Zeus vs Poseidon: Who Would Win? (Mythological Analysis)

Zeus and Poseidon are perhaps the two most famous gods of the Greek pantheon. Much is known about them, but how are they different from one another? And in a hypotethical fight, who would win?

Origin of Zeus and Poseidon’s name

Origin of the name Zeus

Zeus was the great aboriginal god not only of all the Hellenic stocks, but of the so-called Indo-European race, nor does the predominating importance of his celestial functions in ritual, myth, and epithet permit of any other inference than that he was a personification of the bright sky.

The coincidence of these activities with those of the great sky-god of cognate name of other Indo-European peoples points in the same direction, and, moreover, his name alone is a proof of his origin, for it is a development of the base “deyā”, “to shine”, probably passing through the multiple stages of pronunciation and orthography until arriving at the form of  “Zeus”.

Through the invocation “Father Zeus” we can readily perceive a parallel to the Latin Jupiter (Diespiter), and in the Indian Rig Veda the phrase dyau pitar (“Father Sky”) occurs in several passages.

In most instances the non-celestial functions of Zeus can be shown to be more or less natural demonstrations, so to speak, of his celestial activities, although sometimes they may be suspected of being the results of contamination with the worship of other divinities.

Origin of the name Poseidon

If we consult only the geographical register of the distribution of Poseidon’s cult, we shall incline to classify him as a god of northern origin introduced into Hellas by immigrating Greeks.

If, on the contrary, we have regard principally for his chief cult centres, such as Corinth and Boiotia, and accept a recent demonstration that his inseparable emblem, the trident, was in origin the lightning bolt of a Mesopotamian divinity, we cannot well help believing that he, too, came from the east.

 In this case, his cult would first have reached Crete and thence have been spread by sailors to Hellenic ports on the Aegean and Mediterranean.

Whatever his initial functions may have been, he became among the Greeks the supreme master of the sea; and to explain his name as connected with “posis” (“lord”) makes the suggestion as to his Eastern origin very plausible.

Family and origin according to myth

Parents

Zeus and Poseidon are brothers, born from the Titans Cronus and Rhea, alongside Demeter, Hestia, Hera and Hades.

However, Cronus heard of a prophecy that said his children would one day depose him as king of the universe and of all creation. The only one who avoided this fate was Zeus, since he was hidden away by his mother, Rhea and Gaia, the earth itself.

When Zeus reached adulthood, he managed to free his siblings, including Poseidon, from the belly of Cronos.

Poseidon then fought with Zeus against their parents, the Titans, with Poseidon wielding the trident and Zeus the lightning bolt. Both of these had been forged for them by the one-eyed Cyclopes.

Wives of Zeus

In the Hesiodic tradition the first marriage of Zeus was with Metis and his last with Hera, while in that of the older epic Hera was his first and only legitimate wife.

At all events, Hera became his canonical wife in Greek, and later, as Iuno, in Roman myth.

His marriages with Metis, Themis, Mnemosyne, and Eurynome were probably simply poetical, and through the influence of suggestion added to the conception of his dignity and power.

The symbolism is evident in itself.

  • On receiving a warning that a son of Metis (” Constructive Thought “) would be more powerful than his father Zeus, he swallowed her and assimilated her into his own being.
  • Themis (“Justice “) he married after the defeat of the Titans and incorporated her personality into his régime.
  • Mnemosyne (“Memory”) he made his wife as a constant reminder (to others, of course) of his great might.
  • His marriage with Eurynome (“Wide Rule”) emphasized the extent of his dominions.

Other important goddesses with whom he was united were:

  • Dione, who may have been his spouse in Pelasgic times;
  • Demeter, the mother of Persephone;
  • Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis;
  • Maia, the mother of Hermes.
  • Pyrrha and Dia, who also became his wives, are probably two aspects of the earth goddess.

The chief nymphs with whom he was associated were:

  • Taygete of the Lakedaimonian mountain.
  • Aigina, of the island which bears her name.
  • Plouto of Lydia.

Of his wives among women of purely human or of partly divine descent we can mention only Io, Leda, Danaë, Europe, Iodama, Antiope, Semele, and Alkmene.

Wives and lovers of Poseidon

Poseidon’s wedded wife was Amphitrite, but he had scant regard for the moral obligations of marriage, for his intrigues with women both divine and mortal almost defy counting, among them being those with Tyro, Amymone, Chione, and Libye.

