Who is Amphitrite?
Greek mythological tales speak of the sea nymphs that assisted sailors facing storms on the sea. They lived deep in the Aegean Sea with their father Nereus, best known as the Old Man of the Sea, from Homeric passages. There are 50 Nereids in all, and the eldest is Amphitrite. She is a direct descendant, and granddaughter, of the primal titan Oceanus.
Originally, Amphitrite was an important goddess. She witnessed the birth of the god Apollo along with other high ranking deities. Her legendary husband was the powerful Poseidon, the god of the sea, and brother of the chief of gods, Zeus. In later years, she had a lesser role in the myths and eventually her name simply represented the sea itself.
The name Amphitrite means the third element, or the third that encompasses. In the creation myths, the heavens and the land came first before the sea.
She is often depicted wearing a crab claw crown and sitting on a throne near her husband Poseidon or in a chariot drawn by hippocamps, seahorses.
The story of her courtship with Poseidon started on the island called Naxos in the Aegean Sea. She was dancing with her sisters and when the god of the sea saw her, he decided he wanted her as his wife. Unfortunately, for the love-struck Poseidon, the goddess wasn’t interested in his proposal or giving up her life as a sea virgin and she ran off to the Atlas Mountains to hide.
Being the persistent type, Poseidon summoned Delphinus, the dolphin king, to find the goddess and persuade her to marry him. The smart and gentle natured dolphin set off on the mission. After weeks of searching, he finally found her. He was such a lovely creature that Amphitrite was drawn to him and listened to his persuasion. Delphinus explained that her steadiness would balance the volatile nature of Poseidon, and that if she married him there would be harmony in the sea and joy for all. As a reward, Poseidon placed an image of Delphinus in the sky.
Once they were actually married, the sea god went back to his usual ways and had numerous affairs with other goddesses, nymphs and mortals. Although she generally had a kind nature toward the creatures of the sea, the goddess was getting increasingly annoyed and jealous due to the extracurricular activities of her husband outside of their marriage. Particularly irritating to Amphitrite was his extreme infatuation with the beautiful sea nymph, Scylla. In a fit of jealousy, she tossed magic herbs into Scylla’s bath and the nymph changed into a terrible hideous monster with twelve arms and six mouths.
Scylla spent her days living in a cave and grabbing sailors as they passed with her long arms and eating them for lunch. Amphitrite rode off on her magical seahorse into the happily ever after of the ocean.
Family of Amphitrite
Nereus, the old man of the sea and lord of the fish, and his wife Doris had 50 daughters called the Nereid, meaning daughters of Nereus, derived from the word neros (wet). The eldest was Amphitrite, who had two children with Poseidon after they were married. Their children were Triton, who was a famous merman, and their daughter Rhode, who was a sea nymph.
In later Greek mythology, the name Amphitrite became synonymous with the sea. Many ships in both the US and the British Royal Navy were named for her.
A painting by baroque artist Nicole Poussin completed in 1604 is called The Triumph of Amphitrite and depicts her marriage ceremony. It’s on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There are several priceless works of art depicting Amphitrite’s image around the world, including a sculpture at the Louvre in Paris by Jacques Prou. There, she lounges with a dolphin while wearing her identifying crab claw crown.
We can also find the goddess above us in the stars. The large Asteroid 29 Amphitrite lies within the Aries constellation.
Wherever we find her, Amphitrite is a reminder of the wondrous and mysterious creatures, both real and mythological, that inhabit the seas.
Not to be confused with Aphrodite.
For other uses, see Amphitrite (disambiguation).
In ancient Greek mythology, Amphitrite (; Greek: Ἀμφιτρίτη) was a sea goddess and wife of Poseidon and the queen of the sea. Under the influence of the Olympian pantheon, she became merely the consort of Poseidon and was further diminished by poets to a symbolic representation of the sea. In Roman mythology, the consort of Neptune, a comparatively minor figure, was Salacia, the goddess of saltwater.
Amphitrite was a daughter of Nereus and Doris (and thus a Nereid), according to Hesiod's Theogony, but of Oceanus and Tethys (and thus an Oceanid), according to the Bibliotheca, which actually lists her among both the Nereidsand the Oceanids. Others called her the personification of the sea itself (saltwater). Amphitrite's offspring included seals and dolphins. Poseidon and Amphitrite had a son, Triton who was a merman, and a daughter, Rhodos (if this Rhodos was not actually fathered by Poseidon on Halia or was not the daughter of Asopus as others claim). Bibliotheca (3.15.4) also mentions a daughter of Poseidon and Amphitrite named Benthesikyme.
