Category Archives: Olive
Etymology: Greek – Husband (of Wheat)
Alternate Spellings & Other Names: Ποσειδων
Epithets: Aegeus (“of the High Sea”), Alidoupos (“Sea Resounding”), Asphaleios (Protector from Earthquakes), Domatites (“of the House” in reference to his shrine near Sparta), Empylios (“At the Gate”), Enosichthon (“Earth Shaker”), Ennosidas, Ennosigaios (“Earth Shaker”), Enosichthon, Ennosidas, Epactaeus (“god worshiped on the coast”), Epoptes (“Supervisor”), Eurykreion (“Wide-Ruling”), Eurymedon (“Widely Ruling”), Eutriaina (“with Goodly Trident”), Gaieochos (“Earth Shaker”), Genesios, Genethlios (“of the race or family”), Helikonios (of Mount Helikon), Helikonios anax (“Lord of Helicon or Helike”), Hippokourios (“Tender of Horses”), Isthmios, Krenouchos (“Ruling over Springs”), Kyanochaites (“dark-haired, dark blue of the sea”), Kymothales (“Abounding with Waves”), Kronios, Patrigenios, Pelagios (“of the open sea”), Petraios (related to rocks), Phratrios (“of the Brotherhood”), Phykios (related to seaweed), Phytalmios, Pontomedon (“Lord of the Sea”), Porthmios (“of strait, narrow sea”), Posidaeia (This is probably a feminine counterpart to Poseidon found on the Linear B script), Poseidon Aegaeus, Poseidon Hippios (Horse Poseidon), Poseidon Temenites (“related to an official domain”), Ptorthios, Seisichthon (“Earth Shaker”), Semnos (“August, Holy”), Tavreios (related to bulls), Themeliouchos (“Upholding the Foundations”), “Savior of Sailors,” “Averter of Earthquakes,” “The Creator and Tamer of Horses,” Nymphagetes (“The Leader of Nymphs”), Poseidon Erechtheus
Poseidon is the god of the Oceans and not just the seas in Greek mythology, but all the waters from streams to rivers, lakes, and storms. The middle brother to Zeus and Hades. As a god of storms, Poseidon could also be very moody and mercurial in his demeanor.
Animal: Bull, Coral, Dolphin, Fish, Horse, Sea Lion, Tuna
Color: Blue, Green
Day of the Week: Thursday
Patron of: Sailors
Plant: Kelp, Pine, Seaweed, Wild Celery
Sphere of Influence: Earthquakes, Oceans, Rivers, Lakes, Protection, Storms
Symbols: Coral, Trident
Time of Day: High Tides
Early Greek Depictions
Poseidon is often considered a moody and sometimes quarrelsome deity. When Poseidon is in a good mood, that is when new lands will appear, and the sea will be calm. When Poseidon is in a foul mood, that is when earthquakes could happen, and portions of land and island can sink into the seas to be claimed by him. Storms at sea are attributed to Poseidon, especially if there are shipwrecks and drownings.
Greek art will show Poseidon as a bearded man with curly hair wielding a three-pronged fish spear or trident. Other art will show him in a chariot pulled by either horses or hippocampus. In some art, Poseidon can be shown holding a boulder with various sea creatures on it.
Homeric Hymns – There is a brief invocation, comprising seven lines that address Poseidon as an earth-shaker and God of the deep, that he is the lord of Helicon and Aegae. Homer also says that Poseidon has a shriek as loud as ten thousand men.
Cult & Worship
In pre-Bronze Age Greece, Poseidon was worshiped in Pylos and Thebes as the chief deity. When looking at Arcadia, there is a very regional-specific myth told of Poseidon and Demeter in horse forms. There is some thought that these early Greeks entering the area only had Poseidon, Zeus, Eos, and Dioskouroi among the deities that they brought with them and worshiped.
The early worship of Poseidon clearly links him to horses and as a Chthonic deity of the underworld. As Poseidon Wanax, he is the male counterpart to a goddess of nature, Demeter. A similar myth is seen in Minoan myths where Pasiphae mates with a white bull, giving birth to the Minotaur. The Bull is an old pre-Olympian symbol of Poseidon. In the Eleusinian cults, there is mention of how Potnia gives birth to a strong son in relation to Poseidon being the father.
In Mycenaean culture, we don’t have enough evidence or information to know if Poseidon was connected to the sea during this time. We don’t know if the female counterpart “Posedeia” was a sea goddess either. In the writings of Homer and Hesiod, they say that Poseidon becomes the lord of the sea after the defeat of his father Cronos, and the world is divided among his three sons.
The scholar Walter Burkert puts forward the idea early Hellenic worship of Poseidon as a horse god may be due to the introduction of the horse and war chariots from Anatolia to Greece around 1600 B.C.E. In the local Arcadian myths and Poseidon’s cult in Peloponnesos, we see Poseidon worshiped as a horse.
During the Hellenic era of Greek culture, Poseidon is the protector of sailors and ships out at sea. Poseidon was also the patron god of several Greek cities, though, in Athens, he was second only to Athena.
Corinth – This is the ancient city that Poseidon is often associated with. This port city was regarded as being close to Poseidon’s heart due to how important a sea route it was. Clay plaques dating from the Archaic era have been found to connect Poseidon with maritime trade and navigation. Local games known as the Isthmian games were held here in honor of the sea god. These games would be held once every two years with athletes, charioteers, and horse races. Early on, a crown of pine would be awarded and later, it would be a crown of dried celery.
Sounion – Located some 69.5 km to the southeast of Athens in East Attica, this is the site of a 5th-century temple dedicated to Poseidon that still stands overlooking the Saronic Gulf. Boat races were held every four years to honor Poseidon.
Delphi Oracle – Pausanias writes that Poseidon was once one of the caretakers at Delphi before the arrival of Apollo. The two deities worked in tangent with many aspects. For example, Apollo gave approval for Greek colonization and Poseidon provided safe travels for those crossing his seas.
Sacred Disease – The Greek gods are known for causing or inflicting madness and various mental illnesses upon people. There is a Hippocratic text from 400 B.C.E. that notes Poseidon is responsible for certain forms of epilepsy.
The Panionia – This was a festival that the Ionians held every year near Mycale.
Pohoidaia – This is another game and festival held in Poseidon’s honor at Helos and Thuria.
It should come as no surprise that as a sea god, that Poseidon’s abode is found on the ocean’s floor in a palace of coral and gems.
Aegae – In the Odyssey, Poseidon is mentioned as having his home here, the once capital of Macedonia.
Atlantis – In Plato’s Timaeus and Critias, this island is said to be Poseidon’s domain.
What’s In A Name?
The earliest mention of Poseidon’s name are found in the Linear B script in Mycenean Greek where the name appears as Poseidaon and Poseidawonos. Other variations of Posedion’s name are Poteidaon (Aeolic), Poteidan (Doric), Poteidaon, and Poteidas.
As to the meaning of Poseidon’s name, that part is unclear. There is a theory put forward that it means “husband” or “lord” seen in the Greek posis or potis and the last part meaning “earth.” The Doric Greek links Poseidon as being a spouse to Demeter, the “Earth-Mother.”
Another theory is that the second element in Poseidon’s name relates to dâwon meaning “water” and that would interpret the name as Posei-dawon as “the master of waters.” In Plato’s Cratylus dialogue, he gives two ideas for an etymology to Poseidon’s name. The first is “foot-bond” and the second is “knew many things.”