Children of Zeus

No children of any other god but Zeus ever attained godhood.

Poseidon, Hera, and Hades were of the same Titanic parentage as Zeus himself.

However, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaistos, Hermes, Dionysos, Herakles, Persephone, and the Dioskouroi were all his children.

Of the race of the heroes many claimed him as father:

  • Hellen, the founder of the Hellenic (Greek) people.
  • Minos, and his brothers Sarpedon and Rhadamanthys.
  • Dardanos, Tantalos, and Aiakos, heads of the families chiefly concerned in the war of Troy;
  • Lakedaimon, the first of the Lakedaimonian (Spartan) strain.
  • Perseus, the demi-god of the Argolid.
  • Amphion, Zethos, and Thebe, who were concerned with the beginnings of Thebes.

Children of Poseidon

Poseidon had numerous offspring and children, and practically all of them were in some way associated with the sea: Aiolos, Nereus, Pelias, Glaukos of Potniai, Sinis, Bousiris, Antaios, Boiotos, Polyphemos, and, if we may credit one account, Theseus, all being his sons by many mothers.

Quite a few of his offspring were of a monstrous nature, for instance, the terrible creatures which he raised up from the sea to harass Aithiopia and Troy, the dragon of Thebes, the ram of the Golden Fleece, the bull of Marathon, and the bull which maddened the horses of Hippolytos.

Appearance of Zeus and Poseidon

Zeus

The mature periods of Greek art represented Zeus as a fully developed man standing or seated in an attitude suggestive of serene dignity and undisputed power.

As a rule, he holds the thunderbolt in his hand, but sometimes a ruler’s staff or an image of Victory, and occasionally an eagle can be observed at his side.

Poseidon

Art received its model of Poseidon from Homer. From the best period onward he appears as a well matured man not unlike the type of Zeus, but distinguishable from it by his heavier musculature and his less lordly manner.

Ordinarily he is nude or lightly clad, either standing on a dolphin or a rock, or in the act of taking a step forward, and his frame stoops slightly, as if peering into the distance.

He is shown bearded and with the hair of the head variously long or short and very often dishevelled.

He generally holds a trident in his hand, but if this and the dolphin are absent, identification is often difficult.

Role of Zeus and Poseidon in Greek religion and mythology

After defeating the Titans, Zeus and his brothers drew lots for their share of the universe.

The sea fell to Poseidon, and the underworld to Hades.

Zeus became the supreme ruler. He was Lord of the Sky, the Rain-god and the Cloud-gatherer, who wielded the awful thunderbolt. His power was greater than that of all the other divinities together.

Zeus

Zeus was the ruler of the universe. The other gods had their departmental functions in nature, but Zeus could usurp them if only he chose to do so, and his will was supreme, being limited by nothing, for it was itself Fate.

He was not merely an Olympian; he was the “Olympian;” nor was he the petty god of a tribe or nation, instead all people who had cognizance acknowledged his supremacy as “Father of gods and men”.

The title ” Father” doesn’t necessarily mean Zeus was the physical father or the creator of men and things more that as that he exercised over the great family of beings, human and divine, the kind of rule and dominion one would call paternalistic.

To men he dispensed joys or ills, as he pleased; he determined for them the issues of their battles in arms until they became mere puppets and according to his whim he warned or deluded by omens.

In serious cult and worship, Zeus was the one god; not the only god, but the one god among many subservient gods.

This is henotheism, meaning the worship of a single, supreme god while not denying the existence or possible existence of other lower deities. So while the religion of Ancient Greece was not quite monotheistic, it was very close to it.

In the case of Homer and other dramatic poets, the unqualified use of “god,” invariably refers to Zeus, who was the “Father of gods and men,” chiefly in a spiritual and moral sense.

For Ancient Greeks, Zeus was ultimate court of appeal for offences against the gods and the higher law, and the final arbiter of punishments.

Poseidon

In myth and religious cult alike Poseidon was pre-eminently the god of the sea, though all significant bodies of fresh water also came under his sway.

The greater number of his epithets record his sundry relations with the sea and with things pertaining to the sea; nor, indeed, can it be doubted that whenever he was invoked in worship by the average Greek, his association with the sea was present before the mind, no matter how many other aspects he bore.

Inland lakes or springs of brackish water were held to be of his creating; for instance, the so-called Sea on the Acropolis of Athens; and he was the chief deity of sea-faring communities like Iolkos, Troizen, and Corinth.

