All posts tagged Poseidon

The Quarrel between Athene and Poseidon

Published September 8, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

You know, Athene really seems to have trouble getting along with the other gods.  Or is that just my imagination?

The rocky hill in Attica was home to a number of people even before Kekrops arrived, but their ways were crude, and lacked the polish of civilization.

No one knew who Kekrops was, really.  They didn’t know where he had come from, or who his parents were.  Some said he had sprung whole from the ground, but that only made for more questions.

What mattered to the Attic people was that he brought them the ways to make their lives better.

He taught them to worship Zeus and the other Olympians.  And he taught them the ways of life the gods preferred.  (He taught them other things, too, that were less pleasant.  Like hating foreign ‘barbarians’ and disdaining the people from neighboring cities and enslaving those captured in war.  But no one likes to talk about that.)  By taking a wife and fathering three lovely daughters on her, he showed them how he wanted women to be treated.  The men liked that.  (The women, not so much.)

As the little village began to grow into a real city — or the tentative beginnings of one, at any rate — the people began to wonder just what they should call it.

Seeing an opportunity, Kekrops made a great offering to the gods, and told them that his city would one day be the finest city in any land, and that he would name that city in the honor of whatever god would be its protector.

Two of the gods appeared on that rocky hill, ready to take Kekrops up on his offer:  mighty Poseidon, god of the sea, and wise Athene, goddess of war.

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H is for Hrimthurs

Published April 9, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


When the Aesir had only first claimed their dominion over the Vanir, the Jotunn and all the other beings, they had no home in which to live.  They needed a place they could fortify against their enemies, and so they contracted a master builder, who would create the magnificent walls of Asgard for them.

But this builder was such a master that he demanded the most astonishing price:  he would only build their walls if they gave him the goddess Freyja for his wife, with a dowry of the sun and the moon!

Not one god was willing to accept that, least of all Freyja!

But they wanted to see Asgard built, and they knew that this was the craftsman who would do the best job.  They argued about it long into the night, and eventually decided that the best thing to do was to get him to build the walls, but make sure they wouldn’t have to pay him.  (Even Freyja agreed to that.)  So they said they would accept his terms, so long as he built it in but a few short seasons — instead of the years he had initially asked for — and without any man’s (or god’s) help.

The builder, steadfast in his desire to marry the beautiful Freyja at any cost, agreed, but requested that he at least be allowed the help of his faithful stallion.

The gods were reluctant to allow even that.  (Freyja didn’t want to marry that filthy, unwashed, smelly builder!)

“What can he accomplish with a simple horse?” Loki pointed out.  “You’re all fretting about nothing, like a pack of old women.”

Thor — being Thor — threatened to hit Loki in the face with his hammer for making fun of him, but the rest of the gods reluctantly agreed with him, and told the builder that he could use his horse to aid him in his task.

But the builder’s horse was Svaðilfari, the finest and grandest horse any man — or god — had ever seen.  Svaðilfari could pull many tons of rock without breaking a sweat, and did so without any sign of complaint or strain.  The horse’s feats were so mighty that the gods feared they would have to hand Freyja over to the builder after all!  Loki laughed that maybe she should marry the horse, since it was the horse who had actually built the walls, but no one else found that funny, especially Freyja.  (Though, in truth, she probably would have preferred the horse to its owner.)

As the deadline was nearly up, and the walls were complete except for the gates, the gods began to fret, and demanded that — since he was the one who had gotten them into that situation — Loki must do something to get them out of it.  Otherwise, Odin assured him, he’d let his irritable son do whatever he wanted to Loki, which was likely to involve a magic hammer and Loki’s skull.

Not really wanting to have his head pounded into powder, Loki sighed, and agreed to distract the horse so the builder couldn’t finish his task.

Loki knew better than to try tempting the stallion out of the stable with a few apples.  That wouldn’t work on even a fine mortal horse, and Svaðilfari was anything but mortal.

There was only one thing Loki could do to stop the walls from being completed, much as he was loath to do it.

