Myth Man's Greek Mythology



Triton was a Greek sea demigod, a merman with the upper body of a human and the tailed lower body of a fish. He lived with his parents, the sea gods Poseidon and his wife Amphitrite, in a golden palace on the bottom of the sea.

In Greek vase paintings he was shown sometimes bearded, other times youthful. Later writers describe this deity as riding over the waves on horses or other sea monsters.

He is often portrayed as a herald or messenger for Poseidon or the great Oceanus, and usually depicted holding a conch shell that he would blow like a trumpet to calm or raise the waves. It had such a harsh and frightful sound that, when loudly blown, it would put even the Giants to fight, who mistook it for the roar of a wild and terrifying beast.

"There is a story similar to this about the shell of Triton. He, too, when he had hollowed out the trumpet he had invented, took it with him against the Gigantes (Giants), and there blew strange sounds through the shell. The Gigantes, fearing that some wild beast had been brought by their adversaries, took to flight, and thus were overcome and came into their enemies' power."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 23

In later times, Triton became a generic name for mermen. He sometimes bore a trident, similar to his father Poseidon. Tritons were sometimes represented with two horse's feet instead of arms, and they were then called Centaur-Tritons or Ichthyocentaurs.

Though sometimes kindly, mermaids and mermen were usually dangerous to humans. Their gifts often brought misfortune, and, if offended, the beings caused floods or other disasters. To see one on a voyage was an omen of shipwreck.

Triton was alleged to be a foster parent to the goddess Athena and had a daughter named Pallas. A different Pallas was a male Giant who was slain by Athena. He also had a daughter named Triteia.

"They say that after Athene's birth, she was reared by Triton, who had a daughter named Pallas."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 144

In the 2nd century CE, the Greek poet Pausanias described Tritons:

"The Tritons have the following appearance. On their heads they grow hair like that of marsh frogs not only in colour but in the impossibility of separating one hair from another. The rest of the body is rough with fine scales just as is the shark. Under their ears they have gills and a man's nose; but the mouth is broader and the teeth are those of a beast. Their eyes seem to me blue and they have hands, fingers and nails like the shells of the murex. Under the breast and belly is a tail like a dolphin's instead of feet.

Ovid, in Metamorphosis, tells us that:

"[After the Great Deluge had wiped out mankind :] The Lord of the Sea (Rector Pelagi) [Poseidon] laid by his three-pronged spear and calmed the waves and, calling from the deep Triton, sea-hued, his shoulders barnacled with sea-shells, bade him blow his echoing conch to bid the rivers, waves and floods retire. He raised his horn, his hollow spiraled whorl, the horn that, sounded in mid ocean, fills the shores of dawn and sunset round the world; and when it touched the god's wet-bearded lips and took his breath and sounded the retreat, all the wide waters of the land and sea heard it, and all, hearing its voice, obeyed."

The largest moon of the planet Neptune, the Roman equivalent to Poseidon, has been given the name of his son, Triton. 



Homework HelpGreek Mythology TodayOlympian GodsGreek HeroesLove StoriesBeasts and CreaturesMyth of the MonthZodiac, Stars and Constellations

Web, myth narration and graphics created and maintained by Nick Pontikis
Copyright © 1995 Nick Pontikis Thanasi's Olympus Greek Restaurant
Copyright 1999
The Myth Man persona copyright 1988 Nick Pontikis