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Poseidon

Ποσειδαων

Lord of the Sea

Poseidon

Poseidon and Atlantis
Poseidon and King Minos
Poseidon and the Trojan War
Poseidon and Aias
Poseidon and Odysseus
The Children of Poseidon
Text References

The Son of Kronos and Rheia

Poseidon is the son of the Titans, Kronos (Cronos) and Rheia (Rhea). He is the brother of Zeus, Hades, Histia (Hestia), Demeter and Hera.

Kronos was a Titan and perhaps the worst of them all. The father of the Titans, Ouranos (the Heavens) devised the name Titan to mean Strainer because he saw his offspring straining the limits of propriety and destined for an ignoble fate. Kronos was told by Gaia (Earth) that one of his children would depose him ... to prevent that from happening, Kronos swallowed each of his children as they were born and foolishly thought that he had escaped his fate. Poseidon was swallowed whole with the other four children of Rheia and Kronos but when the sixth child was born Rheia had had enough of Kronos's indulgences. Rheia substituted a stone for the newborn infant and Kronos swallowed it down without hesitation. The newest child became known as Zeus and he was secretly reared on the island of Crete. When Zeus became old and powerful enough, he attacked Kronos and the swallowed children were vomited up ... Poseidon was thus born.

The children of Rheia and Kronos were destined to rule heaven and earth but it was not a simple matter to dethrone Kronos and assume control. The brothers and sisters of Kronos came to his assistance and the War of the Titans began. When the dust cleared and the fighting was over, the Titans were banished to the Underworld and Poseidon and his brothers and sisters took up residence on Mount Olympos (Olympus) and became known as The Olympians. Zeus became the new Father of the Gods and all of the Immortals answered to him ... or suffered his wrath. Although Zeus was the ultimate authority, it was necessary to share his power with his brothers. Poseidon, Hades and Zeus, drew lots for the division of all creation. Zeus won the sky, Hades drew the lot for the mists and darkness of the Underworld and Poseidon won dominion of the sea which made him the undisputed lord of the vast sea which he has populated with creatures of his own design. Poseidon's mission is to give voice to the earth and for that reason he is commonly called the Earth-Shaker ... he pounds and shakes the earth and sea with his wrath and pleasure and answers to no one ... except Zeus.

Poseidon rides the waves in his chariot and carries his distinctive trident which he uses to smite the earth and sea. Although Poseidon is intimately linked to the sea, his most honored creation is the horse. The horse came into existence when Poseidon was vying with the goddess Athene (Athena) for the adoration of the human race. A competition was proposed to see which of the two Immortals could devise the most cunning gift for the mortals of the earth. Poseidon crafted the horse and Athene brought forth an olive tree. The olive tree was such a wonderful creation that Athene won the competition and Athens was named her. The olive was used as food, oil and the wood from the larger trees was used for building ships. Poseidon's gift of the horse was by no means unappreciated ... the horse literally changed the shape of the ancient Greek world.

Poseidon and Amymone

A mosaic found at Chania, Crete, of Poseidon and Amymone.

The Telchines are the nine dog-headed sea monsters who, as great artisans, crafted the trident of Poseidon as well as the sickle of Zeus.

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Poseidon and Atlantis

There is a story about Poseidon and the lost continent of Atlantis which deserves our consideration. This story is not from one of the early Greek authors such as Homer or Hesiod but comes much later, circa 345 BCE. The story of Poseidon and his role in establishing Atlantis was told by Plato at the end of his career in two Dialogues, Timaeus (Timaios) and Kritias (Critias).

I choose not to disregard these Dialogues simply because of they are of a much later date than most of the literature on which the vast majority of the Greek mythical histories are based. I choose to believe Plato in a very literal sense and dispense with the second-guessing and what-he-really-meant arguments. Plato's geographical view of the world was limited but not myopic ... his time reckoning was not precise but we should not be too hasty in correcting his facts and figures simply because they do not agree with our modern preconceptions.

According to Plato, the continent of Atlantis was destroyed circa 9000 BCE after a long and prosperous reign. Atlantis was founded at the dawn of time when Zeus, Hades and Poseidon divided the domains of the earth between them. Poseidon became lord of the Sea and consequently assumed control of the island-continent which became known as Atlantis.

Poseidon encountered a woman named Kleito (Cleito) from an Earth-Born race native to the continent and took her as his consort. Poseidon began to terraform the land where Kleito's parents had lived until it became a round island surrounded concentric rings of water and land ... two rings of land and three of water. Poseidon then made two springs flow on the center island, one of hot and one of cold water. The water from the springs was used to irrigate the land and provide water for domestic use including elaborate baths for people and animals. Over time, the surrounding fertile plain began to grow with abundant produce of every kind.

