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P entries
Pactolus (PAK-toh-lus). Phrygian river with significant deposits of gold in ancient times. These were attributed to the legendary King Midas, who had been granted the ability to transmute whatever he touched into gold. The king found drawbacks to this power and was permitted to wash it away in the river. Mythological fiction intersects with historical fact in that the Pactolus was source of the wealth of King Croesus, who ruled in the sixth century B.C.E. Both the legendary Midas and historical Croesus survive in figures of speech. One speaks of the "Midas touch" and being "as rich as Croesus."
Pan. God of shepherds and flocks, son of Hermes and a nymph. Pan was born with the legs and horns of a goat, which caused his own mother to spurn him. Nor was the adult god more popular with the nymphs. One ran away from him and was transformed into a reed, which inspired Pan to invent the shepherd's pipe of bound reeds of varying lengths. Pan was considered to be the cause of the sudden fear that sometimes comes for no reason, especially in lonely places. That's why it's called "panic."
Paris (PAR-is). Trojan prince who caused the Trojan War by carrying off Helen, wife of the Spartan king Menelaus. The Greek allies of Menelaus besieged Troy and ultimately brought about its downfall. Their greatest fighter was Achilles, who killed the Trojan champion Hector in single combat. Achilles himself was brought down by an arrow from the bow of Paris, whose aim was guided by the god Apollo.
Parthenon (PAR-the-non). The temple of Athena on the Acropolis of Athens. The Parthenon was built during the golden age of Pericles. The great orator and statesman commissioned its construction. This was during an era long after that of the mythological heroes, but the sculptures which decorated the building's exterior celebrated their feats, together with those of the immortal gods. They showed Lapiths fighting centaurs, Olympians battling Giants and perhaps scenes from the Trojan War.
The Parthenon symbolized the power and religious devotion of Athens. In later years it became a church and then, when Greece became part of the Turkish empire, a mosque. It survived relatively intact until 1687, when the Venetians, bombarding the Turks, inadvertently exploded a store of gunpowder within the building.
Pasiphae (pa-SIF-ay-ee). Wife of King Minos of Crete. When the gods sent Minos a beautiful white bull, he did not sacrifice it as he should have done. In punishment, Pasiphae was inflicted with a passion for the beast, which ultimately led to the birth of the Minotaur, a monster half-man and half-bull. Minos had the Labyrinth built to house the beast and, some say, his wife as well.
Pegasus (PEG-uh-sus). Winged horse, born from the blood of the Gorgon Medusa when she was decapitated by Perseus. Pegasus was fond of drinking from the spring of Peirene at Corinth. It was here that the hero Bellerophon, in need of a mount on which to attack the Chimaera, found the steed and tamed it with a golden bridle given him by Athena.
Peirene (pye-REE-nee). Spring or fountain in Corinth, favorite watering hole of the flying horse Pegasus. The pool was said to have been formed from the tears of a mother lamenting the accidental killing of her son by the goddess Artemis.
Peirithous (pye-RITH-oh-us). King of the Lapiths, companion of Theseus. Their friendship was formed when Theseus came upon the Lapith engaged in an act of piracy, and it found its fullest expression in exploits of a dubious nature. Peirithous helped Theseus abduct young Helen of Sparta, in return for which Theseus aided Peirithous in an ill-fated attempt to carry off Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. The two were glued to a bench by Hades on this occasion and inflicted with torments. Theseus was eventually freed by Heracles, but Peirithous remains there for eternity.
Pelias (PEL-ee-us). King of Iolcus who deprived Jason's father Aeson of his rightful throne and sent Jason after the Golden Fleece. When the hero returned to Iolcus from the successful completion of this quest, he brought along the sorceress Medea. It was she who achieved his family's revenge on Pelias. Restoring Aeson to youth by boiling him in a cauldron with magical herbs, she then offered the same service to Pelias. He did not survive the process.
