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Prince Ganymede in Greek Mythology

Updated on February 27, 2015
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

Greek mythology is often thought of in terms of deities and the heroes who inhabited the mortal realm; the ancient world, according to mythological stories, was also inhabited by other mythical being who were not gods, and mortals who were not heroes. One of these mortals was Ganymede.

Ganymede is a relatively famous person from Greek mythology; famed for being the cupbearer of the gods, and one of the few mortals who was made immortal.

Ganymede Prince of Troy

Ganymede was a prince of the Dardanoi people, and is also referred to as a prince of Troy; both titles coming about because of his family line.

Ganymede was the great-grandson of Dardanus, the king who would give his name to the Dardania region of Asia Minor, and the Dardanoi people who would inhabit it. Ganymede was also the son of Tros, a subsequent king of the Dardanoi, and the man who would give his name to the Trojan people.

As a son of Tros, Ganymede was also brother to Ilus, the founder of Ilium (Troy), and Assarcus, the successor to Tros, as king of the Dardanoi. The mother of Ganymede is rarely mentioned, and it is only in the Bibliotheca that the naiad Callirrhoe is named as mother to Ganymede.

The Abduction of Ganymede

Gabriel Ferrier (1847–1914) PD-art-100
Gabriel Ferrier (1847–1914) PD-art-100 | Source

The Abduction of Ganymede

There was one thing that set Ganymede apart from the other two sons of Tros, and indeed, from all other mortals, as Ganymede was regarded as the most attractive of all mortal men. Ganymede’s beauty was such that it even caused gods to lust after him.

Zeus looked down from Mount Olympus and spied Ganymede tending to the flock of his father. So taken was Zeus, by the beauty of the prince, that he dispatched an eagle to abduct Ganymede; or else transformed himself into an eagle to do the abduction. In either case, the eagle plucked Ganymede from the earth, and soared upwards to the palaces of Mount Olympus, where the prince was to become Zeus’ lover, and cupbearer to the gods.

Ganymede, of course, had no say in Zeus abducting him, nor did his father; and when Tros learned of his son’s abduction he started to pine away through grief. Zeus, feeling for Tros, dispatched Hermes, with some compensation for the king of Dardania.

The compensation took the form of two divine horses; horses that were so swift that they could even run across water. Of more comfort to Tros though, was the news given to him by Hermes, that Ganymede was destined to live for ever amongst the gods, never aging a day.

Lover of Zeus

after Wilhelm Böttner PD-art-100
after Wilhelm Böttner PD-art-100 | Source

The Role of Ganymede

On Mount Olympus, Ganymede was given the role of cupbearer to the gods, bringing forth the ambrosia and nectar on which the deities feasted. The role of cupbearer had previously been undertaken by Hebe, the daughter of Zeus.

Some sources would state that Hebe and Ganymede would work together serving the food and drink of the gods, whilst others would suggest that the male Ganymede usurped the female Hebe. Hebe though was destined to marry Heracles, upon the hero’s ascension to Mount Olympus, and so Hebe is also thought to have willingly given up her important role.

Cupbearer of the Gods

Louis de Silvestre (1675–1760)  PD-art-100
Louis de Silvestre (1675–1760) PD-art-100 | Source

Ganymede and the Trojan War

Ganymede is a name that features often in works from Ancient Greece and Rome, although it is perhaps with the coming of the Trojan War that the cupbearer again comes to prominence.

The 4th century AD Greek poet, Quintus Smyrnaeus, would write, in The Fall of Troy (Posthomerica), particularly of Ganymede. As the Dardanoi and Trojans fought the Achaean forces, Ganymede became so upset on several occasions that Hebe was recalled to cupbearer duties

When the Achaeans finally entered Troy, Zeus would hide the city and its sacking from sight, because of his love for Ganymede. Zeus would also bring the war to a close, sending the victorious Achaean forces away from Troy.

The esteem by which Ganymede was held in by Zeus is seen by the fact that the likeness of the cupbearer was placed amongst the stars, as the constellation Aquarius; and in the night sky, the constellation Aquila, the eagle, is to be found above it.

The Moon Ganymede

In keeping with the idea of Ganymede present for eternity in the night sky, the discovery of the moons of Jupiter by Galileo Galilei in 1610 would lead Simon Marius to name them after lovers of Jupiter (Zeus). So the four Galilean moons would be named Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede.

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