The god Poseidon was the brother of Zeus and Hades, and was known throughout the ancient Greek world as the Lord of the Sea. At the time of the fall of their father Cronus, the three gods drew lots from a helmet to see how they would divide rulership over the universe. While the earth and Mount Olympus were considered common ground to all, Zeus was given surpreme reign over the sky, Hades the underworld and Poseidon dominion over the deep waters of the sea. He built for himself a beautiful underwater palace, which included vast stables for keeping his team of prized chariot horses. No other steeds could compare to their beauty, for they were white in color and sported both brazen hooves and flowing manes of gold. Because he was also the god of earthquakes, Poseidon was given the nick name of "The Earth-shaker". He was commonly shown carrying a three speared trident which he used to shatter and shake anything he desired.
The god had in his possession a golden chariot, which when driven across raging waters would cause waves to become still and all storms to cease. Sea creatures of every type would rise out of the brine and follow behind its rolling wheels, laughing and dancing upon the froth.
Poseidon was second only to Zeus in power and was usually known to be of a cranky and quarrelsome nature. The sea god often found himself in the center of many disagreements concerning his title as the patron deity of various regions throughout the ancient world. He disputed the validity of Corinth's patronage with Helios the Titan ruler of the sun.
Because the situation required an arbitrator, Briareus, one of the Hundred-handed, was called away from Tartarus to decide the contest. After hearing both sides Briareus declared that Helios be granted the Acropolis of Corinth and Poseidon the Isthmus.
Poseidon also fought long and hard with Hera for the reign of Argos. This time the matter was brought before the river gods Inachus, Cephissus and Asterion for judgement. When the three decided to bestow the city to the goddess, Poseidon flew into a fit of rage and dried up all three of their streams, preventing them from flowing during the summer months.
He then turned his wrath upon the city of Argos itself, causing it to be engulfed in a great deluge of water. In another instance Poseidon challenged Athena for rulership over Troezen, but this time Zeus stepped in and insisted that the city be shared equally by both parties. This arrangement did not sit well with god. Poseidon also challenged Zeus for rulership over Aegina and Dionysus for Naxos, but was unsuccessful at both attempts.
Poseidon's most famous dispute over land was the one he waged against Athena for sovereignty over Attica. As both gods thought themselves best suited to rule, it was decided that the deity who could offer the most beneficial gift would be declared the patron god of the region. Poseidon began the contest by pounding the ground with his mighty trident. This caused a spring of seawater to flow freely across the Athenian Acropolis. Athena thought for a moment before causing an olive tree to sprout close by the newly formed stream. A vote was taken among the other Olympians with the exception of Zeus. Desperately trying to avoid trouble, the chief god refused to voice his opinion. It was decided that Athena offered the most useful gift, and so the city was given to the goddess. Once again Poseidon punished the unfortunate residents by flooding the plain of Attica. In order to keep the peace, the Athenians continued to honor both Athena and Poseidon on the Acropolis, where both their gifts can still be seen to this very day.
When not on Mount Olympus, Poseidon could be found residing in his underwater palace at Aegae, located on the northern coast of the Peloponnesus. There he lived with his beautiful wife Amphitrite, one of the many daughters of Oceanus. It took Amphitrite quite a bit of time to warm up to Poseidon. She tried to escape his advances by fleeing to the Atlas Mountains, but the sea god would not give up. He resorted to sending a messenger named Delphinius to try and convince the indifferent maiden to be his bride.
Delphinius proved to be very persuasive, and shortly after his visit Amphitrite consented to marry the amorous sea god. To show his appreciation, Poseidon placed Delphinius among the stars as a constellation called the Dolphin. Amphitrite went on to bear Poseidon three children; a son, Triton, and two daughters whom they named Rhode and Benthesicyme.
Unfortunately for the new queen, Poseidon had inherited the same roving eye as his brother Zeus. This brought a great deal of pain to Amphitrite, for like Hera, she was destined to forever stand in the shadows of her husband's countless love affairs.