Periphetes (per-i-FEE-teez). Lame, club-wielding outlaw from Epidaurus. The hero Theseus garnered his early fame by ridding the road between Troezen and Athens of the bandits and ruffians that inflicted it. Periphetes was the first of these. Theseus had barely set out from his childhood home when he was set upon by this limping brigand. Periphetes had wrapped a stout wooden club in a layer of metal to give it additional heft. And he was about to test this implement on Theseus's head when the hero grabbed it out of his hand. In the days to come Theseus would further expand upon a policy which he now initiated by dealing Periphetes a deadly blow with his own weapon. The hero had made it his credo to do unto others the evil they were about to do unto him.
Persephone (pur-SEF-uh-nee). Beautiful daughter of Zeus and Demeter; sometimes considered an Olympian. While gathering flowers in a field one day, Persephone was abducted to the Underworld by Hades, who arose in his chariot from a fissure in the ground. Demeter, goddess of the harvest, was heartbroken, and while she wandered the length and breadth of the earth in search of her daughter, the crops withered and it became perpetual winter. At length Hades was persuaded to surrender Persephone for one half of every year, the spring and summer seasons when flowers bloom and the earth bears fruit once more. The half year that Persephone spends in the Underworld as Hades' queen coincides with the barren season. The heroes Peirithous and Theseus attempted to abduct Persephone and bring her back to the land of the living.
Perseus (PUR-see-us or PURS-yoos). Son of Zeus, heroic vanquisher of the Gorgon Medusa. At Mythweb, see the illustrated myth of Perseus.
Phaedra (FEE-druh). Daughter of Cretan King Minos and sister of Ariadne. When Theseus abandoned Ariadne on an island after she helped him escape the Labyrinth, some say he was borne away unwillingly by the tide. But others claim that he had fallen in love with Phaedra. In any case, he soon married her.
Phineus (FIN-yoos or FIN-ee-us). King of Salmydessus who offended the gods and was punished by an infestation of Harpies, razor-clawed birds with human female faces who disrupted his meals and defecated on his food. In thanks to the Argonauts for ridding him of these pests, he warned them of the Clashing Rocks ahead on their route to Colchis in quest of the Golden Fleece.
Phoenicians (fih-NISH-unz, fee-NISH-unz, or fih-NEESH-unz). Historically, famous seafarers from the region of modern Syria, Lebanon and Israel. The Phoenicians may well have helped found Thebes in Greece, as reflected in the myth of Cadmus. The Greek alphabet derives from Phoenician characters.
Pholus (FOH-lus). Most civilized of the actual centaurs (Chiron being of another lineage). Pholus died by dropping one of Heracles's poisoned arrows on his foot.
Phrixus (FRIK-sus). Prince who was saved on the point of sacrifice by a magical flying ram. Phrixus escaped together with his sister Helle on the animal's back. Helle became dizzy and fell into the sea. But Phrixus fetched up in Colchis on the mysterious periphery of the heroic world. Here he hung the ram's golden fleece in the sacred grove of Ares, god of war. This became the object of the famous quest by Jason and the Argonauts.
Phrygia (FRIJ-ee-a). Large region in what is now Turkey. The legendary Midas, possessor of the "Midas touch", was a king of Phrygia. He was said to have found a drunken satyr in his fields one day and restored the goat-man to his master, the wine-god Dionysus. In gratitude, the god granted Midas to ability to transform whatever he touched into gold. This proved a mixed blessing, as the power could not be turned on and off. Dionsysus was kind enough to let Midas wash away his "touch" in the Phrygian river Pactolus.
