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-Greektrianja, 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 trident is associated with the sea-god Poseidon and his Roman counterpart Neptune.
This divine instrument is said to have been forged by the cyclopes.
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 later Greek and Roman art and literature, other sea deities and their attendants have been depicted holding the trident.
Poseidon's consort Amphitrite is often identified by some marine attribute other than a trident, which she never carries according to some scholars, though other commentators have disagreed.
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. And likewise Old Man of the Sea (halios geron) and the god Nereus which are mermen are seen holding tridents. The Tritons and the 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-Britishcoinage as well.[b]
The trident is even seen suspended like a pendant on a dolphin in Roman mosaic art.[d]
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.
A weapon of South-East Asian (particularly Thai) depiction of Hanuman, a character of Ramayana.
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.
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).
^Oceanus Mosaic from Withington; The "pavement from Ashcroft Villas,
Cirencester" is also mentioned.
^Wilson, R. J. A. (2006), "Aspects of Iconography in Romano-British Mosaics: The Rudston 'Aquatic' Scene and the Brading Astronomer Revisited", Britannia, Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 37: 297–299 JSTOR30030523
^Burke, Bernard (1864). merman, Neptune, trident. The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales: Comprising a Registry of Armorial Bearings from the Earliest to the Present Time (2nd ed.). Harrison & sons. pp. xlii, xlvi.