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Ganymede the Cup Bearer: Variations and Receptions of the Ganymede Myth


A beautiful young boy carried away by an eagle up and became a cup-bearer on Mount Olympus—this is the myth of Ganymede. But who is this young boy? And why is he carried away by an eagle? Interpreters, from mythographers in the late antiquity to historians still living today, have attempted to interpret this myth and to unveil the significance behind this young cup-bearer’s abduction. The Ganymede myth is told differently by many myth tellers—from Homer to the tenth century Byzantine encyclopedia Suda—and interpreted differently by many interpreters. In this essay, I focus on how four different interpreters—Fulgentius, Natale Conti, Jan Bremmer, and Petra Affeld-Niemeyer—are interpreting differently the elements of Ganymede’s abduction, the eagle which carries Ganymede away, and the liquid Ganymede is bearing in his cup. I argue that the four interpreters interpret the Ganymede myth differently because of their varying presumptions about the fundamental nature of the myth. They interpret the act of abduction differently because they have different presumptions about the creator of the myth, and they interpret the eagle and the liquid differently because they have different assumptions about the meaning of the myth.

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