Poseidon: God of the Sea, Earthquakes and Horse Races

By: Mitch Ryan  | 
Did you know that Poseidon once competed with Athena to be the patron god of ancient Greece's capital city? Nicole Antonio/DALL-E

Poseidon, god of the sea, was an integral figure in ancient Greek mythology. Although the name Poseidon means "lord of the earth," this powerful god mostly controlled the oceans and waterways. The Aegean Sea fell and rose by his hand, and sailors prayed for mercy during every nautical voyage.

Like other gods in the Greek pantheon, Poseidon took on additional responsibilities. The water god was also known as the "Earth Shaker," the lord of earthquakes, and the patron deity of horse races and other famous athletic contests of the ancient Olympics.


A Brief Overview of the Sea God from Ancient Greek Mythology

The Olympian gods of the ancient Greek world oversaw mortals from their heavenly kingdom above Mount Olympus. Ancient Greece was a complex society that looked to these gods for guidance and abundance in life. Everything was a symbol or omen, and the gods walked among them in life.

In Greek mythology, Poseidon was the ruler of the ocean. Poseidon's trident and chariot (drawn by sea creatures, of course) were common motifs in art, as well as important symbols for coastal communities. For safe passage on a calm sea, Poseidon required homage and sacrifices.


Who Was Poseidon's Wife?

The sea goddess Amphitrite was the wife of the god Poseidon. She was the sea-nymph daughter of Nereus and Doris, who descended from the original supreme god of the sea, Oceanis, and Cronus's sister, Tethys.

Despite her powerful lineage, Amphitrite had little say in her initial courting with Poseidon.


The legend states that Amphitrite denied Poseidon's initial advances and fled to the Titan Atlas. Poseidon then sent a dolphin to retrieve her forcefully. Upon bringing his future queen back to him, the porpoise was awarded a constellation from the king of the sea himself.

Greek Family Drama

Ancient Greeks loved a good drama, and few were more suspenseful than the many myths of the origins of the oldest Greek divinity. Ancient Greek mythology chronicles the rise to power of the Olympian gods over their Titan predecessors.

Like many mortal royal families, the Greek gods suffered constant infighting among the ranks. In a coup for the ages, three brothers deposed Poseidon's father, Cronus — and Poseidon was one of them.


Zeus was the chief god of the battle plan, and all the children of Titans worked together to supplant primordial parents. You could say Zeus's thunderbolt and Poseidon's trident were the spearheads of the assault.

The Titan opposition was quickly routed, and the gods were ready to take on the mantle of world power. Zeus drew the position of sky god, his brother Hades became the patron god of the underworld and Poseidon's domain became the high seas.


3 Epic Stories Featuring Poseidon

Ancient times were a breeding ground for many myths and stories of heroes defeating savage creatures and Olympian gods dealing out divine retribution on other gods in the pantheon. The Aegean Sea was a vital setting for Greek legends, so inevitably, the sea god Poseidon played a key role in many myths.

1. The Founding of Athens

As one story goes, a capital city rose to prominence in ancient Greece, but it had no name or a patron deity to protect it. Poseidon and Athena, the patron goddess of wisdom and warfare, bickered about everything, so of course, this new shining city was a prize worth fighting for.


The citizens asked for a gift from each Greek god, with the best one winning patronage and naming rights. Poseidon, playing into the nickname "Earth Shaker," developed what he thought was a perfect plan. Poseidon struck his trident into the earth and created a saltwater spring that backfired in a flood.

Athena's gift of a magical olive tree planted atop the Acropolis was a more suitable gift for the people, so they decided to name the city Athens. Poseidon's honor was bruised, so he flooded the city further. Zeus intervened, and the sea god eventually yielded to the wishes of the people, returning to the sea.

2. Perseus and Medusa

One of Poseidon's epithets was his insatiable appetite for seduction. In one such story, he seduced a beautiful maiden in the temple of Athena. According to the Greek poet Hesiod, the outraged Athena cursed the maiden, turning her into a powerful sea monster before exiling her to a legendary island in the Aegean Sea.

Taking her malice a step further, Athena appeared to the Hero Perseus to guide his quest to kill Medusa. Athena offered Perseus her mirrorlike shield, a sword, Hades' helmet of invisibility and Hermes' winged sandals. Since one look from Medusa would turn the hero to stone, Perseus used the reflection from the shield and lopped off her head.

Although Poseidon played a minimal role in the story of Perseus and Medusa, his initial encounter with the creature in mortal form resulted in an unusual pregnancy. Once Perseus flew away with her head, Medusa's body gave birth to the giant Chrysaor and the majestic winged horse Pegasus.

3. The Trojan Horse

After a failed 10-year siege in response to Helen of Troy's leaving her Greek king husband for the Trojan prince Paris, the Greek forces were all but spent. Unable to surpass the city's impenetrable high walls and valiant defense forces, the Greeks were forced to devise a strategy to attack Troy from the inside.

Notable Greek legends like Achilles, Ajax and Odysseus were unable to conquer Troy by the sword, but a master carpenter named Epeius was able to do so with a hammer and some driftwood. He built a massive wooden horse as a sacrifice to the god Poseidon, and the Greek forces seemingly deserted the battle.

The Trojans celebrated their victory and brought the iconic work of art inside the gates, unaware of the Greek soldiers hidden inside. At night, the Greeks climbed out and opened the gates for Greek reinforcements, and charged into the city. Celebration turned to horror as the city was burned to the ground by morning.


Poseidon's Offspring

In Greek mythology, the god Poseidon was the divine ancestor of many monstrous offspring. Some children were sacred animals, while others were giant brutes with short fuses like their father. Poseidon also created all sorts of trials for mortals, but none were more lengthy and arduous than the Odyssey.

Homer's Odyssey follows the travels of Odysseus, the Greek King of Ithaca, returning home after the fall of Troy. In one of Odysseus' adventures, he is captured by one of Poseidon's sons, a giant cyclops named Polyphemus. While the giant slept, Odysseus stabbed his only eye before escaping.


Poseidon appears as an angry father instead of an impartial chief deity of the sea and curses Odysseus for an extended trip home to his wife and kingdom. Poseidon created several roadblocks in the journey, including inflicting the hero's ship with storms, unfavorable winds and harrowing sea monster encounters.