Poseidon was the powerful god of the sea, earthquakes, and horses in ancient Greek mythology. The Romans identified him with their god Neptune. Poseidon was the son of Rhea and Cronus, members of an old race of gods called the Titans. The gods Zeus and Hades were his brothers. When the three brothers divided up the universe, Poseidon received the sea as his domain, Zeus the heavens, and Hades the underworld. All three brothers ruled Earth, but Zeus was in charge.
In art, ancient Greeks depicted Poseidon as a large, strong man with wild hair. He drove a chariot drawn by two golden-maned horses, and his palace beneath the sea was made of gold. Poseidon himself wore golden clothing. He carried a three-pronged spear called a trident, with which he struck the ground to create earthquakes. He was a mighty god with a violent temper.
In one legend, Poseidon and Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare, competed with each other for control over a city in the Greek peninsula of Attica. They stood upon a rocky hill called the Acropolis, ready to woo the Atticans and the judging gods with their powers. Poseidon struck the rocky floor of the Acropolis with his trident, and produced a salt spring there. Athena magically produced the first olive tree. The crowds and judges were impressed by Poseidon’s display, but it was Athena’s lovely and useful tree that won them over. The people named their city Athens in honor of their new patron goddess. At first, Poseidon was enraged and flooded Athens. However, the Athenians appeased the angry sea god by worshiping him and honoring the spring at the Acropolis as sacred.
Poseidon chose Amphitrite, a Nereid, as his wife. The Nereids were a race of immortal nymphs who kept watch over the sea. At first, Amphitrite rejected the sea god’s romantic advances. She fled to Atlas, the titan who bore the weight of the sky on his shoulders, asking him to protect her from the powerful god. However, Poseidon sent a dolphin to find her and retrieve her. She returned and the two were married. Poseidon turned the dolphin into the constellation Delphinus as thanks.
Poseidon and Amphitrite had two daughters, Rhode and Benthesicyme, and a son, the sea god Triton. Poseidon also had children from many love affairs. These offspring included the magical horses Pegasus and Arion, the giant Antaeus, and the cyclops (one-eyed giant) Polyphemus. In the epic poem the Odyssey, Poseidon hated the Greek hero Odysseus for blinding Polyphemus. In some myths, Poseidon was also the father of Theseus, a mortal hero and great king of Athens.
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Image: Statues of Poseidon usually include his trademark trident. Credit: © Shutterstock