Percy Jackson, the Minotaur, The Odyssey, the naming of the Aegean sea, death, voyages, an English poet, and, of course, a Greek god – what do they all have in common? One of the most recognizable spots in Greece – the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion. Poseidon is the Greek god of the sea, and is celebrated and revered throughout Greece and its environs. This spot in Sounion, on a high promontory on sheer cliffs overlooking the Aegean Sea, is a perfect place to honor Poseidon. It’s also a place immortalized in history and literature.
As early as 7th century BC, both Poseidon and Athena were worshipped atop these rocky cliffs. A grand Temple of Poseidon was started around 500 BC, but was destroyed in 480 BC by the Persians. The classical Temple of Poseidon that you can see today (in ruins) was built in 444-440 BC on the same spot as the previous ones. The builders used local marble to create Doric columns
, of which less than half still remain. There is also an Ionic frieze (quite eroded) that includes scenes from the Lapiths battling the centaurs, and adventures of the hero Theseus (supposedly a son of Poseidon, like the fictional Percy Jackson).
Local legend has it that the Aegean Sea was thus named when Aegeus, the King of Athens, leapt to his death off this same cliff. He had sent his son, Theseus, to confront the Minotaur. Seeing the ships return with black sails, he thought his son dead and jumped. Poor Theseus – he was so elated at defeating the Minotaur that he forgot to change sails from black to white (for victory).
The Temple of Poseidon is also part of the “Magic Triangle” – three magnificent ancient buildings which include the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina, and the Acropolis in Athens
Such a place rich in mythology and symbolism would, naturally, attract writers throughout the ages. Homer set part of The Odyssey there, in 1810 English poet Lord Byron carved his initials into the Temple of Poseidon (thus encouraging centuries of such defacement, alas), and more recently, Rick Riordan
has rekindled interest in Greek mythology, with his extremely popular books (and movies) about Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon
- View this student presentation on the Temple of Poseidon. Several weeks ago, my mom and aunt swam at the beach (known locally as Kavokolones) in Sounion, after a late dinner. The Temple of Poseidon glowed in the moonlight. Discuss how the town of Sounios has benefitted through the ages, both financially and aesthetically, from being home to the Temple of Poseidon.
- Watch this video about the Temple of Poseidon. What surprises you most about the Temple of Poseidon? If you could, would you carve your name into that ancient stone, as Lord Byron did?
- Take a panoramic look at the Temple of Poseidon (once on this site, you can see many different views of the temple area), and then the Temple of Athena. Is it any wonder that Athena was angry at Poseidon, for having a temple with a much better location (and audience)? Why do you think people, throughout the ages, have believed in mythology of one sort or another?