MYTHOLOGY of NEPTUNE
Ancient Romans knew Neptune as Neptunis being the chief ruling god of water; including streams, rivers, ponds and waterfalls. Only later, he had his realm been greatly extended to preside over the open seas and oceans of the world. No doubt this picture was changed as the people of ancient times found the world more larger than ever imagined. This broader picture is now unclear in modern times, where Neptune is solely constrained to the open sea. Latin name for Neptune derives from the word nare, meaning ‘to swim’, and was only after about 399 B.C. when he was identified with the Greek god Poseidon. In older Roman and Greek mythologies, he became was one of valiant triumvirate of three brothers; being Neptune (Poseidon), Jupiter (Zeus) and Pluto (Hades). Together, in legend, who one time combined forces to dethroned their capricious and tyrannical father Saturn (Cronus). After they had succeeded in their patricidal (or regicidal) plot, they soon divided their own worldly realms into the sky, sea and the underworld (Gods of air, water and the hereafter). According to the ancient Greek writer and poet, Hesiod (c.700 BC), Neptune lives in his golden palace under the sea, along with his immediate family. Neptune has a son named Triton, being the grandson of Saturn, who was born by the pretty Nereid nymph named Amphitrite. [A much fuller discussion of these mythologies see Saturn Part 2.]
Like the two main gods of Jupiter and Saturn, Neptune was highly venerated by ancient cults. He was mainly revered in a dedicated temple in the important Greek settled city of Poseidonia, first founded during the 7th Century BC. This city later became the Ancient Roman city of Paestum after being conquered in 273 BC, located on the southwestern Italian coastline near Campania. The main ‘Temple of Neptune’ was made in the Doric-style, though it seems that later the Greek goddess, Hera equivalent of the Roman, Juno, was venerated there. His mid-summer Roman festival, the Neptunalia usually held over two days around 23rd July, with various sports, games and civic duties.
According to Roman writer Gaius Julius Hyginus (c.64BC-17AD) in his book ‘Astronomica’, earlier astronomers like Eratosthenes related Neptune to the constellation Delphinus, the dolphin.
To the Ancient Greeks, Neptune was also known as the Olympia god, Poseidon, who was far more ruthless and more temperamental than his Roman equivalent. Not only could he toss thunderbolts like Zeus, he could cause violent earthquakes that still frequently occur in Greece. His wife was instead the sea goddess, Amphitrite (Greek name is Salacis, meaning seawater), both physically representing the sea and its variable or fickle personality. It was only later, that Poseidon was adopted as the main Greek god to represent the expansive sea. Much of this mythology is only related to Greece, and possibly Phoenicia, but is especially important among the Athenians, who were once a vibrant seafaring nation. Having some real need for such gods was probably more to do with the sometimes inherent dangers when crossing to the many Greek islands by ship or boat, or then navigating the sometimes unpredictable nature of the Mediterranean Sea. Some saw it as very important ritual to worship and praise him so as to have safe sea passage.
Today, Neptune continues to be happily celebrated by sea passengers when crossing the equator. Again this odd tradition was often seen as necessary appeasement towards Neptune who would then allow safe passage across the oceans. Various Neptune statues are quite common in ports throughout the world. Perhaps the most famous of these is placed in the town centre of the English seaport of Bristol.
Neptune is often importantly portrayed in both the arts and literature. He’s often shown as a slightly portly old man, whose head is covered with long wild-hair and matted beard, holding his fisherman’s staff tipped with the three-pointed trident, and that is sometimes displayed as the special astronomical character symbolising the planet (right). To others, he is also draped with fishnets and is seen riding his grand shell-shaped chariot across or under the waves. (Though I’ve never really worked out why this shell is some kind of grandiose boat!) Best of the traditional artistic examples is the beautiful representation of Neptune in the wonderful marble sculpture created by Gian Bernini’s. Named “Neptune and Triton”, this masterwork is placed in the Victorian and Albert Museum in London, and depicts him in the Roman classic story of Aeneas by Publius Vergillus Maro Virgil (70 B.C.-1 B.C.). Here Neptune is seen calming the sea through the call of his shell-horn of Triton, as to ensure his safe voyage across the sea. Neptune is today still celebrated through various fountains in Europe, such as the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome, Govanni’s Fountain in Bologna, or Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Another is the Neptunbrunnen or Neptune Fountain in Berlin.
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Last Update : 08th August 2015
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