The Same-Sex Relationship as per Zeus and Ganymede in Greek Mythology

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

The vase, “Ganymede with Cock and Hoop”, is a red-figure bell krater that was made in the 525-475 BC by Berlin Painter, located in Musee du Louvre, Paris. The Athenian vase is in large size and has a large opening and a big belly. The frame that showed on the vase was the Greek myth about the young man, Ganymede, is playing the loop with one hand and has a cock on the other hand. The other side of the vase is Zeus in pursuit. Ganymede is probably the prince of Troy, and he is known for the beauty. His father is Tros. In the myth, Zeus becomes an eagle and kidnaps Ganymede in order to bring him to the Mount Olympus as Zeus’s cupbearer. From the figures, frames, shape of the krater and painter, there would be a deeper understanding of erotic pursuits on this red-figure vase, even there are many versions of the myth of the characters.

The vase follows the myth that one frame is that Ganymede plays the loop with a cock and one frame is Zeus with scepter on the hands. The frames are all monoscenic. It is unified narrative since the scenes are at the same time, but different place. Both characters are on its own with one or two objects on their hands. The background is clear with one band of decoration at the bottom of the belly. It is the favour way that the Berlin Painter likes to compose on the bell krater.1 Ganymede on the bell krater is a nude. The red hair on him is loose and there are leaves crowned on the head. He has the motion of walking with a stick as he is turning the loop. Ganymede looks youth. So, he indicates his youth as he is doing a sport with the loop. The cock symbolizes as a gift since it is holding on one hand high in the air that looks like the cock was offered to god, Zeus. It is a connection between Ganymede and Zeus. On the other side of the vase, Zeus holds a scepter with a himation on the body. He is facing Ganymede, so it looks like Zeus is walking towards Ganymede. Ganymede seems to be more graceful than Zeus. Although the two figures are individuals on two sides of the krater, there are interactions and relations with symbols and gestures between Ganymede and Zeus.

According to the article, “Greek Vase by the Berlin Painter” by Betty Grossman, there are many similarities between the vase that produced by the Berlin Painter and the individual figures are related to each other on the same vase (Grossman, 1960). The Berlin Painter’s technique, shape and scheme of decorations are unique and unlike other painters. “Ganymede with Cock and Hoop” vase is a typical work of Berlin Painter. Other than Nolan type amphora, the Berlin Painter always uses bell kraters with two handles on the top, which the kraters are used to mix the water and wine in the banquets.2 This type of kraters is rare in Attic vase that there is no foot on the base to support the vase. The proportion of the krater is harmonious that the vase height is the same as the diameter. Meanwhile, the hoop diameter equals to the base diameter. Even though, there is no signature of the Berlin Painter on the vase, he generated many vases during 500 to 450 BCE. Most of this Berlin Painter’s vases focused on presentation of nudity and the body movements. Most of the work is with large vases and amphora, and the figures are individuals that connect with common body motions.3 This Berlin Painter is fantastic on his technique, where the lines on the vases are fluid with smooth lines and softness and hardness of the lines, for instance, the hair of Ganymede.

There are several versions of the myth and different understanding of the frame in the vase. Some said that Ganymede was Tros’ son and the brother of Ilus and Assaracus. He was taken away by Zeus and stayed with the god of eternal.4 Others said that Ganymede was Laomedon’s son or Ilus’ son or Assaracus or Erichthonius. On the same hand, he was taken away from the earth in different ways. Also, there is a tradition said that he was not taken away by any god, but he was killed by Minos or Tantalus.5 There are many other statements that have a different myth about Ganymede. Different versions of the myth could create different meanings for the scene in the vase. In any case, for most of the traditions, Ganymede symbolized as a handsome youth and a beautiful slave of Zeus.

There would be different interpretations for the vase as there are different traditions. For example, the krater could be analyzed as ‘The mixing-bowl from the sky [constellation Crater], from which Ganymede mixes the liquor and ladles out a cup for Zeus and the immortals (Nonnus, 5th A.D.).’6 It can be better explained that why the painter used the krater and how it fits this tradition. There is a version of the statement for this particular vase is that ‘Zeus kidnapped Ganymede by means of an eagle, and set him as cupbearer in the sky (Pseudo-Apollodorus, 2nd A.D).’7 That is why, in this vase, there is a scepter in Zeus’ hand that shows kidnapped of Ganymede and a cock on Ganymede’s hand that indicates the eagle. The meaning of the figures and objects can be different with different explanations.

