The Greek God Poseidon, King of the Sea

The Prince of Tides, God of Water and Earthquakes

Greek God, Poseidon and the Parthenon
Getty Images/Harald Sund

The mighty Earthshaker, Poseidon ruled the waves that the ancient seafaring Greeks depended upon. Fisherman and sea captains swore fealty to him and avoided his wrath; the sea god's persecution of the hero Odysseus was well known, and few wished to wander so far and so long before finding their home port. In addition to his influence over the seas, Poseidon was responsible for earthquakes, striking the ground with his trident, a three-pronged spear, to awesomely devastating effect.

Birth of Poseidon

Poseidon was the son of the titan Cronos and brother to the Olympian gods Zeus and Hades. Cronos, fearful of a son who would overthrow him as he vanquished his own father Ouranos, swallowed each of his children as they were born. Like his brother Hades, he grew up inside the bowels of Cronos, until the day when Zeus tricked the titan into vomiting up his siblings. Emerging victorious after the ensuing battle, Poseidon, Zeus, and Hades drew lots to divide up the world they had gained. Poseidon won dominion over the waters and all its creatures.

Alternate Greek myths suggest that Poseidon's mother, Rhea, transformed him into a stallion to stymie Cronos' appetite. It was in the form of a stallion that Poseidon pursued Demeter and fathered a foal, the horse Areion.

Poseidon and the Horse

Oddly for the god of the sea, Poseidon is deeply associated with horses. He created the first horse, introduced riding and chariot racing to mankind, and rides above the waves in a chariot drawn by horses with golden hooves. In addition, some of his many children are horses: the immortal Areion and the winged horse Pegasus, which was the son of Poseidon and the gorgon Medusa.

Myths of Poseidon

The brother of Zeus and Greek god of the sea figures in many myths. Perhaps the most notable are those related by Homer in the Iliad and Odyssey, where Poseidon emerges as a foe of the Trojans, champion of the Greeks and dire enemy of the hero Odysseus.

The Greek god's antipathy toward the wily Odysseus is kindled by the mortal wound that the hero deals to Polyphemus the Cyclops, a son of Poseidon. Again and again, the sea god conjures winds that keep Odysseus away from his home in Ithaca.

A second notable story involves the contest between Athena and Poseidon for the patronage of Athens. The goddess of wisdom made a more compelling case to the Athenians, giving them the gift of the olive tree while Poseidon created the horse.

Finally, Poseidon figures prominently in the story of the Minotaur. Poseidon gave to King Minos of Crete a fantastic bull, intended for sacrifice. The king couldn't part with the beast, and in anger, Poseidon caused the princess Pasiphae to fall in love with the bull, and to birth the legendary half-bull, half-man called the Minotaur.

Poseidon Fact File

Occupation: God of the Sea

Attributes of Poseidon: The symbol for which Poseidon is best known is the trident. Poseidon is often shown alongside his wife Amphitrite in a sea chariot drawn by sea creatures.

The Inferiority of Poseidon: Poseidon asserts equality with Zeus in the Iliad, but then defers to Zeus as king. By some accounts, Poseidon is older than Zeus and the one sibling Zeus didn't have to rescue from his father (the power leverage Zeus usually used with his siblings). Even with Odysseus, who had ruined his son Polyphemus' life, Poseidon behaved in a less fearsome manner than might be expected of an enraged Sturm und Drang kind of god. In the challenge for the patronage of the polis of Athens, Poseidon lost to his niece Athena but then worked cooperatively with her as in the Trojan War where they try to thwart Zeus with Hera's help.

Poseidon and Zeus: Poseidon may have had an equal claim to the title of King of the Gods, but Zeus is the one who took it. When the Titans made the thunderbolt for Zeus, they made the trident for Poseidon.

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Gill, N.S. "The Greek God Poseidon, King of the Sea." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). The Greek God Poseidon, King of the Sea. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The Greek God Poseidon, King of the Sea." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).