The Exquisite Corpse of Ganymede:
An Ancient Gender Studies Discourse
Reproduced here by permission of the author.
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Abstract: This essay examines surviving fragments of the Zeus and Ganymede myth and identifies two interwoven discourses on male love in antiquity: one, a tradition integral to a Cretan initiatory rite, its didactic nature evidenced by an analogous and opposite Boeotian cautionary myth; the other, a nucleus of polemical and shifting male love constructions from Minoan times through Late Antiquity. The mythic tradition is discussed as an archetypal key to identifying the ancient pedagogical and hedonic functions of male love and the ancients’ evolving attitudes towards such relationships. As the myth and its offshoots – presented here in the form of a pastiche evocative of the atmosphere of the tradition – reflect their Classical echoes through Western and Oriental interpretations, a recurring male love ethic and aesthetic take shape.
Key phrases: male love, pederasty, ancient Greek rites and initiations, homosexual morality and ethics, Greek mythology, Zeus and Ganymede
The Greek paideia, simultaneously the epitome of human culture and path toward it, hinged in no small part on the love between teacher and pupil. That love, however, could not be an unrestrained, impulsive matter, but had to be part and parcel of that paideia, had to be itself an epitome of male love culture. How did that ethic evolve, how was it preserved, and how transmitted? While there surely is more than one answer to that question, we would be well advised to look first of all at the cultural continuum in Greece that tied together different generations and different cities, the mythical tradition. And what better example than the iconic myth of male love in antiquity, the myth of Zeus and Ganymede?
Although the original recountings of this myth have long been lost, by piecing together from ancient fragmentsthe following narrative of the love between the Olympian god and the Trojan youth, we can begin to get a sense of various ways the personages of Zeus and Ganymede were employed, and what they may have symbolized for later cultures, since first the divine lovers stepped upon the stage of history.
Myth of Zeus and Ganymede
On the wide plain at the feet of
His beauty, however, was beyond compare, for he was the most handsome
born of the race of men, and he turned the head of every Trojan. Ganymede spent
his days on the slopes of
The eye of wise Zeus, however, lingered upon the prince. Swept away by
a river of desire, the god unleashed a fierce thunderstorm and took the shape
of that eagle who carries his thunderbolts. Black clouds coiled about the
As quick as thought the majestic bird landed
again, and Ganymede was awed to find himself among the crystal mansions of
The immortals esteemed the Trojan prince for his beauty and welcomed him with open arms - all except Hera. The Queen of the Gods drew back her hand, refused her nectar. Then, bursting with jealous rage, she wheeled on Zeus: “How dare you drag among us this fey mortal? The very glory of the Heavens you have soiled!” Zeus threw in her face that he liked the boy's kisses. Aflame for his thighs, the Father God kept the blond prince as his beloved and took him to his bed.
Ever since King Tros learned his boy had been stolen, grief beyond all measure had filled his heart. He wept bitter tears, desperate to know where the heaven-sent whirlwind had carried his son. He forgot sleep, forgot food, and mourned the boy night and day. Zeus saw his suffering and took pity on the man. He hurried Hermes down to make known to the king his son was like a god now, immortal and forever young. Zeus also counted out rich payment, in trade for snatching Ganymede: A grapevine of glinting gold that always bears fruit, and a brace of prancing stallions, the finest beneath the dawn, the same that carry the immortals. When Tros learned of his son's glory, he rejoiced and drove his storm-footed horses as fast as the wind, all his sorrow now turned to joy.
Hera thirsted for revenge. Not
for a single moment had she forgotten the humiliation she suffered.
Unstoppable, the brutal Queen of Heaven went after Zeus’ boyfriend. She whipped
We should not look to the story of Zeus and
Ganymede, as unfolded above, for the tale as it might have been told at some
particular point in time. Rather, this assembly of fragments that
span nearly a millennium summarizes a conversation on gender relations,
one that extends from its ritual beginnings in Minoan Crete to its polemical
Until now, the few mentions of male love in the mythic record have been treated as random naughty bits, or perhaps apologia for practices that were too embarrassing to mention but too pervasive to ignore. What if these stories are looked at in a different light, what if we examine them as pages torn out of an ancient textbook, so to speak, a male love manual that had evolved over the centuries and that preserved the teachings on how – and how not – to practice the art of love between one male and another? According to Plato, “Everyone blames the Cretans” for the story that Zeus, possessed by desire, kidnapped young Ganymede.Surely those Cretans were a bunch of oversexed ruffians! What to make of it, then, when we discover that the moralist Plutarch admired them as a people renowned for their sober and restrained ways?
Illustration caption: Kalos with love gifts
Homer himself borrowed the story from the Cretans,
an indication of its great antiquity. Indeed, archeological evidence of
initiatory male love in
Here Cretan male love begins what has been described as a pageant of nobility, or what might be called an economics of honor that promises great riches, through the mutual giving and receiving of esteem, for those who act nobly – but threatens bankruptcy, through great disgrace, for those who misbehave. If the parents hide their son, they are the ones shamed, for they imply he is not worthy of the honor. Likewise, failure to acquire a lover, remaining skotios, “obscure,” is a blight for an eligible boy. If the parents, however, resist and grab the boy back from the suitor, he is the one dishonored, for being found unworthy of such a beloved. Which will it be?
On the appointed day the suitor (or philetor, “befriender,” a more reserved term than the Athenian erastes) arrives, honoring the boy with his presence. The youth is in plain sight. Is it a trap? Quickly he snatches the boy and takes off at full gallop, the men of the family in hot pursuit. Can it be that neither the philetor nor the boy knows the outcome of this escapade? And what are the boy’s feelings? Does he hate his abductor and pray to be freed, or does he thrill to the adventure and urge him on? It cannot take long for the two to discover the father’s choice. Should he grant the suitor the honor of keeping the boy, the pursuers join in the joy of the occasion, though tradition requires the chase go on regardless, until they reach the suitor’s andreion. There the youth (now known as the parastates, “assistant”) is honored in turn: he receives presents, and then the couple and their companions go off into the wilderness. The initiation is to last two whole months, a paideia of hunting, war dances, animal sacrifice, consecrating tokens of their bond at mountain shrines, of feasting, of erotic intimacy and, one hopes, of love. Until now everyone has had his say in this love affair except the boy. He has been kidnapped. What kind of love is that?!
