Needing a wife who would be at home in the deep sea, Poseidon courted Thetis the nereid. But when it was prophesised she would have a son more powerful than Poseidon, he let her marry Pelius, a mortal.
When Posiedon turned to Amphritite, another nereid, she was repelled and fled to the Atlas Mountains. So Poseidon sent messengers to persuade her to return. One of these was Delphinius, a dolphin, who pleaded Poseidon’s case so well, Amphritite yielded and married Poseidon.n gratitude he set Delphinius’s image among the stars as the Dolphin constellation.
Many people have an affinity with dolphins (delphinidae) but their origin was bizarre. They were thought to have evolved from furry land mammals called mesonychids. They had hooves like cows and deer and lived around the ancient Tethys Sea – now part of the Mediterranean. Their bodies began to change when they spent increasing time in the water. They developed powerfully flattened tails, their forelimbs turned into paddles and their hind limbs wasted away.
They soon had insulating layers of fat, their body hair disappeared and their nostrils moved to the top of their heads to become blowholes. But it was ten million years later before whale-like creatures appeared and they may have clambered back onto land to breed.
They later developed remarkable abilities. They produce ultra sound with their larynx and maybe an organ in the front of their heads (the melon). Frequencies are around 200,000 vibrations a second – the same as bats. They can sense obstacles in their path and identify from the quality of the echo, what lies ahead. In captivity blind-folded dolphins can easily pick out the shapes of floating rings and swim swiftly to collect the rings on their snouts – the one shape they know that will bring a reward.
They live on fish and squid and can swim at more than forty kilometres an hour. The noises they make are a mystery – twenty different sounds. Some may help keep a school together when travelling at speed. Some seem to be warning cries and some call signs, so each dolphin can be recognised at a distance by others.
In Greece “delphis” is both the beaked dolphin and blunt-muzzled porpoise. “Delphi”, the oracle, was sacred to Apollo, the Dolphin god.
Here is some vivid mythology involving a dolphin! In one version, Nisus, king of Megara, had purple hair which gave him great strength, but if it was shorn, he was doomed to die.
The Cretans invaded Megarus and besieged Nisaea where Nisus had taken refuge. His daughter fell in love with Minos, the Cretan king and at his request, cut off her father’s hair. He was taken prisoner and shut in a fortress to live on bread and water.
In a similar myth, the man with the powerful hair is “Captain Thirteen” and the hairs, although only three, were on his chest. They were so long they could be twisted twice round a man’s head. He fought another king and his wife, after being bribed by the enemy, cut off the hairs. Defeated, he was shut in a fortress, but when his hairs began to grow, was flung with thirteen of his companions, into a pit. He was thrown in last and falling on top of them, did not die.
So his enemies covered the pit with a mountain. (This was probably a tholos tomb shaped like a beehive). The captain found a dead bird in the pit, stuck its wings onto his hands with clay and flew up. He knocked his head on the “mountain” and sent it spinning towards the sun. He soared into the air, but a storm broke, the rain softened the clay on his hands and he plunged into the sea.
Poseidon rose from the water and struck the captain with his trident, turning him into a dolphin. Poseidon told him he would remain a dolphin until he found a woman willing to marry him.
Just then a king and his daughter appeared on the sea, which was easy to enter but impossible to leave. Another storm broke and wrecked their ship. The dolphin rescued them and they rose on his back to a small island and then on to the coast where they lived.
The princess decided to marry the dolphin and had a canal built so he could swim from the sea to her castle. On their wedding day the dolphin shed his skin and out stepped a handsome young man. And naturally, they lived happily ever after!