Posted by: aediculaantinoi | April 12, 2014

And Speaking of Mt. Ida: The Rape of Ganymede…

By “speaking of Mt. Ida,” I mean to say that Mt. Ida is Phrygian, and thus has a distant connection to Cybele, whose festival just ended two days ago. But, of course, it is more famously connected with Troy, and in particular with an event that preceded the Trojan War by a generation or two: the rape of Ganymede.

Note how I referred to this event: not as an “abduction,” but as a “rape.” There was no point at which Ganymede consented to this union before it happened, nor did his father; but, after compensation was paid to him, things don’t seem to have been an issue any longer.

When did they ask the boy’s thoughts on the matter?

This set of reflections comes as a result of thinking about a comment I left on a blog post of Sannion’s the other day…and that likewise the Thiasos of the Starry Bull is currently celebrating the Anthesphoria which commemorates the rape of Persephone (which I wrote an essay about in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina devotional volumeQueen of the Sacred Way)…and, of course, the Wyrd Ways Radio show earlier this month…and, I’ve certainly written about Ganymede previously as well…

All of this makes me think of two things:

1) The account of Strabo regarding the Cretans, who had a pederastic initiation ritual that involved a kind of mock abduction, and which was connected to the story of Ganymede for many of them. However, note a particular matter in Strabo’s account: the family and friends of the “target” of this ritual consent to it beforehand, and after it occurs, the “target” also gets to tell if the abductor violated his consent at any stage. Thus, consensuality is a very major factor in this situation, which differentiates it from the mythic situation of Ganymede in most accounts.

2) Not surprisingly, the story of Ganymede has a great deal of currency amongst modern gay men (and thus so for many centuries, actually), including in queer theological circles. It almost becomes a blueprint for older men preying upon younger ones, in certain respects, in the ways it has been romanticized and over-idealized, and for violations of consent amongst younger “targets” in a variety of ways.

I am also reminded about what currency Ganymede had within Christianity, in terms of how the Ganymede/Zeus relationship was often an artistic inspiration behind some depictions of Jesus and the apostle John, as portrayed and initially inspired by their portrayal in the Gospel of John. Further, I’m reminded about how the syncretism of Antinous to Ganymede was not something which seems to have arisen within the cultus itself, but instead it arose as a result of the various critics of Antinous’ cult, both Christian and polytheistic: Christians said that Antinous was the Ganymede to Hadrian’s Zeus, and likewise so did Lukian of Samosata in some of his satires that portrayed Antinous as Ganymede in a rather dim fashion. It is impossible to say for certain what the actual nature of the relationship of Hadrian to Antinous would have been, but we should perhaps be wary of simply assuming that the comparison of them to Zeus and Ganymede would be “natural” or “expectable” given that there is a profound element of non-consent present with the mythic couple, to a much larger extent (even in the discussions and framing of that episode) than it is with Persephone and Hades, or Zeus and Europa, or any other such coupling.

Thus, is this comparison in itself, this acknowledgement of the syncretism of Antinous to Ganymede, a kind of rape of Antinous? The mind shudders at this notion…and I personally think that nothing like that would have happened between Hadrian and Antinous, which then makes it all the more problematic that we look at the situation of Antinous in relation to Hadrian, see Ganymede in the former and Zeus in the latter (even though Hadrian and Zeus did get syncretized), and just go “Oh, yeah, that makes sense” relatively easily and without further thought.

These aren’t pleasant thoughts, by any means…but, they need to be thought in order to be honest, and to highlight the problems inherent in some ways that certain members of the gay community have acted and thought, and the ways in which these things get unthinkingly and uncritically accepted into the mythos and ideals of queer theological contexts as well.


  1. I’m curious, how can you distinguish “abuction” and “rape” as being a matter of consent? And how can you affirm that it’s really one thing and not another, when the ancient accounts seem to interchange these words freely? And I have to say, that I’m particularly baffled at how you think that the non-consent element present in the Zeus-Ganymede story is present “to a much larger extent” than Hade- Persephone, Zeus-Europa, etc. I think you really need to unpack that a bit more….

    Anyway, some questions for you this morning!

    • There is no difference between “abduction” and “rape” where any of these stories are concerned, and the “interchange” you cite is not one on the part of the ancients, it’s on the part of modern commentators and translators who are often prudish or have not understood the original context.

      The only reason to “abduct” back in the day was to rape, and it was a recognized category of marriage (i.e. marriage by abduction/rape, again depending on the commentator/translator). The difference in what I’m talking about above is that in the Cretan situation, the overall sense of the abduction for initiatory purposes (as well as sexual purposes) was more of a show than what an actual abduction/rape would have involved; there was forewarning and a certain degree of consent sought from family and friends before that took place, and then in the aftermath of it, if the abductee was coerced and had their own consent violated, they could make a statement about that.

      Very often, the paintings of the Zeus and Ganymede incident are called “The Rape of Ganymede” (as is the one above by Rubens), whereas oftentimes the story of Hades and Persephone, for example, is not called “the rape of Persephone,” but is instead called an “abduction” or what-have-you, etc. (The rape of Europa is still usually called “rape,” but anyway…it’s a lot less known than these other two stories, I think.) I suspect part of this may be due to homophobia as well: if a woman is raped, it’s okay because it’s just “an abduction” (and she really wanted it and was better off afterwards anyway, as people ALWAYS argue in the case of Persephone); whereas even though Ganymede is having this experience in a society that considered such things not only possible but permissible (under other circumstances), it must be a rape rather than anything else because it is a male being pursued by a male, which is sinful/unnatural, etc., the implication being that anyone who could consent to such a thing wouldn’t ever do so because of the nature of it. That, in itself, complicates matters considerably in discussing this, and likewise in the counter-reactions against it on the part of certain gay theorists and queer theological formulations, etc.

  2. There are so many ways to interpret this myth. For me it is all about the incursion of the Other, which certainly doesn’t always knock and say ‘may I’. I’ll add that the deities do many things that are not appropriate for humans; only a fool would think to confuse the domains.

    • Unfortunately, though, there’s a lot of fools out there…

  3. Hi

    Just a question: where is this painting from? I know another Rubens’ version, i Museo del Prado Madrid, slightly differet.
    I’m very interested: could you send me a email message ?

    jorgekarras AT

    Thnaks in advance

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