Things can’t be very exciting for Poseidon under the ocean. A fella has to keep busy somehow!
On first (and maybe even second) glance, Poseidon appears to the modern reader to be a secondary deity, one who couldn’t possibly have had much influence on mortal affairs. When the world was divided into its various spheres of influence among the gods (after being freed by Zeus from the belly of Cronus) the sky fell to Zeus, the oceans to Poseidon, and the underworld to Hades. Growing up, it was easy to draw parallels between the mighty Zeus, lord of the Sky and of thunder, to the Christian God. It was easy to see the Sky deity and chief of the gods as being infinitely more important than his counterparts. It was also easy to see Hades as being important somehow, his closest Christian opposite being the Devil (though the two are not at all similar, in reality). Poseidon, for someone growing up in a Christian society, just didn’t seem to fit. What was that guy’s deal? It’s not like the seas are terribly important, right?
Maybe you’d pray to him if you wanted a nice day at the beach.
To the people living along the banks of the ancient Mediterranean, the seas couldn’t possibly be more important. The waters were literally the waters of life for many communities. They provided fish for food and a source of travel and thus, trade. Without the sea, these people would have lead entirely different lives, ones that would have been quite a bit less comfortable. Their respect for the seas and ocean was mirrored by their respect for the deity presiding over them. There is evidence that Poseidon, not Zeus, was a major deity and the patron god of many Greek cities. In Homer’s “Odyssey”, it is Poseidon, not Zeus, that is the primary deity of concern and the one responsible for shaping the events in play.
Poseidon, much like the seas he ruled, was seen as a stormy and unknowable god, his moods were unpredictable and his wrath was terrible if offended. Sailors prayed to him for safe passage over his waters and whole communities worshiped him in the hopes that their cities along the sea would be safe from terrible storms and destructive waves. The lord of the sea did, however, have a positive side.
During his off-hours, when he was tired of wrath, he was seen as bringing new islands into existence and of calming the stormy seas for the faithful. If you were on his good side, Poseidon could smooth over rough seas and facilitate trade and communication between cities along the Mediterranean.
So if you’re ever at sea and feeling a little nervous or queasy, maybe ask Poseidon for a little help. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?
The worst he can do is sink your ship.
…Or maybe put it in a bottle for display purposes.