Hesiod in his Theogony describes Poseidon as “the earth-holder who shakes the earth.” Both Hesiod and Homer call Poseidon the “deep sounding Earth-shaker” and “dark-haired-one.” Both poets refer to Poseidon as the “encircler of the earth,” which alludes to this era of history when people believed that all the waters of the Earth were connected and that the land merely floated on top of them.
Parentage and Family
Cronus and Rhea
Amphitrite – The daughter of Nereus and Doris and granddaughter of the Titan Oceanus
Cleito – Poseidon’s wife in Plato’s myth of Atlantis. Cleito is the daughter of the autochthons Evenor and Leucippe.
Sometimes the goddesses Aphrodite and Demeter are given as consorts.
He is the fifth child born of Cronus and Rhea.
The birth order is Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus.
Chiron – a half-brother by way of Cronus and the nymph Philyra.
Theseus – with Aethra through rape
Benthesicyme – son with Amphitrite
Rhode – daughter with Amphitrite
Triton – A half fish, half human with Amphitrite
Monstrous Offspring – Chrysaor and Pegasus with Medusa
Plato’s Atlantis – with Cleito, Poseidon is the father of Ampheres, Atlas (the first king of Atlantis), Autochthon, Azaes, Diaprepes, Elasippus, Euaemon, Eumelus (Gadeirus), Mestor, Mneseus
Antaeus, Arion (a talking horse), Atlas, Desponia, Eumolpus, the Giant Sinis, Polyphemus (a cyclops), Orion, King Amycus, Proteus, Agenor and Belus from Europa, Nauplius, Neleus, Pelias, and the King of Egypt, Busiris, Laistrygon
Alebion, Bergion, Otos, Ephialtae are all noted as being giant children of Poseidon.
In general, there are a good many mythical creatures, a tribe of giants known as the Laistrygons, barbarians, cannibals, savages, and other uncivilized peoples like thieves who were said to be descendants of Poseidon.
Periclymenus – Through his son Neleus, the king of Pylos, Poseidon granted him the power of shape-shifting. He is listed as one of the Argonauts and is later killed by Herakles.
Poseidon is counted among the twelve major deities who resided on Mount Olympus, the highest mountain peak in Greece and all of Europe. For the Greeks, this was the perfect location where the gods would preside while keeping watch on humankind down below them.
As there are several deities within Greek mythology, just who numbers among the Olympians vary. It’s generally agreed that the twelve major Olympians are: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and then either Hestia or Dionysus.
Where Zeus has his thunderbolts and Hades has his bident, the mighty Poseidon is known for his trademark weapon, the trident!
A trident is a three-pronged weapon that Poseidon is often shown with. It has also been pointed out that Hades has a bident, a two-pronged weapon, and that Zeus has his thunderbolt, which is a one-pronged weapon. Just in case someone thought there should be some sort of connection.
With this trident, Poseidon could shatter anything in his way, much like Hades does with his bident.
Birth Of A God
We start with Cronus and Rhea, the parents of Poseidon and all his siblings.
As the story goes, Cronus defeated his father, Uranus, overthrowing him to become the leader and King of the Titans. Shortly after, Cronus receives a prophecy that just as he killed his father, so too, would a child of his kill him.
This prompts Cronus to decide to devour and swallow his children whole as soon as they are born. This would happen five times. Poor Rhea just gets to where she can’t take it anymore. With the birth of her sixth child, Zeus, Rhea hides him away and manages to convince Cronus that this large stone is their latest child. Bon Appetit, Cronus eats the “stone baby” none the wiser that he’s been tricked.
Rhea takes and hides Zeus, so that later, when he is older, he can come to fulfill the prophecy killing his father Cronus. During the battle, Zeus splits open Cronus’ stomach, freeing all of his brothers and sisters: Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hera, and Hestia. Incidentally, Hades is the last of Cronus’ children that is either regurgitated or comes out after Zeus splits their father open.
In other versions I have found of this story, Zeus meets with Metis who concocts a drug for Zeus to give to Cronus so that he disgorges or vomits up the stone and all of his children.
There is a version of the birth story of gods in that Poseidon does manage to get secreted away by his mother Rhea and is not eaten by his father. That Rhea gives Cronus a colt to eat instead of an infant. Poseidon is then placed in a flock of sheep in either Arcadia or Rhodes to conceal him.
There is a well in a Mantineia neighborhood where this event is believed to have happened and is called the “Lamb’s Well” or Arne.
This is the name that a group of ancient Greek deities were given for their roles as protectors and caregivers, essentially the nurses or nannies to children.
Arne – Poseidon’s kourotrophos was Arne, a spring nymph and daughter of Aeolus. Arne denied knowing where the infant was when Cronus came searching for him. The town of Arne gained its name from this nymph.
Telchines – According to Diodorus Siculus, Poseidon was raised by the Telchines, the original inhabitants of the island of Rhodes just as his brother Zeus was raised by the Korybantes on the island of Crete. Capheira, an Oceanid nymph would become Poseidon’s nurse.
There is a ten-year-long divine war known as the Titanomachy, and by the end, Zeus takes his place as ruler and king of the gods on Mount Olympus. Hades and the other gods take up their roles as part of the newly formed Pantheon.
During the war, Gaia gave a prophecy to Zeus that he would have victory over the Titans by freeing the Cyclops who were then prisoners in Tartaros. Zeus slew Campe, the jail-keeper of the Cyclops. As a reward and thanks for releasing them, the Cyclops forged weapons for the three brothers. Thunderbolts for Zeus, a Trident for Poseidon, and a Bident for Hades along with a magical helmet of invisibility.
During this war, Hades used his helmet of invisibility to sneak into the Titans’ camp and destroy their weapons. After the war, the Titans were imprisoned within Tartoros and the Hecatoncheires were placed in charge of guarding the new prisoners. One titan, Atlas would be punished by forever having to hold the earth up.
Dividing the Spoils of War – After defeating Cronus and all of his father’s followers, the three brothers, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus divided up rulership of the cosmos between them. Hades would become ruler of the Underworld; Poseidon would become ruler of the seas and Zeus would become ruler of the air. The earth, the domain of Gaia, would be available to all three gods.
Iliad – The Iliad describes the three brothers as pulling lots to determine who would rule which realm.
Gigantomachy – Battle For The Heavens!
After the battle with the Titans, Zeus would still need to secure his throne. During this battle, Poseidon would use his trident to break off part of the island Kos and use it to entomb the giant Polybotes. Today, this island is known as Nisyros.
When The Oceans Were King!
You see remnants of this in the story of Perseus & Andromeda and certain stories of Elysian Mysteries where Poseidon is Persephone‘s father and not Zeus. Even Homer’s Odyssey shows this connection where Poseidon is the primary instigator of events and not Zeus.
In the Linear B script, Poseidon is listed as the chief deity.
After the collapse of the Mycenaean culture in the Mediterranean, we see a dark age period for Greek culture that resurges again some hundreds of years later, and now, it is Zeus who is the head of the pantheon and Poseidon is second only in power.
When we look at the Linear B tablets from Mycenean Greece, we find that Poseidon’s name as po-se-da-wo-ne appears more frequently than Zeus’ name di-u-ja. There is also a feminine form of po-se-da-ia which suggests there is a potential lost consort goddess to Poseidon. One who is a precursor to Amphitrite.
In the same Linear B script previously mentioned, Poseidon has a title of wa-na-ka or “wanax” that suggest the role of king of the Underworld. Other titles for Poseidon-Wanax are seen in the title E-ne-si-da-o-ne in Mycenean Knossos and Pylos, an epitaph that references the earthquakes that saw the collapse of the Minoan culture.
