When Jupiter assigned to each of his brothers a separate portion of
the universe, he decreed that Neptune, or Poseidon, should govern all
the waters upon the face of the earth, and be sole monarch of the
"Neptune, the mighty marine god, I sing;
Earth's mover, and the fruitless ocean's king.
That Helicon and th' Ægean deeps dost hold.
O thou earth-shaker; thy command, twofold
The gods have sorted; making thee of horses
The awful tamer, and of naval forces
The sure preserver. Hail, O Saturn's birth!
Whose graceful green hair circles all the earth.
Bear a benign mind; and thy helpful hand
Lend all, submitted to thy dread command."
Homer (Chapman's tr.).
Before this new ruler made his appearance, the Titan Oceanus had
wielded the scepter of the sea; and regretfully he now resigned it to
his youthful supplanter, whom he nevertheless admired sincerely, and
described in glowing colors to his brothers.
"Have ye beheld the young God of the Seas,
My dispossessor? Have ye seen his face?
Have ye beheld his chariot, foam'd along
By noble winged creatures he hath made?
I saw him on the calmed waters scud,
With such a glow of beauty in his eyes,
That it enforc'd me to bid sad farewell
To all my empire."
[Sidenote: Neptune's exile.]
Neptune, the personification as well as the god of the sea, was of an
exceedingly encroaching disposition. Dissatisfied with the portion
allotted him, he once conspired to dethrone Jupiter; but,
unfortunately for the success of his undertaking, his plot was
discovered before he could put it into execution, and Jupiter, in
punishment for his temerity, exiled him to earth. There he was
condemned to build the walls of Troy for Laomedon, king of that city,
who, in return, promised a handsome compensation.
Apollo, also banished from heaven at that time, volunteered to aid
Neptune by playing on his lyre, and moving the stones by the power of
sweet sounds (p. 65). The task satisfactorily ended, Laomedon, an
avaricious and dishonest king, refused the promised guerdon, whereupon
Neptune created a terrible monster, which came upon the shore,
devoured the inhabitants, devastated everything within his reach, and
inspired all with great terror.
"A great serpent from the deep,
Lifting his horrible head above their homes,
Devoured the children."
To save themselves from the awful death which threatened them all, the
Trojans consulted an oracle, who advised the sacrifice of a beautiful
virgin, and promised the monster would disappear as soon as he had
devoured the appointed victim.
[Sidenote: Story of Hesione.]
A young girl was therefore chosen by lot, led down to the seashore,
and chained by the priest's own hands to a slimy rock. As soon as her
mourning friends had forsaken her, the hideous serpent came out of his
lair in the waves, and devoured her; then he vanished, and nothing
more was heard of him for a whole year, at the end of which time he
reappeared, and resumed his former depredations, which were only
checked by the sacrifice of a second virgin.
Year after year, however, he returned, and year after year a fair girl
was doomed to perish, until finally the lot fell upon Hesione, the
king's only daughter. He could not bear the thought of the terrible
fate awaiting her, and tried every means in his power to save her. As
a last resort he sent heralds to publish far and wide that the king
would give a great reward to any man who would dare attack and succeed
in slaying the monster.
Hercules, on his return from the scene of one of his stupendous
labors, heard the proclamation, and, with no other weapon than the
oaken club he generally carried, slew the monster just as he was about
to drag poor Hesione down into his slimy cave. Laomedon was, of
course, overjoyed at the monster's death, but, true to his nature,
again refused the promised reward, and by his dishonesty incurred the
hatred and contempt of this hero also. Some time after, having
finished his time of servitude with Eurystheus, Hercules, aided by a
chosen band of adventurers, came to Troy to punish him for his
perfidy. The city was stormed and taken, the king slain, and his wife
and children carried to Greece as captives. There Hesione became the
bride of Telamon; while her brother Podarces, later known as Priam,
was redeemed by his people and made King of Troy.
Laomedon's failure to pay his just debts was the primary cause of the
enmity which Apollo and Neptune displayed towards the Trojans during
their famous war with the Greeks (p. 305).
[Sidenote: Neptune's contests.]
Their term of exile ended, the gods were reinstated in their exalted
positions, and hastened to resume their former occupations; but, in
spite of the severe lesson just received, Neptune was not yet cured of
his grasping tendencies. Not long after his return from Troy, he
quarreled with Minerva for the possession of the then recently founded
city of Athens, then nameless, and entered into the memorable contest
in which he was signally defeated (p. 57). He also disputed the
sovereignty of Trœzene with Minerva, and that of Corinth with Apollo.