Plato (PLAY-toh). Greek philosopher who lived from about 429-347 B.C.E. It was Plato who passed on to posterity the legend of Atlantis, an island-continent with an advanced civilization that sunk beneath the sea. The philosopher maintained that Atlantis was a real place, not a myth. He had heard of it from certain wise men of Egypt, whose civilization spanned the era when Atlantis was said to have flourished, whereas earlier civilizations in Greece had been wiped out by natural catastrophes - or so the Egyptians said. Atlantis derives its name from the mythological Titan Atlas, who supports the heavens by means of a pillar on his back somewhere on the far western edge of the world. This is where Atlantis was located according to Plato.
Pluto (PLOO-toh). Roman name of the god Hades (HAY-deez), ruler of the Underworld. The word pluto means "wealth" in Latin and Greek, which was considered appropriate either because precious minerals come from beneath the surface of the earth where the god ruled or because Pluto was rich in dead souls.
In various adventures, Hades abducted the maiden Persephone, tricked the heroes Theseus and Peirithous and managed to get himself handcuffed by Sisyphus.
Pollux (POL-uks). Roman name of Polydeuces, one of the Dioscuri or Hero Twins. Polydeuces was considered godly enough to be admitted to the divine court on Mount Olympus, while his brother was sent to Hades as a mere mortal. But Polydeuces could not bear eternal separation, so the gods allowed the twins to remain together forever, spending half the year in the Underworld and the other half on Olympus. It is under his Roman name that Polydeuces is memorialized together with his brother as the constellation Castor and Pollux.
Polydectes (pol-i-DEK-teez). King of Seriphos who sent Perseus after Medusa's head. Polydectes had amorous intentions toward Perseus's mother, which the hero hoped to thwart by engaging in the quest. When he succeeded and returned to Seriphos with Medusa's head, he used it to turn Polydectes to stone.
Polydeuces (pol-i-DOO-seez or pol-i-DYOO-seez). Brother of Castor, together the Dioscuri or Hero Twins; better known by his Roman name Pollux. Polydeuces was considered godly enough to be admitted to the divine court on Mount Olympus, while his brother was sent to Hades as a mere mortal. But Polydeuces could not bear eternal separation, so the gods allowed the twins to remain together forever, spending half the year in the Underworld and the other half on Olympus.
Polyeidus (pol-ee-AYE-dus). Seer descended from Melampus. As a clairvoyant, Polyeidus was called upon by King Minos when his son Glaucus disappeared one day in the labyrinthine passages and countless chambers of the palace of Knossos. Polyeidus found the boy smothered in a jar of honey and was then imprisoned by Minos until such time as he could restore him to life. In his captivity, Polyeidus witnessed a snake revive a dead companion by rubbing it with a certain herb, and this proved equally efficacious with Glaucus. Now Minos demanded that the boy be taught all the seer's arts of prophesy. Reluctantly Polyeidus complied, but when he was finally able to take his leave from the demanding tyrant, he asked Glaucus to spit into his mouth, whereupon he immediately forgot all that he had learned. It was Polyeidus who advised Bellerophon how to tame the flying horse Pegasus.
Polymede (pol-i-MEE-dee). According to some sources, the mother of the hero Jason.
Polyphemus (pol-i-FEE-mus). Cyclops who captured and almost devoured Odysseus. Polyphemus was prevailed upon by his father Poseidon to delay the hero's return home from the Trojan War. He imprisoned Odysseus and his shipmates in his cave and dined on Greeks for several nights running. Finally Odysseus put a sharp point on the end of a pole, hardened it in the fire and used it to gouge out the Cyclops' single eye. The blinded Polyphemus was unable to detect the escaping Greeks clinging to the underbellies his goats when he let the flock out into the yard the next morning.
Poseidon (puh-SYE-dun or poh-SYE-dun). Roman name Neptune. Poseidon was the god of the sea, earthquakes and horses. Although he was officially one of the supreme gods of Mount Olympus, he spent most of his time in his watery domain. Poseidon was brother to Zeus and Hades. These three gods divided up creation. Zeus became ruler of the sky, Hades got dominion of the Underworld and Poseidon was given all water, both fresh and salt.