In Crete, in the cave of Amnisos, we see the name Enesidaon connected to the cult of Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth. Eileithyia also has a part in the annual birth of a divine child.
There is evidence in the Bronze Age, that a goddess of nature held a dominant role in both Minoan and Mycenean religions. That Wanax is her male consort in the Mycenean cults. Some scholars have tried to make a connection to Demeter where her name might appear as Da-ma-te, but this is still disputed.
Looking at the Linear Be scripts found at Pylos, the name E-ne-si-da-o-ne in association with Poseidon, and the name Si-to Po-tini-ja is associated with Demeter giving a suggestion of these two deities as consorts.
This fits when looking at the Eleusinian mysteries and seeing how they predate the Olympian pantheon. Inscriptions from Pylos show records of sacrificial offerings to “the Two Queens and Poseidon.” Those two queens just might be Demeter and Persephone when trying to look at the archeological evidence.
This association also makes sense as the ancient Greeks would have seen rivers and streams flow from the rocks and then disappear beneath the land in other areas. Plus there was a belief anciently during this period that the land merely floated above the water. That Poseidon could create the land as much as swallow it back down into the depths with earthquakes.
Lord of the Sea Gods
So, Poseidon may no longer rule over all of Olympia and be the head of the Pantheon by the time we get to the Classical, Hellenistic era of Greek history that everyone is more familiar with. Poseidon is still the lord over all the gods of the oceans, various rivers, and lakes. Poseidon was also regarded as a protector of many cities located near the sea as they relied on their whole economies from the sea trade and bounty provided by the deeps of the ocean.
It should also be noted by many people that Poseidon should be seen as the god of the Mediterranean Ocean as that is the sea that many of the ancient Greeks and even Romans when they renamed Poseidon to Neptune are familiar with.
God Of Storms
While this aspect seems to be more connected to Zeus in his roles as a Sky God and god of thunder, Poseidon also has power over storms, particularly those out at sea.
God Of Earthquakes
Another aspect of Poseidon is that of earthquakes, giving him an epitaph of Earth Mover or Earth Shaker. As a deity representing the forces of nature, this aspect is another reason why Poseidon could be seen as unpredictable and moody.
The connection of Poseidon to earthquakes is not hard to make when you understand that the Greeks believed that the cause of earthquakes was due to the erosion of rocks by water, where there are rivers that disappear below the earth and then seemingly reemerge later. The Greeks also believed that just as Poseidon’s earthquakes caused the land to sink into the sea, he also created the land with the appearance of new islands. This belief is seen in the philosophers Thales, Anaximenes, and Aristotle in how they explained the natural world around them.
God Of Horses
There are a couple of different stories I have come across about Poseidon’s role as a god of horses. One story holds that Poseidon created the first horse named Skyphios when he struck a rock with his trident.
A fragment of papyrus reveals that people would offer up horses by drowning them as a sacrifice to Poseidon to curry his favor for a safe sea voyage. Poseidon’s chariot is said to be pulled by horses, though more modern depictions show this chariot being pulled by a half-horse, half-fish creatures known as hippocampus.
In pre-Bronze Age Greek culture, there is a strong connection between horses, the element of water, and the Underworld. This is a connection we see continued with later, northern-European folklore with the Kelpies, Nuckelevee, and Puca.
Athena & Poseidon – In this story, the two gods are in competition for the favor of the future city of Athens. The two deities created all sorts of animals such as hippopotami, giraffes, camels, and zebras. In the end, when Poseidon created the horse, he was so pleased with the creation that he rode away on the mighty steed, forgetting about his desire to claim the favor of Athens, hence the city becoming named after Athena.
Demeter & Poseidon – In this story, Demeter is trying to put off the advances of Poseidon and asks him to create the most beautiful animal ever. To impress her, Poseidon creates the first horse. Of course, in the process of getting there, there are several other animals that Poseidon created before he achieved perfection and by this time, Poseidon has lost interest in Demeter.
God Of Fertility
As a god of the Oceans and waters, it leads handily to Poseidon being a god of fertility as he bestows the life-giving waters.
Droughts – Just as he giveth, Poseidon also taketh. So, a lack of water and rainfall leading to droughts would also be Poseidon’s doing.
Your Reputation Precedes You Sir!
On the heels of being a fertility deity, it must be noted that Poseidon has a reputation much like Zeus for being rather promiscuous. Granted, this is an aspect that we can find in numerous stories of the Greek deities.
There are numerous stories of Poseidon’s love affairs, romances, and some of which are just outright rape stories no matter how euphemistically later rewrites try to retell them. The most famous of which is Poseidon’s affair with Medusa before she’s turned into a Gorgon by Athena. I’ll cover several of these stories later so I’m not repeating them in this section.
There’s a certain prestige, especially seen in the ancient Egyptian culture where all the Pharaohs are earthly incarnations of Ra. This divine birthright is what justifies them to be the rulers over the common, ordinary people.
I can imagine a similar thing happening among the Greeks where they want to claim a divine heritage to justify their rule over various cities states. Stories that often just served to explain how a thing came to be, why something is, and to explain the divine right of rulership.
We also know there are two major areas of Greek history, the Mycenean Greek era and those whom we think of as the Ancient or Classical Greeks with a dark age period in between. If you look at the myths carefully from these periods, Poseidon had been the ruler of the Olympian gods during the Mycenean era of Greek history. This later changes to Zeus being the head of the pantheon.
There is also a Neolithic, Cycladic culture that is best known for its female idols. Couple this with Hera and her vehemence towards Zeus and his numerous affairs. Now it appears to be clear that the Greek myths we get of Zeus are the result of revisionist history and storytelling.
As there’s a theological takeover of replacing Poseidon with Zeus as the head of the pantheon and a patriarchal takeover of the regions that reduce goddesses like Hera’s importance. Just taking a close look at some of these myths, you can see the hints of it and some of the discrepancies that come up as Greece and then Rome expanded, trying to absorb all of these local myths and to equate local deities and variations with their own.
The most obvious is the Titanomachy story where Zeus and his siblings all displace the older pantheon, and the survivors get absorbed into the new divine order.
Male Lovers – Poseidon is also said to have had a few male lovers in the way of Nerites, Pelops, and Patroclus. There are not a lot of these myths that I could find to support this other than a footnote.
Marriage To Amphitrite
Like his brother Zeus, Poseidon has also had numerous lovers. His consort and wife is Amphitrite, a nymph, an ancient sea goddess in her own right, and the daughter of Nerus and Doris.
In the story told by Eratosthenes, Poseidon desired to marry Amphitrite, however, she had other ideas and ran away, hiding with Atlas. Off Poseidon went in search of her to no avail. Finally, it is the dolphin, Delphius tracked Amphitrite down. Delphius talked Amphitrite into accepting Poseidon as her husband.
At Amphitrite and Poseidon’s wedding, Delphius presided over the ceremony. In gratitude, Poseidon placed Delphius up into the stars. Amphitrite would give birth to the merman Triton who also wields a trident like his father.
Variation: According to Oppian, Delphius actually betrays Amphitrite’s location to Poseidon who comes and carries her off against her will to be married.
Medusa & Poseidon – Birth of Pegasus & Chrysaor
Poseidon is also known to transform into a horse too. A suggestion I came across is that Poseidon may have come to Medusa in Athena’s temple in the guise of a horse before changing to his true form and forcing himself on her. Unfortunately, instead of punishing Poseidon, Athena punishes Medusa by turning her into a Gorgon. Later, when the hero Perseus comes along and slays the gorgon, the winged horse Pegasus and the winged boar Chrysaor spring up from the blood from Medusa’s severed neck and head.