Illustration caption: Courtship ritual
In these events we can catch a glimpse of the
ritual mold from which this aspect of
the original myth must have been cast, the myth itself
serving as pattern for further ritual. Like all gentlemen in
Countless generations of men and youths enacted the story of the King of Heaven and the handsome boy. What were these men like? If we are to be guided by Cretan mythology, they must have been quite young, since Cretan Zeus – unlike the bearded, portly Athenian lord – was hardly past adolescence. He was depicted as a long-haired athletic kouros in the first flush of manhood and hymned as ho megas kouros, “the great youth,” one who, together with his young companions, the kouretes, ruled over the military-athletic training of the Cretan paideia. And the youths? They certainly had to be old enough to begin taking on a man’s duties. What, we may wonder, made a boy beautiful to the Cretans? The poets tell us that it was his curly blond hair and, yes, his thighs. Ephorus tells a different story: In real life, the boys most sought after were those who were bravest and best behaved. Honor comes to the honorable.
The ceremony, if it is to follow what the myth teaches, must end with the boy entering the world of the immortals. And so it does. The parastates receives the greatest gift any boy can imagine: entrance into the world of illustrious men. A youth who accomplishes the ritual acquires life-long honor, garb and privileges. He is lifted out of the ranks of the obscure and becomes kleinos, “glorious.” At this juncture the philetor offers him the three ritual gifts (gifts of such value his friends must help with the expense) symbolizing three principal aspects of manhood: a military outfit, a wine cup, and an ox.
Here the ritual passes beyond the letter of the myth. The young man gives a great feast, honoring all those who accompanied him in the wilderness. He first takes the ox and sacrifices it to the patron deity of this ritual of love and transformation, Zeus. Then he turns to his lover. Up to this moment, as a boy, he has had to obey, but now, in what may be his first act as a man, comes his turn to exercise power: Having received great and lasting honor, it is his turn to bestow honor on his lover, or to withhold it. It is up to him whether his lover, after all his work and risk and effort and expense, will likewise be covered in honor, or in infamy. At the height of the feast he stands up and declares before the ruler of Heaven and the community of gentlemen whether the relations between him and his lover pleased him or not. If he had been violated, if his honor had been besmirched, this is his opportunity to recover it and take revenge, cutting off all ties to his kidnapper, escaping him who, for all his troubles, is left with only life-long shame.
It is risky when studying another culture, especially one so far removed in time from ours, to interpret it through modern eyes, and even more hazardous to impute any understanding thus gleaned to the people we are examining. We are positing here a functional structure for the myth, viewing it as a pedagogical and ethical technology – but what does that have to do with how the Greeks themselves experienced the story? Is ours not an arbitrary projection or back-reading? Maybe in antiquity myths were used to amuse, or perhaps to mystify, rather than instruct. We have to look beyond the myth itself for evidence that the Greeks not only were clearly aware of the pedagogic power of myth in general, but actually recognized as important in the Zeus and Ganymede myth the same structures and functions claimed here.
It is Plato himself, through Socrates’ voice, who discusses the use of myth for teaching purposes, or “soul-shaping,” as he puts it:
Shall we, then, thus lightly suffer our children to listen to any chance stories fashioned by any chance teachers and so to take into their minds opinions for the most part contrary to those that we shall think it desirable for them to hold when they are grown up?” “By no manner of means will we allow it.” “We must begin, then, it seems, by a censorship over our storymakers, and what they do well we must pass and what not, reject. And the stories on the accepted list we will induce nurses and mothers to tell to the children and so shape their souls by these stories far rather than their bodies by their hands.
That this awareness did not start or end with Plato will be apparent from an analysis of the structure of the Zeus and Ganymede myth in comparison with other Greek male love myths, stories through which the Greeks appear to have mapped out a path to a moderate and socially useful form of male love, one which condemns hubris (here, sexual violation) by the man and unresponsiveness in the youth.
When we examine the Zeus and Ganymede myth today we see an initiatory tale defined by a number of key aspects. Leaving aside the fact that it depicts an erotic relationship between two males – moreover, an intergenerational one – that may seem remarkable to us only due to its dissonance with current mainstream Western customs, several noteworthy elements remain: the story is a model of constructive male love, patterned along the lines of a “good snatching”:
• It is enacted by a divine lover;
• The father of the beloved is honored and enriched;
• The lover empowers the youth by raising him to the level of assistant;
• The youth welcomes his new role, as symbolized by Ganymede’s smile, an oft-mentioned attribute;
• Most significantly, the beloved gains benefits of lasting value.
Let us now turn to a later Greek tale of male love, apparently patterned as an antinomian version of the Ganymede tale, and functioning as an admonitory foil to it. The story of Laius and his beloved, Chrysippus, can be read as the “evil twin” of the Zeus and Ganymede myth, and suggests – through the specifics of that reversal – the elements which the Greeks considered significant in the Zeus and Ganymede story, as well as their use of the tale as an educational tool and paragon of male love.
In contrast to the original, the tale of Laius is a story of destructive male love, a “bad snatching”:
• It is enacted by a mortal lover, whose very name, Laius, “of the people,” highlights the contrast with the god;
• The father of the beloved is betrayed and robbed;
• The youth is dishonored by being reduced to the level of a sex slave;
• The lover forces himself upon the unwilling boy;
• Far from gaining anything, the beloved loses his very life – as does, later, the lover himself.
In one final item of evidence of the connection between the tales, it is Zeus who, by delivering Laius’ punishment, avenges the rape and death of young Chrysippus.
