To the Greeks, dolphins were viewed as helpers to humankind and a sign of good things to come. It was even punishable by death if one was killed intentionally. It is said that Poseidon used dolphins as the messengers of the seas, so sailors considered seeing dolphins in the wake of their ships an omen that clear weather and fair seas were to come. They appear on ancient Greek coins and in most depictions of both Poseidon and Eros in artwork. Taras, the son of Poseidon, in one myth, is rescued by dolphins after his ship wrecked. Ptolemy, a Greco-Roman astronomer, put a constellation of a dolphin in the sky, called Delphinus, in honor of the dolphins of Greek myths, and it is still used in modern astronomy.
The Romans, similar to the Greeks, held dolphins in high regard. In Roman mythology, they were seen as being a part of the process of life and death, and dolphins were even tasked with bringing the souls of those who had died to the Islands of the Blessed. Dolphins appeared in wall murals and tiled floor mosaics, often accompanied by Cupid. The earliest reports of dolphins and humans helping each other and fishing together come from ancient Rome.
While we still don’t know much about the Minoans of Crete, as their written language hasn’t been translated yet, we do know they liked dolphins. Most of what we do know about them comes from their artwork and the ruins they left behind. As an island civilization, the Minoans relied heavily on the Mediterranean Sea to survive. The Mediterranean has a large population of bottlenose dolphins like the Gulf of Mexico does, and dolphins appear in some of the most famous frescos along with other sea wildlife. Some of the scenes depict pods of dolphins swimming and hunting, suggesting this ancient culture enjoyed watching them in the water. We’d like to think the Minoans would enjoy the dolphin watching cruises we offer on the Southern Star!
While these are the most prominent examples, other ancient cultures are not exempt from holding dolphins in high regard. St. Martin, the Hermit of early Christianity, was believed to have been saved by a dolphin after jumping in the sea to avoid temptation. In coastal regions of Brazil, it was thought dolphins could bring healing to the sick. Ina was a mythological goddess shaped after a dolphin that lived in the Amazon river. The Nazca culture of Peru frequently focused their religious beliefs on orcas being powerful gods of nature.
Whether they were healers, helpers, or steeds, the main thing all these ancient cultures have in common is their respect for dolphins, and view of dolphins as being good for and to people. To learn more about dolphins and to have a chance to see wild ones in person, take a cruise on Destin’s Original Southern Star Dolphin Cruise!