The trident is the weapon of Poseidon, or Neptune, the God of the Sea in classical mythology. The trident may occasionally be held by other marine divinities such as Tritons in classical art, and trident maybe depicted in medieval heraldry as well, sometimes held by a merman-Triton. In Hinduism, it is the weapon of Shiva, known as trishula (Sanskrit for "triple-spear").
The word "trident" comes from the French word trident, which in turn comes from the Latin word tridens or tridentis: tri meaning "three" and dentes meaning "teeth", referring specifically to the three prongs, or "teeth", of the weapon.
The Greek equivalent is τρίαινα (tríaina), from Proto-Greek trianja, meaning "threefold". The Greek term does not imply three of anything specific, and is vague about the shape, thus the assumption it was originally of "trident" form has been challenged.
The Sanskrit name for the trident, trishula, is a compound of tri त्रि for "three" and śūla शूल for "thorn", calling the trident's three prongs "thorns" rather than "teeth".
Poseidon struck a rock with his trident, causing a sea (or a saltwater spring, called the Erechtheis) to appear nearby on the Acropolis in Athens. And according to Roman sources, Neptune struck the earth with the trident to produce the first war-horse.
Poseidon, as well as being the god of the sea, was also known as the "Earth Shaker", believed to cause earthquakes;[a] some commentator have extrapolated that the god would used the trident to cause them, possibly by striking the earth.
In the Renaissance artist Gian Bernini's sculpture Neptune and Triton (1622–23), Neptune is posed holding a triton turned downwards, and is thought to reenact a scene from Aeneid or Ovid's Metamorphosis where he is calming the waves to aid Aeneas's ships.
In later Greek and Roman art and literature, other sea deities and their attendants have been depicted holding the trident.
Turning to the retinue or a train of beings which follow the sea deities (the marine thiasos) the Tritons (mermen) may be seen bearing tridents. Likewise, the Old Man of the Sea (halios geron) and the god Nereus are seen holding tridents. Tritons, other mermen, and the Nereides can also carry rudders, oars, fish, or dolphins.
Oceanus normally should not carry a trident, allowing him to be clearly distinguished from Poseidon. However, there is conflation of the deities in Romano-British iconography, and examples exist where the crab-claw headed Oceanus also bears a trident. Oceanus holding a trident has been found on Romano-British coinage as well.[b]
In Hindu legends and stories Shiva, the Hindu god who holds a trishula trident in his hand, uses this sacred weapon to fight off negativity in the form of evil villains. The trident is also said to represent three gunas mentioned in Indian vedic philosophy namely sāttvika, rājasika, and tāmasika.
In religious Taoism, the trident represents the Taoist Trinity, the Three Pure Ones. In Taoist rituals, a trident bell is used to invite the presence of deities and summon spirits, as the trident signifies the highest authority of Heaven.
In Ancient Rome tridents (Latin: tridens or fuscina) were used by a type of gladiator called a retiarius or "net fighter". The retiarius was traditionally pitted against a secutor, and cast a net to wrap his adversary and then used the trident to kill him.
Tridents used in modern spear-fishing usually have barbed tines, which trap the speared fish firmly. In the Southern and Midwestern United States, gigging is used for harvesting suckers, bullfrogs, flounder and many species of rough fish.
A number of structures in the biological world are described as trident in appearance. Since at least the late 19th century the trident shape was applied to certain botanical shapes; for example, certain orchid flora were described as having trident-tipped lips in early botanical works. Furthermore, in current botanical literature, certain bracts are stated to have a trident-shape (e.g. Douglas-fir).