The next day, the builder was hard at work, when suddenly Svaðilfari stopped pulling the final load of stone, broke free from his harness, and went tearing off into the nearby woods.

Irritated that he might be denied the woman he loved after he had worked so hard for her, the builder chased after his horse, and soon found out that what had distracted his stallion had proved just how alike they two were:  Svaðilfari had run off after a mare in heat, and the mare was doing her very best not to get caught.

Feeling sorry for his horse, the builder rigged up a little surprise for the mare, making sure the stallion would be able to catch her.  He was sure, after all, that it would be over and done with in time for him to get Asgard finished up as agreed.

But it didn’t.

The deadline passed by, and the gates of Asgard still hadn’t been built.

Even worse, the gods were all smirking at the builder, and Thor made a crass comment about men who run off after strange women.  It had all been a set-up!  The builder could see that now, and in his rage, he bellowed his hatred of the Aesir and the Vanir, and threatened to bring his people back and tear down those walls he had worked so hard to build.

For the builder was one of the Hrimthurs, a particularly powerful kind of Jotunn.

Once the gods knew that the builder was really a frost giant, they wasted no time on further niceties.

Thor pulled out Mjöllnir, and shattered the builder’s skull as easily as an ordinary man would crush an egg.  Because, Hrimthurs or not, he was just a builder; he wasn’t a warrior.

The gods were talking and laughing, thoroughly pleased with themselves for having exposed the villain and prevented his evil plot to marry Freyja, when Loki returned.  They laughed further that Loki was still disguised as a mare, and had the passionate Svaðilfari still trailing after him.  Loki rolled his horse eyes at them, but couldn’t retort, since horses can’t talk.  Besides, he knew he would have the last laugh soon enough; Svaðilfari was the finest sire of horse-kind.  (And, indeed, Odin never again laughed at Loki’s dalliance with a horse after the mare-Loki gave birth to the swift Sleipnir!)

Proud of their might, the gods went into the newly built halls of Asgard to feast and celebrate their defeat of the wicked Hrimthurs.

had to include this myth, because it’s the origin of one of my favorite little tidbits of Norse mythology, namely the fact that Loki is Sleipnir’s mother.

It also reminds me of a very similar tale from Norse myths, namely that of the dwarven smith Alvis, who had created masterful weapons for the gods.  His price had been the hand of Thor’s daughter in marriage, and all the gods had agreed to that price up front.  But when it came time to pay Alvis, Thor suddenly realized that he really didn’t want a dwarf for a son-in-law.  So he sits down with the dwarf, and starts grilling him, peppering him with questions.  Alvis assumes that he’s just trying to be a responsible father (responsibility in non-combat situations being something rather alien to Thor) and answers them all, determined to let his knowledge and eloquence prove that he’s an ideal husband, despite being a dwarf.

But that hadn’t been Thor’s plan.  He kept Alvis talking all night, waiting for the sun’s first light, because he knew that as a dwarf, Alvis would turn to stone as soon as the light of the sun hit him.  (That would have changed a lot in The Hobbit!)  So here’s poor Alvis, looking to win himself a bride after he’s worked really hard making divine weapons, and what happens?  He’s betrayed to death, without having done anything wrong.  It’s not as though the weapons were faulty — I’m not sure, off-hand, if they included Mjöllnir, but I’m pretty sure they did include Gungnir, Odin’s spear — and it’s not as though he had demanded Thor’s daughter at the last minute, after the work had been finished.  It was an agreed-upon price up front.  Thor just stabbed him in the back because he could, and because he could get away with it.

It’s the same thing with the Jotunn who built the walls of Asgard.  He’s doing what he promised, despite them doing everything they can to hobble him, and he’s doing it for a price they already agreed to.  But they find a way to stop him from succeeding, and when he accidentally reveals he’s a frost giant, they kill him.  (Even though Odin himself is half frost giant, and Loki is either all frost giant or half frost giant.  (I’ve seen it said both ways.))  So, basically, in both of these stories — in which as far as I can tell we’re supposed to be rooting for the Aesir — we have the Norse gods bilking and killing someone who’s done them some very solid, important work.  And we’re supposed to laugh and cheer at this?  Because I get the feeling that’s how the Vikings reacted to it.