In Hesiod’s Theogony, Poseidon and Medusa were out in a field of flowers and not Athena’s temple. The whole being in Athena’s temple and sacrilege being committed comes to us courtesy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where Poseidon comes in the form of a bird to seduce Medusa.
Birth Of The Minotaur
Poseidon cursed Mino’s wife, Pasiphae to have sexual intercourse with a white bull after the Cretan king Minos wouldn’t sacrifice the bull to him. This resulted in the birth of the hybrid monster called the Minotaur.
I strongly suspect that we are seeing a rewriting of this myth from the fall of the Mycenaean Greece culture and the later rise of the Hellenic Greece culture when Poseidon ceases to be the main deity and is replaced by Zeus as the head of the Pantheon. Bulls are an old pre-Olympian symbol of Poseidon. Rewrite the myth so that instead of a divine child born of Poseidon and a nature goddess, there is instead a monster to whom the youth of vassal city-states are sacrificed to.
Poseidon & Aethra (Birth of Theseus)
With Aethra, the princess of Troezenian, Poseidon is the father of the Greek hero Theseus. King Aegeus of Athens is also reputed to be Theseus’ father as he had lain with Aethra on the very same night. This is still enough for Theseus to have a demigod status and to be the hero who would eventually volunteer to set sail to the island nation of Crete with the other Athenian youth who could be sent into a labyrinth to be eaten by the Minotaur.
When Minos heard that Theseus was the son of Poseidon, he mocked the youth by taking off his own ring and throwing it into the sea. If Theseus really was Poseidon’s son, he was to go and retrieve the ring. Theseus immediately dove in, and dolphins came to guide the young demigod down to Poseidon’s palace. There, both Poseidon and Amphitrite greeted Theseus, not only by giving him the ring but a purple wedding cloak and crown as well. Theseus swam back up to the surface and proved himself to King Minos.
In Crete, Theseus would kill the Minotaur. Theseus eventually succeeded his father as king of Athens and would have children. Poseidon promised Theseus three favors. One of which was called upon when his wife, Phaedra accused Hippolytus, the son Theseus had with an Amazon, of forcing himself on her. Poseidon granted this favor by sending a sea monster to spook Hippolytus’ horses as he was driving by the sea and thus dragging him into the ocean to his death.
Poseidon & Alope
Alope is Poseidon’s granddaughter through Cercyon, his son, and the King of Eleusis. Through this affair, Alope gives birth to the Hippothoon, an Attic hero. As a result, Cercyon has Alope buried alive and Poseidon transforms her into a spring near Eleusis.
Poseidon & Amymone
Shortly after the city of Argos came under Hera’s rule and Poseidon sent a drought to plague it, an Argive woman, Amymone came across a rather lecherous satyr who tried to rape her. Amymone prayed to Poseidon for help and he answered by scaring off the satyr. After rescuing her, Poseidon then fathered a child with her by the name Nauphus.
Poseidon & Caenis
In this story, Poseidon spotted the maiden Caenis walking along the shore. Overcome with lust, Poseidon forced himself on Caenis and raped her. Having satisfied himself, Poseidon offered Caenis a wish, of which she made the request to be turned into a man. Granting her request, Poseidon transformed her into the male warrior Caeneus.
Poseidon & Corone
Corone is the daughter of Coronaeus who was out walking along the shore. Poseidon saw her and attempted to court Corone only to have her reject him and run away. Poseidon chased her down, this time trying to rape her. Athena saw what was happening and changed Corone into a crow so she could fly away.
Poseidon & Halia
In the stories where Poseidon grows up in secret on the island of Rhodes with the Telchines, the young god fell in love with Halia, the beautiful sister of the Telchines. With Halia, Poseidon fathered six sons and a daughter.
By this time, Aphrodite has already been born and rose up from the sea. When she made an attempt to stop at the island of Rhodes while heading to Cyprus, the sons of Halia and Poseidon denied the goddess hospitality. Out of anger, Aphrodite caused the sons to fall in love with their mother and rape her. After seeing this, Poseidon made the sons sink beneath the sea.
Poseidon & Tyro
Tyro is a mortal woman married to Cretheus and by whom she already had a son, Aeson. Tyro loved a river god, Enipeus who spurned her advances. One day, Poseidon becomes infatuated with Tyro and lusts after her, disguises himself as Enipeus, and from their union, Tyro gives birth to the twin heroes Pelias and Neleus.
Poseidon & Asteria
In this story, we first see Zeus falling in love with this goddess who changed herself into a qual in order to escape his advances and being raped, only to have Poseidon equally enamored and lustful for her give chase with the intent to rape her. Asteria transforms herself a second time, this time into the small rocky island known as Delos.
At best, this could be an archaic myth that shows a changeover of when Poseidon and Zeus changed prominence during the fall of the Mycenaean Greek culture.
Poseidon & Demeter
Demeter is the Goddess of the Earth and Poseidon is the God of Water. That’s a good match and they’re consenting adults and gods.
Mycenaen Greek – This is Bronze Age Greece, there is a script known as Linear B found in Mycenae and Mycenaean Pylos where both Demeter and Poseidon’s names appear. Poseidon is given the epitaph of E-ne-si-da-o-ne “earth-shaker” and Demeter’s name is given si-to-po-ti-ni-ja. In these inscriptions, Poseidon’s title and epitaph E-ne-si-da-o-ne (Enesidaon) links him as a King of the Underworld and gives him a chthonic nature.
Touching back to the Eleusinian Mysteries, there are tablets found in Pylos that mention sacrificial goods for “the Two Queens and Poseidon” or “to the Two Queens and King.” It’s agreed that the Two Queens very likely refer to Demeter and Persephone or it’s later precursor goddesses who are not associated with Poseidon later.
Eileithyia – Demeter is a local Minoan goddess found in Amnisos, Crete where she is a goddess of childbirth who gives birth to a divine child. Her consort is given as Enesidaon, the “earth-shaker” whom we just mentioned is Poseidon. Her cult and worship would survive within the Eleusinian Mysteries. Plus, we see where local deities’ worship gets absorbed and conflated with a more popular, well-known deity.
Arcadia – We’re still in Bronze Age Greece! Here, Demeter and Poseidon Hippios or Horse Poseidon give birth to a daughter, Despoina, who is a goddess in her own right before some of the myths confuse her with Persephone or make her an epitaph of Demeter.
In this myth, Poseidon is a river spirit of the Underworld, appearing as a horse. In this form, Poseidon pursues Demeter, who is also in horse form. Demeter hid among the horses of King Onkios. Due to her divinity, Demeter couldn’t remain hidden for long and Poseidon caught up with her and forced himself on her. When the two gods copulate, Demeter gives birth to a goddess who is also in horse or mare form. This is a myth that sounds very similar to another one between Poseidon and Athena and more accurately, Philyra and Cronos when Chiron is born. The horse motif is very common in northern-European myths and folklore.
As a mare-goddess, Demeter is known first as Demeter Erinys due to her fury with Poseidon for forcing himself on her. She becomes Demeter Lousia, “the bathed Demeter” after washing away her anger in the River Ladon. There’s something to be said for this as you can’t hold onto your anger forever, you must let it go or otherwise it consumes you.
The whole myth of pairing up Demeter and Poseidon is to connect Demeter as a Goddess of the Earth and Poseidon as a God of Water with their connection over nature. Despoina is the daughter who results from their union and whose name could not be spoken outside of the Arcadian Mysteries. Demeter and Poseidon also have another child, a horse by the name of Arion who is noted as being able to speak, immortal, swift, and having a black mane and tail.