It may be tempting to see this story as reflective of Boeotian disapproval of all such relationships, but there is no historical evidence for any blanket disapproval, quite the opposite. Boeotia was renowned for the importance it assigned to male love, even blamed for making it too easy. Therefore, by altering the Cretan myth, the Boeotians appear to have turned the divine example on its head as a warning to any who may have been tempted to deviate from the path blazed by the god, or to those who would take the workings of the gods as license to do as they saw fit.
These two tales thus form a complementary and opposite pair. Their similarity of form implies a similarity of function. The analogous structuring of the cautionary tale of Laius and Chrysippus and of the prescriptive ur-myth of Zeus and Ganymede is suggestive not only of the related yet contrary uses to which the tales may have been put, but also of the pedagogic consciousness of the makers of the myths
Myth always speaks to us in symbolic language. Seen in this light, Zeus and Laius are avatars for Everyman, in encounter with the universal adolescent and with himself. Their stories are illustrative of the choices all Greek men had to make. Likewise, the eternal life of Ganymede and the death of Chrysippus reflect the Greeks’ view of the spiritual and psychological opportunities and pitfalls of adolescent development. The subtext of the tales could be read as saying that a male love relationship that follows the way laid out by custom and religion leads to a sharing of the lover’s qualities with his beloved, much as Zeus shares some of his own attributes with his cupbearer. Hence Ganymede’s empowerment, represented by his ascent to Olympus, his official function, and his newfound immortality. Conversely, straying from that road and giving in to self-indulgence and violence leads to spiritual death for the youth as well as for the lover, a case of psychic murder and suicide. As fortunate and desirable as are the fruits of walking a path that is sacred, the Greeks seem to be saying, so bitter and hopeless are the prospects of those who yield to the profane.
Complex as the Cretan custom seems to have been, that finely wrought edifice of legal and moral rights and obligations, perfected in all likelihood over thousands of years of practice, it is simplicity itself when compared with the cultural ferment of the Classical and Hellenistic ages. Here the story is bent by each new writer to his own ends – one to tragedy, another to love poetry, another to philosophy, yet another to biting irony.
The “river of desire” which possesses any man on seeing a beautiful boy is none other than the passion that first possessed Zeus when he fell in love with Ganymede, and to which he gave the name of himeros, according to Socrates. Though he thus grants the emotion a divine pedigree, the philosopher views this desire as ethically neutral. Upon it he lays the philosophical foundation for two contrasting currents of male love: one of abandon bent on copulation, a practice which he styles vulgar, the other also erotic but modulated, a form of male love he judges modest and virtuous and deems the “summum bonum” of human life.
Xenophon, himself a lover of youths, seems to be inspired by a similar ethic when he judges the elevation of Ganymede to be a spiritual, rather than a sensual apotheosis. The beauty of the boy’s soul, not his physical attractions, was Zeus’ motivation for the abduction, according to the historian. This theme persisted into the modern era, being echoed by the Renaissance Italian jurist Andrea Alciati, who ventures to declare that “the story of Ganymede’s abduction does not contain a disgrace, but a fable by which men can be aroused to the worship of God.”
Illustration caption: Ganymede and the Eagle
Apocryphal characters become central. The eagle, for example, was depicted as early as 460 BCE on an Attic bronze lid and satirized in 421 BCE by Aristophanes in his comedy The Peace, but not widely emblematic until mid-fourth century, when we begin to see it on Apulian pottery, and then ubiquitous in Roman art. Was it originally a shamanic element, or a symbolic one playing off Homer’s identification of the eagle as the bird with the keenest sight, or merely a dramatic invention? If it mattered to the Greeks we have no knowledge of it.
A woman also enters the fray: Hera, or should we say Juno, her Roman counterpart? After all, it is the poet Virgil’s account that is the earliest surviving to explore her role and emotions, maybe illustrating the Romans’ different take on male love, as well as the greater freedom and power women had in Roman times compared with the Greek. Significantly, the only object on which she is depicted in this role is a vase painted around 380 BCE, from Apulia, on the Italian peninsula. Hera mattered a great deal, and still does. It is probably no coincidence that the ancient Greek kind of male love, a love of youths that is routinely practiced by men who also enjoy relations with women, is found mostly in Central Asia and the Middle East – a region where Hera is still locked up in the women’s quarters and covered with a burqa. With her appearance, a new theme comes to the fore: the displacement and jealousy experienced by women whose husbands took male lovers. Need we point out Hera prevails in the end, forcing the exasperated Zeus to exile Ganymede among the stars?
Illustration caption: Roman representation of Hercules and Iolaus
Just as pungently, subtle and not-so-subtle critiques begin to take shape in other treatments of the myth, under the guise of innocuous details. In The Peace Aristophanes mocks Zeus’ love of beauty as an anal fixation: The playwright harnesses a giant dung beetle to ferry a mortal to Olympus, its fodder there being “Ganymede’s ambrosia.” Later, we hear that when Ganymede plays with Eros he always loses,a damning indictment of decadent male love relationships in 250 BC, when Apollonius was writing. Perhaps we should not be surprised: already a hundred years earlier, the orator Aeschines was vehemently denouncing his fellow statesman Demosthenes for betraying his boyfriends by stealing their money, and accusing Timarchos, another eminent politician, of having spent his youth as the anally penetrated kept boy of a series of rich men, no better than a common prostitute. At the same time, however, Aeschines points out that – in contrast to brutal (hubristou) and uncultured (apaideutou) men who pay boys and then physically abuse them – noble male love still exists. His own, of course, which consists of “desiring youths who are beautiful and restrained, and is the mark of a generous and kindhearted spirit,” a love in no way diminished by his making a nuisance of himself in the gymnasia, where he had loved many, nor by his many quarrels and street fights over handsome boys, or the many passionate poems to his young lovers, all common knowledge among the Athenians.