But let me set that aside for a moment, and get to the comparison part.  There’s a tale that’s very familiar to me about a city with magnificent walls, where the builders were bilked of their payment.  One of my sources for the Norse story even made the comparison for me, despite that it made it in a completely bass-ackwards way.  So, let me give you a summary of the story first, before I discuss the comparison further.

The city — as you might guess, coming from me — is Troy.

The builder is Poseidon, with a side-order of Apollo.  (In some versions, Apollo was only looking after King Laomedon’s flocks, whereas in other versions he, too, was doing the building.  From a Greek perspective, the former makes more sense, but since he may have originated as a gateway-guardian god of Troy, the latter might well be the older version.  In one version they’re also joined by Aiakos, a mortal son of Zeus, but that’s more to make the building of the walls of Troy directly predict its downfall at the hands of Aiakos’ descendants.)

The price is unknown (to us), but agreed upon in advance.

And Laomedon refuses to pay.  He even threatens his divine workers when they want to be paid.

Apollo sends a plague to his otherwise beloved Troy, and Poseidon sends a sea monster to attack the very walls he just built.

That might have been the end of Troy, if it hadn’t been for Heracles, who decided to slay the the sea monster, in exchange for either Laomedon’s fine horses or for one of his daughters.  (Or possibly both.  This is Heracles we’re talking about here.  He didn’t believe in being “small time.”)

But Laomedon didn’t pay him, either.  So Troy still fell, but to Heracles instead of to a sea monster, and the only one of Laomedon’s sons who survived became King Priam, having been ransomed by his sister Hesione.  (That’s a Greek pseudo-etymology for the non-Greek name Priamos, btw, as having come from the word for “I buy.”  It’s baloney, but the kind of thing that got repeated a lot.  To the extent that you can probably find it as a “true” etymology in some sources today.)

In the long run, Laomedon’s double refusals to pay are often regarded as the first step towards Troy’s destruction in the Trojan War.  (Though obviously there’s a lot more going on there, needless to say.  Especially since Apollo is Troy’s staunchest supporter…aside from Aphrodite, anyway.)

So while it’s true that there’s a strong parallel here of supernatural builders making mighty walls and the payment agreements being reneged upon, there’s also a phenomenal difference of tone.

In the Norse tales, we’re supposed to be — as far as I can tell — on the side of the ones refusing to pay.

In the Greek tale, we’re supposed to be on the side of the ones who are being bilked.

I think that tells us a world of details about the cultural differences between Vikings and ancient Greeks.

(Not that we really needed these myths to point out those differences.  But it’s always interesting to have things highlighted in unusual ways, right?)


Words Crush Wednesday – The Homeric Version

Published July 22, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, so for this week’s Words Crush Wednesday, I’ll pick up from last week’s, because…well, my computer’s still down, and I’m writing from off-line, and I remember where I was, so I can. (Also, since I’m off-line, I can finally put in the accent marks the translator uses! Whee, fancy!) Last week, Achilles was whining at the gods for not saving him from the flooding river, if you’ll recall…

So, from Book XXI of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation:

  As he spoke the words, Poseidon and Athena stood by his side in the shape of two men, gripping his hand and encouraging him. Poseidon said:

“Don’t shrink like that, Peleidês, don’t be afraid. Here are two gods to help you with full consent of Zeus—I and Pallas Athena. It is not your fate to be swallowed up by a river. The River will soon give over—you know it without being told. But now we will give you a piece of good advice, if you will listen. Fight away until the Trojans are shut up in their city, all that are left; but you come back to the ships as soon as you have killed Hector. We promise you victory.”

No wonder he’s got such a swelled head! Sheesh!

(Naturally, since I mentioned the accent marks, this quote actually only contained one. But this translator actually puts that same accent mark over the “e” in Achilles, so I’ve been leaving that accent mark out a lot in quoting from his translations…)


The War between the Gods and the Titans

Published May 7, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

I was going to call the post “Titanomachy,” but I worried that people wouldn’t know what that meant and thus wouldn’t read it.

