Poseidon's Steed: The Story of Seahorses, from Myth to Reality

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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 ...

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Poseidon's Steed: The Story of Seahorses, From Myth to Reality

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Overview


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.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

This is a true natural history book, covering all aspects of the seahorse's involvement in the world: mythology, history, fisheries, aquaria, world ocean health. Scales is a marine biologist, and her fascination with her subject (she learned to scuba dive in order to observe this remarkable creature) shines through in her easy-to-read style and the way she uses the seahorse as a hook to discuss broader subjects, such as the role of seahorses in world mythology or the part they play in ocean conservation efforts, both as poster fish and canary species. VERDICT The cute seahorse on the cover and the clever title will help attract readers to a library display, and the text itself will make them want to read more. An extensive bibliography invites further exploration. This is sure to appeal to both teens and adult readers interested in the natural world.—Margaret Rioux, MBL/WHOI Lib., Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst., MA


—Margaret Rioux
Kirkus Reviews
A window into the life of an enticing marine animal "so strange and yet so perfectly pleasing."Humans have considered the seahorse something special for millennia, writes marine biologist and BBC radio host Scales in this fawning yet mostly professional investigation. Perhaps 6,000 years ago, Aborigines in Australia were painting them on their cave walls; Minoans were carving them onto their stone identification stamps 1,000 years later. Phoenicians and Egyptians put them on their sarcophagi. In Greek mythology, they were saddled by the Nereids, and they pulled Poseidon's golden chariot. Contemporary marine science has given us a glimpse into their unusual makeup. Elementally, " [s]eahorses look the way they do because it works," writes Scales. Despites the advances of DNA testing, "[n]ot only does a question mark hover where the seahorses first began, but we also don't know for sure when they evolved." Strangely, the author later writes, "though we no longer need puzzle over . . . where they came from." Scales occasionally overwrites-"Beneath a thousand-year of darkness hid a vast treasure trove, and unimaginable Aladdin's cave"-but her strong suit is biology. She effectively examines the seahorse's chameleon qualities, as well as the phenomenon of the males giving birth-the only such instance in the animal kingdom. The author is also adept at delineating the seahorse's alleged healing powers, and she offers a fascinating study in the history of aquariums and the pursuit of "queer fish." Scales then addresses seahorse farming-especially as it relates to their endangered status, caused mainly by trawling and fishing with explosives-and she argues strongly for their preservation. Thewriting is uneven, but the author makes a solid case for a rare and wondrous creature.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592404742
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/27/2009
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 7.82 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Helen Scales is a marine biologist and scuba diver who received her PhD from the University of Cambridge and she is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. She resides in Cambridge, England.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 20 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2009

    Seahorses-what's not to love?

    I haven't read this book, only heard the author on NPR. That was enough. She knows seahorses and loves them.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2011

    Enjoyable and informative

    Helen Scales of the Naked Scientists radio program shares her love of the sea and these rare creatures. I learned more about seahorses than I thought possible.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 15, 2011

    totally reccomend it!

    This book is a beautiful work of art and sure is a prie winner for many books! I sugest that you start reading it soon........!

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  • Posted January 16, 2010

    Great book!

    I really enjoyed reading this book -- I had no idea that sea horses were so complex. The book is very readable for the general public and the annecdotes on seahorses in human history are fascinating.

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  • Posted October 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Enter the World of the Seahorse

    This book is a comprehensive look at seahorse natural history, from their own biology to human interaction and fascination with them. Dr. Scales clearly connects the various topics with larger world concerns, including the health of the world's marine habitats, the fishing industry, and human health and benefits. I think Dr. Scales is a little long-winded on Chinese medicine and a little short on the actual biology and ecology of these wonderful creatures. Never-the-less, this book is consistently well written and engaging. Much recommended.

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  • Posted October 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    poseidon's steed

    this was an interesting read on seahorses ... it was a good research subject ... i enjoy reading it ... mainly because i've always had an interest in marine life and wanted to become a marine biologist ... so reading something of my interest would get good reviews nonetheless, besides, there isn't much reads on seahorses ...

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  • Posted October 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Very Enjoyable

    I couldn't put this book down. I usually read a lot of fiction books, but this non-fiction book was just as wonderful! The author does a GREAT job at entertaining and teaching the reader at the same time. I can't believe how much I have learned on so many different topics!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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