The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

Poseidon's Festival at the Winter Solstice

Noel Robertsona1

a1 Brock University, St Catharines, Ontario

The record shows that Poseidon was once worshipped in every part of Greece as a god of general importance to the community. In the glimpse of Mycenaean ritual afforded by the Pylos tablets Poseidon is the chief deity, and the offerings and perhaps also the custom of ‘spreading the bed’ point to agrarian concerns. In each of the main districts of historical Greece he is rooted in tradition: Arcadia, that ancient landscape, is full of ancient cults of Poseidon; Ionia gathers to honour Poseidon Helikônios; ‘all Boeotia is sacred to Poseidon’, according to Aristarchus (Et. Magn. 5.Kypris), and here and in Thessaly he dominates mythical genealogy; the Dorian Peloponnesus is likewise ‘sacred to Poseidon’ (Diod. 15. 49. 4), and at his shrine on Calaureia, the seat of an early amphictyony, Mycenaean antecedents come into question – as at few other shrines in Greece. Yet much of the testimony is antiquarian and retrospective; Poseidon's pre-eminence is more of a memory than a reality. In such a well-documented city as Athens Poseidon has a very small place indeed in public festivities. In Greek literature his authority is slight and his powers are narrow, being virtually confined to earthquakes and storms at sea; he is chivvied by Zeus and flouted by Odysseus, and the reparation which Odysseus is required to make, of establishing Poseidon's worship among landsmen who take an oar for a winnowing fan, is a mocking and belated tribute to his former domain.