Ganymede (mythology)

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Ganymede with Zeus Transformed into an Eagle. Roman marble copy of the 2nd century AD after an original Greek sculptural group of the 4th century BC. Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale.

Ganymede or Ganymedes (/ˈɡænɪˌmiːd/; /ˈɡænɪmiːd/; Ancient Greek: Γανυμήδης Ganymēdēs), a divine hero in Greek mythology, was a beautiful youth that became one of Zeus' lovers. Being the iconic example of the beloved boy, references to him in art and literature are often allusions to pederasty.

He was a prince of Troy, son of the eponymous Tros of Dardania and of the nymph Callirrhoe, and brother of Ilus and Assaracus.[1] One source of the myth says that Zeus fell in love with Ganymede when he spotted him herding his flock on Mount Ida near Troy in Phrygia. Zeus then sent his eagle or came down in the form of one to carry Ganymede to Mount Olympus.[2] Ganymede had been tending sheep, a rustic and humble pursuit characteristic of a hero's boyhood before his privileged status is revealed.

In the Iliad, Zeus is said to have compensated Ganymede's father Tros by the gift of fine horses, "the same that carry the immortals",[3] delivered by the messenger god Hermes. Tros was consoled that his son was now immortal and would be the cupbearer for the gods, a position of much distinction.

In Olympus, Zeus granted him eternal youth and immortality and the office of cupbearer to the gods, supplanting Hebe. All the gods were filled with joy to see the youth, except for Hera, Zeus's consort, who regarded Ganymede as a rival for her husband's affection. Zeus later put Ganymede in the sky as the constellation Aquarius, which is associated with that of the Eagle (Aquila).

A moon of Jupiter, the planet named after Zeus's Roman counterpart, was given the name Ganymede by astronomer Simon Marius.[4]

Ancient art

Ganymede holding a hoop and a cock. Attic red-figure bell-krater by the Berlin Painter, ca. 495 BC. Paris, Musée du Louvre, G 175.

One of the earliest depictions of Ganymede is a red-figure krater by the Berlin Painter in the Louvre Museum.[5] 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.[6] The two images taken together convey the pederastic or sexual nature of the relationship.

Zeus Pursues Ganymede. Attic red-figure amphora by the Pan Painter, c. 470 BCE. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 10.184.
Abduction of Ganymede by Zeus in the Shape of an Eagle. Bronze folding mirror, c. 360–350 B.C. Amphissa, Greece. Berlin, Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen, Misc. 7928.
Ganymede pouring Zeus a libation. Attic red-figure calyx-krater by the Eucharides Painter, c. 490–480 BC. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, L.1999.10.14.
Hermes and Ganymede. Attic red-figure neck-amphora by the Alkimachos Painter, c. 470 BC. Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum, ГР-7028.

A scene on this amphora depicts the pursuit of Ganymede, who runs away with a hoop and a stick. However, the painter didn't show Zeus carrying out the abduction, which would follow the usual iconography, but Hermes, messenger of the gods.[7]

See also


  3. The Achaean Diomedes is keen to capture the horses of Aeneas because "they are of the stock that great Zeus gave to Tros in payment for his son Ganymede, and are the finest that live and move under the sun": Iliad 5.265ff.
  4. Marius/Schlör, Mundus Iovialis, p. 78 f. (with misprint In for Io)

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