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A man is nothing without the gods!
~ Poseidon in The Odyssey.

Poseidon is the god of the sea in Greek mythology. He is the older brother of both Zeus and Hades and second oldest of his siblings behind Hestia. Poseidon functioned as an antagonist of other gods usually not through direct malevolence but rather as a result of egotism and uncontrollable fits of anger; Additionally he is the main antagonist in the epic poems of The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Origin

Like all of his siblings other than Zeus, Poseidon was eaten at birth by his father Cronus; Cronus had heard the prophecy that one of his children would overthrow and banish him just as he had overthrown and banished his father Uranus, the Sky. Zeus was saved by Rhea, their mother, and spirited away to be taken care of in secret by Gaea, the Earth and their grandmother, until the day he would come of age to free Poseidon and his other siblings still trapped in Cronus' stomach.

The day of Zeus' return eventually did come, whereupon he confronted Cronus and freed his imprisoned brothers and sisters Poseidon included (some stories claim Zeus cut Cronus' stomach open others say his first wife Metis poisoned Cronus for him and made him vomit up the other gods). In retaliation Cronus ordered his Titans to destroy the gods and so began the Titanomachy or Titan/God War where Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter, and Hestia fought the Titans in epic battle. The Gods won the war and Zeus cast them into the deepest depths of Tartarus, a precursor to the concept of hell, and set to work reshaping the world.

First, Zeus set out to divvy up the world between his brothers, earth was set to be neutral ground and Zeus choose the heavens as his realm so he gave the remaining Oceans to Poseidon and Underworld to Hades. Poseidon resented Zeus' claim to the heavens and as the oldest brother wanted his father's former domain for himself, furthermore seeing the handout as patronizing. This attitude of jealousy and entitlement became the basis for various myths and poems recouningt Poseidon's feuds with Zeus and clashes for power.

Poseidon and Demeter

Poseidon was so opposed to Zeus that he tried to beat him at everything, when Zeus took his sister Hera as a his wife Poseidon demanded the right to claim a sister as well, Zeus capitulated and Poseidon choose Hestia, goddess of Hearth and Fire, said to be the most beautiful and graceful of the Olympians. When Poseidon went to claim Hestia she revealed she was taking a vow of virginity, feeling cheated Poseidon returned to Zeus to make Hestia marry him, but Zeus deeply respected his eldest sister and would not attempt to undermine her decision.

As Hestia was chaste, Poseidon wanted Demeter instead as a wife even though Zeus was already negotiating the betrothal to Hades. As neither Hades nor Demeter were particularly interested in the union and in light of Poseidon's tirade Zeus agreed Poseidon could take Demeter instead but only if Poseidon won her affections as he had done to Hera (a somewhat liberal decision for the time considering most marriages did not take the woman's feelings into account and pledging their hands to appease fellow kings was fairly common). Poseidon was more or less pacified by Zeus' consent and set off to win Demeter's hand but Demeter had no real fondness for her brother and his initial attempts failed.

Demeter did have a fondness for animals though and so Poseidon started to craft various creatures for her as tribute, crabs, cows, bulls, seagulls and various other creatures emerged from the sea but all of them fell short of winning Demeter's hand. At last Poseidon crafted the creature that relied on the grassy fields, pranced at high speeds on four legs, had a beautiful shinny coat and a long dolphin like nose, the creature was the world's first horse. Demeter was enamored by the gift and consented her hand to Poseidon.

But Poseidon's attention was far easier earned and lost than Demeter's and he had completely lost interest in Demeter, instead marveling at his own creation with such pride that he no longer cared about Demeter and her affections became wasted. Though Poseidon eventually married the water nymph, Amphitrite, he and Demeter maintained an open on/off affair usually with one or both of them taking the form of an animal during sex and from Demeter and Poseidon's union came Arion god of horses and Despoina goddess of grain.

Poseidon vs Athena

Poseidon vs Athena

Athena and Poseidon vie for the City-State.