After Poseidon and Kleito had five sets of male twins, Poseidon divided the island-continent into ten separate domains for his sons to administer as kings. The eldest of the elder twins was given his mother's home district and he became King over his brothers. Each son assumed absolute power in his own region and could punish or execute his subjects at will. After the institutions of Atlantis were firmly established, Poseidon left his sons and their descendants to their own devices.

Although each king was the master of his own domain, the distribution of power and the mutual relations between the kings were governed by the injunctions of Poseidon which were engraved on an orichalc pillar and placed in the Temple of Poseidon which was built on the center island where Kleito's original home had been. Inside the temple stood a golden statue of Poseidon driving a chariot drawn by six winged horses and surrounded by one hundred Nereids riding dolphins. The outside of the temple was covered in silver, with golden figures on the pediment. Inside, the roof was flecked with silver, gold and orichalc ... the walls, pillars and floor were covered with orichalc. The temple was surrounded with statues of the ten original kings as well as statues of succeeding kings and private persons. (Orichalc was a metal which was more precious than gold or silver and found in abundance in Atlantis.)

As generation followed generation, the Temple of Poseidon was expanded and enlarged by each succeeding group of kings, each trying to surpass their predecessors with lavish additions to the original structure. The result of this long-term uncoordinated building program was a temple which was described as having a "barbaric" appearance.

Atlantis flourished for many generations but the divine blood of Poseidon became more and more diluted until finally the kings began to act in ways which were not in accordance with the first king's noble character. When the latter day kings of Atlantis tried to invade the eastern Mediterranean area, they were soundly defeated by the Athenians ... at that remote time, Athens had the strongest military and most advanced culture in the Mediterranean. Soon after the humiliating military defeat of the Atlantians and the stunning military victory of the Athenians, a Deluge struck the entire region with such force that the Atlantians were completely destroyed and the Athenians were scattered into small impoverished groups.

The destruction of Atlantis and ancient Athens took place circa 9000 BCE. Atlantis sank beneath the waves in a single day and night, never to be seen again. Plato ended his Dialogue in mid-sentence so we are not told the details of the destruction of Atlantis ... at the end of the Dialogue, Zeus is addressing a gathering of the Immortals to discuss the fate of Atlantis but as to what was said or done, we do not know. We are also not told whether Poseidon as lord of the Sea, was a party to the watery destruction of the civilization he created.

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Poseidon

Poseidon and King Minos

King Minos of Crete was a very devout man who failed only once to give Poseidon his due respect ... that one oversight became the reason for the creation of the Minotaur and the construction of the famous Labyrinth at King Minos's palace at Knossos (Cnossos). This happened one generation before the Trojan War and involved the Athenian hero Theseus.

It was traditional for King Minos to sacrifice a bull annually to Poseidon but one year the bull which was to be sacrificed was of extraordinary beauty and vigor ... King Minos decided to keep the bull and sacrifice another less perfect bull instead. Poseidon recognized the betrayal and began a series of events which would result in King Minos's humiliation and repentance. With the contrivance of Poseidon, King Minos's wife Pasiphae became pregnant and gave birth to a hideous creature with the body on a human male and the head of a bull ... the creature became known as the Minotaur, i.e. Minos Bull. Minos instructed the master builder Daedalus (Daidalos) construct a labyrinth at Knossos and placed the Minotaur inside the maze of passageways of the labyrinth. When the Athenians killed King Minos's son Androgeus, Minos threatened to destroy Athens unless a tribute was paid every year ... the tribute was to be seven young women and seven young men. The young men and women were taken to Knossos and thrown into the labyrinth for the Minotaur to hunt and kill. This cruel practice continued until Theseus volunteered to be one of the sacrificial victims. With the assistance of King Minos's daughter Ariadne, Theseus was able to enter the labyrinth, kill the Minotaur and then successfully find his was out of the tortuous maze.

Poseidon was said to have taken King Minos's daughter Euryale as his consort and sired the great hunter, Orion.

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Poseidon and the Trojan War

The Trojan War occurred circa 1250 BCE and was fought by mortals, demigods and the Immortals. Poseidon was often on the midst of the fighting and he was clearly on the side of the Achaean (Achaian) Greeks against the Trojans. The Trojan War was an attempt by Zeus to rid the world of the demigods, i.e. the sons of the Immortals and mortal women. The war was staged and choreographed by the Immortals and the outcome was never in any doubt by those watching from Mount Olympos (Olympus).

