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Poseidon, earth shaker, master of the seas. As one of Zeus’ brothers and part of the tripartite head of the gods, Poseidon has been the central character of many Greek myths and has played a role in many others. Through the course of this paper, we will explore the original Greek myths related to Poseidon and how they were altered in the modern portrayal for young adult readers as told by the author George O’Connor in his graphic novel/comic Olympians Poseidon: Earth Shaker. The theories of human development will be used as a backdrop to explore the young adult reader’s development as an impetus for the changes to the original myths along with incorporating current societal norms as further driving force behind the changes in the story. Finally, this paper will explore the role of the comic or graphic novel as a form of literature and how it is employed with regard to the young adult reader.
Mythology tells us that Poseidon was god of the seas, earthquakes, and horses. He was the son of Cronus and Rhea born fifth from his mother and swallowed by his father. After his release from his father’s belly, he joined his brothers Hades and Zeus in overthrowing Cronus as had been prophesized. Lots were then drawn by the three brothers to see who would rule the underworld, the sea, and the sky. Poseidon’s lot was to rule the sea. His weapon and symbol of power was the trident that was created for him by the three Cyclopes just like Zeus’ thunderbolt and Hades’ helm. Through his trident Poseidon is able to strike the ground and cause earthquakes thus earning him the title of earth shaker. He is also the god of horses and their creation is attributed to him. Poseidon’s temperament is akin to the changes of the seas that could be calm in one moment then violent, raging, and destructive another. Like his brother Zeus, Poseidon has a strong penchant for women and sex and will stop at nothing to get the person of his desire. It is precisely this philandering that will be the focus of the myths reviewed in this paper.
Poseidon’s offspring are often noted to be hideous creatures in every sense of the word. One of these was Polyphemos a giant cyclops on the island of Sicily who was conceived as Homer notes in his Odyssey: “godlike Polyphemus, the mightiest of all the Cyclopes. Thoosa bore him, a nymph, a daughter of that Phorcys who commands the restless sea. Poseidon,
down in those hollow caves, had sex with her.”(Odyssey 1.68) Polyphemos was enamored with the Nereid nymph Galateia and was not able to woo her as she was in love with Agis so Polyphemos crushed Agis with a boulder. Polyphemos was not only considered hideous in appearance but his countenance was most deplorable.
Another of Poseidon’s offspring was the hero Theseus. According to Pseudo-Apollodorus,
[Aegeas] continued [as the King of Athens] without an heir, and in fear of his brothers he went to Pythia and asked about having children. The god’s response was as follows : ‘Noblest of men, do not loosen the tumid neck of your wineskin until you reach the heights of Athens.’ Confused by this oracle, Aegeas left again for Athens. He went through Troizenos and stayed with Pelops’ son Pittheus, who figured out the oracle [promising Aegeas a son] and put him to bed with his daughter Aithra. On the same night Poseidon also had intercourse with Aithra . . . Aithra did bear Aegeas a son, named Theseus [who later proved to be the son of Poseidon]. (Bibliotheca 3.208)
Pausanias also recounts a similar tale”Aithra crossed over into the island with libations for Sphairos. After she had crossed, Poseidon is said to have had intercourse with her here.”(Description of Greece 2.33.1)
Theseus, while a hero of Athens, could be considered as hideous of character. While in Crete where he decapitated the Minotaur, Theseus fell for Ariadne, a daughter of King Minos. He fled with her on his ship and when they landed on the island of Naxos, he abandoned her. When returning from slaying the Minotaur, he was to use a white sail to signal his success but instead a black sail was used. His father Aegeas, believing his son to be dead, in great mourning threw himself into the sea. Theseus was then able to immediately ascend to the throne which some could conclude was no accident. A final example of this hideous character is when Prithious and Theseus each decide to abduct a daughter of Zeus. Theseus chose Helen, who was later to become Helen of Troy, despite the fact that she was only nine years old. He wanted to keep her captive until she was of marriage age. Plutarch even claims that Theseus raped Helen. (Plutarch Lives Vol. 1.29.2)
When using the definition of offspring to mean the product or result of something, contention could also be made that the Minotaur of the island of Crete was also one of Poseidon’s offspring. The sexual exploits that bring about the conception of the Minotaur involve bestiality. The story is best recounted by Pseudo-Apollodorus who noted
Poseidon was angry that the bull was not sacrificed, and turned it wild. He also devised that Pasiphae should develop a lust for it. In her passion for the bull she took on as her accomplice an architect named Daidalos (Daedalus) . . . He built a wooden cow on wheels, . . . skinned a real cow, and sewed the contraption into the skin, and then, after placing Pasiphae inside, set it in a meadow where the bull normally grazed. The bull came up and had intercourse with it, as if with a real cow. Pasiphae gave birth to Asterios (Asterius), who was called Minotauros (Minotaur). (Bibliotheca 3.8.1)
Diodorus Siculus corroborates this “whereupon Poseidon becoming angry at Minos, caused his wife Pasiphae to become enamored of the bull. And by means of the ingenuity of Daidalos Pasiphae had intercourse with the bull and gave birth to the Minotauros (Minotaur), famed in the myth.” (Library of History 4.77.1) Both Ovid and Suidas relate a version that is even more sexually explicit. “Crete should lack no monstrous birth, [Pasiphae] the daughter of Sol (the Sun) [Helios] once loved a Bull–a female with a male . . . her love had hope; her Bull, tricked by that bogus cow, served her–she had a male to lead astray.” (Metamorphoses 9.735) “It is said that Pasiphae was in love with a bull and begged Daidalos to make a wooden cow and rig it up and put her in it; and mounting her like a cow, the bull made her pregnant.” (En panti muthoi kai to Daidalou musos e 1421)
