|POSEIDON (puh-SYE-dun or poh-SYE-dun;
Roman name Neptune) was the god of the sea, earthquakes
and horses. Although he was officially one of the supreme
gods of Mount Olympus, he spent most of his time in his
Poseidon was brother to Zeus and Hades. These three gods
divided creation between them. Zeus was ruler of the sky,
Hades had dominion of the Underworld and Poseidon was
given all water, both fresh and salt.
His weapon is a trident, which
can shake the earth, and shatter any object. He is second
only to Zeus in power amongst the gods. He has a
difficult quarrelsome personality. He was greedy. He had
a series of disputes with other gods when he tried to
take over their cities.
Although there were various rivers personified as gods,
these would have been technically under Poseidon's sway.
Similarly, Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea, wasn't really
considered on a par with Poseidon, who was known to drive
his chariot through the waves in unquestioned dominance.
Poseidon had married Nereus's daughter, the sea-nymph
In dividing heaven, the watery realm and the subterranean
land of the dead, the Olympians agreed that the earth
itself would be ruled jointly, with Zeus as king. This
led to a number of territorial disputes among the gods.
Poseidon vied with Athena to be patron deity of Athens.
The god demonstrated his power and benevolence by
striking the Acropolis with his three-pronged spear,
which caused a spring of salt water to emerge.
Athena, however, planted an olive tree, which was seen as
a more useful favor. Her paramount importance to the
Athenians is seen in her magnificent temple, the
Parthenon, which still crowns the Acropolis. The people
of Athens were careful, all the same, to honor Poseidon
as well (as soon as his anger calmed down and he withdrew
the flood of seawater with which he ravaged the land
after his loss in the contest with Athena).
Poseidon was father of the hero Theseus, although the
mortal Aegeus also claimed this distinction. Theseus was
happy to have two fathers, enjoying the lineage of each
when it suited him. Thus he became king of Athens by
virtue of being Aegeus's son, but availed himself of
Poseidon's parentage in facing a challenge handed him by
King Minos of Crete. This monarch threw his signet ring
into the depths of the sea and dared Theseus to retrieve
it. The hero dove beneath the waves and not only found
the ring but was given a crown by Poseidon's wife,
Poseidon was not so well-disposed toward another famous
hero. Because Odysseus killed the Cyclops Polyphemus, who
was Poseidon's son, the god not only delayed the hero's
homeward return from the Trojan War but caused him to
face enormous perils. At one point he whipped up the sea
with his trident and caused a storm so severe that
Odysseus was shipwrecked.
Poseidon similarly cursed the wife of King Minos. Minos
had proved his divine right to rule Crete by calling on
Poseidon to send a bull from the sea, which the king
promised to sacrifice. Poseidon sent the bull, but Minos
liked it too much to sacrifice it. So Poseidon asked
Aphrodite, the goddess of love, to make Minos's queen,
Pasiphae, fall in love with the bull. The result was the
monstrous Minotaur, half-man, half-bull.
As god of horses, Poseidon often adopted the shape of a
steed. It is not certain that he was in this form when he
wooed Medusa. But when Perseus later killed the Gorgon,
the winged horse Pegasus sprang from her severed neck.
At one point he desired
Demeter. To put him off Demeter asked him to make the
most beautiful animal that the world had ever seen. So to
impress her Poseidon created the first horse. In some
accounts his first attempts were unsucessful and created
a varity of other animals in his quest. By the time the
horse was created his passion for Demeter had cooled.
Poseidon sometimes granted the shape-shifting power to
others. And he ceded to the request of the maiden Caenis
that she be transformed into the invulnerable, male