Although there were various rivers personified as gods, these would have been technically under Poseidon's sway. Similarly, Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea, wasn't really considered on a par with Poseidon, who was known to drive his chariot through the waves in unquestioned dominance. Poseidon had married Nereus's daughter, the sea-nymph Amphitrite.
In dividing heaven, the watery realm and the subterranean land of the dead, the Olympians agreed that the earth itself would be ruled jointly, with Zeus as king. This led to a number of territorial disputes among the gods. Poseidon vied with Athena to be patron deity of Athens. The god demonstrated his power and benevolence by striking the Acropolis with his three-pronged spear, which caused a spring of salt water to emerge. Athena, however, planted an olive tree, which was seen as a more useful favor. Her paramount importance to the Athenians is seen in her magnificent temple, the Parthenon, which still crowns the Acropolis. The people of Athens were careful, all the same, to honor Poseidon as well.
Poseidon was father of the hero Theseus, although the mortal Aegeus also claimed this distinction. Theseus was happy to have two fathers, enjoying the lineage of each when it suited him. Thus he became king of Athens by virtue of being Aegeus's son, but availed himself of Poseidon's parentage in facing a challenge handed him by King Minos of Crete. This monarch threw his signet ring into the depths of the sea and dared Theseus to retrieve it. The hero dove beneath the waves and not only found the ring but was given a crown by Poseidon's wife, Amphitrite.
Poseidon was not so well-disposed toward another famous hero. Because Odysseus blinded the Cyclops Polyphemus, who was Poseidon's son, the god not only delayed the hero's homeward return from the Trojan War but caused him to face enormous perils.
Poseidon similarly cursed the wife of King Minos. Minos had proved his divine right to rule Crete by calling on Poseidon to send a bull from the sea, which the king promised to sacrifice. Poseidon sent the bull, but Minos liked it too much to sacrifice it. So Poseidon asked Aphrodite, the goddess of love, to make Minos's queen, Pasiphae, fall in love with the bull. The result was the monstrous Minotaur, half-man, half-bull.
As god of horses, Poseidon often adopted the shape of a steed. It is not certain that he was in this form when he wooed Medusa. But when Perseus later killed the Gorgon, the winged horse Pegasus sprang from her severed neck.
Poseidon sometimes granted the shape-shifting power to others. And he ceded to the request of the maiden Caenis that she be transformed into the invulnerable, male warrior Caeneus.
Procrustes (proh-KRUS-teez). A host who adjusted his guests to their bed. Procrustes, whose name means "he who stretches", was arguably the most interesting of Theseus's challenges on the way to becoming a hero. He kept a house by the side of the road where he offered hospitality to passing strangers, who were invited in for a pleasant meal and a night's rest in his very special bed. Procrustes described it as having the unique property that its length exactly matched whomsoever lay down upon it. What Procrustes didn't volunteer was the method by which this "one-size-fits-all" was achieved, namely as soon as the guest lay down Procrustes went to work upon him, stretching him on the rack if he was too short for the bed and chopping off his legs if he was too long. Theseus turned the tables on Procrustes, fatally adjusting him to fit his own bed.
Proetus (proh-EE-tus). King of Tiryns, brother of Perseus's grandfather, King Acrisius of Argos. When his wife falsely accused Bellerophon of making amorous advances, Proetus sent the hero to King Iobates of Lycia with sealed instructions that he be put to death on arrival. Iobates thought to accomplish this by sending him after the Chimaera, but Bellerophon killed the beast instead. On another occasion, the daughters of Proetus were driven mad by Hera and roamed the countryside in a frenzy thinking they were cows.
Prometheus (proh-MEE-thee-us or proh-MEE-thyoos). Titan; benefactor of humankind. Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to mortals, carrying it away from Mount Olympus in a fennel stalk (a method of transporting fire that was used down into historical times). As a consequence, Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock where each day an eagle pecked out his liver (which regenerated itself each night).