The one offspring of Poseidon that would not be considered monstrous would be Pegasus, albeit the story of its birth through the decapitation of a pregnant Medusa could be considered hideous. Poseidon raped Medusa in the temple of Athena (a virgin god) as is told by Ovid, “[Medousa (Medusa)] was violated in Minerva’s [Athena’s] shrine by the Lord of the Sea (Rector Pelagi) [Poseidon]. Jove’s [Zeus’] daughter turned away and covered with her shield her virgin’s eyes. And then for fitting punishment transformed the Gorgo’s lovely hair to loathsome snakes.” (Metamorphoses 4.770) So as a punishment for her being violated in the temple of Athena, she was turned into a monster by Athena. Perseus then was sent on a quest to cut off her head. Pseudo-Apollodorus recounts this story
Perseus, therefore, with Athene guiding his hand, kept his eyes on the reflection in a bronze shield as he stood over the sleeping Gorgones, and when he saw the image of Medousa, he beheaded her. As soon as her head was severed there leaped from her body the winged horse Pegasos (Pegasus) and Khrysaor (Chrysaor) the father of Geryon. The father of these two was Poseidon. (Bibliotheca 2.38 – 46)
Strabo described the event as”Pegasus, a winged horse which sprang from the neck of the Gorgon Medusa when her head was cut off.” (Geography 8.6.21) Hesiod recounts in his Theogeny, “When Perseus cut off Medousa’s head, immense Chrysaor and the horse Pegasos sprang forth. His name came from the springs of Ocean by which he was born.”(Theogeny 280) Ovid tells the story as “Men believe it [Pegasos] sprang with its blood-spattered mane from the butchered Medusa’s pregnant neck. As it glided above the clouds and beneath the stars, the sky was its earth and wings were its feet.”(Fasti 3.449) Pegasus an immortal winged horse lived among the gods and was not monstrous of form or character.
George O’Connor in his comic Olympians Poseidon: Earth Shaker tells quite a different narrative when dealing with the sexual exploits of Poseidon. For the story of Polyphemos, he notes that “his mother was the sea-nymph Thoosa, we met, she and I, in the swiftly moving currents.” (O’Connor 17) This narration is accompanied by a picture of a dark silhouetted Poseidon who appears to be kissing a sea-nymph in water. O’Connor later recounts the story of Poseidon’s sexual encounter with Aethra by four panels of a dark starry night with Poseidon swimming in the water up to Aethra and kissing her under water much like the depiction of the previous sexual encounter. (O’Connor 27) Then again O’Connor relates the story of Pasiphae and Poseidon’s bull by the following story, “I sent a passion for the bull upon Minos’s queen. She enlisted the Athenian inventor Daedalus who constructed a device in which she might visit with the bull. Her visit was uncovered months later, when the queen gave birth to a child half man, half bull.” (O’Connor 31) Finally, the story of Pegasus is mentioned with a single panel showing Pegasus flying in the sky with the caption “even Pegasus, the winged horse, the offspring of my time with poor, doomed Medusa.” (O’Connor 26)
O’Connor has clearly changed the sexual exploits of Poseidon from the original source which some would call graphic to a subtle innuendo of sex. Society today has determined that images of death and violence are acceptable but those of sex remain taboo. In fact,
The Parents Ratings Advisory Study, which was commissioned by the Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA), found that more parents (80% of those surveyed) are concerned with their kids seeing graphic sex scenes than with graphic violence (64%). And while only 56% of them are worried about the depiction of realistic violence, a full 70% are distressed by full frontal shots of people au naturel.” (Luscombe)
A study headed by Daniel Romer that was published in the journal Pediatrics noted an increase in violence since the 1950s. “Romer said it’s not clear why the Motion Picture Association of America has allowed more violence in PG-13 movies, but continues to be strict about keeping sex out of those films.” (KDVR) The law is also clear when it comes to limitations on portrayal of sexual topics in literature. “The current constitutional test for obscenity looks solely to whether the content of a particular work sufficiently comports with the prevailing moral standards of the community in which it is sold.” (Simon 2)
Perhaps another way to look at the changes in the way O’Connor portrayed the sexual exploits of Poseidon is through childhood stages of development. According to Piaget, the formal operational stage of development is from the age of 12 on up. “At this stage, the adolescent or young adult begins to think abstractly and reason about hypothetical problems. Teens begin to think more about moral, philosophical, ethical, social, and political issues.” (Cherry). For Erickson, the fifth stage is identity vs. role confusion, and it occurs during adolescence, from about 12-18 years. “This is a major stage of development where the child has to learn the roles he will occupy as an adult. It is during this stage that the adolescent will re-examine his identity and try to find out exactly who he or she is. Erikson suggests that two identities are involved: the sexual and the occupational.” (McLeod) “According to Bee (1992), what should happen at the end of this stage is ‘a reintegrated sense of self, of what one wants to do or be, and of one’s appropriate sex role’.” (McLeod) O’Connor may have elected to change the original myths so that the development of sex roles could be influenced by family and religion rather than his writings.
