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The god of the stream Oceanus, earlier than Poseidon. He was the firstborn of the Titans, the offspring of Uranus and Gaea, or Heaven and Earth. Oceanus espoused his sister Tethys, and their children were the rivers of the earth and the three thousand Oceanides or Nymphs of Ocean (Hesiod, Theog. 337 foll.). This is all the account of Oceanus that is given in the Theogony. Homer speaks of him and Tethys as the father even of the gods ( Il. xiv. 201 Il., 246 Il., 302). When Zeus placed his sire in Tartarus, Rhea committed her daughter Heré to the charge of Oceanus and Tethys, by whom she was carefully nurtured. The abode of Oceanus was in the West ( Il. xiv. 200 Il., 301). He dwelt, according to Aeschylus, in a grotto place, beneath his stream, as it would appear (Prom. Vinct. 300). In the Prometheus Vinctus of this poet, Oceanus comes borne through the air on a hippogriff, to console and advise the heroic sufferer; and from the account given of his journey, it is manifest that he came from the West. When Heracles was crossing his stream in the cup of the Sun-god to procure the oxen of Geryon, Oceanus rose, and, by agitating his waters, tried to terrify him; but, on the hero's bending a bow at him, he retired.


Besides being the name of a deity, the term Oceanus (Ὠκεανός) occurs in Homer in another sense also. It is made to signify an immense stream, which, according to the rude ideas of that early age, circulated around the terraqueous plain, and from which the different seas ran out in the manner of bays. This opinion, which is also that of Eratosthenes, was prevalent even in the time of Herodotus (iv. 36). Homer terms the ocean ἀψόρροος, because it thus flowed back into itself. This same river Oceanus was supposed to ebb and flow thrice in the course of a single day, and the heavenly bodies were believed to descend into it at their setting and emerge from it at their rising. Hence the term ὠκεανός is sometimes put for the horizon. In Homer, therefore, ὠκεανός and θάλασσα always mean different things, the latter merely denoting the sea in the more modern acceptation of the term. On the shield of Achilles the poet represents Oceanus as encircling the rim or extreme border of the shield, in full accordance with the popular belief of the day, whereas in Vergil's time, when this primitive meaning of the term was obsolete, and more correct geographical views had come in, we find the sea (the idea being borrowed, probably, from the position of the Mediterranean) occupying in the poet's description the centre of the shield of Aeneas. Herodotus (ii. 23; iv. 8) rejects the notion that Oceanus is a stream. See Geographia.

It is remarkable that one of the oldest names of the Nile among the Greeks was ὠκεανός.

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