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Apollo and Cyparissus

Giulio Romano - Apollo and Cyparissus (1596) - Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.
Apollo and Cyparissus
On the island of Chios, in a valley named Carte, there lived a wondrous stag, protected by the nymphs. He was more beautiful than words can tell. On his head he had a pair of giant antlers, many-branched and covered in shining gold. Diamond garlands hung from his powerful neck, and his ears were studded with precious stones.

The stag had no fear of man. He went freely into people's homes, and stretched his head out for all who reached up to caress him. All the inhabitants loved him, but Cyparissus loved him more than all. He was the young son of the King of Chios, and beloved friend of Apollo, shooter of arrows.

Cyparissus led the stag through rich meadows, and to cool springs of crystal-clear water. Some times he hung wreaths of perfumed flowers from his great antlers, and other times he would leap astride the magic beast and ride laughing through the flowered valley of Carte.

It was noontime, on a hot summer day. The heat was unbearable. Seeking shelter from the pitiless rays of the sun the stag lay down in the shade, taking shelter under some thick bushes. As chance would have it, Cyparissus had gone out to hunt not far from there. From a distance, and covered with leaves, the stag looked like any other. Cyparissus was a good hunter, and as soon as he glimpsed the hiding deer he cast his lance with un-erring aim. Little did he know that the animal he had mortally wounded was the sacred stag. But as he drew near and realized what he had done, horror filled his heart. Overcome with sorrow, he decided to die along his antlered friend.

Alexander Ivanov - Apollo, Hyakinthos and Cyparissus singing and playing. (18311834) - Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
Apollo, Hyacinth and Cyparissus

All of Apollo's consolations were in vain. His grief was boundless. And so he begged the god of the silver bow to let him grieve forever. Apollo granted his wish. The youth turned into a tree. His thick hair became dark green foliage, and his slim body became covered with bark. Before Apollo's eyes he stretched up to the sky and became a majestic cypress tree. Its tip seemed to pierce the heavens like an arrow. Apollo sighed sadly and whispered: "All eternity I will weep for you, wonderful youth, and you in turn will partake of the sadness of others. Stand then from now until forever besides those stricken by sorrow."

Comments on the Concepts of Gay and Homosexual:

The book The Gay Greek Myths restores the homosexual and homoerotic content of the Greek myths. But Gay Greek Myths, indeed "gay mythology" in general, is a misnomer. "Gay" as a sexual identity is a recent development, emerging only in the 20th Century and our idea of what it means to be gay or a homosexual has largely been influenced by recent gay activism and the emergence of gay rights on the cultural landscape. In the time of the Greeks there was no such identity as gay - or straight - and they did not compartmentalize their sexuality into homosexual and heterosexual. Their homosexual passions were part of their erotic expression as sexual beings. They would not have considered their love for boys as gay or homosexual, as separate from other sexual expressions, and the worth of the relationship was judged not by the gender of the person one loved, but by its results. Nevertheless, throughout this site you will see the use of the words gay, homosexual and homosexuality when referring to ancient practices. Indeed this very section is titled "Homosexual Greek Myths." This is done for practical purposes, so we can easily describe the sexual relations of the ancients with familiar vocabulary. Things, however, were much more complex then the words might indicate.

Mythographer's Comments

These Greek myths are based quite closely on ancient fragments, materials until now passed over by modern mythographers. The sources range from poets to historians to playwrights and early Christian polemicists. Thus the form of the stories should be seen as a late one, incorporating in many cases Roman sensibilities.

Of course there has never been any one "true" version of any of these stories, as they were told and retold over a span of at least two thousand years across a region ranging across three continents, from the Black Sea to the shores of North Africa, an area now occupied by such countries as Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Italy and others. Nonetheless, the myths collectively reflect a world view in which male love was wholly compatible with living life in a sacred way, a path to heroism and divinity.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following form of citation:
Editorial Board, World History of Male Love, "Greek Mythology", Apollo and Cyparissus, 1999 <>

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