10 Ancient Gods of Underwater in Greek Mythology

Several civilizations have been passed with uncountable folktales and mythical facts about the creation of the world and humanity. It was water that initiated the journey of life on the Earth and underwater received the utmost fascination for readers ever since then. 

Most of all, Greek mythology shares the large reservoir of mythical notes related to underwater; kingdoms, inhabitants, and woven stories.

Interestingly, Greek gods of underwater are ranged from primordial powers and Olympian figures on the one hand to chthonic nymphs, heroized mortals, monsters, trickster-figures on the other.

The curated list of 10 gods underwater below includes the existence, roles, and stories of gods from the battlefield to nurturing the world. 

10. Poseidon

A statue of Poseidon placed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens
A statue of Poseidon placed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens
Source: Wikimedia Common

Poseidon is considered the god of the sea, storms, horses and earthquakes. He was ill-tempered when things got complicated in the sea world. Whenever Poseidon got enraged, he conjured up violent storms in the sea.

Poseidon was a son to Kronos and Rhea and a brother to Zeus. He had married one of the Nereids, the goddess nymph but their life did not meet the straight path. Poseidon owned several affairs with numbers of goddesses and a mortal woman. 

People compare Poseidon and Neptune who represent the more war-like figure but they share differences. As the lord of the water and patron and protector, Poseidon saved sailors and seafarers whenever they prayed for him to save them.

Nevertheless, Poseidon also created horses and got tagged as the father of the horses. Poseidon was the chief deity and patron at The city of Corinth. It was a place where the Isthmian Games were held every four years in Poseidon’s honour. 

Poseidon’s symbol had the trident, which was a three-pronged spear. People believed that Poseidon struck the Earth with his trident and caused an earthquake. Moreover, a bull, horse and dolphin represent Poseidon’s sacred animals, which played an important role in his life. 

9. Achelous

A painting of Greek water god Achelous
A painting of Greek water god Achelous
Source: Wikimedia Common

The Achelous was a shape-shifting Greek water god who emerged from the Achelous River, one of the longest rivers in Greece. He was worshipped as the god of freshwater. People believed that water began its journey from the Achelous. 

According to Hesiod, the lord of the water, Achelous was born to Oceanus and Tethys. The Achelous had 3,000 brothers and he was supreme among all of them, including all springs, rivers, and oceans.

The river god, Achelous is believed to have fathered Sirens, several nymphs, and several other sea creatures. 

Achelous participated in the battle with Heracles for the hand of Deianeira but was defeated. Since then, Greek people depicted the incident on the pottery.

As a shape-shifting god, Achelous is depicted in the painting as a bull-shaped centaur, a man-headed bull, and a “merman” with a coiling fish-tail. In each case, Achelous’s head was crowned with a giant horn.

8. Glaucus

A portrait of Greek Water God Glaucus and Scylla
A portrait of Greek Water God Glaucus and Scylla
Source: Wikimedia Common

Glaucus is considered a Greek prophetic sea-god. He was born mortal but he turned immortal when he had eaten a magical herb. Glaucus lived as a fisherman in the Boeotian city of Anthedon before he came to be an immortal god.

As a patron, Glaucus who once earned a living from the sea himself, rescued sailors and fishermen in storms. Glaucus once found a herb that revived the fish he had caught.

When he had finished eating that herb, he received fins instead of arms and next, a fish’s tail instead of legs and became a sea-god. Glaucus went through a severe experience, a sudden transformation from human to sea creature.

Later, he accepted his transformed figure and all the norms of underwater. Then, he was welcomed among the deities of the sea and he learned the art of prophecy from them.

According to Hyginus and Ovid, Glaucus wanted to marry a nymph, Scylla. But his fish-like features made Scylla flee from him when he appeared before her. Glaucus attempted to take the help of witch Circe to approach her but soon Circe fell for him instead.

However, Glaucus did not accept Circe’s love for him. After receiving resentment from Glaucus, Circe poisoned the pool where Scylla had stayed. That poison made Scylla transform into a terrible monster.

