Unknown artist, Corinthian Plaque: Poseidon with Trident, 550–525 BC, Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities in the Louvre in Paris
The Corinthian plaque, by an unknown artist, displays an illustration of the Greek mythological figure, Poseidon, the lord of all waters and the god of earthquakes. This plaque is a depiction of Poseidon holding in his right hand a trident, which in Greek mythology, was forged by the Cyclopes. He is also shown wearing his long, curly hair down and is garbed in a robe.
The trident is typically used to describe the weapon that characterizes Poseidon as the god of the sea. In Greek mythology, Poseidon was a descendent of Cronus and Rhea. After Cronus vomited up the omphalos stone and his children, which he devoured in order to stop the divine succession, his descendents joined forces to battle Cronos and the other Titans for supremacy (La Fond). Alongside his brothers, he had fought against the Titans in the Titanomachy, during which the Elder Cyclops forged the trident out of pure gold as a gift to Poseidon for helping them in their escape from Tartarus. Poseidon’s trident, which holds the power of the seas, gives him the power to exhibit violence or calm the water with a mere stroke (Morford). Additionally, the Roman scholar Maurus Servius Honoratus viewed the trident as three-pronged due to the saying that either the sea is a third part of the world, or because there are three types of waters: the seas, streams, and rivers.
According to another important myth that recounts the competition between Poseidon and Athena for the honor of becoming the patron God of the city Athens, the god and goddess provided their own gifts to the city in order to gain the favor of the people in the city. As his gift, Poseidon struck the Acropolis rock with his trident and created a spring, the Erechtheis, for the Athenians, thus his association with the trident and bodies of water (La Fond).
Since its first emergence in Greek mythology, Poseidon’s trident has been widely adopted as a varying symbol by different cultures around the world. It is mainly used as a symbol of naval power, which intersects with its characterization with Poseidon in Greek mythology. For instance, the trident is featured in the United States Navy SEALs insignia. The trident is also used to ward off malevolent beings by Shiva, one of the Hindu triumvirates, which was meant to represent his significance as a destroyer. This also parallels the use of the trident in Greek mythology as Poseidon uses his trident to destroy or kill (Morford).
The Corinthian plaque of Poseidon depicts him as many other pieces depict the well known sea god. Poseidon is positioned as a bearded, long haired man holding his powerful trident. In mythology, Poseidon is brother to Zeus and depicted as one of the 12 Olympians. Although, Poseidon has stated that he believes he is equal to both Zeus and Hades, in myth, Poseidon has begrudgingly obeyed Zeus’s commands (Illiad). Also stated in myth, Poseidon’s trident was forged and given to him by the Cyclopes during the Titanomachy(La Fond). Poseidon was associated with the Isthmian Games in Ancient Greece in which the citizens would face off in various competitions in honor of Poseidon. Located in ancient Isthmia was also the Temple of Isthmia which eventually became the Temple of Poseidon, also in dedication to the god.
Poseidon being the god of the waters and very much associated with the sea, and to a lesser extent, horses, it is easy to see why various places that border the sea would fall into worship of Poseidon (Rodriguez). Corinth and Isthmia both border the oceans on opposite sides, with the ancient city of Isthmia on the Saronic Gulf and Corinth on the Gulf of Corinth. However, it is interesting to see both cities have various dedications to Poseidon. It is important to keep in mind that in some articles and studies the Isthmus of Corinth was considered part of Corinth, however, there does seem to be evidence of an actual ancient city of Isthmia.
The Corinthian plaque of Poseidon, though Poseidon is a large part of the plaque, has been used in various scholarly articles reflecting on the trident itself. Though both cities in Ancient Greece were on the waters, the Temple of Isthmia was a much larger dedication to Poseidon. In ancient studies, it seems as though scholars have deemed Isthmia part of Corinth. Therefore, it stands to reason that the main reason that the Temple of Poseidon was built in Isthmia and not the main city of Corinth was because of the ancient Isthmian Games.
The Isthmian games were one of four ancient athletic festivals and were celebrated alongside Zeus at Olympia, Zeus at Nemea, and Apollo and Delphi(Temple of Isthmia). The Temple of Poseidon was originally the Temple of Isthmia until it was destroyed and rebuilt as the Temple of Poseidon. The finished Temple of Poseidon was built in 440 BC and there has been much about the temple studied. From excavations to the mythology that surrounds it, the temple has seen many scholars interested in what it must have been like to live near or around the temple (Temple of Isthmia).
The Corinthian plague on the other hand, has very little information that surrounds it. Mostly having to do with the trident that is depicted, it is still nice to see the ideas surrounding Poseidon’s likeness. Looking at both dedications to the god from ancient Corinth and Isthmia, it is very useful to look into the Temple of Poseidon to discuss its mythology and the ideas that surround it while looking at the Corinthian plaque of Poseidon to discuss the likeness of the sea god.
The Corinthian plaque, from Penteskouphia, ca. 550-525 BC, by an unknown artist, depicts Poseidon holding a trident in his hand. Poseidon is best known in Greek mythology as the god of all waters, but especially the sea. He is also the god of earthquakes and horses. He is the son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. He is the brother of Zeus and Hades. After defeating the Titans in the Titanomachy, the brothers divided their control of the world with Zeus ruling the sky, Poseidon ruling the sea, and Hades ruling the Underworld (La Fond).