When a new settlement was formed that had potential to be Greece's largest, most well stocked, strategically placed City-State Poseidon tried to make claim for it but Athena had also made claim to it, Poseidon was Zeus' brother but Athena was his daughter so neither had the authority to quash the others' claim so they went to Zeus to settle the dispute. Zeus proposed a contest, each would give the people of the City-State something and the one with the superior gift would become the City-State's new patron worshiped within its walls even before Zeus himself and have the capital named after them.

Poseidon's mouth watered at the chance to finally be praised more than his brother and have an entire city-state as his prize and Athena was eager to lead an entire territory thus proving herself to her father so the two quickly agreed to hold the contest. Poseidon's gift was a war horse, and he said their would be more of the fierce loyal beasts for the people so they could march into battle with speed and strength. Athena presented her gift, an olive tree, and assured Zeus that it was the first of many since its fruit would make food and oil, its bark would make fine crafting material and its roots would fertilizes the soil making all sorts of crops easily grown there.

Zeus was far more impressed with Athena's creativity than Poseidon's fierceness and so the City-State was awarded to Athena and named "Athens". Poseidon never forgot the contest and conspired with numerous gods whose followers attempted to conquer Athens over the centuries. Seeing Athens fall was just a minor and secondary goal for Poseidon, his main focus was undermining Athena whenever he could and many Athenian plays showed Poseidon as the scheming uncle always trying start a fight with their patron goddess.

The Iliad

Poseidon is the main antagonist in the Homer's epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey. The Trojan War gathered all the kings, warriors and heroes of ancient Greece and at the siege of Troy even a few gods took on mortal guise to join in the conflict as an amusement. The King of Ithaca, Odysseus, offered a gigantic wooden horse as tribute of surrender to the Trojans, whose patron god was Poseidon, father of horses, the carving however was filled with a number of Greek soldiers hiding inside waiting to be bought in to kill the gate guards and open the gates for their main forces. As the king was considering accepting the gift the prophet, Laocoön, walked out to the shore and counseled king Priam not to trust the gift.

Priam was considering burning the carving as an effigy instead as tribute to Poseidon on Laocoön's warning. But before King Priam made up his mind a sea monster casually grabbed Laocoön from the shore and ate him, Priam took it as a sign that Poseidon would have been most displeased to see the carving used as an effigy instead of a trophy and ordered the horse be brought in the city; the rest of Odysseus' plan went off perfectly though; night came, the raiding party emerged from the carving while most of the soldiers were asleep and or drunk from the victory celebration, the gates of Troy were opened and the Greeks seized the so-called impenetrable city of Troy. Odysseus refused to give thanks to the gods taking pride that it was his cunning and the blood of his fallen friends that won the war.

Most of the Gods either did not care or admired Odysseus enough not to take offense, Poseidon however did not and was furious that Odysseus did not consider how his plan would have been doomed to failure if not for his sea monster. The Iliad ends with Odysseus' ship sailing off into the sea but getting lost from the rest of the ships and being swept up into Poseidon's realm.

The Odyssey

The Odyssey continues following the voyage of Odysseus as he was taken to the island of the younger Cyclopi who were some of Poseidon's sons. Not knowing what dwelt on the island and being quite lost, Odysseus and his men docked to ask for directions and replenish their supplies. They encountered one of Poseidon's sons named Polyphemus. Polyphemus captured Odysseus and several of his men in his cave and refused to open it until the morning - when he ate them. Odysseus lulled Polyphemus to sleep by encouraging him to have the wine he had bought for bartering and when he was asleep stabbed him in the eye with a hot poker. The confused and enraged cyclops fumbled around trying to find Odysseus but could not so he opened the door and waited for them to try to pass him, but Odysseus had already counted on this and covered himself and his men in sheep skins, bleating as they passed by with the rest of Polyphemus' herd of sheep so he could not tell them apart.