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P entries
Pactolus (PAK-toh-lus). Phrygian river with significant deposits of gold in ancient times. These were attributed to the legendary King Midas, who had been granted the ability to transmute whatever he touched into gold. The king found drawbacks to this power and was permitted to wash it away in the river. Mythological fiction intersects with historical fact in that the Pactolus was source of the wealth of King Croesus, who ruled in the sixth century B.C.E. Both the legendary Midas and historical Croesus survive in figures of speech. One speaks of the "Midas touch" and being "as rich as Croesus."
Pan. God of shepherds and flocks, son of Hermes and a nymph. Pan was born with the legs and horns of a goat, which caused his own mother to spurn him. Nor was the adult god more popular with the nymphs. One ran away from him and was transformed into a reed, which inspired Pan to invent the shepherd's pipe of bound reeds of varying lengths. Pan was considered to be the cause of the sudden fear that sometimes comes for no reason, especially in lonely places. That's why it's called "panic."
Paris (PAR-is). Trojan prince who caused the Trojan War by carrying off Helen, wife of the Spartan king Menelaus. The Greek allies of Menelaus besieged Troy and ultimately brought about its downfall. Their greatest fighter was Achilles, who killed the Trojan champion Hector in single combat. Achilles himself was brought down by an arrow from the bow of Paris, whose aim was guided by the god Apollo.
Parthenon (PAR-the-non). The temple of Athena on the Acropolis of Athens. The Parthenon was built during the golden age of Pericles. The great orator and statesman commissioned its construction. This was during an era long after that of the mythological heroes, but the sculptures which decorated the building's exterior celebrated their feats, together with those of the immortal gods. They showed Lapiths fighting centaurs, Olympians battling Giants and perhaps scenes from the Trojan War.
The Parthenon symbolized the power and religious devotion of Athens. In later years it became a church and then, when Greece became part of the Turkish empire, a mosque. It survived relatively intact until 1687, when the Venetians, bombarding the Turks, inadvertently exploded a store of gunpowder within the building.
Pasiphae (pa-SIF-ay-ee). Wife of King Minos of Crete. When the gods sent Minos a beautiful white bull, he did not sacrifice it as he should have done. In punishment, Pasiphae was inflicted with a passion for the beast, which ultimately led to the birth of the Minotaur, a monster half-man and half-bull. Minos had the Labyrinth built to house the beast and, some say, his wife as well.
Pegasus (PEG-uh-sus). Winged horse, born from the blood of the Gorgon Medusa when she was decapitated by Perseus. Pegasus was fond of drinking from the spring of Peirene at Corinth. It was here that the hero Bellerophon, in need of a mount on which to attack the Chimaera, found the steed and tamed it with a golden bridle given him by Athena.
Peirene (pye-REE-nee). Spring or fountain in Corinth, favorite watering hole of the flying horse Pegasus. The pool was said to have been formed from the tears of a mother lamenting the accidental killing of her son by the goddess Artemis.
Peirithous (pye-RITH-oh-us). King of the Lapiths, companion of Theseus. Their friendship was formed when Theseus came upon the Lapith engaged in an act of piracy, and it found its fullest expression in exploits of a dubious nature. Peirithous helped Theseus abduct young Helen of Sparta, in return for which Theseus aided Peirithous in an ill-fated attempt to carry off Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. The two were glued to a bench by Hades on this occasion and inflicted with torments. Theseus was eventually freed by Heracles, but Peirithous remains there for eternity.
Pelias (PEL-ee-us). King of Iolcus who deprived Jason's father Aeson of his rightful throne and sent Jason after the Golden Fleece. When the hero returned to Iolcus from the successful completion of this quest, he brought along the sorceress Medea. It was she who achieved his family's revenge on Pelias. Restoring Aeson to youth by boiling him in a cauldron with magical herbs, she then offered the same service to Pelias. He did not survive the process.