Poseidon is often described as a bearded, curly haired figure with an appearance similar to his brother Zeus, the god of the sky, but usually more coarse. Poseidon is also often depicted holding a trident, a three-pronged spear. The trident is Poseidon’s main weapon and has the power to kill or destroy with one stroke. A proposed theory of the origins of Poseidon is that he was a god of the sky, and his trident was once a thunderbolt. A more popular theory is that “he was once a male spirit of fertility, a god of earth who sent up springs” (Morford). The artist of the plaque represents Poseidon as he is typically described, with curly hair, a beard, a tougher build, and holding a trident.
Similar to Zeus, Poseidon expresses his powers through fertility and is the father of various divinities and heroes. His wife, Amphitrite, is also similar to Hera in that she is often jealous and vengeful of the women Poseidon pursues. Triton, a merman, is the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite. With Tyro, Poseidon also fathered the twins Neleus and Pelias (Morford). He also sires, not only the first horse, but also the divine horse Areion. Depending on the version of the myth, Areion is produced from Poseidon mating “with an Erinys (Fury), or harpy, or Demeter” (La Fond) with both partners in the form of a horse. With Medusa, Poseidon also sires Pegasus.
One of the best-known myths of Poseidon is his competition with Athena for the patronage of Athens. Poseidon used his trident to strike a rock creating a saltwater spring as an offering whereas Athena used her spear to create an olive tree. In some versions, Cecrops, the king of Athens at the time, chose Athena as the victor. In other variations of the myth, Poseidon created the first horse and Athena planted the olive tree. There are also versions of the victor being judged by the gods or by the Athenians (Morford).
The Corinthian Plaque of Poseidon, by an unknown artist (550-525 BC), depicts the Greek mythological figure Poseidon holding his trident, which was forged by the Elder Cyclopes during the Titanomachy (La Fond), and wearing his long, curly hair down and his robe. This art piece is currently on display in the Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities in the Louvre in Paris on the First Floor in Room 41. Poseidon is one of the Twelve Olympians and is the god of the sea, while his brothers, Zeus and Hades, are gods of the sky and underworld respectively. He is also the god of storms, earthquakes, and horses. The trident is Poseidon’s main symbol because its three-pronged fork resembles a fisherman’s spear, which represents his power over the sea (Morford). It is also his main weapon because the trident gave him the power to exhibit violence or calm the water with a mere stroke (Morford). Since the artist is unknown, the motivation and inspiration behind this art piece is unknown. This remark will connect this plaque to various myths and possible reasons for why Poseidon was worshiped to determine the motivation and inspiration behind the art piece.
Ancient Corinth favored Poseidon over the other gods, so its patron god is Poseidon. Ancient Corinth was a city-state located on the Isthmus of Corinth, which is a narrow piece of land that joins the Peloponnese to the mainland of Greece. Corinthians worshiped Poseidon over the other gods and chose Poseidon to be their patron god because they were located on the sea and depended on the ocean. Ancient Corinth’s economy depended on their successful cargo delivery and trade via ships, so having a calm sea and good weather were very important in preventing shipwrecks. Sailors and travelers worshiped Poseidon to have calm seas and protection from sea monsters and prevent storms during voyages. They even drowned horses in the sea as a sacrifice to Poseidon. Port cities were scared to offend or ignore Poseidon because just one strike to the ground with his trident can cause chaotic springs, earthquakes, drownings, and shipwrecks (New World Encyclopedia Contributors). Corinthians made many offerings and art pieces like the Corinthian Plaque of Poseidon to worship him. Even the temple called the Temple of Isthmia was built and dedicated to Poseidon. Other port cities in the Magna Graecia also worshiped Poseidon and made him their patron god.
In the Oracle at Delphi myth, Poseidon was the main caretaker of the Oracle before the Olympian named Apollo became its patron. Apollo and Poseidon worked together and helped with the colonization of Delphi. Apollo provided the authorization to go out and settle from Delphi, while Poseidon provided lustral water to the colonists using his trident (New World Encyclopedia Contributors). Poseidon’s contributions to Delphi probably influenced the Corianthians to favor him over the gods. In another myth where Poseidon and Athena competed over the patronage of Athens, Poseidon struck a rock with his trident to produce a salt spring, while Athena produced an olive tree from the ground using her spear (Morford). Unfortunately, Poseidon lost this competition because Athenians thought that the olive tree was much more useful for their economy than the salt spring. Corinthians might view the salt spring as a more useful gift, so this might have affected their decision to make Poseidon their patron god. The reasons for making Poseidon a patron god and the myths discussed above could be the motivation and inspiration behind making the Corinthian Plaque of Poseidon.
Athenian Legends, ancient-greece.org/history/athens-legends.html.
Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Books 1998.
La Fond, Marie. “Clash of the Titans: Zeus's Rise to Power and Early Humans.” Greek and Roman Myth. University of Washington, June 2021, https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/1457478/pages/lesson-2-video-lectures?module_item_id=13108108
La Fond, Marie. “Creatures From the Deep: Poseidon and Sea Divinities.” Greek and Roman Myth. University of Washington, June 2021, https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/1457478/pages/lesson-3-video-lectures?module_item_id=13108114
Morford, Mark, et al. Classical Mythology. 11th ed., Oxford UP, 2019.
New World Encyclopedia Contributors, "Poseidon." New World Encyclopedia, . 14 Jun 2019, 01:10 UTC. 3 Aug 2021, 05:39 <https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Poseidon&oldid=1020667>.
Rodriguez, Emily. “Poseidon”. Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica,
“Temple of Isthmia.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 June 2021,