Beautiful Spartan youth
Hyacinthus, in Greek myth, was a beautiful youth of Amyclae (an ancient city near Sparta). He was loved both by the god Apollo and by Zephyrus (the west wind), and the youth preferred Apollo as is erastes.
Zephyrus, out of jealousy, blew a discus thrown by Apollo so that it struck and killed Hyacinthus. From his blod sprang a flower bearing his name, perhaps a kind of iris, with markings interpreted as reading aiai, "alas, alas!"
The story of Apollo and Hyacinth is gracefully told by Ovid, in the tenth book of his Metamorphoses:
" Midway betwixt the past and coming night
Stood Titan [the Sun] when the pair, their limbs unrobed,
And glist'ning with the olive's unctuous juice,
In friendly contest with the discus vied."
[The younger one is struck by the discus; and like a fading flower...]
" To its own weight unequal drooped the head
Of Hyacinth; and o'er him wailed the god: -
Liest thou so, Œbalia's child, of youth
Untimely robbed, and wounded by my fault -
At once my grief and guilt? - This hand hath dealt
Thy death I 'Tis I who send thee to the grave!
And yet scarce guilty, unless guilt it were
To sport, or guilt to love theel Would this life
Might thine redeem, or be with thine resigned!
But thou-since Fate denies a god to die -
Be present with me everl Let thy name
Dwell ever in my heart and on my lips,
Theme of my lyre and burden of my song;
And ever bear the echo of my wail
Writ on thy new-born flowerl The time shall come
When, with thyself associate, to its nameThe mightiest of the
Greeks shall link his own.
Prophetic as Apollo mourned, the blood
That with its dripping crimson dyed the turf
Was blood no more: and sudden sprang to life
(Translation of H. King, London, 1871)
Hyakinthos, the young son of the King of Sparta, beautiful like the very gods of Mount Olympos, was beloved of Apollo, shooter of arrows. The god often came down to the shores of the Eurotas River in Sparta to spend time with his young friend and delight in boyish pleasures. Tired of music and his long bow Apollo found relief in rustic pastimes near his lover's house.
Together they would go hunting through the woods and glades on the mountain sides, or they would practice gymnastics, a skill for which the Spartans were renowned. The simple life awoke Apollo's appetites, and made the boy seem more charming than ever.
Once, in the heat of a summer afternoon, the lovers, naked, sleeked themselves with oil, and tried their hand at discus throw, each vying to outdo the other. The bronze discus flew higher and higher.
Finally, the powerful god gathered all his strength, and spun and wheeled and let fly the shiny disk which rose swift as a bird, cutting the clouds in two. Then, glittering like a star, it began to tumble down.
Hyakinthos ran to meet it. He was hurrying to take his turn, to prove to Apollo that he, though just a young athlete, was no less able than the god at this sport.
The discus landed, but having fallen from such a great height it bounced and violently struck Hyakinthos in the head. He let out a groan and crumpled to the ground. The blood spurted thickly from his wound, coloring crimson the curly black hair of the handsome youth.
Horrified, Apollo raced over. He bent over his friend, raised him up, rested the boy's head on his knees, trying desperately to staunch the blood flowing from the wound. But it was all in vain. Hyakinthos grew paler and paler. His eyes, always so clear, lost their gleam and his head rolled to one side, just like a flower of the field wilting under the pitiless rays of the noonday sun.
Heartbroken, Apollo cried out:
"Death has taken you in his claws, beloved friend! Woe, for by my own hand you have died. And yet its crime was meeting yours at play. Was that a crime? Or was my love to blame - the guilt that follows love that loves too much? Oh, if only I could pay for my deed by joining you in your journey to the cheerless realms of the dead. Oh, why am I cursed to live forever? Why can't I follow you?"
Apollo held his dying friend close to his breast, and his tears fell in a stream onto the boy's bloody hair. Hyakinthos died, and his soul flew to the kingdom of Hades. The god bent close to the dead boy's ear, and softly whispered:
"In my heart you will live forever, beautiful Hyakinthos. May your memory live always among men as well."
And lo, at a word from Apollo, a fragrant red flower rose from Hyakinthos's blood. We call it hyacinth, and on its petals you can still read the letters "Ay," the sigh of pain that rose from Apollo's breast. And the memory of Hyakinthos lived on among the gentlemen of Sparta, who gave honors to the memory of their son, and celebrated him in mid-summer at the Hyakinthaea festival.
(After The Metamorphoses of Ovid)