Poseidon ruled over both the fresh and salt waters of the earth. He was also known as the god of horses and it is said that he created the first one by hitting the side of a rock with his trident. As Demeter wandered through Arcadia in search for her lost daughter Persephone, Poseidon found her desirable and trailed the sorrowful goddess in a lustful pursuit. In order to escape his grasp, Demeter frantically turned herself into a mare, but Poseidon slyly transformed himself into a stallion and mounted her. This union brought about the birth of the nymph Despoena and the wild steed Arion. From that time on Demeter was worshipped in parts of Arcadia with the head of a horse and in the company of a consort known as Horse Poseidon.
Poseidon desecrated the temple of Athena by seducing the young and beautiful Medusa within the sacred chambers. The goddess found this behavior so deplorable that she punished the maiden by changing her into a hideous monster. Just one look into her abhorrent face would instantly turn any observer into stone.
According to one version of the story, when Perseus later beheaded Medusa, out flew the offspring of her union with Poseidon; the giant Chrysaor and the winged horse Pegasus. This beautiful creature was later captured and tamed by a young man called Bellerophon. He was the son of Poseidon and Eurynome, the wife of King Glaucus of Corinth.
Another tale connecting Poseidon to the horse brings us to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. It was he that gave Peleus as a wedding gift Xanthus and Balius, two immortal stallions that were later inherited by his son Achilles. Poseidon, like many others in the stories of the Greeks is also frequently linked to the bull and to bull worship.
The one charasteristic that most sea deities have in common is the ability to change their shape at will. Poseidon was no different, most often utilizing this talent during his numerous seductions; appearing to Medusa as a bird, Theophane as a ram and Canache as a bull. He also bestowed the gift of shape shifting upon a few mortals, one being his lover Mestra. It seems that Mestar was the daughter of an evil man named Erysichthon, who had repeatedly slighted the Olympian gods. One day while walking in a grove sacred to Demeter, Erysichthon decided to cut down a large oak tree. He brazenly swung his axe, all the while ignoring the groans of the dying dryad who lived inside. Horrified, the other wood nymphs prayed to the goddess to punish the murderer and avenge the blood of their sister.
Demeter heard their prayers and cursed Erysichthon with an insatiable hungar that could never be satisfied. When he finished off all of the household's food, he sold his daughter Mestra in order to have money to buy more.
Because Poseidon had given Mestra the gift of shape shifting, she was able to avoid being enslaved by any of the interested buyers. Though she worked very hard at scavenging food for her insolent father, Erysichthon could not escape the wrath of Demeter. The impertinent man soon brought about his own demise by gnawing on his flesh until he finally died.
One of Poseidon's many children was a son born to him by Gaia, the Earth Mother. Antaeus was giant in stature and known for his profound strength which he sustained by coming in contact with his mother the earth. It was customary for strangers, upon their arrival at the home of Antaeus to participate in wrestling matches with their host. This always proved to be a futile battle for the challengers, for if and when the giant was thrown to the ground his strength was immediately renewed as soon as he touched the earth. This allowed him to return to the match twice as strong as before and therefore be the victor of every game. To celebrate his success, Antaeus shamelessly used the skulls of his opponents to line the roof of his father's house. The giant finally met his death during a battle with the wandering hero Heracles. Realizing that Antaeus grew stronger each time he was thrown, the clever Heracles lifted him high above the ground, all the while squeezing the behemoth's body until he was left lifeless and broken.
Heracles was also responsible for the death of Busiris, the brother of Antaeus. It was during the time when Busiris reigned as the King of Egypt that the land was struck with a serious drought and famine. In order to put an end to the suffering, Busiris sought the advice a Cyprian seer named Phrasius.
Busiris was told that the land would be saved only if he were to sacrifice a stranger every year in Zeus' honor. The king did not lose any time, for he immediately had the augar swept away and placed upon the altar of the Olympian god.