In the latter instance, the disputants having chosen Briareus as
umpire, the prize was awarded to him as the most powerful of all the
gods except Jupiter.
[Sidenote: Neptune's power.]
As god of the sea, Neptune did not generally remain in Olympus, but
dwelt way down in the coral caves of his kingdom, over which he ruled
with resistless sway. By one word he could stir up or calm the wildest
storm, and cause the billows to roar with fury or subside into
"He spake, and round about him called the clouds
And roused the ocean,--wielding in his hand
The trident,--summoned all the hurricanes
Of all the winds, and covered earth and sky
At once with mists, while from above the night
Homer (Bryant's tr.).
The rivers, fountains, lakes, and seas were not only subject to his
rule, but he could also cause terrible earthquakes at will, and, when
he pleased, raise islands from the deep, as he did when Latona
entreated him to shelter her from Juno's persecutions (p. 62).
Neptune is said to have loved the goddess Ceres, and to have followed
her during her prolonged search for her daughter, Proserpina. Annoyed
by his persistent wooing, the goddess, to escape him, assumed the form
of a mare; but the God of the Sea, not at all deceived by this
stratagem, straightway assumed the form of a horse, in which guise he
contentedly trotted after her and renewed his attentions.
[Sidenote: Neptune's wives.]
The offspring of this equine pair was Arion, a wonderful winged steed,
gifted with the power of speech, whose early education was intrusted
to the Nereides. They trained him to draw his father's chariot over
the waves with incredible rapidity, and parted with him regretfully
when he was given to Copreus, Pelops' son. This marvelous horse passed
successively into Hercules' and Adrastus' hands; and the latter won
all the chariot races, thanks to his fleetness.
On another occasion, Neptune, having fallen deeply in love with a
maiden named Theophane, and fearful lest some one of her numerous
suitors should find favor in her eyes before he had time to urge his
wooing, suddenly changed her into a sheep, and conveyed her to the
Island of Crumissa, where he assumed the guise of a ram, and, in this
metamorphosed condition, carried on his courtship, which eventually
proved successful. The offspring of this union was the golden-fleeced
ram which bore Phryxus in safety to the Colchian shores, and whose
pelt was the goal of the Argonautic expedition (p. 265).
Neptune also loved and married Medusa in the days of her youth and
beauty, and when some drops of blood fell from her severed head into
the salt sea foam, he produced from them the graceful winged steed
Pegasus (p. 244).
Neptune is also said to be the father of the giants Otus and
Ephialtes, of Neleus, Pelias, and Polyphemus.
The Queen of the Ocean, Neptune's own true and lawful wife, was a
Nereid, one of the fifty daughters of Doris and Nereus,--the
personification of the calm and sunlit aspect of the sea. Her name was
Amphitrite, or Salacia. At first she was in great awe of her
distinguished suitor, and in her fear fled at his approach, leaving
him no chance to admire any of her charms, except the grace and
celerity with which she managed to flit, or rather glide, out of his
"Along the deep
With beauteous ankles, Amphitrite glides."
Hesiod (Elton's tr.).
This conduct grieved Neptune so sorely, that he sent a dolphin to
plead his cause, and persuade the fair nymph to share his throne. The
messenger, carefully instructed beforehand, carried out the directions
with such skill, that Amphitrite formally consented to become
The King of the Deep was so overjoyed at these good tidings, that he
transferred the dolphin to the sky, where he forms a well-known
constellation. Neptune and Amphitrite in due time became the happy
parents of several children, among whom the most celebrated is Triton,
whose body was half man and half fish, and who gave his name to all
his male descendants.
[Sidenote: Story of Idas and Marpessa.]
Like all other gods, Neptune took a lively interest in men's affairs,
and sometimes interfered in their behalf. On one occasion, for
instance, he even lent his beautiful chariot to a youth by the name of
Idas, who, loving a maiden dearly, and unable to win her father's
consent to their union, had resolved to kidnap her. Marpessa, for such
was the lady's name, allowed herself to be carried off without
protest; and the lovers were blissfully speeding along in Neptune's
chariot, when her father, Evenus, perceiving their escape, started in
pursuit of them. In spite of the most strenuous efforts, he could not
overtake the fleeing pair, and in his anger plunged into a river,
where he was drowned, and which from him received the name of Evenus.
