Today I will discuss the names and the cult titles of Poseidon.
First of all, his name is attested in various forms and is very ancient. The attic form, Ποσειδῶν (Poseidôn) is the best known as Classical Attic is considered the “standard” variety of Hellenic and forms the basis of Koine Hellenic and in turn of modern Hellenic. In the Homeric form of Hellenic, it is rendered as Ποσειδάων (Poseidaōn). Ionic renders it Ποσειδέων (Poseideōn) and Aiolic as Ποτείδαν (Poteidan). Various Dorian variations exist; Ποσειδάν (Poseidan), Ποτειδάν (Poteidán), Ποτειδᾶς (Poteidâs), Ποτειδάων (Poteidaōn).This variation alone is proof of the name’s great antiquity, but we know more than that,
This variation alone is proof of the name’s great antiquity, but we know more than that, we have the name attested in writing from the Bronze Age, Linear B tablets written in Mycenaean Hellenic render the name as po-se-da-o, or more frequently in the dative case as most of these texts are offering lists (dative is translated with “to/for [name]”) as po-se-da-wo-ne. One of the main etymologies offered for this name is Πότ(ε)ι Δᾶς, which would mean “Husband of Earth” (the Γ of Ge was indeed replaced by a Δ in some dialects, and it is very common that where Attic and Ionic have an -η, Doric dialects tend to have long -α. Interestingly, we also know that Demeter was already known to the Mycenaeans and her name is rendered as da-ma-te, and one etymology explains her name as Δῆ Μἠτηρ or “Mother Earth”.
Knowing that Poseidon and Demeter had an interesting relationship in historical times, regarding those Mysteries involving Despoine in Arkadia, and given their complementary role in agriculture as the God who lets the rainwater enter into the soil and the Goddess who allows for the seeds of plants and crops to sprout, one could make a case that they may have been considered husband and wife back in the Bronze Age, with Demeter and Gaia perhaps not being distinguished as different Goddesses as they were in later times. Given that in Athens marital sex was sometimes described as “planting a seed in the field of my wife”, it seems easy to imagine that the rain entering the soil was likened to a man’s semen and the soil as the womb that would hold it and then give birth to new life in the forms of plants and crops.
All of this is heavy speculation, however, based on very limited source material and some elements known from the Iron Age onwards. It’s also, partly, me digressing again. Back on topic.
As for Poseidon’s titles, they mostly deal with his Einalic/Marine connections and his Khthonic connections. Some are geographical or relate to other small parts of his domain. Let’s look into it.
His most well-known and most often-used epithets are Γαιήοχος (Gaiēokhos) “Holder of the Earth”, Ἐννοσίγαιος (Ennosigaios) “Earth-Shaker”, and Κυανοχαίτης (Kyanokhaitēs) “Dark-Haired”. The first refers to him as ruler of the seas, and since the seas encircle the land, Poseidon thus holds the Earth. The second one is also rendered as Ἐννοσίχθῶν (Ennosikhthōn) of the same meaning. Poseidon is a God of Earthquakes. I have read various explanations as to how exactly, I used to think it was because people thought earthquakes were caused by the sea battering against the earth, but on Theoi.com I have also read that Poseidon is poking the earth with his trident to cause earthquakes. Another epithet related to this is Κινητήρ Γαίης (Kinētēr Gaiēs) “Mover of the Earth”, which, of course, can be rendered with various dialectic forms of Gaia’s name. The final one is less clear in its meaning. It can be “Dark-Haired” but also “Blue-Haired”. There is quite a bit of speculation and research about the ancient Hellenic use of colour names (seriously, look it up, it gets pretty weird and interesting) and they may not have referred to specific colours on their own but use colour terms as reference to other qualities of the object described as being of that colour as well.
Some of his marine epithets are Πελαγαῖος (Pelagios) (of the Sea), Πόντιος (Pontios) “of the Sea), and Προσκλύστιος (Prosklystios) “Who Dashes Against” (i.e. as the sea water dashing against ships and shores and harbours). Since Poseidon is King of the Seas, he is also called Βασιλεύς (Basileus) “King” and Ζεύς Εἰνάλιος (Zeus Einalios) “Zeus in the Salt[y Sea]” or Ζεύς Ἅλιος (Zeus Halios) “Zeus of the Salt[y Sea]”. With those latter he is likened to Zeus, as Zeus is the King of the Heavens, so Poseidon is the King/Zeus of the Seas.
