Amphitrite

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Triumph of Poseidon and Amphitrite showing the couple in procession, detail of a vast mosaic from Cirta, Roman Africa (ca. 315–325 AD, now at the Louvre)

In ancient Greek mythology, Amphitrite (/æmfɨˈtrt/; Ἀμφιτρίτη) was a sea-goddess and wife of Poseidon.[1] 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.[2]

Mythography[edit]

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 of the Nereids[3] and the Oceanids.[4] Others called her the personification of the sea itself (saltwater). One of Amphitrite's Oceanid sisters is Perse, (wife of Helios). Amphitrite's offspring included seals[5] and dolphins.[6] Poseidon and Amphitrite had a son, Triton who was a merman, and a daughter, Rhode (if this Rhode 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 bearing a trident on a pinax from Corinth (575–550 BC)

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")[7] with Thetis[8] in some sense the sea-nymphs are doublets.

Representation and cult[edit]

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 "all the chiefest of the goddesses, Dione and Rhea and Ichnaea and Themis and loud-moaning Amphitrite." 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]".[9]

Amphitrite, "the third one who encircles [the sea]",[10] 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,[11] and carried her off.[12] But in another version of the myth, she fled from his advances to Atlas,[13] 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[14] and was rewarded by being placed among the stars as the constellation Delphinus.[15]

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.[citation needed]

Amphitrite legacy[edit]

Amphitrite on 1936 Australian stamp commemorating completion of submarine telephone cable to Tasmania

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Compare the North Syrian Atargatis.
  2. ^ Sel, "salt"; "...Salacia, the folds of her garment sagging with fish" (Apuleius, The Golden Ass 4.31).
  3. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca i.2.7
  4. ^ Bibliotheke i.2.2 and i.4.6.
  5. ^ "...A throng of seals, the brood of lovely Halosydne." (Homer, Odyssey iv.404).
  6. ^ Aelian, On Animals (12.45) ascribed to Arion a line "Music-loving dolphins, sea-nurslings of the Nereis maids divine, whom Amphitrite bore."
  7. ^ Wilhelm Vollmer, Wörterbuch der Mythologie, 3rd ed. 1874:
  8. ^ Odyssey iv.404 (Amphitrite), and Iliad, xx.207.
  9. ^ Harrison, "Notes Archaeological and Mythological on Bacchylides"The Classical Review 12.1 (February 1898, pp. 85–86), p. 86.
  10. ^ Robert Graves, The Greek Myths 1960.
  11. ^ Eustathius of Thessalonica, Commentary on Odyssey 3.91.1458, line 40.
  12. ^ The Wedding of Neptune and Ampitrite provided a subject to Poussin; the painting is at Philadelphia.
  13. ^ ad Atlante, in Hyginus' words.
  14. ^ "...qui pervagatus insulas, aliquando ad virginem pervenit, eique persuasit ut nuberet Neptuno..." Oppian's Halieutica I.383–92 is a parallel passage.
  15. ^ Catasterismi, 31; Hyginus, Poetical Astronomy, ii.17, .132.

References[edit]

External links[edit]