In Ancient Greek mythology, Nereus is one of the water deities, those gods or goddesses who control the element of the water, including rivers, lakes, and seas, as well as all the creatures that live in these. There are many gods and goddesses associated with the waters in Ancient Greece. Nereus is considered the “Old man of the Sea,” a god who is able to shape-shift, but most often appears as an aged man, a prophet holding a wooden staff.
Nereus’ parents were ancient and primordial deities: Pontus, the god of the sea, and Gaia, the goddess of the Earth. Primordial gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece are the oldest deities known; they directly came from the nothingness, the mythical empty space, void, or as the Greeks called it, Chios.
Nereus was married to Doris, an ocean nymph or Oceanid, who was the daughter of Oceanus, one of the Titans, and the god of the Oceans. Together they had fifty daughters, known together as the Nereides, the sea-nymphs, and protectors of waters and water-creatures.
A gentle, kind, and trustworthy god, Nereus was able to speak about the secrets of the future, and he would do this for the benefit of those that chose to turn to him and seek his advice. On ancient paintings, pottery, or sculptures, he is often depicted as a giant creature, with the body of a man, and a tail of a large fish.
Nereus was known to live in the waters of the Mediterranean sea, but the Aegean sea was also considered as part of his home, so some of the myths refer to him as “the Aegean,” as well. Here, he was often seen while floating in the warm waters along with his wife, Doris, and their many daughters.
There is actually not a lot of information available about Nereus, in this modern day. Most of what we know about him, come from Homer’s writings. Homer was a famous ancient Greek writer, author of epic poems and important pieces of ancient Greek literature, such as the Odyssey, or the Iliad.
Homer described Nereus as a friendly and sincere old man, who is very knowledgeable about the future that’s to come, but sometimes not willing to give away many details, making the seeker human -and even demigods, half-humans, and half-gods- to work hard for the answer, to understand it correctly, and to take it to heart. One such story Homer described in his famous poem, the Iliad.
The Iliad is an epic story written by Homer, about a great ancient Greek hero, Achilles. Nereus is Achilles’ grandfather: Achilles’ mother is Thetis, one of the Nereides, and his father is a human. In this story, Homer describes how Nereus refused to answer a question to Heracles, a demigod, about finding the garden of the golden apples, the Hesperides. Nereus used his shape-shifting abilities to take the shape of various sea-creatures to avoid having to answer such a question, but Heracles’ persistence paid off, and Nereus finally decided that he deserved an honest answer.
Nereus’s figure has been slowly replaced with a newer god’s character over time. The new god, Triton, is very similar to Nereus’ personality; he’s the son of more modern deities, the god Poseidon and the goddess Amphitrite.
It is unknown whether Nereus was worshipped in temples or shrines, or if rituals were offered to him at all during the historical times of Ancient Greece. What is known, though, that he was considered to be the protector of Greek fishermen, giving them an abundance of fish to catch, according to the goodness of his heart towards his people.
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