While Poseidon gave no specific encouragement to the building of ships and to the technicalities of navigation, he was looked up to as the most reliable protector of ships and sailors amid the perils of voyage.

No wonder that his shrines were very frequently located in harbours – he could calm or trouble the sea as he would.

Inasmuch as the sea appeared to hold up the land, it was natural to attribute the otherwise inexplicable phenomena emanating from the depths of the earth to the activities of the powerful god of the ocean.

It was he who caused the great upheaval which in some remote geological age drained the plains of Thessaly through the Vale of Tempe and left the face of nature scarred and wrinkled; and some of the Greeks even went so far as to say that the shocks of earthquakes were due to Demeter’s resistance to the embraces of Poseidon.

Powers

Zeus

In the Iliad, Zeus tells his family:

“I am mightiest of all. Make trial that you may know. Fasten a rope of gold to heaven and lay hold, every god and goddess. You could not drag down Zeus. But if I wished to drag you down, then I would. The rope I would bind to a pinnacle of Olympus and all would hang in air, yes, the very earth and the sea too.”

However, It is in his meteorological functions that Zeus is preeminent in the sky. The rain descends from the sky; therefore, it is Zeus the “cloud-gatherer” who dispenses it, and Theokritos mentions “the rain of Zeus,” while “Zeus rains” was a popular Ancient Greek saying.

Yet he is god of the thunder and lightning as well as of the rain. At Mantineia and Olympia he was the lightning itself and not the directing agent, and with the poets he is the “Mighty Thunderer” and the “Hurler of Lightning.”

The lightning and the thunderbolts forged by his smiths, the Cyclopes, were the weapons with which he overthrew the Titans, while Pegasus drew the thunder-car for him from the ancient stables of heaven, and with the lightning he separated the battling Herakles and Apollo, and visited sudden death on those who incurred his displeasure.

Zeus was also held to be the sender of the dew, which in times of drought was so essential to the welfare of the crops and pasturage.

Zeus as God of Fertility. It was but an easy step for the god of the rain and the dew to become the god of the fertility produced by these forms of moisture. It seemed to the Greek that with these some fertilizing substance or vital principle fell upon the receptive soil, and who but Zeus was the giver of it?

It entered into plants from the soil and into animals and men from plants, so that the whole cycle of life was dependent on Zeus, who was the great “Begetter.”

Zeus as a god able to foretell the future.

Zeus had the power to foretell at least the immediate future by means of the thunder and the lightning. However, he could also reveal his will through the fight of birds across the sky, especially through that of the eagle, which was pre-eminently his bird.

In a certain sense Zeus as Fate exercised a prophetic function; he could foretell because he predestined. In Homer it was he alone who foreordained, and Moira (“Fate”) was, as it were, an impersonal decree issuing from him.

Poseidon

Bulls or horses were viewed as animate emblems of Poseidon, later on as being one and the same with the god of the sea.

Ancient Greeks often explained earthquakes as being caused by raging bulls or horses living in the deep hollows of earth and sea, and since these were of Poseidon’s domain, it was understood that Poseidon himself was the cause of earthquakes.

By striking his trident on a Thessalian rock, Poseidon is said to have produced the first horse.

Moreover, he himself drove swiftly over the waves in his own chariot, and was also the father of the winged Pegasus and of Arcion, the horse of Adrastos.

The sacrifice of a horse in connection with his cult distinguished his ritual from that of the other divinities, and at Corinth he even went by the title Hippios (“Equestrian”).

That the horse-god should become the deity of horse-racing, and finally of the breeding and breaking of horses, involves a very easy process of thought.

The god who operated in the unseen depths of the earth was very naturally held to be the giver of springs and spring – fed streams and lakes.

So far, then, as water from these sources promotes the growth of plant life. Poseidon is rightly to be designated a god of fertility.

Poseidon uniformly appears in myth as a god of little intellectual and still less ethical character.

Zeus vs Poseidon in a fight. Who would win?

If Zeus and Poseidon were to fight, Zeus would defeat his brother easily. Zeus is the supreme god in the Greek pantheon and has more power than all the other gods combined.

Poseidon may be the god of water, but that is only because Zeus allows him to be. If Zeus wanted, he could claim Poseidon’s title as God of the Sea whenever and Poseidon could do nothing but watch.

Through lightning and thunder and the ability to foretell the future, Zeus would always be one step ahead of Poseidon, with the god of the seas having nothing to respond with.

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