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Friday, October 29, 2010


"Umfangend umfangen!"
"Embracing, embraced"
"A mí hacia mí, . . . "

Ganymede with the Eagle (Thorvaldsen)

GANYMED (1774)
[English and Spanish translation below]
[Bonus: Auden's and Rembrandt's Ganymede, below]

"Wie im Morgenglanze
Du rings mich anglühst,
Frühling, Geliebter!
Mit tausendfacher Liebeswonne
Sich an mein Herz drängt
Deiner ewigen Wärme
Heilig Gefühl,
Unendliche Schöne!

Daß ich dich fassen möcht
In diesen Arm!

Ach, an deinem Busen
Lieg ich, schmachte,
Und deine Blumen, dein Gras
Drängen sich an mein Herz.
Du kühlst den brennenden
Durst meines Busens,
Lieblicher Morgenwind!
Ruft drein die Nachtigall
Liebend nach mir aus dem Nebeltal.

Ich komm, ich komme!
Wohin? Ach, wohin?

Hinauf! Hinauf strebts.
Es schweben die Wolken
Abwärts, die Wolken
Neigen sich der sehnenden Liebe.
Mir! Mir!
In euerm Schoße
Umfangend umfangen!
Aufwärts an deinen Busen,
Alliebender Vater!"

s abducting Ganymede (Olympia)


"How, in the light of morning,
Round me thou glowest,
Spring, thou beloved one!
With thousand-varying loving bliss
The sacred emotions
Born of thy warmth eternal
Press 'gainst my bosom,
Thou endlessly fair one!

Could I but hold thee clasp'd
Within mine arms!

Ah! upon thy bosom
Lay I, pining,
And then thy flowers, thy grass,
Were pressing against my heart.
Thou coolest the burning
Thirst of my bosom,
Beauteous morning breeze!
The nightingale then calls me
Sweetly from out of the misty vale.

I come, I come!
Whither? Ah, whither?

Up, up, lies my course.
While downward the clouds
Are hovering, the clouds
Are bending to meet yearning love.
For me,
Within thine arms
Embracing, embraced!
Upwards into thy bosom,
Oh Father all-loving!"

Ganymede and the Eagle


"En tu luz matinal como me envuelves,
¡oh primavera amada!
Con todas las delicias del amor,

entra en mi pecho
tu sacro ardor de eterna llamarada;
¡oh infinita Belleza:
si pudiese estrecharte entre mis brazos!

Recostado en tu pecho languidecemi corazón; de musgos y de flores
dulcemente oprimido, desfallece.
Tú apaciguas mi sed abrasadora,
¡oh brisa matinal y acariciante!
mientras el ruiseñor enamorado me llama entre la niebla vacilante.

Ya voy, ya voy, y ¿adónde?
¡Ay! ¿Adónde? Hacia arriba, ¡siempre arriba!
Flotan, flotan las nubes o descienden
y abren paso al amor de ímpetu fiero.
A mí hacia mí, contra tu ser, ¡arriba!

¡En abrazo sin par, arriba, arriba!
Contra tu corazón, ¡oh dulce padre,
oh inmenso padre del amor fecundo!"

Traducción de Guillermo Valencia

Zeus and Ganymede (Getty)


Ganymede, by W. H. Auden

"He looked in all His wisdom from the throne
Down on that humble boy who kept the sheep,
And sent a dove; the dove returned alone:
Youth liked the music, but soon fell asleep.

But He had planned such future for the youth:

Surely, His duty now was to compel.
For later he would come to love the truth,
And own his gratitude. His eagle fell.

It did not work. His conversation bored
The boy who yawned and whistled and made faces,
And wriggled free from f
atherly embraces;

But with the eagle he was always willing
To go where it suggested, and adored
And learnt from it so many ways of killing."

