Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Nov 24th - Nov 30th, 2006

The Power of Poseidon

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  Poseidon was the Greek name for the Roman god Neptune.

Poseidon in Athens

Poseidon in Athens

  The power of this influential lord is often overlooked, but his influence over the developing Mediterranean cultures in antiquity was huge.

  There are several myths concerning his birth. According to an Arcadian legend, when Poseidon was born his mother lay the baby among the grazing lambs and gave the father, Cronos, a foal instead. Cronos knew one of his children was destined to overthrow him and was therefore in the habit of eating them as soon as they were born. Since Cronos had assumed the form of stallions before, a foal did not appear to be surprising, and so he ate the 'child' without question. Rhodes claimed Poseidon had been raised on their island. However, the most common version of his birth was that he, like his brothers and sisters, had been swallowed by Cronos and rescued by Metis, who gave Cronos an emetic.

  Following a great ten year long conflict between the gods and the Titans (after which the Titans were defeated and thrown into Tartarus behind bronze gates made by Poseidon),
Poseidon's brother Hades

Poseidon's brother Hades

the three brother gods divided creation between them, with Hades receiving the Underworld, Poseidon the sea and Zeus the sky. Since Poseidon ruled over the sea, this included all the things in or of the sea, such as its currents, fish, storms and secrets. He also lorded over both fresh and salt water springs.

  In addition to ruling their specific realms, the gods vied for the patronage of various cities. Poseidon was involved in more of these disputes than any other. He contested with Helius for Corinth and Hera over Argos; but probably his most famous contention was with Athena for Athens and its surroundings, Attica. Forced to choose between them, in typical fashion Poseidon created a spring of seawater on the Acropolis with a blow of his trident, leaving the mark for all to see. Athena, in her turn, caused an olive tree to grow nearby. The judges picked Athena's gift to be more useful than Poseidon's. In a rage Poseidon flooded the plain of Attica.


Poseidon with a 'swimmers body'
from the island of Delos.

  What is often overlooked in this contest is the importance of the sea to the Greeks. In general, the land of Greece is mountainous and not very arable. For this reason, the population would expand beyond the land's ability to sustain them, and nautical migrations would set out to find new land, in new locations, founding new cities. This colonization was extensive throughout the Black Sea, northern Africa, southern Italy and Sicily. These latter two were once known as Magna Graeca (Greater Greece).

  One of the reasons this is so important is because, under Poseidon's influence, an awareness of the stars and their use for nautical passage was fostered and developed by the Greeks and their maritime predecessors the Phoenicians. The temples which can be found throughout the Mediterranean islands, Greece, Italy, Malta, Ireland and even Britain were developed for the study of the heavens, in order to further their abilities (among other things) in traveling over the 'wine dark sea'. The temples in Malta, for instance, pre-date the pyramids of Egypt and have been archaeologically verified as marking both the equinoxes and solstices, which they continue to mark to this day. Herein lie much of the development of an early study of the stars, both for astronomy and astrology.


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