Illustration caption: Bargaining for a beautiful youth’s favors
The comments of many of these writers illustrate another aspect of the role of the Zeus and Ganymede complex in the debate on male love: its employment as an ideological vehicle for rejecting anal sex in male love relationships, an ethic often formulated by the very proponents and practitioners of erotic and loving relations between males. While the philosophical foundation for chaste pederasty was laid by Plato in his dialogues Phaedrus and the Symposium, some early mentions suggest that its roots are older still. Allegedly, it was the lawgiver Lycurgus in the seventh century who, while encouraging Spartan men to love youths by calling it the noblest kind of education, at the same time prohibited intercourse with beloveds as the most shameful of acts. Not long thereafter, Aesop propounds the same morality in a fable (“Zeus and Shame”) featuring Zeus himself: as the story would have it, Zeus persuades Shame to take up residence in man’s rectum, and she agrees only on condition that Eros not follow her there, else she will leave immediately - branding as shameless those who allow themselves to be penetrated.
As we saw earlier, Plato in the Phaedrus lays out a similar value structure, though he further qualifies his position by taking into account the presence of love. He judges intercourse between males to be especially degrading if love is absent. Carnal relations that are loving, though he considers them still problematic, he values more highly, since they are inspired not by mundane reason but by divine madness, “bringer of all that is best.” The ideal lovers, however, are those who restrict themselves to caresses,  fulfilling their desires without resorting to intercourse. Their “stream of desire,” aroused by the beauty of the youth and amplified by spending time together, talking, and touching, is thus channeled into greater friendship and virtue. From this eros another is alleged to arise: anteros, the equal and reciprocal intoxication of the beloved, triggered by his lover’s love. The essential act of male love, from this perspective, is not a sexual coupling, but inebriation with male beauty.
These values outlived the Greeks. In the Middle East, long a repository for Greek texts lost in the West, we rediscover them in certain Sufi schools, traditions of mystical aestheticism which taught the contemplation of a beardless youth’s beauty as a path to God, while condemning carnal relations. In a further, telling parallel with the Ganymedean tradition, suggesting their homologous nature, the beloved youth in the Islamic spiritual tradition is often represented by the figure of the saki: the tavern wine-boy, or cup-bearer.
Illustration caption: Dionysus and wineboy
In the West, the Ganymede theme resurfaces in Medieval France, in the form of a poetic sample of “contest literature”: the anonymous but probably ecclesiastical Altercatio Ganimedes et Helene, written at the end of the 12th century in the Pays de la Loire. Unusually, this time it is the boy, Ganymede himself, who pleads in favor of male love. Pedagogy seems forgotten, payment for favors is a fine thing, and the speaker has nothing to say about male love as a way to ascending to the Heavens – rather the other way round: the gods were those who took the practice down to Earth. In any case, the poet sings unabashedly of love and pleasure, following the Greek preference for the thighs instead of intercourse, and praising male love as the product of superior minds:
“Non aves aut pecora debet imitari,
Homo, cui datum est ratiocinari.”
(“Neither bird nor sheep should man imitate,
To whom granted is to cogitate.”)
Similar Platonic values were revived in the 19th century in the Victorian culture of male love – a culture steeped in the Classics – and in Modernism by prominent leaders of these schools, men like William Johnson-Cory, Oscar Wilde and André Gide, who publicly pressed for the freedom of males to love each other, and privately exercised the same sexual morality that characterized the Greek male love tradition at its height. In the same spirit, John Addington Symonds, the noted classicist and Uranian campaigner for homosexual rights, labeled as “vicious” that male love which consummated itself in copulation. This ethos persisted into the middle of the last century: as late as the 1950s, 85 percent of English men involved in male love relationships reported not practicing anal sex with their lovers. That situation was soon to change. By the end of the century the practice became widespread, with close to half of homosexual – as well as heterosexual – couples engaging in it.
In antiquity, the controversy between supporters and opponents of male love, a steady drumbeat of criticism and counterattack, became an integral part of the Zeus and Ganymede tradition. Virgil again makes his mark upon it, with the image of dogs barking and old men clutching vainly at the air, trying to bring down the eagle and the boy. This late Roman sendoff of ancient homophobia was thought by at least one Renaissance commentator to “signify the calumny of the envious, who usually carp at happy outcomes.” Virgil may have been inspired by the same tradition that led an unknown Apulian potter working around 330 BCE to depict Ganymede being abducted by a swan, while a pedagogue and a hound look on. Lucian of Samosata also puts in an appearance, with a scathing satire that rips into Zeus for wanting to sleep with a child, one who is both uninterested and unaware.
Little did Virgil and Lucian know that soon afterward a new religion from Asia would take hold in the Empire and suppress the mainstays of polytheism and Hellenic culture, foremost among which were the Olympic games, the Eleusinian mysteries, and the paideia based on male love.
We may well ask what male love in the Zeus and Ganymede tradition has to do with modern love relationships between males. The only answer possible, of course, is “nothing and everything.” In the “nothing” category we can count a number of key aspects of male love in Greek antiquity that are absent today: It played an important and valued role in the social structure, one which at its best combined personal good – emotional, hedonic and pedagogic – with public good. It was initiatory, temporary, and universal. It was fueled by the energy generated by the attraction of opposites: youths whose minds were maturing, yet still open to guidance and nurturing, choosing as lovers passionate men who were educated and experienced. Its balance came not from any resemblance between the two lovers but, quite the opposite, from the complementary qualities the dissimilar partners brought to the mix. The tradition set up bulwarks against possible dangers by means of a corpus of educational myths and parables, through parental guidance and supervision over the homosexual love life of the adolescent, and through the empowerment of the youth.
