Poseidon, Lord of the Sea from Tales of the Ancient Greeks
Poseidon, the bad-tempered Earth Shaker
Poseidon was the second most powerful god of the Olympians and yet another example of the dysfunctional male divinities who plagued Greece with their childish and boorish behaviour.
Despite his lamentable ways (or perhaps because of them), Poseidon held great power and significance for the Ancient Greeks.
The temples to honour Poseidon were usually situated by the sea, and you can always identify him from the crowd of other heavily-stubbled Olympians by his trident. This trident was made for him by the Cyclopes and he uses it to stir up the waves and command the winds, usually to the detriment of human interests.
I begin to sing of Poseidon, the great god, mover of the earth and of the barren sea, the sea-god who is lord of Helicon and Aegae
Homeric Hymn to Poseidon
Portrait of the Olympians
Twelve Gods is a Dodekatheon
The Olympians are a group of twelve gods (Dodekatheon) who ruled after the overthrow of the Titans and all related to each other in some way or other.
They get their name from their dwelling place, Mount Olympus, which, we are told, towers up from the centre of the earth.
It's here that the major gods live and entertain themselves by meddling in the affairs of mortals. And having affaires with each other. The Olympians weren't all-wise and godlike in their behaviour, but very human in their faults.
Poseidon is a clear example of this.
Poseidon is at the lower right in this portrait. Can you identify any of the other gods?
The War with the Titans
Called the Titanomachy
The Titans were powerful deities who ruled during the legendary Golden Age until they were overthrown by the Olympians. These elder gods were then imprisoned in Tartarus, the very deepest part of the underworld.
After the war with the Titans, Zeus divided the world between himself and his brothers Poseidon and Hades.
Zeus ruled the Sky, Hades ruled the Underworld, and Poseidon ruled the Seas.
Poseidon was an unlikeable character
A bad-tempered oaf
Quarrelsome, surly, petulant and with an unreliable temper, Poseidon could hold a grudge for a long time.
Always restless and greedy, he plotted to seize the lands, cities and countries of humans, dried up the lakes and rivers of people he disliked, and sent great tidal waves against those who irritated him.
However, one lazy afternoon he decided to help the Greeks during the Trojan War.
Help the Greeks he certainly did, but not all of them individually. For Odysseus had blinded the Cyclops, Polyphemus, who was another of Poseidon's sons, so the sea god thwarted the hero's homeward journey after the Sack of Troy.
Poseidon raised the seas into a great storm with his trident and shipwrecked Odysseus and his crew.
Poseidon's Quarrel with Ulysses - The puniushment for pride
A regrettable act from a Hero
Pride is natural to have, especially when you're a Hero, although some might say that in Odysseus' (Ulysses) case he had too much of it.
They refer, of course, to this lamentable incident with the Cyclops when Odysseus bragged a little loudly about his exploits and just missed being flattened by giant boulders hurled by Polyphemus. It was then that Odysseus boastfully (and unwisely) revealed his name to the round-eyed brute and with that, Polyphemus called upon his father, Poseidon, to punish the man who had harmed him.
This regrettable lapse of his usual intelligence hurt Odysseus more than losing a few men, because Poseidon (in one of his nastier moods) made the poor man's journey home so much longer and so much harder.
Poseidon's Quarrel with Athena
Athena's Gift of the Olive Tree
At one time Poseidon had wanted to be the Protector of Athens and, in a competition with Athena for this honour, he offered a Sacred Spring to the Athenians.
However, when the people drank the water they had to spit it out! And no wonder, for the water was salty, Poseidon being a sea-god after all. He lost the competition to Athena who had given Athens a much more useful gift -- the olive tree.
So he quarreled with Athena over this imagined slight, stamped his foot in childish rage and flooded the whole Attic Plain.
The innocent citizens were punished needlessly but the gods of Olympus had little regard for mere mortals, and Poseidon was no exception.
(The gods didn't care much for each other either).
Why the Greeks Matter
I love Thomas Cahill and devour his books.
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea is the fourth volume in his Hinges of History series.
Why do the Greeks matter?
They invented everything from Western warfare to mystical prayer, from logic to statecraft, poetry, drama, philosophy, art, and architecture.
I've read this book again and again
It's best to keep Poseidon happy
If you want to be safe at sea
When in a rare mellow mood, Poseidon rode over the seas in his golden chariot, making the waters calm, still and safe.
He also ruled over earthquakes which he triggered whenever he had a fancy to see the earth shake, but he preferred to stay in his underwater palace and harass the traffic on the sea. No sailor would board a vessel without first making an offering to the God of the Sea.
If you sail across the Aegaen Sea, perhaps you should make an offering to Poseidon as did the ancient mariners. The old god has been ignored for many ages and it never hurts to please any deity, particularly an unpredictable ruffian like Poseidon.
Remember to pour a little oil on the waters before you sail.
What do you think of Poseidon?
What's your true opinion of the Sea God?
© 2008 Susanna Duffy