Amphitrite is not fully personified in the Homeric epics: "out on the open sea, in Amphitrite's breakers" (Odyssey iii.101), "moaning Amphitrite" nourishes fishes "in numbers past all counting" (Odyssey xii.119). She shares her Homeric epithet Halosydne ("sea-nourished") with Thetis in some sense the sea-nymphs are doublets.
Representation and cult
Though Amphitrite does not figure in Greek cultus, at an archaic stage she was of outstanding importance, for in the Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo, she appears at the birthing of Apollo among, in Hugh G. Evelyn-White's translation, "all the chiefest of the goddesses, Dione and Rhea and Ichnaea and Themis and loud-moaning Amphitrite;" more recent translators are unanimous in rendering "Ichnaean Themis" rather than treating "Ichnae" as a separate identity. Theseus in the submarine halls of his father Poseidon saw the daughters of Nereus dancing with liquid feet, and "august, ox-eyed Amphitrite", who wreathed him with her wedding wreath, according to a fragment of Bacchylides. Jane Ellen Harrison recognized in the poetic treatment an authentic echo of Amphitrite's early importance: "It would have been much simpler for Poseidon to recognize his own son... the myth belongs to that early stratum of mythology when Poseidon was not yet god of the sea, or, at least, no-wise supreme there—Amphitrite and the Nereids ruled there, with their servants the Tritons. Even so late as the Iliad Amphitrite is not yet 'Neptuni uxor'" [Neptune's wife]".
Amphitrite, "the third one who encircles [the sea]", was so entirely confined in her authority to the sea and the creatures in it that she was almost never associated with her husband, either for purposes of worship or in works of art, except when he was to be distinctly regarded as the god who controlled the sea. An exception may be the cult image of Amphitrite that Pausanias saw in the temple of Poseidon at the Isthmus of Corinth (ii.1.7).
Pindar, in his sixth Olympian Ode, recognized Poseidon's role as "great god of the sea, husband of Amphitrite, goddess of the golden spindle." For later poets, Amphitrite became simply a metaphor for the sea: Euripides, in Cyclops (702) and Ovid, Metamorphoses, (i.14).
Eustathius said that Poseidon first saw her dancing at Naxos among the other Nereids, and carried her off. But in another version of the myth, she fled from his advances to Atlas, at the farthest ends of the sea; there the dolphin of Poseidon sought her through the islands of the sea, and finding her, spoke persuasively on behalf of Poseidon, if we may believe Hyginus and was rewarded by being placed among the stars as the constellation Delphinus.
In the arts of vase-painting and mosaic, Amphitrite was distinguishable from the other Nereids only by her queenly attributes. In works of art, both ancient ones and post-Renaissance paintings, Amphitrite is represented either enthroned beside Poseidon or driving with him in a chariot drawn by sea-horses (hippocamps) or other fabulous creatures of the deep, and attended by Tritons and Nereids. She is dressed in queenly robes and has nets in her hair. The pincers of a crab are sometimes shown attached to her temples.
- ^Compare the North Syrian Atargatis.
- ^Sel, "salt"; "...Salacia, the folds of her garment sagging with fish" (Apuleius, The Golden Ass 4.31).
- ^Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca i.2.7
- ^Bibliotheke i.2.2 and i.4.6.
- ^"...A throng of seals, the brood of lovely Halosydne." (Homer, Odyssey iv.404).
- ^Aelian, On Animals (12.45) ascribed to Arion a line "Music-loving dolphins, sea-nurslings of the Nereis maids divine, whom Amphitrite bore."
- ^Wilhelm Vollmer, Wörterbuch der Mythologie, 3rd ed. 1874:
- ^Odyssey iv.404 (Amphitrite), and Iliad, xx.207.
- ^E.g. Jules Cashford, Susan C. Shelmerdine, Apostolos N. Athanassakis.
- ^Harrison, "Notes Archaeological and Mythological on Bacchylides"The Classical Review12.1 (February 1898, pp. 85–86), p. 86.
- ^Robert Graves, The Greek Myths 1960.
- ^Eustathius of Thessalonica, Commentary on Odyssey 3.91.1458, line 40.
- ^The Wedding of Neptune and Ampitrite provided a subject to Poussin; the painting is at Philadelphia.
- ^ad Atlante, in Hyginus' words.
- ^"...qui pervagatus insulas, aliquando ad virginem pervenit, eique persuasit ut nuberet Neptuno..." Oppian's Halieutica I.383–92 is a parallel passage.
- ^Catasterismi, 31; Hyginus, Poetical Astronomy, ii.17, .132.
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