Illustration caption: Couple
Male love was also a common affectional and erotic ground for all males, a territory shared alike by those men who never developed a desire for women, and all the others, for whom desire for males was a passing stage or a chance attraction. For the ancients this translated into a rich and varied love life, fueled by the enjoyment of the entire gamut of human relationships and erotic pleasure. For us moderns, it transforms the dilemma of male love from a tolerance of “the other” – always a weak moral position – to an acceptance of self. The tradition also suggests that exclusive heterosexuality, rather than a biological orientation, is but a convention of recent vintage, grounded in the denial of one’s own natural homosexual potential.
Another difference between past and present constructions of male love highlighted by the Zeus and Ganymede tradition is the blend of history, culture, and religion that informed male love in antiquity, the end result of thousands of years of evolution, as well as an ongoing process. That cultural edifice was torn down, and the further evolution of the tradition was cut short in the West by the destruction of Greco-Roman civilization and the imposition of love-life prohibitions based on ascetic religious dogma. The structure and rituals of male love in antiquity evoke analogous modern customs whose evolution was not interrupted, such as those associated with marriage between a man and a woman. Among the central attributes of such a living tradition are official sanction and legitimization, attributes which some gay groups are struggling to reclaim through their fight for marriage rights. The longevity and popularity of the Zeus and Ganymede complex validates such a struggle, attesting that formalizing same-sex relationships is possible and can be beneficial, and that these can develop a nomenclature of their own and take forms analogous to, but different from, male/female marriage.
And “everything”? We see the rejection of engaging children in such relationships, as well as concern for the welfare of the younger partner and a condemnation of ill usage. Inescapably, we also infer the presence of abuse. This is confirmed by many historical accounts that reveal a society where sexual predation of the weak – of boys as well as women who, for social, political or economic reasons, were bereft of protection – took place side by side with legitimate ethical and loving relationships. We also encounter the roots of the social debate – which continues to this very moment – between homophobia and erotic authoritarianism on one side, and authentic living on the other. We discover recognition of beauty, the fundamental creative act. Finally, through the haze of the millennia we glimpse one last shared detail, that one thing which is everything: love.
 The process by which the Greeks transmitted the Hellenic values and ideals to the best of their youth, as well as the result of that process are known as paideia, from the Greek pais, “child.” The Greek paideia was considered “the fundamental justification of both individual existence and the community’s existence,” and implied shaping the intellect and body according to the natural laws discovered by the Greeks. This modeling was based on the human spirit as a supreme value and was meant to nurture its true and ideal form. Paideia is the opposite of that education that treats the youths as animals to be trained for specific tasks; instead, it offered pupils basic instruction in the arts, music, philosophy, athletics, nobility and freedom. Paideia was passed down through various methods, one of which was love. See Werner Jaeger.
This essay uses “male love” to refer to all erotic relationships between males. Terms such as “pederasty” and “homosexuality” are usually avoided as too restrictive or too ethnocentric. For example, in antiquity relations between males, even if pederastic, often involved older youths, such as might be encountered in modern homosexual relationships, or were purely sexual and devoid of either emotional or pedagogical components. Likewise, they may well have been pursued by men who in modern times would identify themselves as gay. Conversely, the term “homosexual” carries implications of sexual orientation which do not necessarily fit this discussion, and elides the focus on youthfulness in modern gay culture.
 The fragments and sources from which the tale was reconstructed are given, in chronological order, in an Appendix to this article.
It is not so much the myth itself, which has not been passed down to us as such in any case, but the corpus of references to the Zeus and Ganymede theme (references that were adapted for the pastiche included in the present essay), that constitutes a gender studies discourse avant la lettre. Thus the Zeus and Ganymede “complex” along with Ephorus, a key source, prefigure modern gender studies.
If we take into account every single allusion to and mention of the Zeus and Ganymede story, we get the picture of a whole range of attitudes-in-dialogue similar to the modern public and academic debates on same-sex relationships. Among it many functions, the story is also a vehicle by means of which the ancients discussed this topic, and functions as a paragon of male love relationships.
The transformations of the Zeus and Ganymede legend outline the evolution of the ancients’ outlook on male love. This process may also be traceable for the stories of Poseidon and Pelops, Hercules and Hylas, or Apollo and Hyacinth (see Andrew Calimach, Lovers’ Legends. The Gay Greek Myths), but the central, most representative, and historically richest example remains the story of Zeus and Ganymede. It is the archetype; the others are variations on a theme, such as Pelops’ story or – related, but different – Narcissus’ drama.
 As J. A. Symonds first noticed, labeling it the “nucleus” of such discussions in antiquity (17).
 “The Cretans are always accused of having invented the story of Ganymede and Zeus because they wanted to justify themselves in the enjoyment of unnatural pleasures by the practice of the god whom they believe to have been their lawgiver” (Laws 636D).
 “... the manners and rules of life of the Cretans, which were very sober and temperate.” (Parallel Lives, “Lycurgus” 55)
Eromenos holding a hoop and a stick in his left hand, and a venison hindquarter in his right hand. Interior of an Attic red-figure kylix by Macron, from Vulci, ca. 470 BCE. Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich. Source: <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Eromenos_hoop_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_2674.jpg>
 In some Greek states, an institution where men had communal dinners known as syssitia, compulsory in Crete and Sparta.
 A number of researchers have discussed the implications of the Chieftain Cup found at
Hagia Triada and its relationship to the myth of Zeus and Ganymede and the historical
account of Ephorus. Of these, Koehl’s work is one of the cornerstones of the present
commentary; nevertheless, I must take exception to one point in his paper. Probably following Plato, Koehl sees the story of Zeus and Ganymede, and in particular the inclusion of Zeus, as an “apology” for Cretan male love practices. I would like to suggest an alternative interpretation: since the myth can be shown to be a paragon of the ideal male love relationship and since Plato does not represent the Cretan point of view, it may well be that the ancient Cretans intended it instead as the proclamation of one of the mainstays of their culture. Koehl also suggests that the original Cretan abduction myth may have featured Minos, rather than Zeus as protagonist, Zeus being later substituted for Minos to lend the practice the authority of the god. I would suggest that one does not exclude the other. Just as the Boeotians juxtaposed an abduction by a mortal to that by the god, it may be that analogous myths existed in Crete, in which Minos played the leading role, and which were later conflated into a single one. At the same time we should bear in mind that the connection between Minos and Zeus is extremely close: Minos is Zeus’ son with Europa, and also Zeus’ priest, receiving teachings from the god and disseminating them to his people. If it was the case that the myths were not coexistent, then could it be that Minos was the one substituted into the myth as a kind of stand-in for the god, to humanize a story ritually enacted by each generation of Cretans? Finally, Zeus’ role as patron of the Cretan paideia, in his function as megas kouros, and his function in the rite described by Ephorus would seem to provide sufficient explanation for his presence in the tradition, with no further need to postulate his inclusion as a justification for an embarrassing act (Koehl 99-110).
