Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.
Everyone loves a day out at the beach, with the waves lapping at the shore, the warm sun on your shoulders, perhaps even a good book in hand or a quick game of volleyball. Occasionally, though - and especially if you haven't properly checked the day's weather report - those beach days can turn disastrous. The waves, once playful, become violent, the sun is hidden behind some fast-approaching clouds, and that good book is ruined by an unexpected downpour.
While we might blame ourselves for not checking the weather report or the local weatherman for being wildly off base with the day's prediction, the ancient Greeks would have assumed their day was ruined because they had angered the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon.
Who Was Poseidon?
Poseidon was one of the most powerful gods in ancient Greek mythology, and he controlled more than just the sea. In ancient Greek culture, Poseidon was held responsible for earthquakes, rivers, floods, droughts, and anything involving water in general. In addition, some myths also claim he gave humans the first horse. He is typically depicted as a strong, middle-aged man with a long beard. He often carries a trident in his right hand.
According to ancient Greek mythology, Poseidon was the son of Cronus and Rhea. Cronus, fearing that his children would one day overthrow him, swallowed Poseidon and all of the children whole, except Zeus. After Zeus freed Poseidon and his siblings, the children of Cronus fought a great war to overthrow Cronus and the Titans. Eventually victorious, Zeus cast all of the Titans down into the pit of Tartarus. Afterward, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades divided the world between themselves: Zeus, the most powerful, would reign over the earth and the heavens from atop Mt. Olympus, Poseidon: the seas, and Hades: the underworld.
Poseidon in Greek Literature and Society
With the seas being such an integral part of everyday Greek life, Poseidon figures often and prominently throughout ancient Greek literature. For example, in the Iliad, Poseidon sides with the Greeks as, according to myth, Poseidon once helped built the walls of Troy and was never rewarded. In the Odyssey, Poseidon curses Odysseus' voyage home in revenge for Odysseus's blinding of Poseidon's son, the Cyclops.
Poseidon was not just present in Greek literature and mythology, but he played an important part of everyday life in ancient Greece as well. Sailors and fishermen often prayed to Poseidon for safe voyages. On larger and more expensive excursions, it was not uncommon for the leaders of the voyage to sacrifice a horse by drowning, in order to appease Poseidon and ensure a safe return.
Poseidon was ever-present in ancient Greek society, largely due to many Greek communities' reliance on the Mediterranean for commerce or on rain water for crop production. Since he was one of the three most powerful gods in ancient Greek mythology, this should come as little surprise. And now, perhaps next time your day at the beach is ruined, you can blame someone besides the well-manicured weatherman on channel seven.
After completing the lesson, you can decide whether you're prepared to:
- Describe the Greek god Poseidon
- Determine this god's importance to the average Greeks
- Identify Poseidon's role in many Greek myths and literature
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