Ganymede was abducted by Zeus from Mount Ida, near Troy, where he had been tending sheep. Zeus either summoned an eagle or turned into an eagle himself to transport the youth to Mount Olympus.
In the Iliad, Zeus is said to have compensated Ganymede’s father by the gift of fine horses, delivered by the messenger god Hermes. He was consoled that his son was now immortal and would be the cupbearer for the gods on Olympus, a position of much distinction, which had previously been the privilege enjoyed by Hebe. All the gods were filled with joy to see him, except for Hera, Zeus’s consort, who regarded Ganymede as a rival for her husband’s affection. Zeus later placed Ganymede in the sky as the constellation Aquarius.
Plato accounted for the pederastic aspect of the myth by attributing its origin to Crete, where the social custom of paiderastía was supposed to have originated. Socrates denied that Ganymede was the catamite of Zeus, asserting that the god loved him for his psychē, mind or soul, giving the etymology of his name as ganu-, taking pleasure, and mēd-, mind. He further pointed out that Zeus granted Ganymede immortality, which he did not do for his other lovers.
In poetry, Ganymede became a symbol for the beautiful young male who attracted homosexual desire and love. Virgil portrays the abduction with pathos: the boy’s aged tutors try in vain to draw him back to Earth, and his hounds bay uselessly at the sky. The loyal hounds left calling after their abducted master is a frequent motif in visual depictions.
Two early examples of the myth on pottery
Side A of an Attic black-figure amphora, Ganymede on Olympus, c510 BC, Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich, Germany
Ganymede pouring Zeus a libation, Attic red figure calyx krater by the Eucharides Painter, c490-480 BC. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA
Not surprisingly given the opportunity to display a scandalous subject in the guise of art, depictions of the rape of Ganymede were popular.
Three versions from the seventeenth century
Peter Paul Rubens, The Rape of Ganymede, 1636, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Rembrandt van Rijn, The Rape of Ganymede, 1635, oil on canvas, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresdan, Germany
Rubens has concentrated on the erotic features of the incident, whereas Rembrandt, by depicting Ganymede as a baby, seems to have missed the point.
Eustache Lesueur, Ganymède enlevé par Jupiter, c1644, oil on canvas, 127 x 108 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
and two sculpures
Bertel Thorvalden, Ganymed, den Adler des Zeus tränkend, 1817, Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark
José Álvarez Cubero, Ganymede, 1804, plaster, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, Spain
and a mosaic
Ganymedes and the Eagle, Graeco-Roman mosaic from Paphos 3rd Century AD, Kato Paphos Archaeological Park, Paphos, Cyprus