Who was Poseidon?
Poseidon was one of the Twelve Olympians of Greek Mythology and God of the sea, rivers, floods, droughts, earthquakes and horses. He was also a major civic God of cities such as Athens, where he was second only to the eponymous Athena, and Corinth.
Poseidon was the son of the God Cronus and the Goddess Rhea, and the brother of Zeus, Hera, Hades, Demeter and Hestia. Mythology cites Poseidon as the ruler of one of the three realms of the universe in his role as king of the sea and water. Epithets often attached to Poseidon as a result of his roles are ‘Earth Shaker’, ‘belonging to the ship-owners’, ‘belonging to the horse’, belonging to the sea’, ‘full of seaweed’ and ‘dark-haired’.
The origins of Poseidon’s name have not been confirmed, though theories have been put forward. One theory breaks the name down into elements meaning “husband” or “lord” (from the Greek posis) and another meaning “earth” (from the Greek da), resulting in a meaning of something like lord of the earth. However, the use of da as ‘earth’ is ambiguous at best.
A more likely theory interprets the second element as related to the Doric word dâwon for “water”, combining with posis to make Posei-dawōn or the ‘master of waters’. Some sources cite Poseidon as a “pre-hellenic” word, as such making any attempt to consider the name as deriving from an Indo-European etymology useless.
In art Poseidon has usually been shown as an older, mature man of sturdy but not necessarily muscular build. He is often shown as having a full, long and luxurious beard. He is often depicted with accompanying symbols, most often a trident which he holds aloft, and sacred animals such as the horse and dolphin. He was also often depicted riding a chariot pulled by either horses or hippocampos, a mythological sea-horse type creature, and living in a palace on the floor of the ocean which was usually filled with gems and coral.
Poseidon was said to be married to the sea-goddess Amphitrite, with whom he shared a son, the merman Triton. In some stories he is depicted as having raped Medusa, this experience leading to her transformation into a monstrous Gorgon as well as to the birth of their children Pegasus and Chrysaor. In addition, Poseidon is said to have father numerous others, including heroic twins Pelias and Neleus, Nauplius, Atlas (the first ruler of Atlantis), the horse Arion, the Cyclops Polyphemus and giants Alebion, Bergion, Otos and Ephialtae.
Similar deities to Zeus which are found in other cultures include the Roman God Neptune, the Babylonian God Enki, the Egyptian water God Sobek, Oceanian Sea-God Taringa-Nui, Hindu God Shiva, the Slavic God of the sea Morskoi and the Norse God of the sea Aegir.
The Poseidon Archetype
The archetypal Poseidon is a destroyer, driven by their tendency towards ruination despite their own fear of death itself. This leads them to display a ruthless streak, willing to destroy anything which stands in the path of their own success, whatever the end goal may be. These destructive tendencies in the archetypal Poseidon are usually driven by a deeply rooted anger and frustration with themselves and the world around them which they have sought to repress and thus which leaks out in these angry, destructive forms. The archetypal Poseidon is also inclined to shun emotional attachments with others, finding these only a hindrance likely to stand in the way of their path to success. As a result, they find relationships easy to dispense with, forming them only when convenient and usually as a result not enjoying long lasting partnerships of any kind with others. They move through life in a fast paced and seemingly easy manner, finding it easy to move on from attachments and commitments of whatever kind when they see fit.
For psychiatrist Carl Jung the psychological archetype he associated with Poseidon is the archetype of the shadow, his realm consisting as Jung saw it of a mix of light and dark qualities and thus creating the illusion of depth. Jung’s shadow archetype included qualities he saw within individuals such as darkness, rejection and repression (notably within the depths of the individual subconscious). For Jung the Poseidon archetype represented an autonomous but negative and inferior side of life, usually one with its own agenda. Despite this, the Poseidon archetype gives individuals their depth and for Jung could provide a soul-guide in consciousness journeys.
Contemporary examples of the Poseidon archetype can be seen in figures such as Aristotle Onassis, the powerful marine industry executive who married Jackie Kennedy after the assassination of her first husband, President John F Kennedy, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and media mogul Robert Maxwell. Archetypal examples in literature include Captain Ahab in Moby Dick and Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
A variety of occupations have become associated with the Poseidon archetype, both due to the assumed characteristics of their occupants and often their links to water. Examples include fishermen, divers, navigators, sailors, seismologists, oceanographers, swimmers, shipbuilders, marine industry magnates, industrialists, and underwater salvage experts.
Characteristics of the Poseidon archetype
- Elder Sibling
‘(T)his time I will yield, for all my outrage… but I tell you this… if Zeus ever spares the towering heights of Troy, if he ever refuses to take her walls by force and give the Argive troops resounding triumph… the breach between us both will never heal!’
– Poseidon, The Iliad
‘I am Poseidon, EARTH SHAKER, RULER OF THE BOUNDLESS SEA, CREATOR OF STORMS, SWALLOWER OF SHIPS’
– George O’Connor
‘Arethusa liked to call us Poseidon’s Children. Orphans of the storm. We’d endured the worst the world could throw at us, the worst consequences of our own stupidity, and came through … ready to face the dawn…’
– Alastair Reynolds