Previously: The many abductions of Helen of Troy.
[Ganymedes] was the loveliest born of the race of mortals, and therefore
the gods caught him away to themselves, to be Zeus’ wine-pourer,
for the sake of his beauty, so he might be among the immortals.
— Homer, Iliad, Book XX, lines 233-235.
So, right-ho, Ganymede’s abduction has been, as you can imagine, a rich source of material for painters throughout the centuries, many of whom had significantly different ideas of what male beauty and also “wine-pouring” means. Most of the earlier versions of the story play up Ganymede’s beauty in the Greekiest sense of the word. He was the only one of Zeus’ lovers to become immortal, he’s a sexy shepherd who gets whisked away to Heaven to be God’s bartender, and is only mildly surprised; it’s a story we can all feel good about.
Ahh! But, right, various dudes since the time of Plato have had varying opinions on whether or not siphoning up beautiful male youths to be your cupbearer-and-lover was a good idea! So their solution (because no one, apparently, was willing to NOT paint Zeus turning into an eagle to steal boys) was to make Ganymede a baby. Just a normal baby that the gods sought to make their cupbearer despite having no fine motor skills. Why? Great question.
So you have dozens of paintings all titled The Abduction of Ganymede that run the gamut from “pleasantly startled college-aged babe” to “squalling infant about to be eaten by a giant bird.” Here are some of these efforts, ranked in order of abduction.
This is the least abductive abduction I have ever seen, from his swanlike scissor kicks to his flower garland to the fact that he has gently fallen asleep. This painting is picking up what you’re putting down, or vice versa.
This is…pretty good fanart of some hairless uke with his giant eagle boyfriend. I see it getting close to, but certainly not more than, 100 notes on Tumblr.
It’s just a boy who loves a bird, and it’s normal, and it’s none of your business what they do in their sky kingdom.
The look on Ganymede’s face is not “Help, I’m being raptured by a lascivious god,” so much as “This is not a phase, MOM, this is who I am and you need to RESPECT our RELATIONSHIP.”
Gentle candlelit caressing is not a function of abduction. They haven’t even made it to Olympus yet! They took a detour to a honeymoon cave!
The title of this painting is “No, Don’t Set Me Back Down Yet…Give Me A Minute To Explore This.”
It’s a deeply uncomfortable kiss, I’ll grant you that. Everyone’s eyes are far too open, for starters. But it’s just a bad first make-out session; Ganymede seems more suspicious than afraid of Zeus’ monstrous head.
It’s close! We’re definitely getting somewhere, abduction-wise and Ganymede is slightly clothed in this version, which is something. At least he doesn’t look like he jumped into Zeus’ ready talons and purred, “Take me anywhere, sailor.”
THIS is an abduction. He’s waving a bunch of arrows around, his dog is upset, and his face looks genuinely chagrined.
Who steals a baby? This squalling infant is no comely youth, and his hands would be comically useless at grasping and pouring chalices of any kind. This is what happens to the Ganymede myth when you remove homoeroticism from the equation, Rembrandt.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.