Following is the first of three excepts from Vittorio Lingiardi’s book Men in Love: Male Homosexualities from Ganymede to Batman.
Zeus took only one male lover: Ganymede. As soon as Zeus saw him, the god of thunder fell in love, and assuming the shape of an eagle, he flew down from heaven to Mount Ida and took the boy, the beautiful son of King Tros, to Olympus, where he was welcomed among the gods. There he was granted the position of cupbearer, replacing Hebe and making Hera jealous.
Then, Zeus wished to give his beloved an ever greater gift – to spare him the sadness of growing old and dying – so he turned Ganymede into the constellation Aquarius, suspending him forever among the stars. Ganymede, in whose name shines joy (ganusthai) and intelligence (medea), became in this way the heavenly symbol of homosexual eros, and his image has come to be painted by artists and sung by pets since ancient times. . . .
According to Theognis of Megara, the myth of Ganymede acquainted men with the joys of loving a young man. Pinder, in the first Olympic Ode, compares the love of Zeus for Ganymede to another divine homosexual love, that of Poseidon for Pelops, son of Tantalas who was loved and abducted by the god who then became his master and erastes. Both these myths illustrate the initiatory model found in ancient warrior societies, where the abduction of an initiate symbolizes his death, to be followed by a period of time in the andreion (house of men) for homosexual instruction, after which the young man emerges from the andreion, symbolically resurrected. A similar fate awaited Pelop’s son, Chrysippus, who was abducted by the legendary king of Thebes, Laius, Jocasta’s husband and Oedipus’s father, considered the founder of the Theban homosexual warrior tradition.
As celebrated by Callimachus, Alceus, & Melagrus, Zeus’s love for Ganymede was the ancient myth told to account for the origin of homosexuality, and, as such, since that time, has been alternatively honored and reviled. Giambattista Vico did the latter, characterizing Zeus as burning “with iniquitous love for Ganymede,” as did Friedrich Engels who described the ancient Greeks as a people who “sank into the perversion of boy-love, degrading themselves and their gods by the myth of Ganymede.
However, poets have kept alive the shining memory of Ganymede throughout the ages. Hölderlin depicted the sleeping “son of the mountain” in a natural setting, and Verlaine saw him in a country boy who kept the poet company and distracted him from his boredom. Saba sang of the dream of a teenage shepherd, camouflaging the wisdom of his infantile stupor in an aulic literary style. . . .
Zeus and Ganymede as a couple are an image of the coniunctio oppositorum, opposite psychic polarities brought together into a state of balanced tension. In this couple, e became acquainted with the erotic, though not necessarily sexual, valence of the puer-et-senex constellation that so frequently runs through relationships, such as Heracles who is taken to heaven and promoted to the stats of a god following his death or Hyacinth, the extremely handsome mortal youth whom Apollo, protector of boys, fell in love with and made divine, a story likewise used to explain the origins of love between men. Mythic parallels appear in other cultural contexts, among the ancient Germanic people, as well as the people of Melanesia, New Guinea, and medieval Japan. These common motifs of heavenly abduction, mystical flight, and eagles as spirit-animals regularly appear in the dreams, stories, and the legends of shamanic initiation throughout the world.
Image 1: Rick Herold.
Images 2: Collections of the Capitoline Museum; seized by the French, 1798.
Image 3: Anthony Gayton.
Image 4: Dnik.
Image 5: Durand.
Image 6: Bertel Thorvaldsen.
Image 7: Collections of the Capitoline Museum; seized by the French, 1798.
Image 8: Pierre et Gilles.