Poseidon & Scylla
This is a bit of an obscure myth I came across, as an alternative to Scylla’s origins found in the Tzetzes on Lycophron & Servius on Aeneid writings.
Scylla and Poseidon were having an affair. Out of jealousy, Amphitrite mixed some magical herbs into Scylla’s bath, transforming her into a monster with twelve feet and six heads. Scylla would then join Charybdis to terrorize the coastlines of Italy and Sicily, sinking many ships.
In Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, Poseidon still sleeps with Scylla and then transforms her into a rocky cliff along the coast.
Poseidon & Nerites
Nerites is the son of Nereus and Doris and thus Amphitrite’s brother. In some accounts, Poseidon takes Nereus as his charioteer as they’re lovers. As a charioteer, Nereus was said to be very good and fast.
The myth isn’t clear why, but one day, the sun god Helios turns Nerites into a shellfish. The Greek author who recorded this story isn’t sure why, but puts forward a theory that Helios may have been offended by Nerite’s skill or was a rival lover to Poseidon. Helios may have wanted Nerites to travel among the constellations instead in the sea.
It is known that from the love that Poseidon and Nerites have, comes Anteros, mutual love.
In this dialogue, Plato tells of a mortal woman who lived on an isolated island by the name of Cleito. Poseidon fell in love with her and created a sanctuary on top of a hill in the middle of the island and surrounded the place with rings of water and land to protect her. Cleito would give birth to five sets of twin boys. The firstborn, Atlas would become the first ruler of the legendary Atlantis.
Descendant of Poseidon – Plato was regarded by his fellow Greeks to be able to trace his lineage to Poseidon through his father Ariston and to the demigod kings of Codrus and Melanthus.
There are several Greek heroes such as Herakles and Theseus who killed several centaurs. There is also a story of the sirens luring the centaurs to their death in the sea. In the Apollod, it is stated that the island of Sirens is where Poseidon crushed the centaurs instead of giving them refuge.
Ares & Aphrodite’s Love Affair
A version of the story found in Homer’s Odyssey has Hephaestus refusing to release the lovers unless Zeus returned the bridal gifts. Zeus staunchly refused as he felt that Hephaestus shouldn’t have made the affair so public. Though in the Odyssey, Poseidon does agree to play Hephaestus’ price to release both Ares and Aphrodite.
Though it is just after this story happens that Poseidon brings charges against Ares in the Areiopagus for having killed his son Halirrhothius.
The Founding Of Athens
This story is similar to another story where Poseidon creates the first horse. In this version of the story, the two gods are competing for the city of Athens (at this time the region is called Attica) ruled over by Athens’s legendary first king, Cecrops. Even after Athena became the patron goddess of the city, Poseidon still had a presence at the Acropolis through his avatar Erechtheus. By the Athenian calendar, at the end of the year, a festival would be held, and the priests of Athena and the priest of Poseidon would hold a procession under the canopies to Eleusis. There, the gods would give a gift to the Athenian people and the people would choose which one they preferred.
To start things off, Poseidon throws a trident into the ground, creating a spring at the Acropolis. However, the water that sprung up was rather salty. Athena won the competition with the creation and gift of the olive tree. In anger, Poseidon flooded the Attic Plain as punishment to the Athenians for not choosing him. Both deities eventually worked together with Athena creating the first chariot and Poseidon creating the first horse. Athena also built the first ship to sail over the oceans that Poseidon rules.
The place where Poseidon’s trident struck the ground; filled with salt water was closed off by the northern hall of the Erechtheum and remained open to the air.
The story of this conflict between Poseidon and Athena can be found on reliefs along the western pediment of the Parthenon and is the first such relief that a visitor sees on arriving.
Many scholars have interpreted this myth as a clash between the Mycenaean Greeks and newly arrived immigrants to the area. The city of Athens was at one point a major sea power that defeated the Persian fleet at the island of Salamis. The scholar Walter Burkert notes that Poseidon led his son Eumolpus against Athens and killed Erectheus.
Further, Poseidon sent another of his sons, Halirrhothius to cut down Athena’s olive tree. While Halirrhothius was swinging his axe, he missed and managed to kill himself. In anger, Poseidon accused Ares of the murder and the matter would eventually be resolved on the Areopagus, or “hill of Ares” in favor of Ares. Another version of the story has Halirrhothius raping Alcippe, Ares’s daughter and understandably so, Ares kills him. And that is what leads to Ares’ trial and eventual acquittal.
The Divison of Corinth
In a similar story to that of Athens, this time it is Helios and Poseidon clashing over who would be the patron deity. The dispute was bad enough that the two gods brought the issue before one of the Hecatoncheires, Briareos, an elder god to settle the matter. Briareos awarded the Acrocorinth to Helios and gave the isthmus of Corinth to Poseidon.
This tale is noted as representing the conflicts between fire and water. Helios being a sun god gets the area closest to the sky and Poseidon being a sea god, gets the area closest to the water.
The City Of Argos – Poseidon & Hera
This dispute is over the city of Argos. The two deities chose a local king Phoroneus to settle this matter. Phoroneus decided in favor of Hera to award her the city to become the patron goddess. An enraged Poseidon then sent a drought to plague the city.
Exchanging Islands & Temples
Then there is this story, where Poseidon and Leto decided to exchange islands to be patrons of. Poseidon gave Leto the island of Delos and he got the island of Caluria where a temple to Poseidon has stood since antiquity.
With Apollo, Poseidon gave him Delphi in exchange for Taenarum.
These are likely just quick little stories to explain the change of worshipers and who a patron deity was for a certain region.
Sometime after Zeus has succeeded in overcoming all the previous challenges from Gaia, the various giants, and titans to become ruler of the heavens, a young Zeus had gotten rather prideful, temperamental, and arrogant in his rulership.
Enter Apollo, Hera, and Poseidon (and depending on the source, all the other gods except Hestia join in) and decide that Zeus needs to be taught a lesson.
Hera’s part was to drug Zeus so that he fell into a deep sleep. While Zeus is sleeping, they come in to steal his thunderbolts and tie him up with some one hundred knots. Powerless, Zeus lays there until the Neriad, Thetis comes and seeing the god’s predicament, calls the Hecatoncheire, Briareus who comes and unties Zeus.
With Briareus’ support, Zeus is able to put an end to the rebellion and punish those involved. Most notable is Hera’s punishment as she led the rebellion. Zeus hung her up in the sky with golden chains. Hera’s weeping kept Zeus up all night and the next morning, he agreed to end the punishments after Hera and all the gods swear never to rise up against him again.
As for Apollo and Poseidon? They were stripped of their godly powers for a time to serve King Laomedon of Troy.
The Marriage Of Thetis
Both Poseidon and Zeus had pursued the goddess Thetis’ hand in marriage. However, when Themis gave the prophecy that Thetis’ son would be greater than his father, both Poseidon and Zeus withdrew and decided that it would be better if Thetis married the mortal Peleus. The same marriage where the goddess Eris tossed her golden apple among the goddesses after she wasn’t invited and leading to the Trojan War.
Divine Set Up – If we go by the “lost” epic, The Cypria attributed to Stasinus, this whole Trojan War was planned by Zeus and Themis. There are only about 50 lines of text from the Cypria and it’s seen as a prequel to Homer’s The Iliad and explains how the events came about.
