Ulmo and Poseidon
Where ancient history meets fiction – a meeting between Ulmo and his colleagues
There is a soft wind blowing through the open spaces of the enormous cave. Drops are falling from stalagmites into the dark water in an ongoing rhythm. A strange place for a meeting, you might think, no chairs, no tables, no microphones and no coffee. Yet this place is the only place that would be suitable for a most remarkable gathering in the history of mythology.
It is nearly midnight when creatures start to enter the cave, all of them surrounded by great power. Deities of the water, lords of the seas… all made up by the human mind, which has given them great power. There is Poseidon, or Neptune as he was called by the Romans, Aegis (a Norse God), Amathaunta (Egyptian), Mannann (Celtic), Njörðr (Scandinavian) and the fictional god Ulmo, (made up by Tolkien). Most interesting of these gods are Ulmo and Poseidon, because they’ve got a lot in common though there are also significant differences.
Ulmo and Poseidon are both very thoughtful and methodical. Poseidon is very high of ranking among his other gods, he along with Zeus and Hades are the most important gods of the Greek mythology. In the history of Middle-earth, Ulmo is the third most important of the Ainur, after Manwë and Varda. Ulmo isn’t married to any of the other Ainur and Poseidon isn’t either, though, Poseidon has had lots of ‘girlfriends’ where Ulmo’s main interest has always been the water and the people of Arda:
“Ulmo is the Lord of Waters. He is alone. He dwells nowhere long, but moves as he will in all the deep waters about the Earth or under the Earth. His is next in might to Manwë, and before Valinor was made he was closest to him in friendship; but thereafter he went seldom to the councils of the Valar, unless great matters were in debate. For he kept all Arda in thought, and he has no need of any resting-place. Moreover he does not love to walk upon the land, and will seldom clothe himself in a body after the manner of his peers. If the Children of Eru beheld him they were filled with a great dread; for the arising of the King of the Sea was terrible, as a mounting wave that strides the land, with dark helm foam-crested and raiment of mail shimmering from silver down into shadows of green. The trumpets of Manwë are loud, but Ulmo’s voice is deep as the deeps of the ocean which he only has seen.
Nonetheless Ulmo loves both Elves and Men, and never abandoned them, not even when they lay under the wrath of the Valar. At times he will come unseen to the shores of Middle-earth, or pass far inland up firths of the sea, and there make music upon his great horns, the Ulumúri, that are wrought of white shell; and those to whom that music comes hear it ever after in their hearts, and longing for the sea never leaves them. But mostly Ulmo speaks to those who dwell in Middle-earth with voices that are heard only as the music of water. For all seas, lakes, rivers, fountains and springs are in his government; so that the Elves say that the spirit of Ulmo runs in all the veins of the world. Thus news comes to Ulmo, even in the deeps, of all the needs and grieves of Arda, which otherwise would be hidden from Manwë.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ The Silmarillion
Poseidon also never left mankind during the ages of this world. Even when the other gods lost their faith in humanity, Poseidon always stood up for them.
The Greek sea god however, is very short-tempered and will throw heavy storms over his people to cool down his fury – Ulmo would never do that, he is never that angry, and would most certainly not take his ire out on the inhabitants of Arda.
Another important difference between this two sea gods is that Ulmo has power over the weather as well whereas, in the Greek mythology, Zeus is the lord of the air and therefore also has the power over the rain. Ulmo can control all water and is thus not only the lord of the seas, but also the lord of all waters.
So while the other gods play with the waves and enjoy their powers, Ulmo and Poseidon sit together in a corner and talk on a soft, philosophical tone. They seem to be able to become good friends and to share many viewpoints in a world where myth and fiction meet.
– The Silmarillion
– Poseidon on pantheon.org