Periphetes (per-i-FEE-teez). Lame, club-wielding outlaw from Epidaurus. The hero Theseus garnered his early fame by ridding the road between Troezen and Athens of the bandits and ruffians that inflicted it. Periphetes was the first of these. Theseus had barely set out from his childhood home when he was set upon by this limping brigand. Periphetes had wrapped a stout wooden club in a layer of metal to give it additional heft. And he was about to test this implement on Theseus's head when the hero grabbed it out of his hand. In the days to come Theseus would further expand upon a policy which he now initiated by dealing Periphetes a deadly blow with his own weapon. The hero had made it his credo to do unto others the evil they were about to do unto him.
Persephone (pur-SEF-uh-nee). Beautiful daughter of Zeus and Demeter; sometimes considered an Olympian. While gathering flowers in a field one day, Persephone was abducted to the Underworld by Hades, who arose in his chariot from a fissure in the ground. Demeter, goddess of the harvest, was heartbroken, and while she wandered the length and breadth of the earth in search of her daughter, the crops withered and it became perpetual winter. At length Hades was persuaded to surrender Persephone for one half of every year, the spring and summer seasons when flowers bloom and the earth bears fruit once more. The half year that Persephone spends in the Underworld as Hades' queen coincides with the barren season. The heroes Peirithous and Theseus attempted to abduct Persephone and bring her back to the land of the living.
Perseus (PUR-see-us or PURS-yoos). Son of Zeus, heroic vanquisher of the Gorgon Medusa. At Mythweb, see the illustrated myth of Perseus.
Phaedra (FEE-druh). Daughter of Cretan King Minos and sister of Ariadne. When Theseus abandoned Ariadne on an island after she helped him escape the Labyrinth, some say he was borne away unwillingly by the tide. But others claim that he had fallen in love with Phaedra. In any case, he soon married her.
Phineus (FIN-yoos or FIN-ee-us). King of Salmydessus who offended the gods and was punished by an infestation of Harpies, razor-clawed birds with human female faces who disrupted his meals and defecated on his food. In thanks to the Argonauts for ridding him of these pests, he warned them of the Clashing Rocks ahead on their route to Colchis in quest of the Golden Fleece.
Phoenicians (fih-NISH-unz, fee-NISH-unz, or fih-NEESH-unz). Historically, famous seafarers from the region of modern Syria, Lebanon and Israel. The Phoenicians may well have helped found Thebes in Greece, as reflected in the myth of Cadmus. The Greek alphabet derives from Phoenician characters.
Pholus (FOH-lus). Most civilized of the actual centaurs (Chiron being of another lineage). Pholus died by dropping one of Heracles's poisoned arrows on his foot.
Phrixus (FRIK-sus). Prince who was saved on the point of sacrifice by a magical flying ram. Phrixus escaped together with his sister Helle on the animal's back. Helle became dizzy and fell into the sea. But Phrixus fetched up in Colchis on the mysterious periphery of the heroic world. Here he hung the ram's golden fleece in the sacred grove of Ares, god of war. This became the object of the famous quest by Jason and the Argonauts.
Phrygia (FRIJ-ee-a). Large region in what is now Turkey. The legendary Midas, possessor of the "Midas touch", was a king of Phrygia. He was said to have found a drunken satyr in his fields one day and restored the goat-man to his master, the wine-god Dionysus. In gratitude, the god granted Midas to ability to transform whatever he touched into gold. This proved a mixed blessing, as the power could not be turned on and off. Dionsysus was kind enough to let Midas wash away his "touch" in the Phrygian river Pactolus.
