Friday, February 18, 2011

Affairs of the Gods: Poseidon and Aethra

This one is kind of tricky. Primary sources which state outright that Aethra and Poseidon had a bit of an affair are hard to come by, but Theseus is fairly well known as a son of Poseidon as well as Aegeus, so SOMEONE must have spread it around at some point. I expect the issue is that Theseus got pretty overlooked in later ages, in favor of Heracles, who became Hercules, so the stories didn't get preserved as effectively. Our biggest sources for Theseus (and as a result, also his mother, Aethra) are really Plutarch and Apollodorus, with a close second for Hyginus.

Piazza Navona 003
Poseidon/Neptune with a Pigeon Hat
Aethra was the daughter of Pittheus, who was the King of Troezan, and pretty well known as a wise and fair dude, which explains why Aegeus (King of Athens) would stop to chat with him on his way home, thereby being put to bed with Aethra which resulted in the dual-paternity Theseus when Poseidon also came calling that same night. (Though my textbook on mythology suggests that Aegeus himself simply WAS a form of the god Poseidon--I'm not sure how I feel about that kind of a statement.)

Plutarch being Plutarch of course discounts Theseus' immortal heritage, explaining it this way:
Aethra for some time concealed the true parentage of Theseus, and a report was given out by Pittheus that he was begotten by Neptune; for the Troezenians pay Neptune the highest veneration. He is their tutelar god; to him they offer all their first-fruits, and in his honour stamp their money with a trident. 
And as for Aethra's experience and Theseus's conception, he attributes it all to Aegeus:
Pittheus, therefore, taking advantage from the obscurity of the oracle, prevailed upon him [Aegeus], it is uncertain whether by persuasion or deceit, to lie with his daughter Aethra. 
The oracle in question is quoted by Plutarch as saying:

"Loose not the wine-skin foot, thou chief of men, 
Until to Athens thou art come again." 
Which seems to be most commonly interpreted as "don't get drunk until you get home" and if that's the case, Pittheus got Aegeus wasted, then put him to bed with Aethra on the sly. I can't imagine that if he was that drunk it would have been the most pleasant time ever for Aethra, in that case.

But Apollodorus pretty much ignores Aethra's, uh, time? with Aegeus altogether with just a line saying Theseus was born between them. So I turned to Hyginus' Fabulae which says:
Neptune and Aegeus, son of Pandion, one night in the shrine of Minerva both lay with Aethra, daughter of Pittheus. Neptune conceded the child to Aegeus. 
(Does it seem to anyone else that Athena gets a lot of people getting it on in her business?)

In any event, Aethra does not get the romanced version, with the love-shack beneath the shelter of a wave, nor is there any mention of her preferences in the myths. Her sole purpose is simply to mother Theseus and see that he is sent to Aegeus at the appropriate time. C'mon, Poseidon! You can do better than that! Where's the seduction?! Where's the disguising yourself as whoever Aethra might have been in love with to trick her into getting it on? Where's the CREATIVITY!

Poorly Done, Poseidon. 1 out of 5 stars for total LAMENESS of courtship.

So what do you think-- Does this qualify as an affair of the gods or not? Are you in the Plutarch rumor camp, or the Hyginus Aethra-had-a-busy-night party?


  1. Oh my gawds, this post cracked me up. Where's the Creativity indeed?

  2. Vicky: well you have to admit Poseidon definitely let us down-- or at least the people recording the myth did. Maybe I should be blaming them instead!

    Kristi: They all were, I'm afraid. But yeah, it would not have been the first time Athena did something like that with one of Poseidon's affairs-- though I'm not sure what role she would have played here!

  3. OMG I just saw your Thor-themed t-shirts, and I'm in love! Those are hysterical!!!! :) Haven't stopped by your corner of the blogosphere in a while; I've totes missed reading all your insights on mythological-y stuff. Hi!!! *waves*

  4. Hey there! I was wondering where you'd gotten off to :) Glad to have you back! And I'm glad you like the Thor t-shirts! :D I kind of love them.

  5. Aegeus as a form of Poseidon?? Noooo I don't see that.

    Completely agreed on Poseidon's lameness. As for Aegeus, that line about how Aethra's dad convinced him to sleep with his daugther "whether by persuasion or deceit" makes him out to be a victim... and any way you look at it, Aethra's dad is a huge jerk!

    Poseidon *shakes head in dismay* with all his godly power could have done anything that night. Did he not realize his love affairs would be discussed millennia later?? L-a-z-y.

  6. Di: Hold that Poseidon-as-Aegeus thought-- I'll be posting at length about it on Friday!

    Aegeus was definitely tricked-- but I mean, I doubt he was UNWILLING when the time came, you know? Pittheus is definitely wily, and took advantage of both of them!

  7. This post cracked me up :) "Where's the creativity?"


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