Highest of the gods, lord of the sea, Poseidon of the golden trident,
Earth-shaker in the swelling brine,
Around thee the finny monsters in a ring swim and dance,
With nimble flingings of their feet leaping lightly,
Snub-nosed hounds with bristling neck,
Swift runners, music-loving dolphins,
Sea-nurslings of the Nereis maids divine, whom Amphitrite bore,
Even they that carried me, a wanderer on the Sikelian main,
To the headland of Tainarion in Pelops’ land,
Mounting me upon their humped backs
As they clove the furrow of Nereus’ plain, a path untrodden,
When deceitful men had cast me
From their sea-faring hollow ship
Into the purple swell of sea.
–Hymn of Arion, quoted by Aelian, On Animals 12.45
Poseidon the Horse-Master
The horse was created by Poseidon during His contest with Athena for patronship of Athens. But it was wild and untamed, of no use to man, so Athena won Athens. But it was Athena, ironically, Who invented the bridle and bought Poseidon’s creation to heel. This could be interpreted symbolically, as Poseidon is a primal God of nature not necessarily concerned with mankind, and Athena, symbol of man’s inventiveness, brings Poseidon’s glorious but wild creature under control.
Mircea Eliade, the author of “A History of Religious Ideas” tells us:
His relations with the horse indicate the animal’s importance for the Indo-European invaders. Poseidon is presented as the creator, father, or bestower of horses to mankind.
Now the horse is connected with the infernal [physical] world, and this again brings out the God’s character as “Master of the Earth”. … By becoming exclusively a marine God, Poseidon could retain only such of his original attributes as depended on the sea: capricious power and mastery over the fates of navigators and sailors1.
Poseidon Hippokourios (“Horse-Tender”) has much to teach us. We can learn about the nature of the God from His sacred animal. Horses are revered as a sacred animal the world over. They are powerful, majestic creatures that inspire awe in humans. They are a symbol of freedom and wild sexuality in numerous cultures. Andrews says this about the horse:
Before the horse’s domestication the distances between peoples and societies was great, and there was little interaction. It served humanity in travel, in war, in agriculture, and in most other major areas of life. Today the horse is limited mostly to recreation and agriculture, but its energy is expansive. Because of it, the world has been brought closer together. The horse enabled people to explore and find freedom from the constraints of their own communities. This enabled them to travel and thus discover the multiplicity of life and all its powers. Horses have great appeal to most people. We are fascinated by them, and riding one raises us above the mundane, and renews our sense of power. Riding horses has been likened to flying by more then one poet through the ages2.
I feel that the wild and free spirit of the horse is an apt reflection of the power of Poseidon. Anyone who has stood beside a horse can sense the raw power restrained in its body, the shear sense of massive strength contained and control, but the possibility for it to be unleashed. This is Poseidon: wild, primal, powerful, but carefully contained. Patient. Infinitely patient. No one can stop the tides from coming in.
Marriage to Amphitrite
Amphitrite was the eldest of the Nereids, the daughters of Nereus. However, She is sometimes said to be the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. According to Kerenyi, Her name may come from Amphitriti, meaning “Third One who Encircles” – referring to Her position as one of the Sea-Goddesses, of which there were many. The Romans called referred to Her as Salacia.
When Poseidon saw Her and Her sisters dancing, He fell instantly in love with Her. But when He told Her He wanted to marry Her, She declined and hid. He understood that this was not a time to lose His fearsome temper. Poseidon sent dolphins to find Her, as He knew She was fond of these creatures. One of the dolphins succeeded in locating Her, and he persuaded Her to reconsider Poseidon’s proposal.
Amphitrite changed Her mind and followed the dolphin to Poseidon’s palace at the bottom of the Aegean Sea. To reward the dolphin for His help, Poseidon placed Him among the stars as the constellation Dolphinus. In ancient vase paintings, Amphitrite is depicted as a beautiful young woman, lifting Her hand in a pinching gesture (imitating a lobster), and often carrying a fish – an attribute of most of the paintings of the Nereids. She was usually shown dressed in a short, transparent dress with Her hair enclosed in a net or lobster claws decorating Her hair at the temples.
Her children by Poseidon are Triton (a fish-tailed Sea- God), Benethesikyme (a Sea-Nymph), and all the seals. She is sometimes considered the mother of all sea-life. Classical literature claims that only Amphitrite’s father Nereus, Her husband Poseidon, and Their son Triton could calm the waters. But it should be noted that despite that assertion, Amphitrite was prayed to by Greek sailors for a fair voyage and for the protection of Her favorite animals, the dolphins.
Triton is the son of Poseidon by His wife, Amphitrite. He stilled the ocean’s waves using His couch-shell trumpet. He is usually shown as a long-haired youth with either a fish tail or two dolphin tails. Triton helped Odysseus’s lost crew by pointing out the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
Shameless self-plug: My t-shirt store, Otherworld Creations, sells a Triton t-shirt in the “Greek and Roman” section. Sorry, I still need money to buy a truck. Feel free to spread the link to my store around the internet!
1 Mircea Eliade. A History of Religious Ideas: Volume One – From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries. translated by Willard R. Trask, University of Chicago Press, 1978. page 265
2Andrews, Ted. Animal Speak: the Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small. Lllwellyn Publications. 2004. St. Paul, Minnesota. page 283.