This practice continued until Heracles arrived and willingly allowed the priests to prepare him as the next sacrificial victim. Just as Busiris raised his axe high above the head of the shackled hero, Heracles broke through his bonds and slew the King, his son and all the attending priests, putting an end to the terror caused by two sons of Poseidon.
Though Poseidon was the father of several of the Argonauts, he did nothing to aid them in their quest for the Golden Fleece. A more obscure tall tells us that the sea god was also the father of the blind seer Phineus. It was said that Poseidon took away Phineus' sight for showing Phrixus the way to Colchis.
When Jason's search for the fleece led him to the land of Thynia, he found Phineus at the mercy of the wretched bird women known as the Harpies. Each day when the sightless old man tried to eat his dinner, his tormenters would arrive and snatch away his food before he could taste even a bite.
The Argonauts drove away the harpies and to express his gratitude Phineus gave the sailors advice as how to pass safely through the Symplegades, which were clashing rocks that shielded the entrance of the Bosporus.
The most famous mortal son of Poseidon was Theseus. Aethra, the mother of Theseus was said to have slept with both Poseidon and Aegeus, the King of Athens on the same night. This made it impossible for the boy to know for sure who his father really was. Though Theseus made claim to the throne of Athens through Aegeus, he was also known to refer to the sea god as his father as well.
One instance when the young Theseus was in Crete under the hand of King Minos, the scornful ruler threw a ring into the sea contending that if Theseus were really the son of Poseidon he have no problem retrieving the band from the water.
As the lad dove under to search through the roaring waves, Poseidon saw to it that not only did he rise to the surface with the ring in his hand but also with a jeweled crown from the palace of Amphitrite.
During the Trojan War, Poseidon strongly supported the Greek armies, as he harbored a relentless grudge against both Troy and King Priam's father Laomedon.
It seems that the Olympians had grown tired of Zeus and his prideful nature, and all except for Hestia rallied up and attempted to mutiny against the great god. The venture failed, and for their involvement in the escapade both Apollo and Poseidon were sent away for a year to act as bond servants to King Laomedon of Troy. The two were commissioned to build the powerful walls that would encase the land and turn the city into a fortress. But when the time came for the pair to be paid for their labors Laomedon refused to hand over their wages. To add further insult, he threatened have them both sold into slavery. The two gods punished Laomedon by sending both a plague and a huge sea monster to ravage the townspeople. Though Poseidon was loyal to the Greeks during their war against Troy, the god did punish them for the abominable actions of Locrian Ajax.
In the midst of all the chaos, Cassandra, the daughter of Priam took refuge in the temple of Athena. The Lesser Ajax entered the shrine of the goddess and forcibly removed and raped the Trojan princess. In the struggle the statue of Athena was knocked over and some say from that day forward the eyes have looked to the heavens with horror. Odysseus wanted to have the Lesser Ajax stoned, but becasue he had picked up the fallen image of the goddess, his Greek comrades were afraid to place their hands upon him. Athena sought out the help of both Zeus and Poseidon, and for her asking the sea god destroyed the Greek fleet off the coast of Cape Caphareus. Some say that Athena struck Ajax dead with one of Zeus' thunderbolts.
Another version is that Poseidon allowed him to escape death by swimming to safety on a huge rock called Gyrae. Once atop the giant stone, Ajax boasted that he had saved himself through his own skills and owed thanks to no god. Hearing this, Poseidon split the rock in two with a thunderbolt and the arrogant young Ajax drowned in the sea.
The worship of Poseidon extended across the Greek lands and eventually made its way into Rome under the guise of King Neptune. He was equated with many islands including Crete, Chios, Delos and Cos, as well as numerous seaports and the Isthmus of Corinth.
His cult was alive in Delphi and throughout northern Boeotia, and he was also celebrated in Attica before Athens became recognized as such an important sea power.
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