As Odysseus escaped the isle Polyphemus called out to his father to avenge him, and so Poseidon's anger at Odysseus became a full-out campaign of torment to see that he never saw the shores of Ithaca again as he sent him from one strange and dangerous uncharted island to another, encountering everything from sea monsters, to an enchantresses in service of Poseidon. Eventually Zeus and Athena conspired with the other gods to free Odysseus while Poseidon was taking a small vacation but Poseidon caught Odysseus on a tiny man-made raft on his way back from his holiday. Poseidon spoke to Odysseus directly for the first time since his banishment out at sea.

Odysseus accused Poseidon of being a sadist however Poseidon said that while it did become a matter of watching Odysseus suffer after he blinded his son his original intent was to teach Odysseus a lesson, when Odysseus inquired on the nature of the lesson Poseidon stated that it was that a man is nothing without the gods and Odysseus' hubris was in fact what had doomed his journey, destroyed his ship and eventually killed all his crew. Humbled and depressed Odysseus drifted to sea once more in Poseidon's presence, this time though Odysseus did not return home he did wash ashore an allied king's shore and Poseidon was no longer set on impeding Odysseus' attempts to go home.

Cultural Subtext

Most of the surviving stories of what is now considered ancient Greece is from the Hellenistic Period, however there was an older stage to Greece prior to it's first dark-ages, called the "Mycenaean Period". As the Mycenaean Period  would have been ancient history to the then present Greeks, the Hellenistic Greeks re-wrote/reconstructed as much of their culture as possible after their dark-ages. Most of Greek society was updated but as new data on old Mycenaean society was collected the heads of society had more trouble validating the culture changes as society was being rebuilt. Rather than admit mistakes the Hellenistic Greeks would just claim their mistranslations were the proper order of the day.

Two major issues occurred when the Greeks were rebuilding their religion. One was that Hestia was no longer in the twelve most important sitting gods (which the Greeks absorbed into the public zeitgeist by saying Hestia, being the most selfless of the Gods, had clearly given up her seat to Dionysus, thus though earlier versions had Dionysus as a main god, the Hellenites took the time to acknowledge Hestia). The Second major issue though was Poseidon. In the Mycenaean Period, Poseidon was the central king-like god of the pantheon and Zeus was just a benign sky god. As the modern Greeks of the Hellenistic Period had all taken to worshiping Zeus since the dark-ages and many individual cultural architects were both religious and had trouble piecing together older stories/records/art from all around Greece, Zeus was re-branded as the king of the earthly gods, while Poseidon was re-written as his jealous brother. The Hellenistic Poseidon, the one passed down to us, is from a demoted cultural position. As a result of this phenomena Poseidon's constant hunger for the throne may be part of a ingrained subtext in the collective unconscious of his worshipers and thus passed down to modernity.

Powers and Abilities

Poseidon was one of the most powerful gods, only rivaled by his brothers, Zeus and Hades.

  • Hydrokinesis: Being the God of Oceans, Poseidon had omnipotent control over water.
  • Cryokinesis: By many accounts, Poseidon was said to control snow-capped regions (i.e the Arctic) and had set one of the Sea-gods, Proteus to rule over there.
  • Geokinesis (limited to the Earth Surface): During the Titan War, Poseidon always manipulated the battleground, so that the Olympians would have the upper hand. Also Poseidon is the God of Earthquakes. When Poseidon fought in the Trojan War, he created such a huge earthquake that it nearly destroyed the Underworld, Hades' realm.
  • Shapeshifting: Poseidon had the power to transform and frequently used it like Zeus did to have affairs with mortals.
  • Atmokinesis: Poseidon was said to have great control over the marine weather and could create all types of storms, which were more long lasting and destructive.
  • Life Mastery: Poseidon held complete lordship over marine life and could command Sea Monsters.
  • Aerokinesis: Poseidon could control seasonal winds in the sea, although Zeus was the god of air. 
  • Keraunokinesis: Being the God of Storms, Poseidon had some control over lightning, though it didn't match that of Zeus.
  • Building Skills: Poseidon was the god who built the Bronze Gates of Tartarus which held the imprisoned Titans at bay. Also, Poseidon constructed the famous Walls of Troy, which were powerful enough to keep the Greek forces at bay for 10 long years. 
  • Powerful Roar: In the Iliad, Poseidon was said to roar like 10,000 bloodthirsty warriors.
  • Trident: While Zeus had his iconic weapon the Lightning-Bolt and Hades had his iconic item, his Helmet of Invisibility, Poseidon's signature weapon was his Trident. The Trident could do all sorts of things like blasting people to water, create all sorts of natural disasters, shatter anything and basically amplifying Poseidon's power. The Trident was forged by the Elder Cyclopes (though in some accounts, it was forged by the Telekhines) and Poseidon used it to impale Kronos, while Zeus knocked him unconscious. It was the only weapon that rivaled the power of Zeus' Master Bolt.

