Ouranion

Damiano Mazza, Il ratto di Ganimede, 1611-12
Damiano Mazza, Il ratto di Ganimede (1612)

This is part 1 of 3. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

Ὑπολαβὼν οὖν ἐγώ, “καὶ μὴν οὐράνιον,” ἔφην, “ἔοικεν εἶναι τὸ τῶν γυναικῶν κάλλος, ὅσον μὴ ταχὺ φθείρεται· ἐγγὺς γὰρ τοῦ θείου τὸ ἄφθαρτον. τὸ δὲ κινούμενον ἐν φθορᾷ θνητὴν φύσιν μιμούμενον, οὐκ οὐράνιόν ἐστιν ἀλλὰ πάνδημον. ἠράσθη μειρακίου Φρυγός, ἀνήγαγεν εἰς οὐρανοὺς τὸν Φρύγα· τὸ δὲ κάλλος τῶν γυναικῶν αὐτὸν τὸν Δία κατήγαγεν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ. διὰ γυναῖκά ποτε Ζεὺς ἐμυκήσατο, διὰ γυναῖκά ποτε Σάτυρον ὠρχήσατο, καὶ χρυσὸν πεποίηκεν ἑαυτὸν ἄλλῃ γυναικί. οἰνοχοείτω μὲν Γανυμήδης, μετὰ δὲ τῶν θεῶν Ἥρα πινέτω, ἵνα ἔχῃ μειράκιον διάκονον γυνή. ἐλεῶ δὲ αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν ἁρπαγήν· ὄρνις ἐπ’ αὐτὸν κατέβη ὠμηστής, ὁ δὲ ἀνάρπαστος γενόμενος ὑβρίζεται καὶ ἔοικεν τυραννουμένῳ. καὶ τὸ θέαμά ἐστιν αἴσχιστον, μειράκιον ἐξ ὀνύχων κρεμάμενον. Σεμέλην δὲ εἰς οὐρανοὺς ἀνήγαγεν οὐκ ὄρνις ὠμηστής, ἀλλὰ πῦρ. καὶ μὴ θαυμάσῃς, εἰ διὰ πυρός τις ἀναβαίνει εἰς οὐρανόν· οὕτως ἀνέβη Ἡρακλῆς. εἰ δὲ Δανάης τὴν λάρνακα γελᾷς, πῶς τὸν Περσέα σιωπᾷς; Ἀλκμήνῃ δὲ τοῦτο μόνον δῶρον ἀρκεῖ, ὅτι δι’ αὐτὴν ἔκλεψεν ὁ Ζεὺς τρεῖς ὅλους ἡλίους.”
(Achilles Tatius, Leukippē & Kleitophōn 2.37.1-4)

‘But surely,’ I interjected, ‘women’s beauty would seem to be heavenly precisely in that it does not dissolve quickly: indestructibility and divinity, after all, are closely linked. Anything that moves in the realm of the perishable, in imitation of mortal nature, is not heavenly but vulgar. Yes, Zeus desired a Phrygian boy and took this Phrygian up to heaven; but the beauty of women brought Zeus himself down from heaven. It was for a woman’s sake that Zeus once lowed*, for a woman that he once performed a satyr’s dance**; for another woman, he even converted himself into gold***! I grant you, Ganymede may play wine-waiter to the gods; but you should remember that Hera also drinks with the gods, so Zeus’ wife has the boy as her servant. As for the manner of his rape, I pity that too: a flesh-eating bird swooped down upon him,and he was kidnapped and violated like a tyrant’s victim. A most disgraceful spectacle this, a lad hanging from the bird’s claws. Now as for Semele, it was no flesh-eating bird that snatched her up to heaven, but fire. You should not be too quick to disbelieve that someone could ascend to heaven through fire: that is how Heracles ascended****. And if you mock Danaë’s imprisonment in a chest, why so silent about Perseus*****? And as for Alcmene, well, Zeus’ gift to her (for her sake he robbed the world of three days******) was in itself enough to make her happy.

* I.e. turned into a bull, alluding to Zeus’ metamorphosis into a bull in the story of his rape of Europa.
** Zeus approached the Theban Antiope in the guise of a satyr (a comical rustic divinity, half-human and half-goat, usually depicted drunk and sexually aroused).
*** Zeus impregnated Danaë by covering her with a shower of gold.
**** According to one version of the myth (best-known through Sophocles’ Women of Trachis), Heracles was cremated on Mt. Oeta.
***** Perseus was also locked in the chest, so (Clitophon concludes) Zeus’ actions were not aimed specifically at the female.
****** Zeus was enjoying himself so much he prevented the sun from rising for three days, according to one version (Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 4.9.2; Apollodorus, Library 2.4.8).

(tr. Tim Whitmarsh, with his notes)

 

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