Plato (PLAY-toh). Greek philosopher who lived from about 429-347 B.C.E. It was Plato who passed on to posterity the legend of Atlantis, an island-continent with an advanced civilization that sunk beneath the sea. The philosopher maintained that Atlantis was a real place, not a myth. He had heard of it from certain wise men of Egypt, whose civilization spanned the era when Atlantis was said to have flourished, whereas earlier civilizations in Greece had been wiped out by natural catastrophes - or so the Egyptians said. Atlantis derives its name from the mythological Titan Atlas, who supports the heavens by means of a pillar on his back somewhere on the far western edge of the world. This is where Atlantis was located according to Plato.
Pluto (PLOO-toh). Roman name of the god Hades (HAY-deez), ruler of the Underworld. The word pluto means "wealth" in Latin and Greek, which was considered appropriate either because precious minerals come from beneath the surface of the earth where the god ruled or because Pluto was rich in dead souls.
In various adventures, Hades abducted the maiden Persephone, tricked the heroes Theseus and Peirithous and managed to get himself handcuffed by Sisyphus.
Pollux (POL-uks). Roman name of Polydeuces, one of the Dioscuri or Hero Twins. Polydeuces was considered godly enough to be admitted to the divine court on Mount Olympus, while his brother was sent to Hades as a mere mortal. But Polydeuces could not bear eternal separation, so the gods allowed the twins to remain together forever, spending half the year in the Underworld and the other half on Olympus. It is under his Roman name that Polydeuces is memorialized together with his brother as the constellation Castor and Pollux.
Polydectes (pol-i-DEK-teez). King of Seriphos who sent Perseus after Medusa's head. Polydectes had amorous intentions toward Perseus's mother, which the hero hoped to thwart by engaging in the quest. When he succeeded and returned to Seriphos with Medusa's head, he used it to turn Polydectes to stone.
Polydeuces (pol-i-DOO-seez or pol-i-DYOO-seez). Brother of Castor, together the Dioscuri or Hero Twins; better known by his Roman name Pollux. Polydeuces was considered godly enough to be admitted to the divine court on Mount Olympus, while his brother was sent to Hades as a mere mortal. But Polydeuces could not bear eternal separation, so the gods allowed the twins to remain together forever, spending half the year in the Underworld and the other half on Olympus.
Polyeidus (pol-ee-AYE-dus). Seer descended from Melampus. As a clairvoyant, Polyeidus was called upon by King Minos when his son Glaucus disappeared one day in the labyrinthine passages and countless chambers of the palace of Knossos. Polyeidus found the boy smothered in a jar of honey and was then imprisoned by Minos until such time as he could restore him to life. In his captivity, Polyeidus witnessed a snake revive a dead companion by rubbing it with a certain herb, and this proved equally efficacious with Glaucus. Now Minos demanded that the boy be taught all the seer's arts of prophesy. Reluctantly Polyeidus complied, but when he was finally able to take his leave from the demanding tyrant, he asked Glaucus to spit into his mouth, whereupon he immediately forgot all that he had learned. It was Polyeidus who advised Bellerophon how to tame the flying horse Pegasus.
Polymede (pol-i-MEE-dee). According to some sources, the mother of the hero Jason.
Polyphemus (pol-i-FEE-mus). Cyclops who captured and almost devoured Odysseus. Polyphemus was prevailed upon by his father Poseidon to delay the hero's return home from the Trojan War. He imprisoned Odysseus and his shipmates in his cave and dined on Greeks for several nights running. Finally Odysseus put a sharp point on the end of a pole, hardened it in the fire and used it to gouge out the Cyclops' single eye. The blinded Polyphemus was unable to detect the escaping Greeks clinging to the underbellies his goats when he let the flock out into the yard the next morning.
Poseidon (puh-SYE-dun or poh-SYE-dun). Roman name Neptune. Poseidon was the god of the sea, earthquakes and horses. Although he was officially one of the supreme gods of Mount Olympus, he spent most of his time in his watery domain. Poseidon was brother to Zeus and Hades. These three gods divided up creation. Zeus became ruler of the sky, Hades got dominion of the Underworld and Poseidon was given all water, both fresh and salt.
