Greek MythologyMythology

LGBTQIA+ Themes in Mythology: Poseidon and Nerites

Many stories in mythology (like seriously A LOT) feature relationships with incredibly unbalanced power dynamics and abuse. The story of Poseidon and Nerites isn’t one of them, being about two gods and specifying mutual feelings.

Nerites is not a well-known deity, being a son of Nereus with, as far as I know, no cult or other myths. It’s possible that this story post-dates the classical period; I’ve only ever seen it mentioned by Aelian, who wrote in the 200s (AD/CE). The story itself is an etiological tale to explain the origins of shellfish (yes, really), but it has some interesting elements. 

Aside from specifying the mutual feelings between the two gods, it also talks about how their love for one another created another god, Anteros, who was one of the Erotes in Aphrodite’s entourage. 

The story is the second one given about Nerites; the first has him as the beloved of Aphrodite who, after he rejects her to remain in the sea, turns him into a shellfish. 

Text and Translation Excerpt

On The Nature of Animals, 14.28

ὁ δὲ ἄλλος λόγος ἐρασθῆναι βοᾷ Νηρίτου Ποσειδῶνα, ἀντερᾶν δὲ τοῦ Ποσειδῶνος, καὶ τοῦ γε ὑμνουμένου Ἀντέρωτος ἐντεῦθεν τὴν γένεσιν ὑπάρξασθαι. συνδιατρίβειν οὖν τά τε ἄλλα τῷ ἐραστῇ τὸν ἐρώμενον ἀκούω καὶ μέντοι καὶ αὐτοῦ ἐλαύνοντος κατὰ τῶν κυμάτων τὸ ἅρμα τὰ μὲν κήτη τἄλλα καὶ τοὺς δελφῖνας καὶ προσέτι καὶ τοὺς Τρίτωνας ἀναπηδᾶν ἐκ τῶν μυχῶν καὶ περισκιρτᾶν τὸ ἅρμα καὶ περιχορεύειν, ἀπολείπεσθαι δ᾽ οὖν τοῦ τάχους τῶν ἵππων πάντως καὶ πάντη: μόνα δὲ ἄρα τὰ παιδικά οἱ παρομαρτεῖν καὶ μάλα πλησίον, στόρνυσθαι δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ τὸ κῦμα καὶ διίστασθαι τὴν θάλατταν αἰδοῖ Ποσειδῶνος: βούλεσθαι γὰρ τῇ τε ἄλλῃ τὸν θεὸν εὐδοκιμεῖν τὸν καλὸν ἐρώμενον καὶ οὖν καὶ τῇ νήξει διαπρέπειν. τὸν δὲ Ἥλιον νεμεσῆσαι τῷ τάχει τοῦ παιδὸς ὁ μῦθος λέγει, καὶ ἀμεῖψαί οἱ τὸ σῶμα ἐς τὸν κόχλον τὸν νῦν, οὐκ οἶδα εἰπεῖν ὁπόθεν ἀγριάναντα: οὐδὲ γὰρ ὁ μῦθος λέγει. εἰ δέ τι χρὴ συμβαλεῖν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀτεκμάρτων, λέγοιντ᾽ ἂν ἀντερᾶν Ποσειδῶν καὶ Ἥλιος. καὶ ἠγανάκτει μὲν ἴσως ὁ Ἥλιος ὡς ἐν θαλάττῃ φερομένῳ, ἐβούλετο δὲ αὐτὸν οὐκ ἐν τοῖς κήτεσιν ἀριθμεῖσθαι, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν ἄστροις φέρεσθαι.

Other stories say that Nerites was loved by Poseidon and loved Poseidon in return, and hence this was the origin of Anteros.And so, as I hear, Nerites spent time with Poseidon and when Poseidon drove his chariot above the waves his speed surpassed all the marine beasts, for the fish, dolphins, and tritons rose from the sea, excited and circling and dancing around, all stopped and were left behind.Truly, Nerites was always near, attending him. The waves submitted with reverence for Poseidon, the sea separating and withdrawing. Because Poseidon wished, the beautiful Nerites to be prominent for many reasons, among them swimming.It is said that Helios resented the speed of the youth and changed his body. Whether that was truly the cause of the irritation of the sun, I don’t know, nor does the story say. It is possible that the two gods were rivals and the sun resented that the boy remained in the sea to be counted among the sea monsters when he could have been amongst the stars. 

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