The pretext for the war was the kidnapping of Helen of Argos. She was the wife of the Spartan King Menelaos (Menelaus) who had been enchanted by Aphrodite (goddess of Love) to flee her home and became the wife of the Trojan Prince Alexandros (Paris). The stage was set the players were in place and nine years of bloody fighting followed.

Prior to the Trojan War, Zeus commanded Poseidon and Apollon to serve King Laomedon of Troy for one year. Poseidon built the walls of Troy and Apollon tended Laomedon's herds. When their service was over, Laomedon refused to pay for their services and threatened to sell them into slavery. Apollon seemed more inclined to forgive the insult but Poseidon would not forgive or forget. When the final battle for Troy was fought, Poseidon fought fiercely on the side of the Achaeans and helped topple the walls which he had built.

In the tenth year of the war, Zeus still limited the roles the Immortals could play in the actual fighting. Certain rules had to be obeyed and Poseidon willingly did the bidding of Zeus to prolong the war. In a limited way, Poseidon would go among the Achaeans in the guise of moral men and urge them to fight or strike soldiers with his staff to magically make them forget their fears and plunge into the Trojan defenses.

As the Trojans became more bold and aggressive, Poseidon felt like he had to be more aggressive in protecting the Achaeans. With the assistance of Zeus's sister/wife Hera, Poseidon devised a way to participate in the fighting without Zeus's knowledge. Hera met Zeus on Mount Ida where he was watching the war ... using a charm provided by Aphrodite by Aphrodite and slumber induced by Hypnos (Sleep), Hera seduced Zeus. While Zeus was still in the thralls of love and lulled by sleep, Poseidon raged into the Trojan defenses and was nearly successful in destroying the Trojans but he became the victim of his own lust for blood ... the bellowing and earth shaking clamor which arose from the battlefield awakened Zeus ... when he realized the deception, he summoned his faithful messenger Iris. Zeus instructed Iris to go to Poseidon and command him to withdraw from the fighting. When he received Zeus's message, Poseidon withdrew but assured Iris that he was not afraid of Zeus ... he was obeying because of respect.

Finally, Zeus called the Immortals together and told them that the end of the war was at hand and that the gods and goddesses could enter the fighting on any side they chose. Poseidon rushed to the side of the Achaeans ... when he landed on the battlefield, the earth quaked with such force that Hades (lord of the Dead) was afraid that his halls would crack open. The final and most brutal phase of the war had begun but there were still rules that had to be obeyed. For example, when Achilles (the best warrior in the Achaean army) was poised to kill Aphrodite's son Aineias (Aeneas), Poseidon put a mist over Achilles's eyes and threw Aineias safely to the edge of the battlefield. The reason for this seemingly contradictory behavior was simply that Aineias was not destined to die in the war and Poseidon had a more long-range perspective than his personal hatred of the Trojans.

Achilles was without doubt the most brutal and dangerous man in the Achaean army. When he donned his god-made armor and charged into the Trojan defenses Poseidon and Athene met him on the battlefield and assured him that he would drive the Trojans back to their walls.

Poseidon and Apollon had one more score to settle before the war was over. Apollon had been fighting for the Trojans and now he and Poseidon were preparing to fight. Poseidon told Apollon that since he is the younger of the two, he should strike the first blow. Apollon wanted to back away from the fight and tried to reason with his uncle Poseidon ... Apollon could not understand why two Immortals should fight for the sake of mere mortals. The two gods did not fight but Apollon's sister Artemis scolded him for not wanting to fight because he had once bragged that he could match Poseidon in strength.

Despite the fierce fighting and the deaths of Achilles and the Trojan Prince Hector, the war was at a stalemate. The Achaeans came up with a plan which was so brilliant that it still has a place in our modern lexicon, i.e. the Trojan Horse. A man named Epeios (Epeius), with the inspiration of the goddess Athene, designed and built a hollow Wooden Horse in which they could hide some of their best warriors. The Achaean army retreated to a nearby island so that the Trojans would think that the war was over and the attackers had finally given up their siege and gone home. The horse was then left in front of the gates of Troy with the assumption that the Trojans would take it into the city as a trophy.

Some of the Trojans thought that the Wooden Horse was a symbol of peace and a tribute to the goddess Athene ... others thought that the Wooden Horse was a trick and should be burned where it stood. The Trojan seer Laokoon (Laocoon) tried to warn King Priam that the Wooden Horse was a trick and not a peace offering but Poseidon sent one of his giant ketos (sea-serpents) to kill Laokoon and one (or both) of his sons. King Priam assumed that Laokoon was killed because he was giving false prophecy and ordered the Wooden Horse to be brought inside the walls of the city.

