Poseidon: Earth-Shaker, Master of the Sea

Marble statue of Poseidon, found on the island of Melos and currently housed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Poseidon is seen raising his right arm, most likely to wield his trident (this latter was not originally found with the statue). A dolphin can also be spotted behind his right leg. (image source: https://www.universalcompendium.com/tables/xfam/xrelmyth/m10%20-%20greek%20mythology/notes/images/poseidon-melos-statue.htm)

Personal Information

Name: Poseidon

Father: Cronus

Mother: Rhea

Brothers: Zeus ; Hades

Sisters: Hera ; Demeter ; Hestia

Wife: Amphitrite (goddess of the sea)

Address: Golden House, Bottom of the Sea, Thrace, Aegean Sea

Vehicle: Golden chariot pulled by horses (drives across the waves)

Occupation: god of the sea and earthquakes

Patron god of Berytus

Poseidon is one of the well-known Greek gods. Although he was designated god of the sea, he also maintained a connection with the earth: he was the earth-shaker, god of the earthquake.

Natural catastrophes were as such attributed to Poseidon. Fishermen and seafarers sought his protection from storms and dangers at sea. And when an earthquake struck, people would sing songs of praise and triumph to the earth-shaker for safety.

Ancient Beirutis were merchants, ship owners, and seafarers – regularly on the open sea. The geographic area of Lebanon is also traversed by active fault lines making it particularly vulnerable to earthquakes. Some of the most destructive earthquakes in this region have been recorded in history. It is therefore very fitting that Poseidon was adopted as the tutelary god of Beirut.

During the 2nd c. BC, a community of merchants from Beirut boasted a thriving business on the island of Delos which at the time was the most important trading center in the Aegean. These merchants identified themselves as the Poseidoniastes of Berytus, which highlights their strong veneration of the god. The addition of the name of their home city further distinguished them from other contemporary groups that were also associated with the cult of Poseidon.

This connection with Poseidon was maintained over a prolonged period of time. Philo of Byblos mentions Poseidon in the 2nd c. AD as the patron god of Berytus, and the Poseidon cult was still active in the broader region as late as the 4th c. AD, primarily for protection from earthquakes.

Symbols of Poseidon

As lord of the sea and master of the creatures of the deep, symbols associated with Poseidon include the trident (a weapon used in certain types of fishing), the fish and the dolphin.

Certain myths also make Poseidon the direct father of the horse, and ancient Greeks honoured him in his role of tamer of horses. The horse thus became another symbol of Poseidon, in addition to the bull; an animal that was commonly sacrificed for the god.

Numismatic Representations of Poseidon in Beirut

Poseidon was a figure that was frequently represented on the coinage of Beirut. He was depicted in a cart drawn by sea horses; inside a temple holding a dolphin in one hand and resting the other on a trident; and in scenes from the legend of Poseidon and Beroë.

This legend mentions that Beirut was named after a beautiful nymph, Beroë, who lived there and who was desired by two gods: Dionysus (god of the vine and wine-making, i.e. associated mainly with land) and Poseidon. They decided to fight not only for the hand of Beroë, but also for her native city. Poseidon emerged victor and Beroë became possession of the sea god; a reflection of Beirut’s association with the sea and its role in maritime activity.

One final reference to Poseidon on coins from the city includes an image of a dolphin entwined around a trident. This symbol can still be observed in modern Beirut. A previous post mentions its use in marking the Heritage Trail in the city’s central district.

Poseidon and … Disney?

If you are a fan of the old Disney cartoons, Poseidon should remind you of a certain character. Any guesses?! Answer in 3 … 2 … 1 …  

King Triton! Yep – Ariel’s father, in “The Little Mermaid” (1989; based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson).

Remember Poseidon’s wife, Amphitrite? Well, she was a sea nymph. And her union with Poseidon produced a son, Triton, who was half human, half fish – a merman. He resided in the golden palace at the bottom of the sea with his parents. He sometimes carried a trident like his father, but his special attribute was a conch shell which he blew to control the waves.

The character of King Triton in “The Little Mermaid” was inspired by ancient mythology and carries many parallels to Poseidon and the original Triton from the myths.

Sources:

Burkert, W. 1985. Greek Religion. Harvard University Press.

Jidejian, N. 1997. Beirut through the Ages. Beirut: Librairie Orientale.

Picard, C. 1921. L’Établissement des Poséidoniastes de Bérytos. L’École française d’Athènes: Explorations archéologiques de Délos. Fasc. VI. Paris: E. de Boccard.


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