7. Hydrus

Greek water god Hydrus also known as Hydros
Greek water god Hydrus also known as Hydros

Hydrus is not generally placed at a position like that of Poseidon and Oceanus as a sea god. It is due to the fact that Hydros had existed in the Orphic tradition. And the genealogy of Greek gods and goddesses also matters in categorizing gods from geography.

Beyond all facts, Hydrus has a close association with underwater and that is enough to relate him among deities of sea-gods. 

In the Orphic tradition, Hydrus is considered a primordial god of the water and becomes Protogenoi. Earliest in this tradition, Hydros, Thesis and Mud were the entities that existed at first.

Later Mud was solidified into Gaia in the cosmos. The anticipation goes with that Hydrus had created Gaia, by absorbing the water content from Mud.

When Hydrus mated with Gaia, Chronos (Time) and Ananke (Compulsion) came into existence. Later, Chronos and Ananke created a room for Phanes (Life) from the cosmic egg and the cosmos finally continued in the order.

6. Nerites

A portrait of Greek Water God Nerites, son of Nereus
A portrait of Greek Water God Nerites, son of Nereus

Nerites was born as a son to Nereus and Doris and became a brother of the fifty Nereids, all-male offsprings. Roman author, Aelian has observed that epic poets such as Homer and Hesiod have written nothing about Nerites.

However, Nerites is the usual figure who is depicted as a young boy of stunning beauty in mariners’ folklore. In this case, there are two popular myths for Nerites.

The first version of the myth exposes the affair between Nerites and Aphrodite. Aphrodite fell in love with Nerites and wants to bring Nerites to join the Olympian gods along with her.

However, Nerites denied her proposal and wanted to stay with his family in the sea. She was so dissatisfied that she made Nerites transform into shellfish and also she gave the wings to her own son Eros.

In the second version, Nerites and Poseidon fall for each other and receive Anteros, an origin of mutual love. Poseidon made Nerites his charioteer and later Nerites received a shape of a shellfish from Helios.

5. Palaemon

a portrait of Greek Water God Palaemon
a portrait of Greek Water God Palaemon

Palaemon was a child sea-god who was born to Athmas and Ino or Leukothea. As a protector, Palaemon along with his mother came to aid the sailors in distress. 

Palaemon was born a mortal boy named Melikertes whose parents (Athmas and Ino) fuelled the wrath of Hera by getting chosen to foster the young god Dionysios.

It let Hera drive Athmas into a murderous rage and she also murdered Palaemon’s other siblings. To escape the dangerous Athmas and Hera, Ino along with her son jumped into the sea and transformed the sea-deities as Leukothea and Palaemon.

Palaemon is also believed to be the god of sharks and harbours. He is portrayed as either a dolphin-riding boy or a fish-tailed Triton-child in Greco-Roman mosaics.

4. Phorcys

A portrait of Greek WatA portrait of Greek Water God Phorcys
A portrait of Greek WatA portrait of Greek Water God Phorcys

Phorcys was a primordial sea god who was counted among the sea-deities who ruled in the terrible underwater. He was born as a son to Pontus and Gaia and raised as a brother to other sea deities Eurybia, Nereus and Thaumas. 

Phorcys’ figure was like the sea god having grey-haired merman along with the common fishtail. Besides, Phorcys shared many characteristics of a crab with claws as supplementary forelegs, and skin also was crab-like. Holding a flaming torch in one hand was a signature posture of Phorcys in several depictions. 

He lived in a cave in the deepest part of the ocean, and there he resided with his wife Ceto, whose parents were Pontus and Gaia. The offspring of Phorcys included The Gorgons, The Graeae, Echidna, Ladon, Thoosa and Scylla.

In the Homeric tradition, Phorcys is considered as “old man of the sea” and placed at a position that Poseidon, Triton and Nereus have possessed. Besides, Phorcys is also described as the god of hidden dangers and as a leader of sea monsters in the sea. 