In regards to Poseidon being a protector of Sailors, he is named Προσβατήριος (Prosbaterios) “of Approaches” (i.e. to ensure a ship may safely approach a harbour) and Σωτήρ Νηὠν (Sotēr Nēōn) “Saviour of Ships”. He is also named Ἀσφάλιος or Ἀσφάλειος (Asphalios, Asphaleios) “Protector” which can be interpreted in connection with both his protecting sailors and seafarers as well as protecting against earthquakes.
As an agricultural Deity, Poseidon also has several names. He is called Φυτάλμιος (Phytalmios) “Who Nourishes Plants” (this is very appropriate at the time of the Poseideia festival in Athens, as wintertime is when there is lots of rain that then drains into the soil, and people pray for this so that it would nourish the crops as they grow following winter) and Χαμαίζηλος (Khamaizēlos) “Seeking the Ground, Low-Growing”. Another plant-related epithet, though not in regards to agriculture, is Φύκιος (Phykios) “Of Seaweeds”.
As for animal connections, the main one is, of course, the Horse. For this, he is named Ἵππιος (Hippios) “of Horses” and Ἱπποκούριος (Hippokourios) “Horse-tender”. The bull is also connected to him, however – remember the whole episode with King Minos getting that beautiful bull from Poseidon and then refusing to actually sacrifice it to him as he had promised? -, and thus Poseidon is called Ταύρειος (Taureios) “of Bulls”. At Ephēsos a festival called the Taureia was held in Poseidon Taureios’ honour.
Being such an important, major God to the Hellenes, it is no surprise that many royal and noble houses traced their ancestry back to him. Thus he is honoured as Πατήρ (Patēr) “Father”, Πατρῷος (Patrōios) “of the Forefathers, Ancestral”, and Γενέσιος (Genesios) and Γενέθλιος (Genethlios) “Relative”. Some more epithets in regards to his societal domains are Λαοίτης (Laoitēs) “of the People” and Φράτριος (Phratrios) “of the Phratry”. A phratry was a kind of cultic brotherhood association in Athens and every free Athenian man was a member of one. When one reached adulthood the initiation into the phratry of one’s father marked the transition from child to adult. Each phratry was dedicated to its own Gods and had its own customary worship schedule and traditions. Several Deities were named Φράτριος, including Zeus, Athēna, Apollōn, and in this case Poseidon.
A perhaps unexpected aspect of Poseidon, even less than his agricultural aspect, is his connection as a Household Deity. Specifically as a protector of the foundations and walls of the household. At first, I found this very odd, but it actually does make sense. As the God of Earthquakes, Poseidon also protects against them, so people would pray to him as such so that their houses foundations and walls would not collapse or be destroyed by earthquakes. Thus it is that he is named Δωματίτης (Dōmatitēs) “of the House” and Θεμελιοῦχος (Themelioukhos) “Holder of the Foundations”.
Still, some more epithets to go through Ἐπόπτης (Epoptēs) “Overseer” is an epithet of Poseidon in Megara. And in Thessaly, he was also named Πετραίος (Petraios) “of Stones”, for he is accredited with draining Thessaly by hitting a rock with his trident and when this happened a divine horse named Skyros is said to have arisen from that spot.
Finally, let’s have a look at some geographic epithets. Αἰγαῖος (Aigaios) “Aegean”, Γενέσιος (Genesios) “of Genesion (a place in the Argolis region)”, Ἑλικώνιος (Helikōnios) “of Mt. Helikōn”, Ἴσθμιος (Isthmios) “of the Isthmos (at Korinthos), Ὀνχήστιος (Onkhēstios) “of Onkhestos (in Boiotia), Σάμιος (Samios) “of Samos”, Σούνιος (Sounios) “of Cape Sounion (in Attika), and Ταινάριος (Tainarios) “of Cape Tainaros (in Lakonia)”. Sounion lies at the very southern tip of Attika and features a beautiful temple to Poseidon Sounios, as well as one to Athena Sounia.
That was quite the blog post, wasn’t it? Hope you found it informative!