Anyway, keeping my word and following up on the defeat of Kronos with the defeat of his brothers.  (Oops, guess I shoulda put a spoiler warning on my intro!)  But I’ve had to make up most of it, on account of no surviving ancient texts that give any freakin’ details.  (The question is, why?  Were there–uh, wait, I’ll make a separate post about this later.)

Once all six of the gods had grown to full maturity, thanks to the ambrosia that Zeus shared with his elder siblings, they decided they needed a home; they couldn’t keep living in a cave on Crete, after all!  Their father had set up his court on the heights of Mt. Orthrys, so their first thought was to go and occupy his palace.

But as they approached Mt. Orthrys, they could see fires burning within the palace, and they could hear the angry mutterings of their uncles.  Looking around, Zeus could see another, taller mountain to the north.

“Let’s make our home on top of that one,” he suggested, and the six brothers and sisters set off towards that northern mountain, Olympos.  By the time they arrived, they found that their uncles the Cyclopes were already there, building them a fabulous palace atop the mountain’s peak.

“Mother heard your plan,” Brontes explained, “and she didn’t want her grandchildren living unprotected.”

“These walls will keep out all but the strongest of intruders,” Steropes added.

“Aren’t you supposed to be making our weapons and armor?” Zeus asked.  It wasn’t that he wasn’t grateful to have a home already made for him, but it wouldn’t do much good if he didn’t have anything to protect him from the weapons of his uncles.

“The armor is ready,” Arges answered, “but the weapons aren’t quite finished yet.  Don’t go picking any fights until they are!”

The gods agreed readily, and moved into their new palace on Mt. Olympos.

That night, as the new gods and goddesses settled in, picking rooms for themselves, the gods began to realize the same thing that boys of a certain age realize:  just what girls are for.  Zeus couldn’t bring himself to leave his sisters alone for a moment, and Poseidon wasn’t much more calm.  Hades, on the other hand, was more concerned with the battle to come.  He wanted to know just what would happen if they fell prey to the weapons of their uncles.

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Z is for Zeus

Published April 30, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Well, of course it is!  I mean, there are other Z-names, like Zephyros and Zagreus, but it’s Thursday, and there aren’t really any good myths to tell for Zephyros, and Zagreus is…um…weird.  He’s part of a (very) alternate version of a few myths, a version that sprang up in the Orphic cults.  But since it’s myth re-telling day, and my head cannot wrap around Zagreus enough to re-tell that tale, it had to be Zeus.

And since I did Ouranos earlier, today I’m telling the next part of the tale, with Zeus vs. Kronos.  (Um…eventually…)

Though Gaia was pleased to see her sons released from her womb, she did not remain so pleased for long.  Kronos was no more fond of the ugly appearance of his brothers the Cyclopes and Hundred-Handed Giants than his father had been.  He found the place beneath Gaia’s surface where the terrible Tartaros existed, and flung them deep within it, locking them in with one of the Cyclopes’ own creations.  Then Kronos declared himself ruler of all things, and commanded that all beings lesser than Titans must bow down before him.

Gaia begged him to release his brothers, but Kronos wouldn’t listen to her.  She begged the other Titans to speak to their brother on behalf of the Cyclopes and Hundred-Handers, but they would not; most agreed with him, and the few who did not agree feared his wrath.

Kronos decided that it was time for him to have a wife, and he chose his sister Rheia, thinking her the prettiest and wisest, sure to give him the best children.  Most of his brother Titans also married their sisters, and they were all quite productive.

But when Rheia was bearing their first child, Ouranos looked down on the happy couple and laughed.  “You will meet your fate the same way I did, boy,” he proclaimed.  “You will be toppled by one of your children, just as I was.”

Kronos laughed at his father’s words at the time.  But the longer he thought on them, the more they worried him.  What if it was true?  What if his child was going to turn on him?  What would be the point of ruling over all the lesser beings if his rule was going to be so short?  No, that would not do!

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