After the victory celebration was over and night had fallen, the Achaeans emerged from the Wooden Horse and the war was over ... the Trojans were caught completely off-guard and were overwhelmed. The Trojan men were killed and the women and children were taken as slaves. Poseidon retreated to Mount Olympos but was soon stirred to wrath by one of the survivors of the Trojan War ... Odysseus.

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Poseidon and Aias

Telamonian Aias (Ajax) was the largest and, second only to Achilles, the most fierce fighter for the Achaeans (Achaians) in the Trojan War; he survived the war but was killed on the voyage home for insulting Poseidon.

While on the open sea, Poseidon drove Aias and his ships against the rocks of Gyrae (Gyrai) which are located in the Aegean Sea (their exact location is unknown to us); Poseidon did not intend to kill Aias when he dashed the ships against the rocks and to ensure that no injury would come to Aias, Poseidon prevented the goddess Athene (Athena) from harming the hero; not understanding the importance of what had befallen him, Aias began to rave madly and declared that he survived the Trojan War and the great gulf of the sea in spite of the Immortals and not because of their protection; he continued to rant and rave until Poseidon had heard enough; Poseidon drove his trident against the rocks of the Gyrae and splintered off a piece which landed in the water next to Aias; the surging water washed Aias down to the depths of the sea where he drowned.

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Poseidon and Odysseus

Odysseus was the king of the island Ithaka (Ithaca) and played an important part in the Trojan War. Odysseus was not a large man but he was very strong and to add to his formidable fighting abilities he was a brilliant negotiator and strategist. All these attributes served him well during the Trojan War but on the voyage home his bravado and cleverness caused the deaths of all of his comrades and the loss of all of his ships.

After leaving Troy, Odysseus and his companions unknowingly stopped at the island of the Cyclops to replenish their food and water supplies. When they did not encounter any natives on the island, they began to explore and plunder. They found a cave which was the home of Polyphemos (Polyphemus) and were in the process of stealing Polyphemos's sheep when they were interrupted and trapped in the cave.

Polyphemos was the son of Poseidon and the sea nymph Thoosa ... he was a Cyclops, i.e. one of the race of one eyed monsters who were called Wheel-Eyed. When Polyphemos discovered Odysseus and his men, he began to capture and eat them. Polyphemos thought that the puny sailors were no threat to him and made the mistake of letting his guard down ... with some clever talk, Odysseus tricked Polyphemos into drinking some potent wine and when the Cyclops became dimwitted from the wine, sprang upon him with a burning spear. Polyphemos was blinded as his solitary eye was boiled in the socket. Odysseus made his escape but, in his pride, he turned and taunted Polyphemos with cruel insults.

Polyphemos prayed to his father Poseidon to avenge the wound and the insults ... Poseidon was outraged but his revenge was tempered by Zeus who forbade Poseidon from killing Odysseus. For ten long years, Poseidon caused Odysseus constant misery but he did not kill the haggard wanderer, he just kept driving him away from his home and thus, his happiness.

After all of Odysseus's comrades had been killed and all of his ships were lost, Poseidon found his desperate prey on a raft drifting on the sea. The wind rose at Poseidon's command and with his trident, he staggered the sea and let loose the storm blasts against Odysseus ... the tiny raft shattered. As Odysseus clung to the remnants of the raft, the sea goddess Leukothea (Leucothea) came to Odysseus and gave him her veil as protection against drowning but Odysseus was afraid that this was just another one of Poseidon's tricks and refused the goddesses' help ... when the raft was ready to sink in the turbulent sea, Odysseus took the goddesses' veil and began the three day swim to the island of the Phaiakians (Phaeacians).

The original leader of the Phaiakians was descended from Poseidon but when the Phaiakians realized that the supplicant stranger who had washed up on their shore was Odysseus, they treated him as an honored guest ... they bestowed many gifts on Odysseus and launched a ship and to take him to his home on the island of Ithaka. When the Phaiakians returned to their island, Poseidon punished them by turning their ship to stone and left it in the harbor as a permanent reminder of his displeasure. Satisfied that enough punishment had befallen Odysseus, Poseidon turned away from the long-suffering hero and made his way to his palace.

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Poseidon

The Children of Poseidon

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Poseidon

Poseidon is often confused with the Roman god, Neptunus.

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