Goddess of the Moon & Sea: Amphitrite

female deity Amphitrite

Amphitrite.  Not one of your commonly-known goddess, but deserving to be revisited and remembered all the same.  And, as you’ll see, considering that yesterday was a lunar eclipse, I thought she was a very appropriate goddess to write about today.

In ancient times, she was very well-known, especially around the northern regions of Africa, and, quite possibly, to the Caspian culture. By the time she gets literally written up in Homer’s epics and mentioned by Apollonius, she is already a very ancient African goddess.

Her name means double strength of three.  She is both a moon goddess and a sea goddess (long, long before Poseidon!)  The patriarchal Greek version of Amphitritie’s myth has Poseidon chasing her in order to forcibly marry her. Amphitrite runs away to the Atlas Mountains. This mountain range goes through Algeria, Tunisia.Atlas Range-home of Amphitrite and Morocco.

They separate the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts from the Sahara Desert. It was the land of aurochs (which may be why Amphitrite was also called “ox-eyed”) and the North African elephant, the Barbary bear and leopard, as well as the Atlas lion. All of these animals have also symbolized goddesses over millennia.

So, just knowing where Amphitrite “fled” gives us important clues.  These regions of Northern Africa were areas where Amphitrite was worshipped. The “marriage” to Poseidon was like all the other marriages to the ancient Greek male triad (Zeus and Hades comprising the other two.)  This trinity of Greek gods had to “marry into” the more ancient, more powerful existing pantheons that featured goddesses as ruling the skies, the seas, and the underworld.

Following the ridiculous Greek myth, one of Poseidon’s messenger, Delphinus, finally tracks Amiphitrite down and eloquently persuades her to marry the usurper. However, dolphins were always Amphitrite’s special animal representative.  They are crescent shaped (moon) animals (blood-tidal) who reside in the sea.  They are also incredibly intelligent.  The fact that there is also a dolphin constellation just furthers the connection that Amphitrite was both a moon and sea goddess. Finally, there’s also the wonderful fact that the constellation Delphinus) resides close the equator (linking back to Northern Africa) and “swims” in part of the Milky Way—the cosmic river of stars.

Her children were Triton, Rhode, and Benthesicyme or as Robert Graves notes, they were “herself in triad: Triton, lucky new moon; Rhode, full moon, and Benthesicyme, dangerous old moon.” Interestingly, Triton refers to a third day (which the new moon and the full moon appear to us to inhabit three “days”, i.e. nights) while Tritone means “the third queen.” Rhode means rosy (a full moon that has been eclipsed, perhaps?  A so-called blood moon?) and Benthesicyme means “wave of the deep” which rounds out again associations with the moon and the ocean. It makes all kinds of sense that the trident was also her symbol originally too.

Here’s a cool red-attic cup painting of Amphitrite, Athena, and Theseus:

500-490 BCE. Public domain.
500-490 BCE. Public domain.

Unfortunately, because this is ancient Greek art , both goddesses look Greek rather than African. There is scholarly evidence that Athena originally came from Libya, but that will need to be a whole other post!

You can see here that Amphitrite(on the left) is held up by a man represent waves of the ocean (possibly Poseidon) and that dolphins are dancing / jumping around her. She is wearing a rather frothy chiton and reaches her hand out to Theseus who needs her blessing as he is about to embark on the Voyage of the Golden Fleece. Athena, who has helped clever sailors multiple times, looks at Theseus with a certain seriousness that may imply that he needs to honor both of these goddesses wholeheartedly if he wants any success.

In Roman times, she was still considered Neptune’s wife, but the powers and guardianship of the seas had transferred to him. Later, as patriarchy continued to diminish goddesses, Amphitrite was depicted as a sea nymph, or sea-spirit.

However, enough evidence survives to show that Amphitrite was indeed a goddess of both the oceans and the Moon.  Restoring her to her rightful place both geographically and mythically is part of my on-going work on reclaiming women’s mythology.  Thanks, dear reader, for being a part of this glorious work!

2 thoughts on “Goddess of the Moon & Sea: Amphitrite

  1. This is fascinating. I am writing a middle-grade novel (actually a trilogy) which reclaims the Greek goddesses. I didn’t know about the origin of Amphitrite until just now, when I came across your post. I was hoping you could point me to evidence of Amphitrite as a goddess of the moon and sea in Africa. I have access to JSTOR and other academic journals. Thank you. I very much appreciate the work you’re doing!

    1. Thank-you so much Mary Ann! It’s wonderful to receive your comments. I’m sure I can assist with some sources for Amphitrite. I used to own a children’s bookstore, so I’m thrilled to hear you’re writing middle-grade novels. I think it would be easiest if you emailed me directly: drm@mythwoman.com.

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