According to the common tradition, Pontus was the son of Gaia, the personification of the earth, who gave birth to him without a father.
Like many other primordial gods, Pontus was not really a being but rather the personification of a force of nature—in this case, the sea. Thus, in contrast with the Olympians or Titans, Pontus was not usually imagined as anthropomorphic (that is, as having human features). In art, though, he was sometimes represented as a bearded old man with crab-claw horns.
Pontus had several children with his mother, Gaia. These included Nereus, the father of the beautiful Nereids, as well as Phorcys and Ceto, who became the parents of several terrifying monsters.
As one of the primordial gods of the Greeks, Pontus personified the sea. He was usually called the child of Gaia, the personification of the earth and one of the original entities to come into existence. Together with Gaia, Pontus fathered the earliest sea deities. These included Nereus, who went on to father the beautiful Nereids; Phorcys and Ceto, who together produced several monstrous offspring; and Thaumas and Eurybia.
The name “Pontus” (Greek Πόντος, translit. Pontos) is also the Greek word meaning “sea.” The word itself is usually thought to come from the Proto-Indo-European root *pont-eh₁-, meaning “path” (compare to the Sanskrit pánthāḥ and Latin pons).1
Πόντος (translit. Pontos)
Pontus was more than a god of the sea: he was the sea itself, just as Gaia was the earth and Uranus was the sky. Hesiod described him as “the fruitless deep with his raging swell.”2 Pontus’ children and grandchildren represented many of the most important sea deities of Greek mythology.
When he was depicted in ancient art, Pontus generally took the appearance of a bearded, powerful old man rising up from the sea. Like the Titan Oceanus, another god associated with the sea, Pontus was often represented with crab-claw horns growing out of his head.
According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Pontus was the son of Gaia, the personification of the earth, who gave birth to him on her own.3 The Roman mythographer Hyginus, however, made him the son of Gaia and Aether (“Upper Air”).4 Pontus’ siblings included Uranus (“Sky”) and the Ourea (“Mountains”)—who, like Pontus, were born without a father—as well as the children that Gaia had with Uranus (the Cyclopes, the Hecatoncheires, and the Titans).5
Pontus was one of the consorts of his mother, Gaia. Together, they bore Nereus, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto, and Eurybia.6 Through these children, Pontus became the grandfather of numerous important deities and creatures associated with the sea. The children of Nereus, for example, were the Nereids, beautiful female sea deities, while the more monstrous children of Phorcys and Ceto included the Gorgons and the Graiae.
In some traditions, Pontus and Gaia were also the parents of Aegaeon (possibly an alternative name for the Hecatoncheir Briareus)7 or of the four Telchines (Actaeus, Megalesius, Ormenus, and Lycus), ancient inhabitants of the island of Rhodes.8
According to Hyginus, Pontus eventually married Thalassa, the feminine personification of the sea. Together they begot all the different types of fish.9
Pontus was usually described as the son of Gaia, with whom he fathered Nereus, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto, and Eurybia. Some sources added that he married Thalassa, the feminine personification of the sea, while others gave slightly different versions of his genealogy (see above).
In Greek mythology, Pontus is not much more than the personification of the sea—there are no known myths about him. His role is primarily cosmogonic and genealogical: in other words, Pontus represents one of the primordial gods and is himself the father of other gods.
Hesiod: Pontus’ origins are outlined in Hesiod’s Theogony (seventh century BCE).
Apollodorus: Pontus’ genealogy is summarized in Apollodorus’ Library, a mythological handbook of the first century BCE or first few centuries CE.
Hyginus: The Fabulae, a Latin mythological handbook (first or second century CE), mentions Pontus and his genealogy.
Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. 2 vols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin, 1955.
Hornblower, Simon. “Pontus.” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 4th ed., edited by Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, 1184. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Rose, H. J. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Methuen, 1929.
Smith, William. “Pontus.” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed October 13, 2021. https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DP%3Aentry+group%3D41%3Aentry%3Dpontus-bio-1.
Theoi Project. “Pontos.” Published online 2000–2017. https://www.theoi.com/Protogenos/Pontos.html.