Because of Apollo and Poseidon’s part in helping Hera with her rebellion, Zeus stripped the two gods of their power for a time, and they were sent to serve King Laomedon of Troy. There, King Laomedon had the two gods build a huge wall around the city with the promise of reward. When it came time to pay up, King Laomedon refused. By this time, Poseidon had regained his godly powers and out of vengeance, he sends a sea monster to attack the city of Troy. The legendary hero Hercules defeated and killed this monster.
Book XX sees Poseidon rescue the Trojan Prince Aeneas after Achilles drops them in combat.
At first during the Trojan War, Zeus forbids any of the gods to take part. When Zeus rescinds this ban, Poseidon sides with the Greeks against the Trojans, causing earthquakes. Poseidon would also help the Greeks indirectly by appearing in the guise of an old seer named Calchas.
In Rome, Troy is called Neptunia Pergama.
After the events of the Iliad and Trojan War, the titular hero, Odysseus earns Poseidon’s wrath after blinding his Cyclops son, Polyphemus. Such was Poseidon’s wrath, that it would take Odysseus ten years to make the return trip home to Ithaca.
A Latin epic poem written by Virgil, this involves the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who fled the city after the fall of Troy and his travels to Italy and become the ancestor of the Romans.
Because of how closely the Greek and Roman gods are equated with each other, we read in this epic how Poseidon, under the name of Neptune is still angry with wandering Trojans. However, he is not as vindictive as Juno (Hera). In Book I, Neptune rescues the Trojan fleet from Juno’s attempts to wreck it, even if the only reason was to prevent Juno from interfering with his domain of the sea.
Hepom Nepōts – Indo-European
This is the name of a reconstructed proto-Indo-European deity that historians, etymologists, and linguists have hypothesized when tracing a prehistoric Eurasian population and the language that may have been spoken. The name Hepom Nepōts translates to “Descendant of the Waters.”
Nethuns – Etruscan
An Etruscan deity from the region of Umbria in Italy. Nethuns is a god of springs and water who is identified with the Grecian Poseidon and Roman Neptune. Their name is found in the Latin expression “flere Nethuns,” meaning “the divinity of Nethuns.”
Neptune – Roman
Where Poseidon is the god of the Ocean, his Roman counterpart is Neptune.
Thanks greatly to the influence of the Romans, many people will identify and equate Poseidon with Neptune. The Romans were famous for subsuming many deities in their conquest across Europe, particularly the Mediterranean area, and identifying their gods with those of a conquered culture. The most famous being the Greeks, where many deities were renamed to those of Roman gods. Prominent examples like Zeus and Jupiter, Hera and Juno, Ares and Mars, and so on down the line.
With the Hellenization of Latin literature, many Greek writers and even Roman writers rewrote and intertwined the myths of these two deities so that they would virtually become one and the same. And that’s the tradition passed down through the centuries and has become accepted. Just that there are still some differences that separate the two.
Pontus – Greek
The oldest of the Greek Water deities, Pontus is regarded more as the personification of the sea.
Pronunciation: ˈjaːnʊs or jayn’-uhs
Alternate Spelling: Iānus (Latin)
Other names: Bifrons,Ianuspater (“Janus Father”), Ianus Quadrifrons (“Janus Four-faced”), Ianus Bifrons (“Two-faced Janus”), Dianus, Dionus
Other Names and Epithets: Ianitos (Keeping Track of Time), Iunonius, Consuvius (‘”The Guardian of the Beginning of Human Life”), Cozeuios, Conseuius the Sower, Patultius (the Opener), Iancus or Ianeus (the Gatekeeper), Duonus Cerus (the Good Creator), Geminus (Double), Rex King, Father of the Gods (or part of the Gods), God of Gods, Pater, Patulcius, Clusivius or Clusius (Closer of Gate), Κήνουλος (Coenulus), Κιβουλλιος (Cibullius), Curiatius
Etymology: “Arched Passage, Doorway” (Latin)
Janus is quite simply, the Roman god of Beginnings, Gates, Transitions, Time, Duality, Doorways, Frames, Portals, Passages and Endings. To the ancient Romans, Janus is one of their primordial deities who was there at the beginning of time and all existence. While Janus has an important and prominent role in the Roman Pantheon, he is not the Sovereign Deity of it.
It should be noted that there is no Greek equivalent to Janus. However, I should note, that some later Greek authors would place Janus as having been a mortal from Greece. Plutarch specifically, says that Janus was from Perrhebia.
Day of the Week: The first day of every month
Number: 300 & 65
Patron of: Transitions, Travelers
Planet: Sun, Moon
Plant: White Hawthorne, Olive Tree
Sphere of Influence: Transitions, Giving form to Chaos
Symbols: Keys, Staff, Two-Faces, Doors, Archways, Gateways, Portals
Given the many aspects that Janus presided over, many of which are abstract ideas and concepts for duality, Janus is often shown as having two faces. One looking forward to the future and the other looking back towards the past. Additionally, one face is bearded while the other is not. Later, both faces would be bearded. In Janus’ right hand, he holds a key and a staff in the other.
The double-faced head is found on many early Roman coins. In the 2nd century C.E., Janus is sometimes depicted with four faces.
During the Renaissance, the two-faces of Janus not only represented the past and future, but wisdom as well.
Janus had no flamen or specialized priests dedicated to him. However, the King of the Sacred Rites, the Rex Sanctorum, would carry out Janus’ ceremonies.
There are several rites for Janus. All prayers, regardless of which deity was to be invoked, didn’t start without Janus first being mentioned, regardless of which deity was being invoked. For that matter, every day, every week, every month began with invoking and calling on Janus. Incidentally, every prayer and rite ended with invoking the goddess Vesta.
Military Season – For the Romans, the start of their military season began with March 1st with the Rite of Arma Movere and ended on October 1st with the Right of Arma Condere. The first rite is also known as the Rites of the Salii. The aspect of Janus as Janus Quirinus would be invoked on the anniversary of the dedication to Mars on June 1st that corresponds with the festival of Carna. Another festival was held on June 29th which had been the end of the month under the Julian calendar for Quirinus.
The Military Season also marks something of a seemingly paradoxical connection between Janus and the war god Mars. The peace-loving King Numa sends out the army to ensure peace while later, it’s the warmongering King Tullus in his battle with the Sabines who sees Roman Soldiers coming home to peace.
It’s a connection that makes sense that for the Romans, having been attacked once, vowed that peace would come when everyone else around them was subdued. This creates a couple other epitaphs for Janus of belliger and pacificus, depending on which role he is in. As Janus Quirinus, the deity brings the closing of the Rites of March at the end of the month and then later in October as soldiers return victorious.
Janus doesn’t seem to have many prominent temples for worship. We do see that the covered portaculis and areas over gates to a building are called iani. There is an altar, that later becomes a temple for Janus near the Porta Carmentalis that leads to where the Veii road ended.
The gates of the Argiletum were called Ianus Geminus. This gate yard was built by Numa around 260 B.C.E. after the Battle of Mylae. Other names for this passageway are Janus Bifrons, Janus Quirinus, and Porta Belli. These gates would be open during times of war and closed during peace, something that didn’t happen often with Roman history. A statue here dedicated to Janus shows him with the symbol for 300 in the right hand and on the other hand, the number 65 for the days in the solar year. There were also twelve altars, one for each month. In the Christian religion, early Christian clerics claimed that these gates were closed when Jesus was born.
There is also the Porta Ianualis that protected the city of Rome from the Sabine that were all thought to be places where Janus was present. Janus was also seen as having a presence at the Janiculum leading out of Rome towards Etruria and the Sororium Tigillum that lead to Latium.
What’s In A Name?
