Epithets are interesting things. As someone who likes to learn words, I’ve enjoyed coming to know Poseidon’s historical epithets — the names He was called in various places at various points of His worship. Of them, Earth-Shaker (I keep typing that as Earth-Sharker, and it cracks me up every time) is, I believe, the oldest one we know of. In the Illiad, for example, Poseidon is referred to as Earth-Shaker (or rather, ἐννοσίγαιος — ennosigaios — shaker of the earth) just about as frequently as He is referred to as Poseidon. There are other historical epithets, as well; a quick glance at the indices in Pausanias’s Guides to Greece make it clear that Poseidon enjoyed a more varied cult than we are lead to believe by our relegating Him as nothing more than a sea god.
I love learning words, and it’s been my experience that studying His ancient epithets have deepened and broadened my understanding of this god. In this area it was made clear to me that going to primary sources — and even delving into other languages — can be invaluable. To illustrate: in Greek Religion, the late Walter Burkert wrote: When an earthquake strikes, everyone starts to sing Poseidon’s paean, and to invoke [H]im with vows as the god of steadfastness, Asphaleios.”*
This is a misleading reference, because as I’ve written before, when I tracked it down, the context had little to do with earthquakes and everything to do with success in the marketplace:
The original reads:τούτων δὲ οὐ πόρρω Γῆς ἱερὸν καὶ Διός ἐστιν Ἀγοραίου, τὸ δὲἈθηνᾶς Ἀγοραίας καὶ Ποσειδῶνος ὃν ἐπονομάζουσιν Ἀσφάλιον, καὶ Ἀπόλλωνος αὖθις καὶ Ἥρας,
The translation provided to us by the Perseus Project reads: “Not far from them is a sanctuary of Earth and of Zeus of the Market-place, another of Athena of the Market-place and of Poseidon surnamed Securer, and likewise one of Apollo and of Hera.”
The translation I have renders the secion thusly: “Not far from here is a sanctuary of the Earth and of Market Zeus, and one of Market Athena and the Poseidon called Safe Poseidon, and one of Apollo and Hera.”**
I bring this up as a way of saying: doing your own research can be a great thing, providing you like that sort of thing. I do, but I realize not everyone does, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Learning about how our gods were approached in the past can teach us a lot.
Know what else can teach us a lot?
Learning about how our gods are being approached now.
I don’t often use epithets in my prayers and rituals, even when there are other people present. I tend toward calling Him Poseidon. Even during the Vigil prayers, I rarely address him as Poseidon Taureos. I do use epithets when writing, from time to time, and I do utilize them as a way of broadening my understanding of Him. But I find that modern epithets (Like Poseidon Labrandeus, or Poseidon Hudsonios, for example) are just as informative, and may certainly be more relevant, as those ancient epithets may be.
Neither do I think we have to “Hellenize” them (for want of a better term) though I do appreciate the poetry to be found therein. Poseidon Hudsonios sounds a bit more poetic to me than Poseidon of the Hudson does, as an example. You’ll see in my own posts that I rarely go through the work to make sure my suffixes are correct. I honor Poseidon of the Ponds, and Poseidon of the Swaddling just as readily as I honor Poseidon Hippios and Poseidon Phytalmios.
So, yeah. If it’s applicable to you, hit up the Perseus Project and Theoi.com, sure. Learn about the other names applied to your deity, and learn about the contexts surrounding said names. More knowledge is better than less. Please don’t allow the study of history to trap you in the past, and please don’t think that just because something is old it has more inherent value. Our gods are not relics, and it should not all be about studying the past.
* Burkert, Walter; Greek Religion pg 138
** A is for [Poseidon] Asphaleios, written by moi