Thomas Bulfinch > The Age of Fable > Vols. I & II: Stories of Gods and Heroes > XXII. d. The Water Deities
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Thomas Bulfinch (1796–1867).  Age of Fable: Vols. I & II: Stories of Gods and Heroes.  1913.

XXII. d.  The Water Deities
 
OCEANUS and Tethys were the Titans who ruled over the watery element. When Jove and his brothers overthrew the Titans and assumed their power, Neptune and Amphitrite succeeded to the dominion of the waters in place of Oceanus and Tethys.   1
  
NEPTUNE

NEPTUNE was the chief of the water deities. The symbol of his power was the trident, or spear with three points, with which he used to shatter rocks, to call forth or subdue storms, to shake the shores and the like. He created the horse and was the patron of horse races. His own horses had brazen hoofs and golden manes. They drew his chariot over the sea, which became smooth before him, while the monsters of the deep gambolled about his path.
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AMPHITRITE

AMPHITRITE was the wife of Neptune. She was the daughter of Nereus and Doris, and the mother of Triton. Neptune, to pay his court to Amphitrite, came riding on a dolphin. Having won her he rewarded the dolphin by placing him among the stars.
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NEREUS AND DORIS

NEREUS and Doris were the parents of the Nereids, the most celebrated of whom were Amphitrite, Thetis, the mother of Achilles, and Galatea, who was loved by the Cyclops Polyphemus. Nereus was distinguished for his knowledge and his love of truth and justice, whence he was termed an elder; the gift of prophecy was also assigned to him.
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TRITON AND PROTEUS

TRITON was the of Neptune and Amphitrite, and the poets make him his father’s trumpeter. Proteus was also a son of Neptune. He, like Nereus, is styled a sea-elder for his wisdom and knowledge of future events. His peculiar power was that of changing his shape at will.
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THETIS

THETIS, the daughter of Nereus and Doris, was so beautiful that Jupiter himself sought her in marriage; but having learned from Prometheus the Titan that Thetis should bear a son who should grow greater than his father, Jupiter desisted from his suit and decreed that Thetis should be the wife of a mortal. By the aid of Chiron the Centaur, Peleus succeeded in winning the goddess for his bride and their son was the renowned Achilles. In our chapter on the Trojan war it will appear that Thetis was a faithful mother to him, aiding him in all difficulties, and watching over his interests from the first to the last.
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LEUCOTHEA AND PALÆMON

INO, the daughter of Cadmus and wife of Athamas, flying from her frantic husband with her little son Melicertes in her arms, sprang from a cliff into the sea. The gods, out of compassion, made her a goddess of the sea, under the name of Leucothea, and him a god, under that of Palæmon. Both were held powerful to save from shipwreck and were invoked by sailors. Palæmon was usually represented riding on a dolphin. The Isthmian games were celebrated in his honor. He was called Portunus by the Romans, and believed to have jurisdiction of the ports and shores.
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Milton alludes to all these deities in the song at the conclusion of “Comus”:
        “…Sabrina fair,
Listen and appear to us,
In name of great Oceanus;
By the earth-shaking Neptune’s mace,
And Tethys’ grave, majestic pace,
By hoary Nereus’ wrinkled look,
And the Carpathian wizard’s hook, 1
By scaly Triton’s winding shell,
And old soothsaying Glaucus’ spell,
By Leucothea’s lovely hands,
And her son who rules the strands,
By Thetis’ tinsel-slippered feet,
And the songs of Sirens sweet;” etc.
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  Armstrong, the poet of the “Art of preserving Health,” under the inspiration of Hygeia, the goddess of health, thus celebrates the Naiads. Pæon is a name both of Apollo and Æsculapius.
        “Come, ye Naiads! to the fountains lead!
Propitious maids! the task remains to sing
Your gifts (so Pæon, so the powers of Health
Command), to praise your crystal element.
O comfortable streams! with eager lips
And trembling hands the languid thirsty quaff
New life in you; fresh vigor fills their veins.
No warmer cups the rural ages knew,
None warmer sought the sires of humankind;
Happy in temperate peace their equal days
Felt not the alternate fits of feverish mirth
And sick dejection; still serene and pleased,
Blessed with divine immunity from ills,
Long centuries they lived; their only fate
Was ripe old age, and rather sleep than death.”
   9


Note 1.  Proteus. [back]

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