Although there were various rivers personified as gods, these would have been technically under Poseidon's sway. Similarly, Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea, wasn't really considered on a par with Poseidon, who was known to drive his chariot through the waves in unquestioned dominance. Poseidon had married Nereus's daughter, the sea-nymph Amphitrite.
In dividing heaven, the watery realm and the subterranean land of the dead, the Olympians agreed that the earth itself would be ruled jointly, with Zeus as king. This led to a number of territorial disputes among the gods. Poseidon vied with Athena to be patron deity of Athens. The god demonstrated his power and benevolence by striking the Acropolis with his three-pronged spear, which caused a spring of salt water to emerge. Athena, however, planted an olive tree, which was seen as a more useful favor. Her paramount importance to the Athenians is seen in her magnificent temple, the Parthenon, which still crowns the Acropolis. The people of Athens were careful, all the same, to honor Poseidon as well.
Poseidon was father of the hero Theseus, although the mortal Aegeus also claimed this distinction. Theseus was happy to have two fathers, enjoying the lineage of each when it suited him. Thus he became king of Athens by virtue of being Aegeus's son, but availed himself of Poseidon's parentage in facing a challenge handed him by King Minos of Crete. This monarch threw his signet ring into the depths of the sea and dared Theseus to retrieve it. The hero dove beneath the waves and not only found the ring but was given a crown by Poseidon's wife, Amphitrite.
Poseidon was not so well-disposed toward another famous hero. Because Odysseus blinded the Cyclops Polyphemus, who was Poseidon's son, the god not only delayed the hero's homeward return from the Trojan War but caused him to face enormous perils.
Poseidon similarly cursed the wife of King Minos. Minos had proved his divine right to rule Crete by calling on Poseidon to send a bull from the sea, which the king promised to sacrifice. Poseidon sent the bull, but Minos liked it too much to sacrifice it. So Poseidon asked Aphrodite, the goddess of love, to make Minos's queen, Pasiphae, fall in love with the bull. The result was the monstrous Minotaur, half-man, half-bull.
As god of horses, Poseidon often adopted the shape of a steed. It is not certain that he was in this form when he wooed Medusa. But when Perseus later killed the Gorgon, the winged horse Pegasus sprang from her severed neck.
Poseidon sometimes granted the shape-shifting power to others. And he ceded to the request of the maiden Caenis that she be transformed into the invulnerable, male warrior Caeneus.
Procrustes (proh-KRUS-teez). A host who adjusted his guests to their bed. Procrustes, whose name means "he who stretches", was arguably the most interesting of Theseus's challenges on the way to becoming a hero. He kept a house by the side of the road where he offered hospitality to passing strangers, who were invited in for a pleasant meal and a night's rest in his very special bed. Procrustes described it as having the unique property that its length exactly matched whomsoever lay down upon it. What Procrustes didn't volunteer was the method by which this "one-size-fits-all" was achieved, namely as soon as the guest lay down Procrustes went to work upon him, stretching him on the rack if he was too short for the bed and chopping off his legs if he was too long. Theseus turned the tables on Procrustes, fatally adjusting him to fit his own bed.
Proetus (proh-EE-tus). King of Tiryns, brother of Perseus's grandfather, King Acrisius of Argos. When his wife falsely accused Bellerophon of making amorous advances, Proetus sent the hero to King Iobates of Lycia with sealed instructions that he be put to death on arrival. Iobates thought to accomplish this by sending him after the Chimaera, but Bellerophon killed the beast instead. On another occasion, the daughters of Proetus were driven mad by Hera and roamed the countryside in a frenzy thinking they were cows.
Prometheus (proh-MEE-thee-us or proh-MEE-thyoos). Titan; benefactor of humankind. Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to mortals, carrying it away from Mount Olympus in a fennel stalk (a method of transporting fire that was used down into historical times). As a consequence, Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock where each day an eagle pecked out his liver (which regenerated itself each night).
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