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August 4, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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Homosexual love affairs of the Gods

Apollo, god of the palaestra (the athletic gathering place for young men competing in the nude), was a renowned lover of young men. But he consistently lost his lovers in a string of accidents. Perhaps his greatest love of all these young men was Hyacinthus, a Spartan prince much desired by the deities. As Ovid tells us, Apollo began forgetting his duties to gad about hunting with his prince, until he lost him in a discus accident. Stricken with grief, he made sure his love was reborn as the Hyacinth flower:

Now, the sun was midway between the vanished and the future night, equally far from either extreme: they stripped off their clothes, and gleaming with the rich olive oil, they had rubbed themselves with, they began a contest with the broad discus. Phoebus went first, balancing it, and hurling it high into the air, scattering the clouds with its weight. Its mass took a long time to fall back to the hard ground, showing strength and skill combined. Immediately the Taenarian boy, without thinking, ran forward to pick up the disc, prompted by his eagerness to throw, but the solid earth threw it back, hitting you in the face, with the rebound, Hyacinthus.

The god is as white as the boy, and cradles the fallen body. Now he tries to revive you, now to staunch your dreadful wound, and now applies herbs to hold back your departing spirit. His arts are useless: the wound is incurable. Just as if, when someone, in a garden, breaks violets, stiff poppies, or the lilies with their bristling yellow stamens, and, suddenly, they droop, bowing their weakened heads, unable to support themselves, and their tops gaze at the soil: so his dying head drops, and, with failing strength, the neck is overburdened, and sinks onto the shoulder. ‘You slip away, Spartan, robbed of the flower of youth’ Phoebus sighed, ‘and I see my guilt, in your wound. You are my grief and my reproach: your death must be ascribed to my hand. I am the agent of your destruction. Yet, how was it my fault, unless taking part in a game can be called a fault, unless it can be called a fault to have loved you? If only I might die with you, and pay with my life! But since the laws of fate bind us, you shall always be with me, and cling to my remembering lips. My songs; the lyre my hand touches; will celebrate you. As a new-formed flower, you shall denote my woe, by your markings. And the time will come, when Ajax, bravest of heroes, will associate himself with this same flower, and be identified by its petals.

But Apollo was not alone in lusting from his mountaintop for the young men who exercised below. Orpheus sings through Ovid’s pen of Zeus’ love of young Ganymede:

The king of the gods once burned with love for Phrygian Ganymede, and to win him Jupiter chose to be something other than he was. Yet he did not deign to transform himself into any other bird, than that eagle, that could carry his lightning bolts. Straightaway, he beat the air with deceitful wings, and stole the Trojan boy, who still handles the mixing cups, and against Juno’s will pours out Jove’s nectar.

The rape of Ganymede was painted in very different ways by two competing 17th Century artists from the Low Countries: Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt van Rijn. Whereas Rubens’ eagle clutches Ganymede’s succulent body in a wash of lustful red, Rembrandt’s Ganymede is a fat child pissing in fear as it is hauled off uncomfortably by a blank eyed dark bird clawing neglectfully at his shirt.

Ovid, Metamorphosis (Book X), translated by A.S. Kline

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