With trademark trident in hand, Poseidon, characterized with a sturdy build, thick wavy hair and full beard, looms large in Greek mythology.
He’s the central figure in the battle between the Olympian gods that brought order to the world and a monstrous race of giants.
The Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College in Hanover on Saturday opens an exhibition dedicated to how ancient societies in the Mediterranean realm worshipped this heralded figure, who had dominion not only over the sea but horses and diverse natural phenomena.
“Poseidon and the Sea: Myth, Cult and Daily Life,” to run through March 15, includes ancient vases decorated with mythological scenes and other objects that demonstrate cult worship of this god known as Poseidon to the Greeks, Nethuns to the Etruscans and Neptune to Romans.
The showing was curated by Dartmouth alumnus Seth Pevnick, Class of 1999, who is acting director, chief curator and Richard E. Perry Curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Tampa Museum of Art, as well as a former Hood Museum of Art intern.
Pevnick was inspired to organize the show by the nearly life-sized marble statue of the god from the Tampa collection, which presides over the entrance to the exhibition.
The works of art and material culture on view were created by ancient Greek, Etruscan and Roman artists and artisans. They include striking black-figure and red-figure pottery; sculptures in terracotta, marble, and precious metals, and examples of ancient glass, mosaics, carved gems and coins.
According to myth, Poseidon’s most famous sanctuary was at Isthmia, where the Peloponnesos joins the Greek mainland, but he was also worshipped at landlocked sanctuaries. Votive offerings, from a small bronze horse and schools of fish made of lead to representations of the god himself — were meant to illuminate and impress. The exhibition also includes a bronze trident from the J. Paul Getty Museum that is more than a dozen feet long and is believed to have accompanied a colossal statue of the god that has since been lost.
Beyond mythology and religion, however, the sea was the center of daily life in towns and cities along the coast of the Mediterranean. It provided food and other resources, and allowed for easy travel and trade. Allusions to the sea are found throughout ancient art, from cargo boats and warships to dolphins, fish, and octopi.