OMG: The Seaweed is Always Greener

Neptune (not the planet but the other one) was the Roman god of the sea, earthquakes, and horses. He is the son of Saturn and the brother of Jupiter and Pluto.  In Greece he’d been known as Poseidon, but it took the Romans a little longer than usual to catch on to him—about as much longer as it took them to come up with the idea of boats that is. Early Romans were like cats, they hated to get wet. Finally, during the imperial period (31 BC to 476 AD) Neptune had his heyday, when Rome finally learned to rule the seas.

Because the average Roman wanted to be a sailor about as much as Hannibal’s elephants had wanted to go over the Alps, Neptune had originally been associated with freshwater springs. The Neptunalia was a festival celebrated on July 23rd each year (any guesses as to what god it was named for?) that glorified the role of fresh water springs during the summer heat. It was a time of merrymaking where men and women were allowed to mingle, and there were more than a few wet toga contests. A bull was also sacrificed to Neptune since one of the Roman myths claimed he was the creator of the first bull. Somehow, Neptune was not insulted by the slaughter of one of his creations. Another myth says that after Jupiter granted Neptune rule over the islands and the sea, he was forced to kick him out of heaven because the greedy twit was conspiring against him. Neptune fled to Troy where he helped to build the city walls. But when he was denied what he believed to be an appropriate reward, he proved his nasty streak by sending a sea monster to demolish the city he had just built. Ancient Roman survival tip: do not double cross, betray, or otherwise piss off a god.

Historians and linguists have spent years arguing over the etymology of Neptune’s name. Definitions range from nuptiae, “marriage of heaven and earth,” to nuptu, “he who is moist.” Unfortunately, nobody knows what is accurate except for the Romans, and they’re dead.

Neptune is usually portrayed as a bearded, powerfully-built man in the prime of life. (Have you noticed that very few gods choose to appear old, knobble-kneed, and somewhat balding?) Or just picture King Trident from The Little Mermaid sans tail. You can tell him apart from his brother Jupiter (equally buff for an old man, but with a penchant for electrocuting those who piss him off) by the trident he usually carries. If the statue has both arms missing, your guess is as good as mine.


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