Rembrandt, The Rape of Ganymed
e (1635)

In Greek mythology, Ganymede, or Ganymedes, is a divine hero whose homeland was Troy. He was a prince, son of Tros of Dardania and Callirrhoe. He was a very attractive boy, which explains why Zeus, perhaps in the form of an eagle, abducted him and carried him off to Olympus, to become a cup-bearer to the gods, and, in Classical and Hellenistic Greece, as his eromenos, or passive sexual partner. The word “catamite,” (boy kept by a pederast) is derived from his name. Ganymede was abducted by Zeus from Mount Ida in Phrygia, where he was tending a flock of sheep. He was a growing boy, and not a querulous infant, as depicted by Rembrandt. Ganymede’s father was mollified by a gift of horses, which is mentioned in the Iliad by Diomedes, who is eager to capture them: “They are of the stock that great Jove gave to Tros in payment for his son Ganymede, and are the finest that live and move under the sun.”Plato states in his Laws that the myth of Ganymede had been invented by the Cretans to account for “pleasure against nature.” In the terracotta Late Archaic statuette at Olympia (above), Ganymede holds a cockerel in his left arm, a gift from Zeus. Zeus also gave Tros the horses, assuring the latter that the boy was now immortal and would hold a distinguished position on Olympus as cup-bearer for the gods. The theme of the father is recurrent in many of the Greek coming-of-age myths of male love, suggesting that the pederastic relationships symbolized by these stories took place under the supervision of the father.

Ganymede rolling a hoop and bearing aloft a cockerel— a love gift from Zeus, illustrated in pursuit, on obverse of vase. Attic red-figure krater, 500–490 BCE (Louvre)

Whereas Auden in his poem sets the Ganymede story within the very realistic context of the mythical event, exploring the sentiments of the boy in response to his seduction, eventual abduction, kidnap and rape, Goethe has done something totally different to the mythical persona of Ganymede. He has turned him into a mood, or an emotion, where Zeus and Ganymede become one. To identify this emotion is rather difficult. It is in some ways reminiscent of the character of Cherubino in Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro (“Parlo d’amor con me!” 'I speak of love to myself'). The embrace of Spring and of Nature would suggest libidinal arousal, a diffuse form of sexual desire, whose outcome is the rise towards the ‘Alliebender Vater,’ the All-loving Father. But is it the desire of Ganymede, or that of Zeus that is being expressed? The emotion is so diffuse that it is unclear whether the first two stanzas of the poem are “spoken” by Ganymede or by Zeus. In its conclusion, it is again unclear whether Zeus seeks to embrace Ganymede or Ganymede Zeus. Who is embraced? Who is embracing? As in the love song of Cherubino, it is a form of narcissistic love that is conveyed by this poem.
In his biography of Goethe, Nicholas Boyle remarks on this reciprocity and interdependence of feeling in the mutual self-positioning of Zeus and Ganymede that appears to surface in the poem. But rather than see it as the mirroring image of Narcissus in the reflecting pool, he regards it as a commentary on the later Romantic preoccupation with the relationship between Nature and the Soul: “Nature (whatever that may be) reaches out to embrace the soul only with the same energy, and no more, with which the soul drives itself into the arms of Nature. As Ganymede’s yearning drives him up into the heavens, so the clouds of heaven sink downwards in acknowledgment of this power of love.” Boyle rejects the notion that Zeus and Ganymed become one in the poem, which is a corollary, as he argues, of the idea that the poem is a pantheistic conception based on Goethe's reading of Spinoza. Goethe himself claims that he did not read Spinoza until the 1780's, more than a decade after he wrote Ganymed, which corroborates Boyle's assertion. (Goethe, The Poet and the Age: Volume 1 – The Poetry of Desire, [Oxford, 1991] p. 160). Rather, says Boyle, it is a Leibnitzian conception, where the individual soul, as Monad, is totally sovereign but reflects within itself the entire cosmos around it.


  1. I think Auden's poem implies a violence, with its ending coming on so strong immediately following a depiction of the boy's lack of interest. The words are so harsh, esp "wriggled free from fatherly embraces." There's a suggestion that he learned "so many ways of killing" in order to strike back. There's a hint that he did strike back, just after the poem ended. This is also foreshadowed in the irony of "surely, his duty now was to compel." You can especially feel the irony in the word "surely." The word "surely" actually serves to throw tremendous doubt on the statement.

  2. I guess what I mean to say by my last comment is that a) the Auden poem does more than you think it does and b) the Goethe by contrast is a very accepting poem -- *accepting* rather than challenging the themes of the Ganymede myth. Even if it *is* more about nature and the soul, it still resides as a poem in the realm of affirmation, and is not critical.

  3. Yes, I agree with your last comment, Felicia, to the effect that Goethe's Ganymede is an affirmation of life and of Nature, whereas in Auden Ganymede is in defiance of narcissistic love and of Zeus himself, hence of all authority as well.