The Gods of Greek and Roman Mythology - Poseidon (Neptune)
Role in the Mythos: God of the Sea
- Commander of the Sea
- Bringer of Natural Disasters (earthquakes, floods, storms, etc.)
- Parents: Cronus and Rhea
- Spouse: Amphitrite (descendant of Ocean, a Titan)
- Famous Children: Theseus
- Pine tree
- Second in strength and importance only to Zeus
Note: Because Greece is situated on the Aegean Sea, many of the early Greeks were sailors. Poseidon, therefore, was extremely important, and many Greeks prayed to him.
Myths to Know:
Contest for Athens
Both Athena and Poseidon want Athens to be the site of their primary temple. Thus, they hold a competition: they will present gifts to Athens, and the king will choose which one suites his people better. Athena creates an olive tree, and Poseidon creates a horse. The king determines Athena’s gift is better, and she wins the competition. Poseidon then besieges Athens with drought as punishment. Poseidon displays a similar type of rage over ungratefulness when King Laomedon of Troy refuses to pay him for helping to build the wall around Troy. In this instance, Poseidon sends a sea monster to attack Troy as punishment.
Medusa is originally a beauty, the subject of many men’s desire. She takes a vow of chastity to the goddess Athena, but Medusa has caught the eye of the god Poseidon, and her vow is broken. In some versions of the story, Medusa marries Poseidon and chooses to break her oath, but in most versions, Poseidon enters the temple of Athena and rapes Medusa on the altar. In all versions of the myth, Athena punishes Medusa for breaking her oath by transforming her into a Gorgon. Her beautiful hair becomes a thicket of venomous snakes, her eyes becomes blood-shot and furious, and her skin turns a sickly green color. Her appearance is so horrifying that anyone who looks upon her immediately turns to stone. Shunned and abhorred by society, Medusa runs away from her home and develops a personality to match her appearance. She particularly hates mortal men. Eventually, the hero Perseus is sent to kill her. With the aid of Hermes’s winged sandals, a shield of mirrors made by Athena, and Hades’s Helm of Invisibility, Perseus succeeds in beheading Medusa. The Gorgon is pregnant by Poseidon at the time of her death; when her head is removed, Pegasus, a winged horse, and Chrysaor, a giant, spring from her corpse.
Odysseus’s Unfortunate Journey
On his journey home from the Trojan War, the hero Odysseus and his men enter the cave of the giant cyclops Polyphemus where they find much needed food. When the cyclops returns, he leads his sheep into the cave and rolls a huge stone over the entrance. He finds Odysseus’s men and eats two of them that night and two more in the morning. Odysseus devises a plan. The next night, he gives Polyphemus wine and makes him drunk, telling the cyclops his name is “no man.” After Polyphemus falls asleep, Odysseus and his men poke out his only eye. The cyclops cries out in pain but can only say that “no man” has robbed him of his sight. Odysseus then ties each of his men to the underside of a sheep so that when Polyphemus checks the backs of his sheep in the morning, he will not detect any of them. Odysseus and his men escape, and as they are sailing away, Odysseus shouts back at the cyclops that it is not “no man” but he, the great hero Odysseus, who has tricked him. Little does Odysseus know that the cyclops is the son of Poseidon, who now knowing his name, wrecks Odysseus’s ship with a great storm and prevents him from returning home for 20 years.
Poseidon and the Minotaur
When King Minos becomes the ruler of Crete, he calls on Poseidon to send him a sign of divine sanction for his rule. Poseidon sends him a great bull as proof of his support and tells Minos to sacrifice the bull to him. However, Minos likes the bull too much to sacrifice it. To punish the king for his betrayal, Poseidon asks Aphrodite to curse Minos’s wife, Pasiphae. Pasiphae falls madly in love with the bull and gives birth to a monstrous son with the body of a human and the head of a bull. The creature is called the Minotaur.