In Greek mythology, Ganymede, or Ganymedes (Greek: Γανυμήδης, Ganymēdēs) is a divine hero whose homeland was the Troad. He was a Trojan prince, son of the eponymous Tros of Dardania, and of Callirrhoe, and brother of Ilus and Assaracus. Ganymede was the most handsome among mortals, by reason of which he was abducted by Zeus in the form of an eagle to serve as immortal cupbearer to the gods. For the etymology of his name, Robert Graves' The Greek Myths offers ganyesthai + medea, "rejoicing in virility." Fittingly there is also a moon of Jupiter named after him discovered by Galileo Galilei.
As a Trojan, Ganymede is identified as part of the earliest, pre-Hellenic level of Aegean myth. Plato's Laws was of the opinion that the Ganymede myth had been invented by the Cretans—Minoan Crete being a power center of pre-Greek culture—to account for their "homosexual lusts," imported thence into Greece, as Plato's characters righteously declare. Homer doesn't dwell on the erotic aspect of Ganymede's abduction, but it is certainly in an erotic context that the goddess refers to Ganymede's blond Trojan beauty in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, mentioning Zeus' love for Trojan Ganymede as part of her enticement of Trojan Anchises.
The Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes presents a vignette (in Book III) of an immature Ganymede losing to Eros at knucklebones, a child's game. Statius' Thebaid describes a cup worked with Ganymede's iconic mythos (1.549):
In Olympus, Zeus made Ganymede immortal and the cupbearer to the gods, supplanting Hebe. E. Veckenstedt (Ganymedes, Libau, 1881) endeavoured to prove that Ganymede is the genesis of the intoxicating drink mead, whose original home was Phrygia.
All the gods were filled with joy to see the youth, save Hera, Zeus' consort, who despised Ganymede.
In a possible alternative version, the Titan Eos, dawn-goddess and connoisseur of male beauty, kidnapped Ganymede as well as her better-remembered consort, his brother Tithonus, whose immortality was granted, but not eternal youth. Tithonus indeed lived forever but grew more and more ancient, eventually turning into a cricket, a classic example of the myth-element of the Boon with a Catch. Tithonus is placed in the Dardanian lineage through Tros, an eponym for Troy, as Ganymede. Robert Graves (The Greek Myths) interpreted the substitution of Ganymede for Tithonus in a few references to the myth as a misreading of an archaic icon that would have shown the consort of the winged Goddess bearing a libation cup in his hand. (Compare the scholiast on Apollonius of Rhodes, iii:115; Virgil, Aeneid i:32; Hyginus, Fabula 224.) A genesis for the Ganymede myth as a whole has been offered in a Hellene reading of one of the numerous Akkadian seals depicting the hero-king Etana riding heavenwards on an eagle.
Ganymede's father grieved for his son. Sympathetic, Zeus sent Hermes to Tros with a team of two immortal horses, so swift they could run over water (or with a golden vine). Hermes also assured Ganymede's father that the boy was now immortal and would be the cupbearer for the gods, a position of much distinction. The theme of the father recurs in many of the Greek coming-of-age myths of male love, suggesting that the homosexual relationships symbolized by these stories took place under the supervision of the father.. Zeus later put Ganymede in the sky as the constellation Aquarius, which is still associated with that of the Eagle (Aquila). However his name would also be given by modern astronomy to one of the moons of Jupiter, the planet that was named after Zeus' Roman counterpart. Ganymede was afterwards also regarded as the genius of the fountains of the Nile, the life-giving and fertilizing river. Thus the divinity that distributed drink to the gods in heaven became the genius who presided over the due supply of water on earth.
In poetry, Ganymede was a symbol for the ideally beautiful youth and also for homosexual love, sometimes contrasted with Helen of Troy in the role of heterosexuality. One of the earliest references to Ganymede was in Homer's Iliad. In Crete, where, Greek writers asserted, the love of boys was reduced to a system, king Minos, the primitive law-giver, was called the ravisher of Ganymede. Thus the name which once denoted the good genius who bestowed the precious gift of water upon man was adopted to this use in vulgar Latin under the form catamitus: in Rome the passive object of homosexual desire was a catamite. The Latin word is a corruption of Greek ganymedes but retains no strong mythological connotation in Latin: when Ovid sketches the myth briefly (Metamorphoses x:152-161), "Ganymedes" retains his familiar Greek name.
|Ganymede myth as told by story tellers|
|Bibliography of reconstruction: Homer, Iliad 5.265ff; 20.215-235 (700 BCE); Anonymous, Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 202ff. (7th c. BCE); Sophocles, The Colchian Women (after Athenaeus, 602) (b. 495 - d. 406 BCE); Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis (410 BCE); Apollodorus, Library and Epitome iii.12.2 (140 BCE); Diodorus Siculus, Histories 4.75.3 (1st c. BCE); Virgil, Aeneid 5. 252 - 260 (19 BCE); Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.155ff. (1CE - 8 CE); Hyginus, Poetica Astronomica II.16 Eagle; II.29 Aquarius (2nd c. CE); Lucian, Dialogues of the Gods (170 CE); First Vatican Mythographer, 184 Ganymede; Second Vatican Mythographer 198 Ganymede|
Leochares (about 350 BCE), a Greek sculptor of Athens who was engaged with Scopas on the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus cast a (lost) bronze group of Ganymede and the Eagle, a work that was held remarkable for its ingenious composition, which boldly ventured to the verge of what is allowed by the laws of sculpture, and also for its charming treatment of the youthful form as it soars into the air. It is apparently imitated in a well-known marble group in the Vatican, half life-size. Such Hellenistic gravity-defying feats were influential in the sculpture of the Baroque.
Ganymede is named by various ancient Greek and Roman authors:
In Shakespeare's As You like It (1599), a comedy of mistaken identity in the magical setting of the Forest of Arden, Celia, dressed as a shepherdess, becomes "Aliena" (Latin "stranger", Ganymede's sister) and Rosalind, because she is "more than common tall", dresses up as a boy, Ganymede, a well-known image to the audience. She plays on her ambiguous charm to seduce Orlando, but also (involuntarily) the shepherdess Phoebe. Thus behind the conventions of Elizabethan theater in its original setting, the young boy playing the girl Rosalind dresses up as a boy and is then courted by another boy playing Phoebe.
When painter-architect Baldassare Peruzzi includes a panel of The Rape of Ganymede in a ceiling at the Villa Farnesina, Rome, (ca 1509-1514), Ganymede's long blond hair and girlish pose make him unidentifiable at first glance, though he grasps the eagle's wing without resistance. In the version by Antonio Allegri "Correggio" (1439/1534),(Vienna), Ganymede's grasp is more intimate. Rubens' version portrays a young man. But when Rembrandt painted the Rape of Ganymede (see illustration above) for a Calvinist Dutch patron in 1635, the Classical erotic overtones were missing: a dark eagle carries aloft a plump cherubic baby (Paintings Gallery, Dresden, at right), one who is crying in fright.
For historical authors and depictions, see above under Arts