Hyacinthos

Published January 21, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

I’m afraid this is a bit last minute, because I had to rush off this morning to an emergency dentist appointment, and then ended up staying out and doing some stuff and wasting the whole day, even though I was supposed to be cleaning the house today.  (The dentist appointment wasn’t actually as serious as I had thought:  rather than my tooth breaking in half, it turned out a crown had fallen off, and had to be replaced, which was time-consuming, but I’d already had a root canal on the tooth, so at least there was no chance of pain.)

Uh, anyway, given that I’ve been reading Plato’s Symposium today, which myth to retell this week seemed obvious.


In the land of Laconia dwelled a handsome youth named Hyacinthos.  Even though he was greatly loved by all the people of Sparta, most kept a respectful distance from him, because his father, Amyklos, was the king.

Because the many men and women who were enamored of him feared to woo him, Hyacinthos was alone, until he suddenly found himself with two immortal suitors.

Apollo played his lyre for the youth, and impressed him with his skill as well as with his own beauty.  Zephyros, however, had no such convenient talents to delight the boy, and his own face was nowhere near as fair as Apollo’s.

And so Hyacinthos chose to return Apollo’s affections, and soon both had forgotten that there had ever been a rival.

But Zephyros had not forgotten being spurned, and he nursed a quiet grudge.  He dared not strike at Apollo himself; despite his youthful appearance and slender frame, he was one of the twelve Olympian gods, and far more powerful than a mere wind.  And he was a favorite son of Zeus, increasing the risk to any immortal who dared rise up against him.

Hycanthos, though…he could be punished.  He could be made to suffer, and his suffering would cause Apollo anguish.

Zephyros waited impatiently for the right opportunity.  If Apollo realized his former rival was plotting something, he might strike first, and convince his father to throw Zephyros into Tartaros.  He had to be cautious not to let Apollo realize he was up to something.  And he had to make sure that he wouldn’t be punished afterwards.  Revenge was no good if he had to suffer for taking it.

Alas for poor, unwitting Hyacinthos!  Zephyros found his opportunity much too soon for the tastes of the lovers.  (Who, of course, would have preferred that he never find such an opportunity.)

Athletic contests were being held outside Sparta, and Apollo wanted to impress his young boyfriend, so he was competing, even though no mortal had any hope of matching him.  (Indeed, few even tried!)

When it came time for the athletes to throw the discus, Zephyros waited out of sight, watching events with eager eyes.  As Apollo stepped up to make his throw, Zephyros prepared his winds.

The golden-haired god hurled the discus into the air, and Zephyros released the wind, blowing the discus off course, and causing it to strike Hyacinthos in the head.

No mortal could survive such a blow from a god, and the boy breathed out his last.

Distraught, Apollo did all he could to revive the boy.  He tried healing poultices, but it was far too late for that.  When Thanatos arrived to take the boy’s soul away, Apollo tried reasoning with him to let Hyacinthos live, and he tried threatening him, and he tried bargaining with him, but Thanatos was implacable, as always, and even Apollo had to admit defeat before him.

As he wept over his lost love, Apollo gently touched his fingertip to each drop of Hyacinthos’ blood that had fallen to the ground.  In each spot, a hyacinth rose up from the earth to commemorate the beautiful youth whose life had been cut so short.  Upon each leaf of the flower was written the god’s lament.


I’d like to think I could have done a better job of that if I’d had more time….but I may only be fooling myself.  (The original doesn’t give me a lot to work with, after all.)

Anyway, that last line is referring to the marks on the leaves of the hyacinth plant (which was not, apparently, the same plant as the one we call a hyacinth), which looked like the Greek letters AI, and “ai ai” was the mourning cry, like “alas!”  (This comes up again in many texts dealing with the death of the greater Aias, of course.)

 

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