Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
The Homeric Hymn to Poseidon names the god’s two duties: “to be tamer of horses and savior of ships.” These two elements–-horses and the sea–-appear together in many aspects of ancient Greek life, whether in myth, religion, the visual arts, or literature. Not only Poseidon, but also the Dioskouroi, the twin horse gods, were gods of seafaring, appearing to sailors as the “St. Elmo’s fire” phenomenon. In the Odyssey (4.708), Penelope even calls swift ships “horses of the deep,” while the Phaeacians who finally bring Odysseus home have a ship that is compared to a chariot pulled by four stallions (Odyssey 13.81). At Olympia, a bronze dolphin was waved as the signal of the start of the horse races in the hippodrome, where there was an altar of Poseidon Hippios (“of horses”). A sanctuary complex for Poseidon Hippios has been excavated just outside ancient Mantinea in Arcadia, which ancient sources tell us had a nearby sacred grove of trees called Pelagos (“sea”). What is the connection between these two aspects? Were horses and the sea simply two major components of ancient Greek life, or were there deeper symbolic connections? This talk explores the relationships between horses and the sea through various media: iconography, literary metaphor, and cult practices.