 Percy 66.
 Man courting a youth who is holding the victor’s wreath of laurels in his hand. Scene from a sacred rite with dancing, athletic contests and animal sacrifices. Amphora by the Painter of Cambridge, 5th c. BCE. Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek, Munich. Source: <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Erastes_eromenos_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_1468.jpg>
The artistic convention for scenes of seduction was to show the lover fondling the young man’s genitals with one hand, and with the other cupping his chin to look him in the eye, otherwise known as the “up-and-down gesture.” The youths are often depicted with their hands touching or holding the forearms of their lovers. Scholars, starting with Dover, have assumed that the boys are “restraining” the men from further intimacies.
Dover, however, had no personal experience of male eros, and his whole thrust is to “de-homosexualize” the Greeks by depicting them merely as overly randy heterosexuals bent on “penetration” and “domination.” His interpretation of the vases seems to be undermined by a study showing other figures which likewise lay hands on arms but are in poses of mutual intimacy or mutual arousal (see Keith DeVries).
The same could be said of a number of Roman era homoerotic pieces. Though they differ from the Greek artwork in the activity depicted – the Romans placed less importance on the mind and heart, and focused instead on the anus, perhaps because free boys were off limits to them and the men had to make do with slaves – the youths being pedicated are often half-turned around and place their hands on the forearms of their lovers in poses that can best be described as tender. This artistic convention may have roots far older than the Greek tradition. An Egyptian tomb painting dating back to 2400 BC shows a male pair considered to be one of the earliest representations of same-sex love. The two, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, both “overseers of manicurists” at the royal palace, are shown with arms around each other, the one on the left grasping the forearm of the one on the right.
 Not the similarly named one in the Troad, from which Ganymede was abducted.
 This relationship model was valid in other parts of Greece, too. The typical Athenian erastes was a young bachelor between the end of the teenage years and his marriageable age, a little over 30 – the ancient equivalent of our college or post-graduate years.
 Universal values for a young man in ancient Greece. According to Aristotle, “the moral excellences of a young man are self-control (sophrosune) and courage (andreia)” (1.5.6). See also <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Aristot.+Rh.+1.5.1>.
 Strabo X 4.21.483. See also Ephorus of Cyme, in Thomas K. Hubbard, p. 72.
 Republic 377b-c.
 The term “intergenerational” (interchangeable here with the more accurate though often misused “pederastic”) is used to indicate an erotic relationship between partners separated not necessarily by a span of twenty years or more, but in particular by the boundary between adolescence and adulthood, irrespective of how close to this boundary each of them may be.
 It may strike us as odd that Ganymede’s father plays a role in his intimate relationship with a male figure. Is the presence of the father a chance event? A quick survey of the principal myths of male love reveals that the father of the youth makes an appearance not only in the myth of Zeus and Ganymede, but, in some guise or another, in most of the stories. In the story of Hercules and Hylas the lover kills the father; in that of Pelops and Poseidon the father sacrifices the son; in that of Laius and Chrysippus the lover deceives the father; and in that of Achilles and Patroclus, whose very name means “the glory of the father,” the lover promises the father the safe return of his son. Xenophon provides more details on the triangular nature of the relationship between lover, youth, and father: “Nothing [of what concerns the boy] is kept hidden from the father, by an ideal [kalos kagathos] lover” (Symposium VIII.11.). Thus the contrast between the relationship of Zeus and Tros (Ganymede’s father) on the one hand, and that of Laius and Pelops (Chrysippus’ father) on the other hand, is significant for what it says about paternal involvement in normative Greek male love, as well as about the relationship between these two stories.
 First attested in Euripides’s lost or destroyed play, Chrysippus.
The story of Laius is one of several Boeotian male love parables. Boeotia was a Greek city-state noted for the strength of its male love tradition. Two of its cautionary male love myths have survived (though only in Classical Athenian or later retellings), the other being the myth of Narcissus, a parable warning boys against being cruel and unfeeling towards their suitors (Conon 83).
 Calimach 31-35.
 Laius’ death (an early example of “road rage,” in which he claims right of way at a crossroads, shoving Oedipus off the road and thus provoking him into the murderous attack that claims Laius’ life) coming as the immediate result of yet another hubristic act reinforces the connection to the rape of Chrysippus. The centrality of this story within the Theban mythic cycle is suggested by the notorious retribution in kind which befell the Thebans for their complicity in the act: they were hounded by the Sphinx who, in a number of traditions, oppressed the city by snatching up (harpazo) young boys at will. The parallel between crime and punishment shows that the Greeks were cognizant of the condemnable nature of Laius’ crime and had linked the two myths. This reading is also supported by a commentary to Euripides’s The Phoenician Women (see Gantz 495).
 Percy 133.
 One can only wonder whether the Latin saying, Quod licet Jovi non licet bovi (“What is allowed to Jove is not allowed to the ox”) owes more than just a little to this myth.
 In literature and drama, “everyman” refers to an ordinary individual with whom the audience or reader can identify easily, and who is often put in unusual situations. The term comes from a 17th century English moralizing play titled Everyman.