3. Pontus

A portrait of Greek Water God Pontus
A portrait of Greek Water God Pontus

Pontus was one of the primordial gods of the sea. Gaia was his both mother and lover. And the couple later generated several sea-deities and creatures. He had married Thalassa who was the primeval spirit of the sea. Poseidon was Amphitrite’s relative who had married his elder grandmother.

Pontus was the Lord of the Sea until he was dethroned by his much younger brother and eventually by his nephew. He was the most power-loaded sea god who possessed the power of Invulnerability and Immortality.

Pontus was the actual personification of the sea rather than just tagged as the sea god. Moreover, he was different from those who were born from the earth at the dawn of creation and eventually became the sea residents.

Pontus was depicted and perceived as a large head with a water-coloured grey beard sprouting out of the sea. He also possessed a pair of horns on his head that was similar to crab claws. His children were Nereus, Thaumas, Eurybia, Phorcys, Aigaios, The Telkhines, and Keto. 

2. Proteus 

A portrait of Greek Water God Proteus
A portrait of Greek Water God Proteus

Proteus was the prophetic sea god whom Homer called “Old Man of the Sea.” He was the god of rivers and oceanic bodies of water and shepherd of the sea’s flocks.

Proteus served the sea god Poseidon and dwelled Pharos, an island off the coast of the Nile Delta. He earned the ability of prophecy— he could tell -past, present, and future. Also, he knew the art of transforming or changing the shape to escape the situation. 

According to Homer, Proteus was the master and herdsman of sea monsters and led the sea animals. His children were Eidothea, Polygonus, Telegonus and Eioneus.

Among them, Eidothea, the daughter of Proteus encountered Menelaus who was in search of his son, Telemachus. She informed Menelaus that if he managed to capture her father, Proteus, Proteus could guide him to return home.

Menelaus succeeded to abduct Proteus despite the fact that Proteus attempted to escape by changing his shape frequently. Proteus showed Menelaus a way to return home. Besides, he also revealed that Clytemnestra and Aegisthus had murdered Agamemnon.

In a different version of the myth, Aristaeus, son of Apollo and Cyrene had visited Proteus for an inquiry about the death of bees in beehives.

After being captured by Aristaeus, Proteus answered that the death of Eurydice caused the death of the bees as a punishment. Proteus advised Aristaeus to sacrifice twelve animals to the gods then and to return three days later. Aristaeus did the same and found later a swarm of bees and then took them back home.

1. Thaumas

A portrait of Greek Water God Thaumas
A portrait of Greek Water God Thaumas

Thaumas is placed among the plethora of sea gods. He was born as a son to Pontus and Gaia and as a brother to Nereus, Ceto, Eurybia and Phorcys. 

Thaumas signifies the wonder and is related to the wonder of the ocean or underwater. He emerged predating the rule of Zeus and lost his glory after the existence of Poseidon. 

Thaumas married Electra, who was among Oceanids, nymph daughters of Oceanus. Electra signified sparkling light produced by electricity. She owned the amber-colored hair that was a rare beauty.

Due to her beauty, her fair-haired sisters found it hard to compare themselves with her. Her tears of eyes were so precious that nobody could deny keeping it. When she wept, her precious tears transformed into drops of shining amber.

After marriage, Thaumas fathered Iris, three Harpies and Arce. Among all, Iris (Rainbow) was the messenger goddess who was closely associated with Hera. Also, children of Thaumas, three Harpies (Whirlwinds) frightened mortal men in the sea. Besides, Arce was the messenger goddess of the Titans at the time of the Titanomachy. She was punished in Tartarus after ten years of war.

Conclusion

The gods of the underwater ruled the sea, based on their abilities and power. Most of all, I am personally hit by the resources and life of Poseidon who saves the people and terrifies them.

Poseidon has plenty of references that go across the other myths and civilizations. Do you feel the same or have you got different thoughts about the top ten list? Let me know in the comment box.

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Cite this article as: Richard Marrison, "10 Ancient Gods of Underwater in Greek Mythology," in HistoryTen, May 3, 2021, https://historyten.com/greece/ancient-gods-underwater-greek-mythology/.
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