Homeric Hymn to Poseidon

A fifth-century BC bronze statue of Poseidon wielding his (now lost) trident was discovered in the sea north of Sunium.

High on the headland, serene in the sinking sun, the temple beckons like a siren to the sea. As the slanting light pours through the slender columns, their marble gleaming like fresh-churned butter, it diffuses in a creamy golden glow, while across the polished rock cool shadows elongate, their fingers stretching to caress the still warm stone. Only the sudden clattering and clucking of two partridges scurrying across the temple steps disturbs the calm – a calm made more hypnotic by the rhythm of the sea below, long rollers rubbing in against the rocks to flatline in a whisper of white spray. On the velvet of the sea the sun burns, its intense light dazzling in myriad refractions. And far on the horizon, islands arc like dolphins in the haze: the northern Cyclades, tantalizing with their promise of the open seas beyond. No wonder, then, that it was to the sea-god that the headland here at Sunium was sacred or that the temple was erected in his name: the master of horses, the shaker of the earth, Poseidon.

Homeric Hymn to Poseidon Photo Gallery

The Realm of Poseidon

In the division of spoils between the sons of Cronus, Poseidon received the sea. Just as Zeus could command the thunder clouds, sending lightning bolts to crash down to earth, so Poseidon could summon earthquakes, causing solid land to roll and ripple like the sea. Perhaps it was because he was associated with such bucking, undulating motion that Poseidon acquired his third sphere of influence: the horse.

Poseidon ruled the sea’s salt waters (though not Ocean, the freshwater river encircling the earth) from an underwater palace. Traditionally this was situated north of Sunium, between the mainland and the northwest Euboean town of Aegae, which in historical times boasted a temple to the god, and after which Strabo maintained that the Aegean Sea was named.

Homer describes Poseidon’s palace:

Gold, gleaming, everlasting. Here Poseidon came and harnessed to his chariot his two swift bronze-hooved horses with long golden manes. Dressed all in gold, he took a golden whip, fine-crafted, in his hand and stepped into the chariot and left to drive across the sea-swell. From far and wide the creatures of the sea came from their lairs to frolic round the king they knew so well. In joy the sea parted as he went. So the horses sped lightly on their way, and the bronze axle was unwetted.

As they read this description, Greeks almost certainly imagined Poseidon wielding his trident, the three-pronged spear that some Mediterranean fishermen still use today, and by which he is invariably identified in Classical art.

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