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The Sea God Phorcys in Greek Mythology

Updated on February 24, 2015
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

Water is essential to life on earth, and in Ancient Greece, all different types of water were revered; with every river, stream, well and spring having a minor god or goddess associated with it. It was though, not just freshwater that had deities linked with it, and seas and oceans had their own even more powerful gods.

Seas and oceans, to the Ancient Greeks, were dangerous places to traverse, but could also provide bountiful catches of fish, and so it was only right that a strong deity was associated with such areas.

Today, the most famous sea-god from Greek mythology is Poseidon, but the brother of Zeus was a relatively newcomer to the pantheon of Greek sea-gods. Poseidon indeed was predated by the sea-gods, Pontus, Oceanus, Nereus and Phorcys.

Mosaic of Phorcys

Dennis Jarvis - Flickr: Tunisia-4751 - Phorkys CC-BY-SA-2.0
Dennis Jarvis - Flickr: Tunisia-4751 - Phorkys CC-BY-SA-2.0 | Source

Phorcys in Greek Mythology

Phorcys was the son of the primordial deities Pontus (Sea) and Gaia (Earth), making him brother to Thaumas (sea wonders), Nereus (sea wisdom), Eurybia (mastery of the seas) and Ceto (sea dangers). Phorcys himself was the personification of the dangers of the sea’s depths, and the creatures that dwelt within it.

In antiquity, Phorcys was normally depicted as a grey-haired merman, with the tail of a fish. In addition to the normal imagery of the merman, Phorcys also had forelegs in the shape of crab claws, and crab-like skin. Strangely for an underwater deity, Phorcys is also often shown with a lit torch.

The Graeae Children of Phorcys

Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898) PD-art-100
Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898) PD-art-100 | Source

The Phorcydes - the Children of Phorcys

Rather than any particular myth, Phorcys is arguably more famous for his offspring, and Phorcys and Ceto were parents to many famous figures.

The Gorgons – The three Gorgons, Euryale, Stheno and Medusa, are today the most well known of Phorcys’ children; and the daughters of Phorcys are famously depicted in the adventure of Perseus, when the only mortal Gorgon, Medusa, was decapitated by the Greek hero. The three Gorgons were the personification of the reefs and underwater rocks that caught out the unwary sailor.

The Graeae – The Graeae were also three in number, and were normally named as Deino, Enyo and Pemphredo. These three daughters of Phorcys also appeared in the myth of Perseus, for they were the guardians of the location of the Gorgons. The three Graeae, who shared one eye and one tooth, were forced to give up their secret by Perseus. The Graeae were the personification of sea foam.

Heracles and Ladon

Antonio Tempesta (Italy, Florence, 1555-1630), Nicolo Van Aelst (Flanders, 1527-1612) PD-art-100
Antonio Tempesta (Italy, Florence, 1555-1630), Nicolo Van Aelst (Flanders, 1527-1612) PD-art-100 | Source

Echidna – Whilst not as famous as the Gorgons, the monstrous she-dragon, is actually named in many more stories. Echidna would partner with Typhon, and as well as producing many of the most famous monsters in Greek mythology, including the Chimera, Cerberus and the Sphinx, the pair would also go to war with the gods of Mount Olympus.

Ladon – Ladon was the snake-dragon that resided in the garden of the Hesperides, and guarded Hera’s sacred apples. Ladon was famously encountered by Heracles in one of his 12 Labours.

These offspring were named by Hesiod in the Theogony, the ancient source that is most comprehensive in such matters, but other sources also name additional offspring.

Homer calls Phorcys the father of Thoosa, who in turn was mother to Polyphemus; whilst Apollonius Rhodius also claims that the monstrous sea crab Scylla, was also an offspring of Phorcys.

Awareness of the dangers beneath the waves was an important aspect of mariners in Ancient Greece, and so this awareness was personified in the form of the dangerous sea-god Phorcys.


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