Myths through the millennia have been relayed through oral tradition and ultimately written in the form of poetry, prose, and plays. O’Connor chose the medium of the graphic novel/comic as a means of relating the story of the myth of Poseidon. “Comics and graphic novels have been used in university classes for over a decade.” (Petrovic) “Graphic novels can be considered as classroom resources that address the wide range of what it means to teach English Language Arts – listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing and representing – in addition to developing critical literacy skills that may be related to visual culture.” (Brenna 88) Indeed society today with its extensive use of smart-phones and the internet has become a visual culture. Graphic novels are able to introduce mythology to an audience that may not have otherwise been exposed to this form of literature. “They are a global genre that draws on distinct traditions as well as on an important cross-cultural dissemination machine that features translations, cooperations between publishers and creators, and move and web adaptations.” (Labio 124) “By combining text and images, graphic novels offer additional ways to make intra- and inter-textual connections, allude to other works, establish characters, and develop themes through motifs.” (Boerman-Cornell 76)
George O’Connor did well with his adaptation of the myths of Poseidon to engage the young adult reader in a culturally acceptable means. He adhered to current societal norms related to sex and violence by keeping true to the graphic violence of the original myths but changing explicit sexual references to subtle innuendo. Through choosing the medium of the graphic novel, O’Connor has given many young adult readers the opportunity to be exposed to classical Greek literature that they may otherwise have overlooked.
- Boerman-Cornell, Bill. “More Than Comic Books.” Educational Leadership, vol. 70, no. 6, Mar. 2013, pp. 73–77.
- Brenna, Beverley. “How Graphic Novels Support Reading Comprehension Strategy Development in Children.” Literacy, vol. 47, no. 2, Mar. 2012, pp. 88–94., doi:10.1111/j.1741-4369.2011.00655.x.
- Cherry, Kendra. “What Are Piaget’s Four Stages of Development?” Verywell Mind, 15 Oct. 2018, www.verywellmind.com/piagets-stages-of-cognitive-development-2795457.
- Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4.77.1
- Hesiod, Theogony 280
- Homer, Odyssey 1.68
- Labio, Catherine. “Whats in a Name?: The Academic Study of Comics and the ‘Graphic Novel.’” Cinema Journal, vol. 50, no. 3, 2011, pp. 123–126., doi:10.1353/cj.2011.0033.
- Luscombe, Belinda. “Why Parents Care More About Sex than Violence in the Movies.” Time, Time, 4 Dec. 2015, time.com/4135760/why-parents-worry-more-about-sex-than-violence-in-the-movies/.
- McLeod, S A. “Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development.” Simply Psychology, 2013, www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html.
- OConnor, George. Poseidon: Earth Shaker. Roaring Brook Press, 2013.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 4
- —. Metamorphoses 9
- —. Fasti 3. 449
- Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.33.1
- Petrovic, Sarah N.. “Review of Teaching the Graphic Novel.” . ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies. 5.3 (2010). Dept of English, University of Florida. 7 Nov 2018. <http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v5_3/petrovic/>.
- Plutarch, Lives Vol. 1.29.2
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2
- —. Bibliotheca 3
- Simon, Rachel Elizabeth, “Sex Is Less Offensive Than Violence: A Call To Update Obscenity Jurisprudence” (2014). Law School Student Scholarship. Paper 575.
- Strabo, Geography 8.6.21
- Suidas, “En panti muthoi kai to Daidalou musos”, The Suda
- “While Sex Is Still Taboo, Gun Violence Explodes in Films Aimed at Teens.” FOX31 Denver, 11 Nov. 2013, kdvr.com/2013/11/11/while-sex-is-still-taboo-gun-violence-explodes-in-films-aimed-at-teens/.
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