If you pit a god against a superhero, who do you think will win? No, but really. In comparing Poseidon to Aquaman, we must first acknowledge their historical and canonical differences.
Poseidon is a god and Aquaman is a comic book superhero. The creators of Aquaman likely drew from Ancient Greek influence and particularly from the role of Poseidon as the god of the sea. Even their depiction of him with a trident in hand is reminiscent of Ancient Greek paintings of their sea deity calling forth the wrath of the sea or calming it down depending on his mood. In comparing these two individuals, a notable pattern appears in how influential Poseidon was in the creation of Aquaman. What comes from that isn’t quite what you’d think it would be.
How does a god compare to a superhero? With the Greeks playing the lines of morality, writing stories like a dare to ethics, it seems that Aquaman came to feature the positive qualities of Poseidon but left out the moral ambiguity in the name of creating a hero for his age.
What is the Difference Between Poseidon and Aquaman?
— Origin Story
Poseidon is a deity stemming from the ancient Greek pantheon. Born of the Titan gods and rulers of Olympus, Cronus and Rhea, he was destined to ultimately help overthrow them. Cronus, having heard of his fate to be rejected from the throne by his own children, began swallowing them whole as they were born. Poseidon was one such child.
Eventually, Rhea had enough of this. Pregnant with her last child, she sought protection and help from Mother Gaia. Together they plotted and planned, eventually deciding that Rhea should give birth in secrecy and give Cronus a stone bundled in a blanket to swallow instead. This plan worked shockingly well. Zeus was raised in secrecy as well until he was old enough to go and fulfil his destiny which included forcing Cronus to release his siblings.
After the Olympians won the war against the Titans, Zeus and his two brothers drew lots to decide who would rule what. As a result, Poseidon became the god of the sea.
Despite being a much more modern character, Aquaman’s origin story is not as clear and defined as Poseidon’s is. Aquaman is a DC character and part of the Justice League with his first appearance taking place in the 1941 More Fun Comics #73. This comic has Aquaman narrate his own origin story stating, ‘The story must start with my father, a famous undersea explorer—if I spoke his name, you would recognize it. My mother died when I was a baby, and he turned to his work of solving the ocean’s secrets. His greatest discovery was an ancient city, in the depths where no other diver had ever penetrated. My father believed it was the lost kingdom of Atlantis. He made himself a water-tight home in one of the palaces and lived there, studying the records and devices of the race’s marvelous wisdom. From the books and records, he learned ways of teaching me to live under the ocean, drawing oxygen from the water and using all the power of the sea to make me wonderfully strong and swift. By training and a hundred scientific secrets, I became what you see—a human being who lives and thrives under the water.’
It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s that Aquaman became a primary character. The writers began to flesh out his backstory more. One of the alterations to his stories was the love affair between his human father and Atlantean mother that is commonly accepted today. During this so-called ‘Silver Era’ writers also began to explore his role as the king of Atlantis more and as a founding member of the Justice League.
— Key Features and Characteristics
Poseidon is a deity that was once commonly worshiped by the Ancient Greeks and continues to be worshiped in small sects today. Aquaman is not a deity and no religions have been formed around him. Aquaman is a comic book character created by DC comics.
As a deity, Poseidon ruled over the sea and water in general. At no point in the comics is Aquaman deified. He has supernatural abilities and is the king of Atlantis. There are not many similarities. What is particularly notable in that lack of similarities is that despite being a worshiped deity, Poseidon isn’t necessarily a hero or even a ‘good guy’ in many of his stories. To be fair, the Greeks were particularly good at writing about moral quandary and gray areas of ethics. That may be one of the reasons it still appeals to us. Aquaman, on the other hand, was written as a hero. He’s generally seen as the good guy and as such is idolized by fans of the DC universe.
Despite the lack of similarities, the creators of Aquaman have certainly drawn on Poseidon and Ancient Greek water deities for inspiration. On a less subtle level, Atlantis is not just the world Aquaman rules. It’s the name of one of the primary cities that worshiped Poseidon in Ancient Greece. According to the Greek philosopher Plato, this island was lost to the sea. It’s not an unreasonable jump to assume that the writers pulled on this story to create their version of Atlantis and its inhabitants – forgotten sea gods.
— Role in Contemporary Culture
As discussed above, Poseidon and his stories likely inspired the creation of Aquaman and Atlantis. But his influence doesn’t end there. From the Clash of the Titans movies to the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books to video games like Age of Mythology, Poseidon has played an influential role and been a feature character.
Aquaman has had an unstable rise to fame. Starting as a background character, he rose to fame in the late 1950s and 60s as a founding member of DC’s Justice League. His series began to die out in the eighties and then saw a comeback in the comics in the late nineties. Since the Justice League revitalisation in the 2010s, Aquaman has received his own movies and returned as a beloved superhero and ruler of Atlantis under the actor Jason Momoa.