In Latin, Janus’ name is spelt as Ianus as their alphabet has no letter “j.”
Jansus’ name translates from Latin to English as “Arched Passage” or Doorway.” In turn, there’s a root word from Proto-Italic language of “iānu” for “door” and another from Proto-Indo-European of “iehnu” for “passage.” There is also a cognate word found in Sanskrit of “yāti” meaning “to go” or “travel.” Another cognate in Lithuanian of “jóti” meaning “to go” or “ride.” And lastly found in Serbo-Croatian is the word “jàhati” meaning “to go.”
Some modern scholars reject the Indo-European etymology though others see in the word “Iānus,” an action name that expresses movement. My favorite though is how the word “Janitor” derives from “ianua” and Janus.
Among the ancients, there are a few different interpretations that all tie into the nature of Janus as a deity. The first is Paul the Deacon’s definition that connects Ianus to chaos. As seen in the phrase: “hiantem hiare” to “be open,” indicating the transitional state of this deity.
The second definition comes from Nigidius Figulus where Ianus would be Apollo and Diana. That the “D” in Diana’s name has been added as it has a better sound. It would be related to Diana’s name to the word “Dianus” with the Indo-European root of “dia” or “dey” for day. This idea is somewhat flimsy and not usually, widely accepted as being accurate. It seems to be what happens when you’re stretching and trying to connect everything back as all originating from one deity.
The last proposed etymology comes from Cicero, Ovid and Macrobius, where they explain that the Latin form of Janus for “to go” refers to Janus as the god of beginnings and transitions. That one feels a little more on the money with how many people view and interpret Janus’ name.
Parentage and Family
As a primordial deity, Janus isn’t given any parentage. If any are mentioned, it is:
Caelus (The primal god of the Sky) & Terra (The Earth)
The gods Camese, Ops and Saturn are given as Janus’ siblings.
Camese – Depending on the version of the myth (Greek in this case,) they become Janus’ sister and wife.
Jana – A Moon Goddess
Juturna – Goddess of Wells & Springs
Venilia – Goddess of the Winds & Seas
Canens – A nymph and personification of song.
Fontus – Son of Janus and Juturna
In a Greek version of the myths, where Janus is mortal and marries his sister Camese, they have the following children: Aithex, Olistene, Tiberinus
Primordial Gate Keeper
You could say that Janus is the Ultimate Gate Keeper, even possibly the Custodian of the Universe and probably the only one we should have. This connection makes Janus a Liminal Deity, guarding boundaries and passages.
Janus guarded the gates of Heaven. Doorways, Gates, any passageways, Janus presides over these as well. As a Doorway is the literal transitioning, moving from one area to another. Nothing changed, transitioned, moves, or altered it’s/their states without Janus’ presence and influence. Even the abstract ideas of going from war to peace and back, from birth to death and rebirth, to journeys, exchanges, barbarism and civilization, the start of and any ending of conflicts, their resolutions. Janus presided over all transitions.
Key – Janus is often shown holding a key that symbolized his protection over doors, gates and thresholds of many kinds. Both physical and spatial boundaries. The key symbolized that a traveler would be able to find a safe place or harbor to trade their goods in peace.
Staff – This symbolized Janus’ guiding travelers on their paths.
Order Out Of Chaos
If, in the beginning, everything is a primordial ooze and chaos, Janus is the being who brings order from it all, as everything transitions from one state to another. Modern science will have fancy technical terms and jargon for everything and how everything forms and comes into being. For the ancient Romans, this is all explained as Janus being responsible for the formation of the elements and harmony from Chaos and getting the whole shebang going.
Janus’ functions denote that he is a liminal deity who watches the borders. As rivers are frequently natural borders and boundaries, Janus presided over these along with the bridges that cross over them. Four of Janus’ altars and temples were built along rivers.
Janus is a god of dualities, representing numerous abstract and literal concepts for beginnings and endings. The very transitioning from one state to another. Janus was present at the very beginning and start of the universe before any of the gods existed.
With Janus being depicted as having two faces. One face facing towards the future and the other towards the past, Janus is said to have held the gift of prophecy. Omens and portents were very much so the domain of Janus as he could see all.
A Solar Deity & Divine Twins?
This idea comes from Macrobius who in turns cites Nigidius Figulus and Cicero. The idea is that Janus and Jana (a variation of Diana) are a pair of deities worshiped together as Apollo & Diana; the sun and the moon.
Adding to this is one A. Audin who connects the solar motif back to the Sumerian cultures. They mention two solar pillars that are located on the eastern side of temples and denote the direction of the rising and setting sun and the solstices. These two solstices would connect to the idea of the Divine Twins often seen in mythology, particularly the myth where one twin is mortal and the other is immortal.
Morning Time – The start of the day or morning is thought to be Janus’ time, when men awoke and began their daily routines and activities. Janus is called Matutine Pater, meaning “Morning Father by Horace. It is thought this association with this time of the day is what links Janus with being a solar deity.
Winter Solstice – In keeping with the solar connection, under the Roman calendar, the Winter Solstice was held to be on December 25th, a remarkably familiar date that carries over to Christianity for when Christmas is celebrated. Where solar deities are revered, the Winter Solstice is often when these deities are said to be reborn and their power grows again.
Month – January
It is generally accepted that the month of January is named for Janus (Ianuarius) and why, with the Gregorian calendar, it is the first month and beginning of the calendar year. Under the ancient Roman calendar, their year began with March as the first month, incidentally when Rome would begin its war and campaign season.
For further, in-depth history, we can credit Numa Pompilius, the second of seven kings who ruled Rome before it became a Republic. In the 6th century B.C.E., Numa added the months of Inauarius and Februarius to ten month “Romulus” religious calendar. Under this new calendar, Inauarius would become the first month starting in 200 B.C.E. of the Roman Republican Calendar. Inauarius, pronounced as Januarius means the “Month of Janus.”
One interesting thing to note, when looking at the translations of old Roman Farmer’s Almanacs, the goddess Juno is who presided over the month of January initially, not Janus.
Since we’re on the subject of time and dates… as a god of beginnings, the very concept of time even starts with Janus. In one of the few temples dedicated to Janus there is a statue of him where the position of the hands signifies the number 355 for the number of days in a lunar year. Later, this number becomes 365 to symbolize Janus’ mastery over time.
New Year’s Day
Another calendar date that carries over from the Romans to modern day in much of Western culture, January 1st marks the start of the New Year. For the omens, the beginning of anything was an omen and would set the tone for the rest to follow. It was customary to greet people with well wishes. People would exchange gifts of dates, figs and honey. Gifts of money or coins called strenae were also exchanged.
Additionally, cakes made of spelled and salt were offered up to Janus on his altars. These offerings or libums were known as ianual. There is likely a corresponding connection to another offering of summanal on the Summer solstice for the god Summanus. However, these offerings would be made with flour, honey, and milk, making them sweeter.
This is another festival held on January 9th for Janus. A ram would be sacrificed at this time.
This is a bit of an oddball festival for me. It was held on October 1st, during the month that Rome’s War Season is ending, and soldiers are returning home.
It’s a purification rite that commemorates Marcus Horatius making atonement for the murder of his sister. The representative for Marcus has their head covered as they pass beneath an archway. The ritual seems to be used as a purification rite for soldiers returning from war to cleanse them from the taint of war as they return to civilized society.
This rite has also been connected to a pairing of Janus and Juno through the epitaphs of Janus Curiatus and Juno Sororia. Janus in his role as a god of transitions and Juno in her role as a protectress of young soldiers.
Several early Roman coins depict Janus on them. With one face being clean shaven while the other is bearded.
