be influenced by other Mediterranean civilisations.
It is thought by many that, while Zeus was brought with the Greek-speakers, Poseidon was the native king of the gods. While he was made subservient to Zeus in some ways, a few myths still retained elements of Poseidon’s former power.