Poseidon's Steed

Poseidon's Steed

The Story of Seahorses, From Myth to Reality

Book - 2009
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Penguin Putnam
A fascinating journey with the sea creature that has captured human imagination for thousands of years

Poseidon?s Steed trails the seahorse through secluded waters across the globe in a kaleidoscopic history that mirrors man?s centuries-old fascination with the animal, sweeping from the reefs of Indonesia, through the back streets of Hong Kong, and back in time to ancient Greece and Rome. Over time, seahorses have surfaced in some unlikely places. We see them immortalized in the decorative arts; in tribal folklore, literature, and ancient myth; and even on the pages of the earliest medical texts, prescribed to treat everything from skin complaints to baldness to flagging libido. Marine biologist Helen Scales eloquently shows that seahorses are indeed fish, though scientists have long puzzled over their exotic anatomy, and their very strange sex lives?male seahorses are the only males in the animal world that experience childbirth!

Our first seahorse imaginings appeared six thousand years ago on cave walls in Australia. The ancient Greeks called the seahorse hippocampus (half-horse, half-fish) and sent it galloping through the oceans of mythology, pulling the sea god Poseidon?s golden chariot. The seahorse has even been the center of a modern-day international art scandal: A two-thousand-year-old winged seahorse brooch was plundered by Turkish tomb raiders and sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A book that is as charming as the seahorse itself, Poseidon?s Steed brings to life an aquatic treasure.

Seahorses lead quiet lives, tucked away out of sight on the seafloor. It is rare to catch a glimpse of a seahorse in its natural habitat. But even if few have seen one live, these exotic, seemingly prehistoric creatures exist quite vividly in our imaginations and they have mesmerized scientists, artists, and storytellers throughout time with their otherworldly rarity.

Poseidon?s Steed is a sweeping journey that takes us from the coral reefs and seagrass meadows of Indonesia where many seahorses makes their natural habitat to the back streets of Hong Kong where a thriving black market seahorse trade is concealed. Throughout history, seahorses have surfaced in some unexpected places and Scales also follows the seahorse back in time, from our most rudimentary seahorse imaginings six thousand years ago on cave walls in Australia, to the myths of ancient Greece.

Scientists have long puzzled over seahorses? unusual anatomy and their very strange sex lives. And male seahorses are the only males in the animal world that experience childbirth! Seahorses are not what scientists call a ?keystone? species. They rely on a healthy ocean to survive, but the marine ecosystem does not rely on them. But their delicate beauty reminds us that we rely on the seas not only to fill our dinner plates, but also to feed our imaginations.

Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Gotham Books, c2009
ISBN: 9781592405817
Characteristics: 261 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., map ; 20 cm


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Mar 01, 2011

Greek mythology casts the seahorse as the ?hippocamp,? a magical part-horse, part-fish beast that pulls the chariot of Poseidon, god of the sea. To modern sea-gazers, the seahorse is simply adorable. It has a charming little silhouette (long snout, round belly, curly tail) and a whimsical love life (a heart-shaped mating dance that leads to papa seahorse bearing babies in a kangaroo-like pouch). The dainty seahorse is also a rare delicacy sold on the streets of Hong Kong?s black market, a supposed cure for everything from baldness to impotency, and a collector?s treasure in aquariums around the world. The delicately balanced undersea ecosystem of the seahorse is at risk, a fact which marine biologist Helen Scales (who learned to scuba dive just so she could someday observe the wild seahorse) is careful to point out. But mostly, Poseidon?s Steed is a love letter to the seahorse, and the author?s passion for the dazzling little critters shows on every page.


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