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In Greek mythology, Ganymede, or Ganymedes (Greek: Γανυμήδης, Ganymēdēs), is a divine hero whose homeland was Troy. He was a prince, son of the eponymous Tros of Dardania and of Callirrhoe, and brother of Ilus and Assaracus. Ganymede was the most attractive of mortals, which led Zeus to abduct him, in the form of an eagle, to serve as cup-bearer to the gods and, in Classical and Hellenistic Greece, as Zeus's eromenos. For the etymology of his name, Robert Graves' The Greek Myths offers ganyesthai + medea, "rejoicing in virility". The word "catamite" (boy kept by a pederast) is derived from Ganymede.

One of the moons of Jupiter is named after him, and was discovered by Galileo Galilei.

MythEdit

Ganymede was abducted by Zeus from Mount Ida in Phrygia, the setting for more than one myth element bearing on the early mythic history of Troy.[1] Ganymede was there, passing the time of exile many heroes undergo in their youth, by tending a flock of sheep or, alternatively, during the chthonic or rustic aspect of his education, while gathering among his friends and tutors. Zeus, either sending an eagle or turning himself to an eagle transported Ganymede to Mount Olympus. His father was mollified by the gift of fine horses: in the Iliad, the Achaean Diomedes is keen to capture the horses of Aeneas: "They are of the stock that great Jove gave to Tros in payment for his son Ganymede, and are the finest that live and move under the sun."[2]

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As a Trojan, Ganymede is identified as part of the earliest, pre-Hellenic level of Aegean myth. Plato's Laws states 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 "pleasure [...] against nature"[3] imported thence into Greece, as Plato's character indignantly declares. 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's 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 furious for having been cheated at knucklebones by Eros. Aphrodite then arrives and chides her son, Eros, for "cheating a beginner." The Roman poet Ovid adds vivid detail - and veiled irony directed against critics of homosexual love: aged tutors reaching out to grab him back with impotent fingers, and Ganymede's hounds barking uselessly at the sky.[4][5] Statius' Thebaid describes a cup worked with Ganymede's iconic mythos (1.549):

"Here the Phrygian hunter is borne aloft on tawny wings, Gargara’s range sinks downwards as he rises, and Troy grows dim beneath him; sadly stand his comrades; vainly the hounds weary their throats with barking, pursue his shadow or bay at the clouds."

In Olympus, Zeus granted him immortality and the office of cupbearer to the gods, supplanting Hebe. J.A.Edm. 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, except for Hera, Zeus's consort, who detested 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[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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Tros grieved for his son. Sympathetic, Zeus had Hermes deliver a gift of two immortal horses, so swift they could run over water (or perhaps the gift was 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 pederastic 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's 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.

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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.

In the artsEdit

AncientEdit

It would be difficult to find the theme of Ganymede illustrated earlier than the early fifth century red-figure vase by the Berlin Painter in the Musée du Louvre (illustrated, above right): Zeus pursues Ganymede on one side, while on the other side the youth runs away, rolling along a hoop while holding aloft a crowing cock. In fifth-century Athens, vase-painters often depicted the mythological story, which was so suited to the all-male symposium or formal banquet. The Ganymede myth was treated in recognizable contemporary terms, illustrated with common behavior of homoerotic courtship rituals, as on a vase by the "Achilles Painter" where Ganymede also flees with a cock. Ganymede is usually depicted as a well-developed, muscular young man. 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.

Renaissance and BaroqueEdit

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 Phebe. 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 Phebe.
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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 identifiable at first glance, though he grasps the eagle's wing without resistance. In the version by Antonio Allegri "Correggio" (Vienna), Ganymede's grasp is more intimate. He is also portrayed in the version by Antonio Allegri "Correggio" (1439/1534),(Vienna). Rubens' version portrays a young man. But when Rembrandt painted the Rape of Ganymede (illustration, left) for a Calvinist Dutch patron in 1635, the usual Classical erotic overtones were missing: a dark eagle carries aloft a plump cherubic baby (Paintings Gallery, Dresden), one who is bawling and urinating in fright.

Examples of Ganymede in 18th century France have been studied by Michael Preston Worley.[10] The image of Ganymede was invariably that of a naive adolescent accompanied by an eagle and the homoerotic aspects of the legend were rarely dealt with. In fact, the story was often "heterosexualized." Moreover, the neoplatonic interpretation of the myth, so common in the Italian Renaissance, in which the rape of Ganymede represented the ascent to spiritual perfection, seemed to be of no interest to Enlightenment philosophers and mythographers. Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, Charles-Joseph Natoire, Guillaume II Coustou, Pierre Julien, Jean-Baptiste Regnault and others contributed images of Ganymede to French art during this period.