 Thanks to Miles Groth of Wagner College for the suggestion of a parallel between the two myths.
 Hubbard 249-250. This dichotomy is a recurrent theme that appears in various forms in the Phaedrus. The dramatic events of the dialogue itself could be read as a critique of intercourse with boys, presenting it as an abuse of power, a pederastic rape. Young Phaedrus forces Socrates to give a speech on love, threatening him with his superior strength and reminding him they are alone in a deserted place from which they will not leave until the older man yields what is requested. Socrates finally relents, covering his head with his robe in feigned shame. The ironic twist on the scenario in which an adult compels a boy to submit sexually must have been particularly juicy to the ancient Greeks.
 Cf. Diogenes Laertius, The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, IV.
 Xenophon, Symposium 8.28-30.
 Alciati, Emblemata IV.
View B of an Antonine period copy of a Greek original, late 4th c. BCE. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.
 Act I, Prologue, 1-120.
 Aeneid I.28.
 Lexicon # 483.
 See Skier.
 See Gert Hekma.
 This mosaic, while featuring Greek heroes, is more reflective of Roman attitudes towards male love. Hercules’ “Herculean” member, prominently displayed, would have been judged unaesthetic by the Greeks, whose ideal of beauty included a small penis. The vulgar note of the work is also against Hellenic ideals. It illustrates the Roman focus on the sexual act and specifically on penetration, in contrast to the sensual but restrained eros dikaios of the Greeks. Fountain mosaic from the Anzio Nymphaeum, Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome: Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. 1st c. BCE. Source: <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Hercules_and_Iolaus_mosaic_-_Anzio_Nymphaeum.jpg>
 Apollonius Rhodius 3.112f.
 “Against…” passim.
 Man soliciting boy for sex in exchange for a purse containing coins. The hand language of the two characters is eloquent: the boy wants more money and the man is trying to talk him down in price. Athenian red figure kylix, 5th c. BCE. Metropolitan Museum, New York. Source:
 Some modern historians have interpreted this ethic as an ancient conceit unrealistically idealizing male love relationships as “sexless,” in contrast to a presumed widespread culture of penetration – see, for example, Eugene Rice and Michael S. Armstrong, who regard the “chaste” interpretation as “naďve.” However, the bulk of the iconography and much of the literature suggest that the relationships seen as optimal occupied the middle ground between these two extremes and were sexual indeed, just not anal. This view is clearly supported by Aeschines in his “Against Timarchos,” where he accuses Timarchos not just of prostituting himself in his youth, but especially of being guilty of the “sins of a woman” and of committing consensual hybris against himself (Aeschines 160-161; cf. also Cohen). The moderate yet sexual aspect is apparent from comments such as Cicero’s, for instance, who asserted that the Spartans, “while they permit all things, except for outrage [stuprum, “illicit sexual rapport,” here most likely referring to anal sex (Armstrong 26)] in the love of youths, certainly distinguish the forbidden by a thin wall of partition from the sanctioned, for they allow embraces and a common couch to lovers” (Symonds 27).
 Xenophon, Constitution 68-69.
 Erotic fondling of the boy and frontal between-the-thighs intercourse by the man are the practices most frequently illustrated on ancient pottery. Though it is probably simplistic to assume that the iconography is an unfailing guide to actual practices (Lear & Cantarella 23-25), that iconography taken in conjunction with textual evidence allows us to draw certain conclusions. As T. K. Hubbard points out, “fondling a boy’s organ (cf. Aristophanes, Birds 142) was one of the most commonly represented courtship gestures on the vases. What can the point of this act have been, unless lovers in fact derived some pleasure from feeling and watching the boy’s developing organ wake up and respond to their manual stimulation? Surely playing with a dead penis wasn’t any more fun then than it is now.” (See Hubbard’s review of David M. Halperin’s How to Do the History of Homosexuality, in Bryn Mawr Classical Review/2003.09.22. Source: <http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2003/2003-09-22.html>)
 Plato, Phaedrus 244-256.
 El-Rouayheb 53-60.
 Youth pouring wine with an oinochoe in Dionysus’ kantharos. Detail of Attic red-figure kylix by Triptolemos Painter, ca. 480 BC. The Louvre Museum, Paris, Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities. Source: <http://commons. wikimedia.org/wiki/ Image:Cup_Apatouria_Louvre_G138.jpg>
 Wattenbach 124.
 In the passage alluded to by Symonds, the word used by Herodotus (I.135), misgontai, “to have intercourse with, to be united to,” is a neutral term for penetrative sexual relations, also applicable to sexual intercourse with women.
 Symonds 15.
 Hyde 6-7.
 See Increases in Unsafe Sex and Mosher et al.
 Lexicon #86.
 Man and youth. Detail of a red-figure Peithinos kylix from Vulci, ca. 500 BCE. Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Antikenmuseum, Berlin. Source:
 See Gavriluta.
 Albanian has preserved such a concept through vellameria (vella, meaning “brother,” and marr – “to accept”), a term similar to the Greek adelphopoiia (“brother-making”). See <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albanian_pederasty>.
8th-7th c. BCE:
“… gave Tros full payment for stealing Ganymede.”
“… strongest stallions under the dawn.”
“… the most handsome of mortal men.”
“… the gods snatched him away to bear the cup of Zeus and live among the immortals.”
(Homer, Iliad, 5.265ff & 20.215-235)
7th c. BCE
“… wise Zeus carried off golden-haired Ganymede because of his beauty, to be amongst the Deathless Ones and pour drink for the gods in the house of Zeus – a wonder to see – honored by all the immortals as he draws the red nectar from the golden bowl. But grief that could not be soothed filled the heart of Tros; for he knew not whither the heaven-sent whirlwind had caught up his dear son, so that he mourned him always, unceasingly, until Zeus pitied him and gave him high-stepping horses such as carry the immortals as recompense for his son. These he gave him as a gift. And at the command of Zeus, the Guide, the slayer of Argus, told him all, and how his son would be deathless and unaging, even as the gods. So when Tros heard these tidings from Zeus, he no longer kept mourning but rejoiced in his heart and rode joyfully with the storm-footed horses.”
(Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, 202ff)
“The vine which the son of Kronos gave him [Laomedon] as a recompense for his son. It bloomed richly with soft leaves of gold and grape clusters; Hephaistos wrought it and gave it to his father Zeus: and he bestowed it on Laomedon as a price for Ganymede.”
(Little Iliad, Fr 7)
“… in The Colchian Women, speaking of Ganymede ‘setting Zeus’s majesty aflame with his thighs.’”
(Sophocles, “The Colchian Women,” in Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists, XIII.609)
“And when his feeling continues and he is nearer to him and embraces him, in gymnastic exercises and at other times of meeting, then the fountain of that stream, which Zeus when he was in love with Ganymede named Himeros (Desire), overflows upon the lover, and some enters into his soul, and some when he is filled flows out again.”
(Plato, Phaedrus, 255c)
“Chorus: In vain, it seems, you Phrygian boy pacing with dainty step among your golden chalices, do you fill high the cup of Zeus, a lovely service; the land of your birth is being consumed by fire. The shore re-echoes to our cries; and, as a bird bewails its young, so we bewail our husbands or our children, or our old mothers. The dew-fed springs where you bathed, the course [gymasion te dromoi, the track at the gymnasium] where you trained, are now no more; but you beside the throne of Zeus are sitting with a calm, sweet smile upon your fair young face, while the spear of Hellas has destroyed the land of Priam.”
(Euripides, The Trojan Women, 820-835)
“Chorus: There was Ganymede, the darling of Zeus’s bed, drawing libations of wine from deep in the bowls of gold.”
(Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis, p. 47)
3rd c. BCE
“The two of them were playing at knucklebones – golden ones – as boys in the same house will; and already greedy Eros was clutching a fistful in his left hand holding them tight, close under his breast as he stood erect there, a sweet blush mantling the bloom of his cheeks. But Ganymedes was crouched down beside him, silent, dejected: just two dice left, and he threw them one after the other, maddened by Eros’ snickering, and losing them both in a trice, like all their predecessors, took himself off, empty-handed and hopeless, failed to notice Kypris approaching. She stopped before her son, chucked him under the chin, and sharply addressed him: ‘What are you grinning at, you unspeakable little horror? Did you cheat him again, win unfairly, cash in on his innocence?’”
(Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika, (III. 115-130)
“… Ganymede, for the sake of his beauty, Zeus caught up on an eagle and appointed him cupbearer of the gods in heaven ….”
(Apollodorus, Library and Epitome, iii.12.2)
ca. 90-30 BCE
“And Ganymede, who excelled all men in beauty, was snatched up by the gods to serve as the cupbearer of Zeus.”
(Diodorus Siculus, Histories, 4.75.3)
“[Hera's] hate for Troy’s origin, Ganymede taken and made a favorite [of Zeus].”
“There Ganymede is wrought with living art,
Chasing thro' Ida's groves the trembling hart:
Breathless he seems, yet eager to pursue;
When from loft descends, in open view,
The bird of Jove, and, sousing on his prey,
With crooked talons bears the boy away.”
“… his aged guardians are raising their impotent hands to heaven, his dogs are furiously barking up at the sky above them.”
(Virgil, Aeneid , 5.252-260, 1.28 & p. 161)
“The king of the gods was once afire with love for Phrygian Ganymedes and hit upon a guise that, just this once, he thought might be more suitable than being Jove himself: a bird. But of all birds, he thought that one alone was worthiest; the bird with force enough to carry Jove's own thunderbolts. Without delay Jove beat the air with his deceiving wings, snatched up the Trojan boy. And even now, despite the wrath of Juno, he still fulfills his role, the page of Jove, the boy prepares Jove’s nectar, fills his cups.”
(Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.155ff)
ca. 40 BCE – 17 CE
“… the eagle which is said to have snatched Ganymede up and given him to his lover, Jove.”
“Many have said he [Aquarius] is Ganymede, whom Jupiter is said to have made a cupbearer of the gods, snatching him up from his parents because of his beauty. So he is shown as if pouring water from a jar.”
(Hyginus, Fables and Poetic Astronomy in the Myths of Hyginus, II.16 & II.29)
ca. 81-96 CE
“Pine-clad Ida … boasts the cloud that veiled the heavenly rape [of Ganymedes]! She verily gave to the gods him on whom Juno ever looks in wrath, and withdraws her hand and refuses the nectar.”
(Papinius Statius, Silvae, 3.4.13)
“GANYMEDE:No, no, I want to go home to my father right now. If you take me back, I promise he’ll pay you for it. He’ll sacrifice another ram. We have a three-year-old, the big one that leads the flock to pasture.
ZEUS:How simple and ingenuous this boy is! When you come right down to it, he’s still just a child. (...)
GANYMEDE:Where will I sleep at night? With my playmate Eros?
ZEUS:No. I brought you here so we could sleep together.
GANYMEDE:Can’t you sleep alone? You mean it’s nicer for you to sleep with me?
ZEUS:With someone as beautiful as you are, Ganymede? Oh yes.
GANYMEDE:How can my being beautiful help your sleeping? …
ZEUS:If I can lie awake with you, kissing youand holding you in my arms, that’sthe nicestthing you can do for me.
GANYMEDE:You’d know about that. But I’ll be asleep, even while you’re kissing me.”
(Lucian of Samosata, “Zeus and Ganymede,” in Dialogues of the Gods, X)
ca. 9th-11th c. CE
“Ganymede, son of Tros, whose first beauty all the other Trojans were fond of ….”
(First Vatican Mythographer, 184 Ganymede)
“… because of the beauty of his body subjected himself to masculine passions in infamy.”
(Second Vatican Mythographer, 198 Ganymede)
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