Idas and Marpessa were just congratulating themselves upon their
narrow escape, when suddenly Apollo appeared before them, and,
checking their steeds, declared he loved the maiden too, and would not
tamely yield her up to a rival.
This was quite equivalent to a challenge; and Idas, stepping down from
the chariot, was about to engage in the fight, when suddenly out of a
clear sky a thunderbolt came crashing down to earth, and an imperious
voice was heard to declare that the quarrel could be settled by
Marpessa only, and that she should freely choose the suitor she
preferred as husband.
The maiden glanced at both her lovers, and quickly reviewed their
respective attractions. Remembering that Apollo, being immortal, would
retain all his youthful bloom when her more ephemeral beauty had
vanished, and that he would then probably cease to love her, she held
out her hand to Idas, declaring she preferred to link her fate to that
of a mortal, who would grow old when she did, and love her as long as
they both lived. This choice was approved by Jupiter; and the lovers,
after reaching a place of safety, returned the wondrous chariot to
Neptune, with many grateful thanks for his timely aid.
[Sidenote: Neptune's attendants.]
All the Nereides, Tritons, and lesser sea divinities formed a part of
Neptune and Amphitrite's train, and followed closely when they rode
forth to survey their kingdom.
Neptune had, besides this, many subordinates, whose duty it was to
look after various seas, lakes, rivers, fountains, etc., confided to
their special care. In harmony with their occupations, these
divinities were either hoary river gods (such as Father Nile), slender
youths, beautiful maidens, or little babbling children. They seldom
left the cool waves of their appointed dwellings, and strove to win
Neptune's approbation mostly by the zeal they showed in the discharge
of their various duties.
Proteus, too, another inferior deity, had the care of the flocks of
the deep, and he always attended Neptune when it was safe to leave his
great herds of sea calves to bask on the sunny shores.
"In ages past old Proteus, with his droves
Of sea calves, sought the mountains and the groves."
In common with all the other gods, Proteus enjoyed the gift of
prophecy, and had the power to assume any shape he pleased. The former
gift he was wont to exercise very reluctantly; and when mortals wished
to consult him, he would change his form with bewildering rapidity,
and, unless they clung to him through all his changes, they could
obtain no answer to their questions.
"Shouting [we] seize the god: our force t' evade,
His various arts he soon resumes in aid:
A lion now, he curls a surgy mane;
Sudden, our hands a spotted pard restrain;
Then, arm'd with tusks, and lightning in his eyes,
A boar's obscener shape the god belies:
On spiry volumes, there, a dragon rides;
Here, from our strict embrace a stream he glides;
And last, sublime, his stately growth he rears,
A tree, and well-dissembled foliage wears."
Homer (Pope's tr.).
But if these manifestations proved unavailing to drive his would-be
hearers away, the god answered every question circumstantially.
[Illustration: FATHER NILE. (Vatican, Rome.)]
Amphitrite, Neptune's wife,--generally represented as a beautiful
nude nymph, crowned with seaweed, and reclining in a pearl-shell
chariot drawn by dolphins, or sea-horses,--was worshiped with her
[Sidenote: Worship of Neptune.]
Neptune, majestic and middle-aged, with long, flowing hair and beard,
wearing a seaweed crown, and brandishing a trident, or three-pronged
fork, was widely worshiped throughout Greece and Italy, and had
countless shrines. His principal votaries were the seamen and horse
trainers, who often bespoke his aid.
"Hail, Neptune, greatest of the gods!
Thou ruler of the salt sea floods;
Thou with the deep and dark-green hair,
That dost the golden trident bear;
Thou that, with either arm outspread,
Embosomest the earth we tread:
Thine are the beasts with fin and scales,
That round thy chariot, as it sails,
Plunging and tumbling, fast and free,
All reckless follow o'er the sea."
Many large temples were dedicated exclusively to the worship of
Neptune, and games were frequently celebrated in his honor. The most
noted of all were undoubtedly the Isthmian Games,--a national
festival, held every four years at Corinth, on the isthmus of the same
name. Hither people came from all points of the compass, and all parts
of the then known world, either to witness or to take part in the
noted wrestling, boxing, and racing matches, or in the musical and