ModernEdit

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  • Vollmer's Wörterbuch der Mythologie aller Völker [1] (Stuttgart, 1874) illustrates "Ganymede" by an engraving of a "Roman relief," showing a seated bearded Zeus who holds the cup aside in order to draw a naked Ganymede into his embrace. That engraving however was nothing but a copy of Raphael Mengs's counterfeit Roman fresco, painted as a practical joke on the eighteenth-century art critic Johann Winckelmann who was growing desperate in his search for homoerotic Greek and Roman antiquities. This story is very briefly told by Goethe in his Italienische Reise [2].
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  • At Chatsworth in the nineteenth century the bachelor Duke of Devonshire added to his sculpture gallery Adamo Tadolini's Neoclassic "Ganymede and the Eagle" in which a luxuriously reclining Ganymede, embraced by one wing, prepares to exchange a peck with the eagle. The delicate cup in his hand is made of gilt-bronze, lending an unsettling immediacy and realism to the white marble group.
  • In the early years of the twentieth century, the topos of Ganymede's abduction by Zeus was drafted into the service of commercial enterprise. Adapting an 1892 lithograph by F. Kirchbach, the brewery of Anheuser-Busch launched in 1904 an ad campaign publicizing the successes of Budweiser beer. Collectibles featuring the graphics of the poster continued to be produced into the early 1990s.
  • Ganymede is a reluctant music fan in Kurtis Blow's 1980 song Way Out West. After hours of rap by "The Stranger" (Kurtis), he eventually gets up to dance.
  • Ganymede and the god Dionysus make an appearance in Everworld VI: Fear the Fantastic, of K.A. Applegate's fantasy series Everworld. Ganymede is described as attracting both males and females.

My first thought, my first flash was that it was a beautiful woman.... The angel was beautiful, with a face dominated by immense, lustrous green eyes and framed by golden ringlets, and with a bow mouth and full lips and brilliant white teeth.
And only then, only after I had felt that first rush of improbable carnal lust, did it occur to me that this angel was a man.[11]

  • In 1959 Robert Rauschenberg referenced the myth in one of his best-known works, Canyon and in another work, Pail for Ganymede. In "Canyon", a photo of Rauschenberg's son Christopher beautifully reiterates the infant portrayed by Rembrandt in the 17th century. A stuffed eagle emerges from the flat picture plane with a pillow tied to a piece of string very near his claw. The pillow also reflects upon the young boy's body and Rembrandt's painting.

Audio file of the mythEdit

Ganymede myth as told by story tellers
1. Zeus and Ganymede, read by Timothy Carter, music by Steve Gorn, compiled by Andrew Calimach
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

A catamite is the younger, passive partner in a pederastic relationship between a man and a boy. In modern slang, the word is sometimes used to refer to an effeminate homosexual male. The word catamite is derived from the Latin catamitus, itself borrowed from the Etruscan catmite, related to the Greek Ganymedes, the boy who was seduced by Zeus and became his beloved and cup-bearer in Greek mythology.[^ AMHER (2000), catamite, p. 291]

Ancient sourcesEdit

Ganymede is named by various ancient Greek and Roman authors:

Modern sourcesEdit

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ReferencesEdit

  1. Idaea was a mountain nymph, mate of the river god Scamander, and mother of King Teucer a primeval Trojan king. On the same sacred mountain Paris lived in similar exile as a shepherd on Mount Ida, for his disastrous future effect on Troy had been foretold at his birth, and Priam had him exposed on the sacred slopes.
  2. Iliad, 5.265ff).
  3. Plato, Laws, 636D in Thomas Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome, p252
  4. Ovid, Carmina,
  5. Ovid, Carmina
  6. Graves, The Greek Myths (1955) 1960, § 29.1.
  7. Compare the scholiast on Apollonius of Rhodes, iii:115; Virgil, Aeneid i:32; Hyginus, Fabula 224.
  8. "It may easily be presumed that the myth of the rape of Ganymede by Zeus in the guise of an eagle has been influenced by such representations," Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age, 1992, p. 122; Burkert notes that there is no direct iconographic link.
  9. For the cockerel as an emblemmatic gift to the eromenos, see, for example, H.A. Shapiro, "Courtship scenes in Attic vase-painting", American Journal of Archaeology, 1981; the gift is "gender specific, and it is clear that the cock had significance as evocative of male potency", T.J. Figueira observes, in reviewing two recent works on Greek pederasty, in American Journal of Archaeology, 1981.
  10. Worley, "The Image of Ganymede in France, 1730-1820: The Survival of a Homoerotic Myth," Art Bulletin 76 (December 1994: 630-643).
  11. Applegate, K. A., Everworld VI: Fear the Fantastic, p. 50.

External linksEdit

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