- Pronunciation: try-ton
- Origin: Greece
- Role: Messenger of the sea
- Symbols: Trident, conch shell
- Parents: Poseidon and Amphitrite
- Children: 3000 mermaids and 3000 mermen
Who Is Triton?
Triton was the mighty merman son of the God and Goddess of the sea, Poseidon and Amphitrite. When he blasted his conch shell horn he was able to raise or calm the sea and frighten off the enemy giants who thought the sounds were the calls of wild animals approaching.
Akin to his ancestor Nereus, the old man of the sea, he possessed the gift of prophecy. Like his father Poseidon, Triton was powerful and carried a trident. He is mentioned by epic poet Homer in the Odyssey, by Hesiod in his Theogony, and in the Argonautica, the poetic story of the Argonauts by Apollonius, and in Virgil’s Aeneid.
Family of Triton
Triton’s father, Poseidon, is one of the 12 gods of the Olympian pantheon who became the ruler gods after Gigantomachy, the Great War with the giants. His brother Zeus had overthrown their father, Cronus. The brothers, Hades, Zeus and Poseidon drew lots for domain. Zeus won the draw and became the supreme ruler of the gods, Hades came to be the ruler of the Underworld, and Poseidon the Lord of the Sea.
Poseidon married Amphitrite, the eldest of the 50 Nereid daughters of Nereus. She was a direct descendant of, and the granddaughter of, the primal Titan Oceanus. They had three children together, Benthesicymen, the goddess of the waves, Rhodes, the namesake of the island, and Triton.
Since Poseidon fathered many other children with goddesses and mortals outside of his marriage, Triton is also related to many half-siblings – about 50 altogether.
Triton is the fabled father and leader of 3000 mermaids, and 3000 tritons (mermen).
Mermaids, and their male counterparts, tritons, were supernatural nymphs of the sea. They were half-human in form, with the tail of a fish. They were believed at that time to have inhabited salt water environments and would occasionally come ashore. The word mermaid is derived from the Middle English word mere meaning sea.
There are many legends of mermaids. It has been said they had lovely, yet deadly, voices they used to distract sailors and lead them to fatal accidents. In other legends they helped men at sea, using their powers to raise the winds or calm the storms.
Mermaids are often depicted combing their long flowing hair while gazing at themselves in a mirror, evidence of their vanity, self absorption and inability to be trusted. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was raised by mermaids. The feared aspect of women in Greek mythology, and especially mermaids, is their ability to seduce men with their beauty and charm. When a divine female seduced a human man, it almost always resulted in his demise.
Tales of Triton
The poetic story of the Argonauts, by Apollonius, is the story of Jason and his journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the imaginary island of Colchis. It tells of his relationship with the dangerous princess Medea and the treacherous seas faced by the Argonauts, the sailors of his ship the Argo.
Triton awaited them in his home in the salt lake Tritonis. After a storm stranded Jason and his men in the Libyan Desert, they were forced to carry their ship to the lake. Triton helped them navigate their way back to the sea.
In Virgil’s Aeneid, the story of Aeneas, the Trojan who became the ancestor of the Romans, a trumpet player called Misenus dares to challenge Triton to a musical contest. Angry at his arrogance, the god Triton throws him into the sea and sends a wave to drown him.
One of the most famous fountains in Rome is a Bernini masterpiece called the Fontana del Tritone. Sculpted in 1643, it still stands in Piazza Barberini and depicts the fishtailed Triton surrounded by dolphins and drinking from a conch shell.
The enchanting fishtailed creatures of the sea continue to be a fascination and artistic inspiration in popular culture. Hans Christian Andersen’s, The Little Mermaid was first published in 1837. It has been translated into many languages and is still enjoyed by children the world over.
In the 1984 film, Splash, Daryl Hannah played a mermaid named Madison. J. K. Rowling’s, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire featured underwater merpeople. Syrena was a pleasant mermaid in the 2011 film Pirates of the Caribbean, and the infamous King Triton featured as the controlling father of the mermaid princess in the animated Disney film, The Little Mermaid.
Lady Gaga dressed as Yüyi the mermaid in her avant garde music video for You and I, which was released in 2011.
Each June in Coney Island New York, a Queen Mermaid and King Neptune lead the Mermaid Parade that kicks off the summer season by bringing mythology to life and allowing for artistic public self-expression and pride in the community.
It seems that the merfolk (mermaids and mermen) have captured the human imagination from the time of the ancient Greeks, whose mythology stretches from as far back as 700 B.C. all the way to today. According to the legends, they are all descendants of the ancient god Triton, the mighty messenger of the sea.