This connects Janus as the founder of financial commerce and trade systems as humans transitioned from an age of barbarism to civilization. Roman myth holds that Janus was the first to mint the first coins.
There is a rite or custom where a bride would oil the posts to the door of her new home with wolf fat when she arrived. While this rite does not specifically mention Janus, it is a rite of passage connected to the ianua.
King Of Latium
As old as Janus is, predating the Roman Pantheon, it is very likely that he was a real person at one time.
In a story told by Macrobius, Janus had been exiled from Thessaly and sailed to a place known as Latium with his wife Camise and their children. They settled in a place along the Tiber river that would be named after his son Tiberinus.
Where Janus and his family settled, they built a city called Janiculum. After his wife died, Janus ruled in Latium for many years. After his death, Janus became deified.
Janus’ rule in Latium is part of the Golden Age in Roman mythology that saw a lot of wealth and agriculture come to the region. This era would be what caused Janus to be associated with trade, streams, springs and a sky god.
Variations: Hyginus in his retellings, Camese is male and Janus succeeded him as ruler of the kingdom.
Greek authors place Camese as Janus’ sister and spouse and that they have a son by the name of Aithex and a daughter by the name of Olistene.
Janus & Saturn
In Ovid’s Fasti, the god Saturn welcomes Janus as a guest and eventually shares his kingdom with them in return for teaching the art of agriculture.
Another slight variation to this, is the custom of Roman to depict their gods as having been mortal and ruling the city of Latium during a Golden Age of Peace. Janus as the ruler of his own Kingdom, welcomed Saturn in after he had been expelled from the heavens by Jupiter.
Janus & Romulus
In this myth, Romulus, as in one of the legendary founders of Rome; with the help of his men, kidnapped the Sabine women. In response, the Sabine men retaliated, trying to get their daughters back. Luck was with the Sabine men as a daughter of the city guard betrayed her fellow Romans and let the Sabine men slip within the city.
When the Sabine men tried to make their way up the Capitoline Hill, Janus is credited with causing a hot spring to erupt, causing a mixture of boiling water and volcanic ash that forced the Sabine men to turn back.
It’s from this myth, that the Romans and Sabines would later form a new community and the gates being open during war and closed during peace to keep in would come from.
Janus & Canens
A story found in Ovid’s Metamorphosis; Janus is the father of Canens with the nymph Venilia. Canens was the personification of song and married to Picus. When Picus spurred the love of Circe, she turned him into a woodpecker.Canens searched for six days for her husband before throwing herself into the Tiber river where she sang one final song before dying.
Janus & Carna
Also known by the name of Crane.
Carna was a nymph of the sacred grove in Helernus. Whenever Carna found herself being pursued by the unwanted advances of a young man, she would call out to the young man only to slip away to hide in various crags and other places. Janus saw her hiding and of course, what ancient Roman wouldn’t, Janus rapes Carna.
By way of apology, Janus gives Carna a whitethorn branch so that she may guard all thresholds and doorways, making her a goddess of hinges and then becomes known by the name of Cardea. As a goddess, Cardea would be responsible for protecting and purifying thresholds and doorposts. Incidentally, she also protects newborn infants from stirges. That… is really interesting given the connection between Vampires and not being able to cross thresholds.
That, however, is a post for another day…
I think it is also possible, given how old this myth is, that Janus and Carna had consensual sex and not rape. It would explain giving the hawthorne as a gift between two lovers and Janus elevating Carna from a nymph to a goddess with close to the same powers and abilities as he does with guardianship over thresholds.
Janus & Juturna
A minor myth is that Janus and Juturna, a goddess of wells give birth to Fontus, the god of wells and springs. Comment has been made that Fontus or Fons is another name for Janus. This myth is more likely used to explain why two festivals, Juturna on January 11th and Agonium of Janus on January 9th were so close together. Plus, further explaining why there is an alter for Fontus or Fons near the Janiculum and the connection to spring and beginnings.
Janus & Vesta
Janus presides over the beginnings and guards the doors and entries. Janus would be invoked first in rites and Vesta would be invoked last. It has brought some curious observations. The presence of Vesta shows that there was importance for the hearth, its life-giving fire and thus the home. A community couldn’t survive or thrive without the safety of the household. To be able to exit the untamed and unknown wilds to the safety of the community and civilization.
As has been the case with many deities, Janus was made a martyr and then later the Saint Januarius by the Roman Catholic Church.
Janus was also made a martyr by the Roman Catholic Church and later became known Saint Januarius.
During the Medieval or Middle Ages, the Italian city of Genoa used the symbol of Janus or Ianua. Many other European communes also used the symbol of Ianua.
For those interested in tracing an Indo-European religion and pantheon of gods that links the European deities with those of Vedic origins. There’s been a lot of study into it. As a god of beginnings and transitions, a primordial deity, Janus has been connected to the Vedic Vâyu. Most notably in the works of G. Dumézil. There certainly was a cross-pollination of ideas and religion when you see how much further east Greek culture was at one point and trade routes.
Portunus – Syno-Deity
Portunus is a similar deity to Janus. The difference is that Portunus presided over harbors and gateways in regard to traveling, commerce, trade and shipping. Like Janus, the key and staff are also one of Portunus’ symbols. Portunus’s festival day was held on August 17th.
Janus the Sailor – Because of how similar Janus and Portunus are, there is a hypothesis put forward that Janus may have originated as a god of winds and sailing, brought to the communities by the Tiber river. The connection has more to do with when Saturn sailed to ancient Latium and was welcomed by Janus.
Aditi – Hindu Goddess
The Vedic goddess of Infinity, Aditi is depicted as having two faces. She is seen as the feminine form of Brahma. Like Janus, Aditi is invoked at the beginning of ceremonies and she concludes them as well.
Ani – Etruscan God
In the little-known Etruscan mythology, Ani is the god of the sky and sometimes shown as having two faces. This has led some to conclude a possible connection between Ani and Janus.
Belinus – Chaldean God
Also called Baal-Ianus, a William Betham has made arguments that Janus’ cult would originate from the Middle East with the Chaldean culture.
Brahma – Hindu God
The imagery of double or four-faced deities in Hinduism is common. Brahma is the god who created the universe.
Culśanś – Etruscan God
In the little-known Etruscan mythology, Culśanś has been identified as being the counterpart to the Roman Janus. This connection seems more likely given Culśanś’ role as a god and protector of doorways and his depiction of having two faces.
Heimdallr – Nordic God
As guardian of the Bifrost bridge, the functions that Heimdallr has for standing in a place between time and space have been noted to be similar to Janus.
Isimud – Sumerian God
Also known as Usimu in Babylonian. A deity featuring two faces appears several times in Babylonian art. Isimud is the messenger of Enki.
Greek Connection – Which brings us to another point. However much the ancient Greeks and Romans tried to claim that Janus had no Middle Eastern connection, and that Janus is solely a Roman deity, there are some much later writers who would equate Hermes with Janus, especially so during the Hellenistic era of Greek culture.
Svetovid – Slavic God
Depicted as having four heads or faces, Svetovid is the Slavic god of war, fertility, and abundance.
Janus In Astronomy
On December 15th of 1966, the astronomer Audouin Dollfus discovered and identified, orbiting around Saturn, a moon that would later be called Janus. This moon is also known as Saturn X. It would take a little over a decade before it was recognized that Janus was one of two satellites or moons occupying close to the same orbit. The other is called Epimetheus. These names would become official in 1983. Janus also has two craters on it named for the characters of Castor and Pollux in mythology.