In addition to his elemental power and shapeshifting, Poseidon was hailed as the physically strongest of his siblings often portrayed as more burly than Zeus and Hades. Poseidon was so strong, he ripped out the Island of Kos and hurled it at the Giant, Polybotes, crushing him to death.

Personality

By all accounts Poseidon was not specifically evil but rather just casually cruel. He frequently fought with his brother. As the King of the Oceans, Poseidon would have had complete autonomy like Hades, however as he accepted a position as one of the Twelve Olympians, gaining worship on earth but at the cost of being subject to Zeus's wishes, there is a dichotomy to Poseidon, wishing to rule with complete authority but being subject to his youngest, brother's whims. Poseidon would often test the limits of his service to Zeus by claiming he was not acting as one of the Twelve Olympians but in his private position as King of the Oceans when doing things like causing hurricanes or sinking Zeus's followers. As a result of Poseidon's rivalry with Zeus many people died over minor family spats. Poseidon was short tempered and only prone to patience when punishing others. As shown with his attempted courtship of Hestia and then Demeter, Poseidon would absentmindedly forget about people and things he could easily replace for casual amusements. By all accounts though he left many fatherless children he cared about them all to violently avenge any who were hurt and killed. Unlike Zeus and Hera, Poseidon and Amphitrite had an open marriage, affairs were common and did not need to be done in secret, all Amphitrite cared about was that at the end of the day she was still his wife, and thus his most important/constant love - both saw everyone else as a simple tryst. Poseidon is one of the few Greek Gods to only have straight relationships with humans partners, however sea-nymphs and sea-life came in both sexes. Many "erotic" poems and songs were written/sung about Poseidon making love to nearly every single type of sea-creature, often with the sea-foam being related to his left-over manhood.

Trivia

  • Contrary to modern depictions Poseidon did not have a fish tail, though he may have possessed the ability to create such a guise on occasion.
  • Poseidon was often praised by Athenians as well as Athena, Athena's name would just come first in the prayer.
  • Amphitrite was aware of Poseidon's many affairs but didn't care as long as he came back to her each time.
  • Poseidon's Trident did not have power over the sea rather it amplified his own powers and added the ability to make earthquakes.
  • Poseidon is depicted as using his Trident as a bludgeon more often than its intended use in warfare as a spear, a testament to his strength and improvised skill with weapons.
  • While Poseidon was King of the Ocean he was also one of Zeus' vassals while on Olympus as one of The Twelve Olympians.
  • While Hades is usually portrayed as thin and Zeus is often portrayed as thin and muscular Poseidon was consistently displayed as more muscular and slightly heavier than Zeus.
  • Though frequently an absentee parent for most of his children, Poseidon was very protective of them when their lives were threatened.
  • Unlike Zeus and Hades, Poseidon is almost always portrayed with a crown on his head, this may have been used to illustrate that Poseidon was the most concerned with others recognizing his authority.
  • Even after the era of the Olympians had died out Poseidon was still referred to for centuries by sailors and pirates as a symbol of the cruel seas.


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