Author: Adithya Vikram Sakthivel

Despite a common misconception that ancient cultures and civilizations remain constant in their distinct traits and beliefs from their inception throughout their entire existence, they are as volatile as today’s society, continuously adapting with the flow of time and social norms.  Similarly, many believe the same regarding the gods worshipped by these civilizations. One such misunderstood deity was Poseidon, the ancient Greek god of the sea and other waters.

Modern interpretations visualize Poseidon as a powerful deity with control over all of the world’s seas and oceans, and causes earthquakes when necessary, while the title of King of the gods was given to Zeus, the god of the sky and thunder and Poseidon’s younger brother.

Our understanding of Greek literature and deities come from the Classical Era (from 600 BCE to 400 BCE), a time of great scientific and social development for the Greek civilization as a whole. This was a time when Athens developed democracy and the Spartans built one of the most fearsome armies the world has ever seen, however, contradictory to popular belief, Greek civilization was older than this era.

The earliest known recorded Greek culture was Mycenaean Greece (from 1600 BCE to 1100 BCE), which existed before a time known as the dark ages from 1100 BCE to 750 BCE (before the Classical era), which was a time of deterioration of Greek culture and the art of writing was and written records of this era was lost (it is believed that this occurred due to several continuous famines, foreign invasions and continuous war). It should be noted that most works from Classical Greek Literature and epics and legends such as the Odyssey and the Iliad were set in this era.

Early Mycenaean works of art depicts Poseidon as a deity linked to the Underworld, instead of Hades (another brother of Poseidon) as well as Poseidon maintaining control of the oceans. Being a sea faring and warlike race with one of the earliest and most sophisticated naval forces of their time, Poseidon was given a position of power as the primary deity worshipped by these early Greek city-states, while Zeus was worshipped as a minor god as the elemental deities linked to the sky weren’t given particular importance in this Parthenon of deities.

Since the exact history and beliefs of this civilization wasn’t recorded in writing format, the Mycenaean civilization and their believed exploits was romanticized by their successors in the Classical era.  

The development of the Greek gods to include many other deities along with the demotion of Poseidon due to the introduction of the deity known as Hades could be explained as the evolution of culture over several centuries. However, a question that could arise was, why Zeus?

The answer, is mere speculation, however, it could be assumed that after mastering sea faring a couple of centuries before, the sky being the only medium of transport not utilized by humans back then; having mastered sea faring, flight as the only thing left to conquer, leading to the human obsession of flight as mentioned in the Greek legend of Icarus, and eventually the primary focus being sky based deities, namely Zeus.      

Reference:

 

  • Plato (1971). Timaeus and Critias. London, England: Penguin Books Ltd. p. 167. ISBN 9780140442618.
  • Chew, Sing C., World Ecological Degradation: Accumulation, Urbanization and Deforestation 3000 BC ‒ AD 2000, 2001, ISBN 0-7591-0031-4 Chapter 3, The second-millennium Bronze Age: Crete and Mycenaean Greece 1700 BC – 1200 BC
  • Hurwitt, Jeffrey M., The Art and Culture of Early Greece 1100–480 BC, Cornell University Press, 1985
  • Burkert, Walter (1987) [1985]. Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical. Oxford and Malden: Blackwell Publishing Limited. ISBN 978-1-11-872499-6.

 

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