In the vase of “Ganymede with Cock and Hoop”, the most reasonable and possible interpretation could be that Zeus abducted Ganymede. The vase demonstrated an erotic chase scene between Ganymede and Zeus. Zeus is holding a weapon and Ganymede is walking away from Zeus. It seems like the scene of Poseidon pursuing Anymore, except that here it is two males, and they are on separate side of the krater. Even though most of the courting or erotic pursuit scenes were between the male and female, in this krater, it is between the male and male. Ganymede is called ‘eros’ sometimes that means sexual desire, especially homosexual love. According to the article “Courtship Scenes in Attic Vase-Painting”, Shapiro mentioned that the topic of mythological prototype of Ganymede and Zeus started in the fifth century (Shapiro, 1981). At that time, male homosexual pairs were popular, such as the example of Ganymede and Zeus, and Troilos and Achilles. Shapiro noted that it was either pursuit, or abduction between Ganymede and Zeus, but it cannot be courtship even though Ganymede is nude.8

On the same hand, according to Sparkes in the article of “The Red and the Black: Studies in Greek Pottery (Sparkes, 1996)”, Zeus abducted Ganymede is the “erotic overtone9” that contains the symbolization of “removal for this world10.” This article also Zeus abducted Ganymede as a slave, but homosexuality should disappear because it breaks the law of nature. Human supposes to have marriage and give birth to a child in order to continue the generation, but male to male love cannot produce children, so it is against the nature’s law. Nevertheless, sexuality, much more than just the genital behavior, is the gift from God. It is a way of embodying and expressing love. Zeus uses the action of homosexuality to present his way of love to the male, Ganymede.

Usually, in the fifth century in Greek, the political citizenship was only adult males, not children, women, and slave. The males are dominant, however, this krater shows that Ganymede is not only chased by Zeus, but also a slave of Zeus. Ganymede has a lower level of political position. Although he is an adult male, he had the same treatment as women and slave at that time under the hand of Zeus. On the other hand, Zeus is the god. So, he had higher authority, but he is also lascivious. He not only has many wives and children, but also has the many relationships with other males and other females, in both genders. Ganymede is only one of them, and he acts as a slave. He is the embodiment of beauty. So, the book, “Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite (White, 7th – 4th B.C)”, talked about “Verily wise Zeus carried off golden-haired Ganymede because of his beauty.’11 As Zeus is a sex addict and a gay, he thinks that Ganymede is a beautiful mortal as Zeus cannot resist the allures from Ganymede, so it could be produced as scenes on the vases and it appeared on many vases over and over again. Zeus’ love toward Ganymede is too extreme that was ‘a wonder to see…deathless and unageing, even as the gods.”12 It is not too fair for Ganymede has to be Zeus’ slave since that everyone has equal rights. Even if Zeus is the god, and he can rule and demand people, he cannot abduct and force Ganymede to do homosexual actions. On the same hand, the facial expression of Ganymede on this krater is depressed, nervous, and scared because the line of the mouth is curved downward. It demonstrates that Ganymede is forced to become the slave of Zeus, and he also does not accept homosexuality.

In Greek myth, Ganymede is also the god of homosexuality. The sex between men was being respected by the humans in ancient Greece probably because that this action is god’s behaviour. According to the article, “The Exquisite Corpse of Ganymede: A Cursory Overview of an Ancient Gender Studies Discourse,” by Andrew Calimach, the myth of Zeus and Ganymede exposed the sex and love between males and homosexuality in public in Greek art (Calimach, 2007). The article talked about this myth helps aesthetic to be formed and it is an ethic of homosexual male love that appeared repeatedly. Calimach also mentioned that the myth of Zeus and Ganymede is mainly about the conversation between homosexuality in ancient Greece, and he extended to sex education, warning against sexual assault, debate on pedophilia.13 He explored on homosexual Greek mythology as the important social use of the gay. He also compared the male love that was stressed by Zeus and Ganymede in the aspects of religion, culture, and history both in the past and present. It leads to the conclusion of recognizing the beauty as it is the fundamental of the creative act, which all together guides to love.14

If the art market connoisseur would look over the krater, “Ganymede with Cock and Hoop”, and sell it to buyer, it would be more expensive than other red-figure vases in the fifth century. It is because that it is a famous vase and there are different understanding according to the different traditions of myth. The krater is also about erotic pursuits between Zeus and Ganymede and homosexuality. In addition, the krater is in the collection of Musee du Louvre in Paris now, and before it was in the collection of Campana in 1861. It appeared in a lot of books as well, some of them are well-known. As it is in the Musee du Louvre, the information is reliable. The size of the krater is large, about thirty center meters times thirty center meters. In the meantime, the general quality of the krater is great since it is stable, not broken, no falling off parts and the frame can be seen clearly. There are some scratches and some loss of colours in the background, but it can be ignored. Therefore, if the buyer knows about the history of the krater and the meaning behind the scenes, the real price would be way higher than the estimated price.

Overall, “Ganymede with Cock and Hoop” is a vase that could be explained with several versions of myth as there are many traditions. The anonymous Berlin Painter created this bell krater in his common use way and in his own style. Both the painter and the myth together produced this vase and created a deeper understanding and meaning for this bell krater. Meanwhile, there is a deeper meaning to the scene on the krater that the iconography is the erotic pursuits and homosexuality in the fifth century on the red-figure vases.


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