NERITES was a handsome, young sea-god who was transformed into a shellfish by the gods. According to some he was a companion and lover of the sea-born goddess Aphrodite. When she was invited to join the gods of Olympos, Nerites refused to accompany her and for this reason was punished with metamorphosis. Others say he was a lover and charioteer of Poseidon who dared challenge the sun-god Helios to a chariot-race. Nerites was, of course, defeated and as punishment for his hubris was transformed by the god into a slow moving shell-fish.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Aelian, On Animals 14. 28 ff (trans. Scholfield) (Greek natural history C2nd A.D.) :
"There is in the sea a shellfish with a spiral shell, small in size but of surpassing beauty, and it is born where the water is at its purest and upon rocks beneath the sea and on what are called sunken reefs. Its name is Nerites: two stories are in circulation touching this creature, and both have reached me; moreover the telling of a short tale in the middle of a lengthy history is simply giving the hearer a rest and sweetening the narrative.
Hesiod sings of how Doris the daughter of Okeanos (Oceanus) bore fifty daughters [the Nereides] to Nereus the sea-god, whom to this day we always hear of as truthful and unlying. Homer also mentions them in his poems. But they do not state that one son was born after all that number of daughters, though he is celebrated in mariners' tales. And they say that he was named Nerites and was the most beautiful of men and gods; also that Aphrodite delighted to be with Nerites in the sea and loved him. And when the fated time arrived, at which, at the bidding of [Zeus] the Father of the gods, Aphrodite also had to be enrolled among the Olympians, I have heard that she ascended and wished to bring her companion and play-fellow. But the story goes that he refused, preferring life with his sisters and parents to Olympos. And then he was permitted to grow wings: this, I imagine, was a gift from Aphrodite. But even this favour he counted as nothing. And so the daughter of Zeus was moved to anger and transformed his shape into a shell, and of her own accord chose in his place for her attendant and servant Eros (Love), who also was young and beautiful, and to him she gave the wings of Nerites.
But the other account proclaims that Poseidon was the lover of Nerites, and that Nerites returned his love, and that this was the origin of the celebrated Anteros (Mutual Love).
And so, as I am told, of the rest the favourite spent his time with his lover, and moreover when Poseidon drove his chariot over the waves, all together great fishes as well as dolphins and Tritones too, sprang up from their deep haunts and gambolled and danced around the chariot, only to be left utterly and far behind by the speed of his horses; only the boy favourite was his escort close at hand, and before them the waves sank to rest and the sea parted out of reverence to Poseidon, for the god willed that his beautiful favourite should not only be highly esteemed for other reasons but should also be pre-eminent at swimming.
But the story relates that Helios the Sun resented the boy's power of speed and transformed his body into the spiral shell as it now is: the cause of his anger I cannot tell, neither does the fable mention it. [N.B. Nerites may have bragged that his chariot was swifter than that of the sun-god or perhaps challenged the god to a race.] But if one may guess where there is nothing to go by, Poseidon and Helios (the Sun) might be said to be rivals. And it may be that Helios was vexed at the boy travelling about in the sea and wished that he should travel among the constellations instead of being counted among the Ketea (Sea-Monsters).
Thus far the two fables; but may the gods be good to me, and for my part let me observe a religious silence regarding them. But if my fables have said anything overbold, the fault must be laid to their charge."
- Aelian, On Animals - Greek Natural History C2nd - 3rd A.D.