30 Days of Poseidon

VII Epithets!

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

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12 thoughts on “30 Days of Poseidon

  1. I was telling my husband the other day that I was finding many of the Hellenic groups online difficult to get my head wrapped around because I don’t speak Greek. Though I’m learning to slow down and trying to comprehend the vocabulary, it hasn’t been easy for me. And then came the lightbulb moment – the gods do not speak to me in Greek either. When they want me to know something, they tell me in a way that I can understand. While I’m not adverse to learning the historical, I need to connect in the here and now for practice to be made relevant to my modern life. I hadn’t come across Poseidon Steadfast and Poseidon Securer before, I like that thought.

    • While I’m not adverse to learning the historical, I need to connect in the here and now for practice to be made relevant to my modern life.

      YES!!!!

      Erm, I mean, I agree with this so very much. To bring in the storytelling metaphor again: I view this (this being the worship of our gods now and the worship of our gods in the past) a bit like a group of books written in the same world, with maybe threads connecting them, but with plots that are stand-alone in the way that you don’t have to have read the first book or bunch of books to understand and get something out of the newest book. Does reading all of them in story chronology lead to a potentially fuller picture? Yes, of course — we get the in-jokes we’d otherwise miss, there are nuances that add to the texture of the world building and all that — but not having those things don’t really take away from the relationship/s that we are building now. To my way of thinking, it’s more important to bring the Powers into our world *now*, it’s more important to build things that allow for the polytheists to come to not have to do so much foundational work, than it is to become a scholar of the past.

    • I thought it was Diane? Though, heh, admittedly, I was corresponding with you a bit late in 2014 before I realized that you and Diane’s temple friend involved with Poseidon were the same person. Which *still* cracks me up.

      • That post of yours linked to one I wrote at Witches & Pagans, and I was also doing the blog project, so it caught my attention.

        I lurked for quite awhile before we talked, though.

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