Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ganymede: from an early draft of my latest W&P column

This was the final section of my upcoming column on child magic for the upcoming Witches & Pagans.  (It celebrates my new blog on the website -- which I will be starting as soon as Annamaria recovers from the cold which leveled me for a couple days).  While this didn't make it into the magazine, I decided to share it on my blog.

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If we are talking about new aeons, we can't forget the Age of Aquarius. And we cannot discuss Aquarius without touching upon the myth which gave us the Water-Bearer: the story of Ganymede and his abduction by Zeus. Legend tells us that Ganymede was the most beautiful of mortal boys: looking down from Olympus, the King of the Gods fell in love with the golden-haired youth. Sending an eagle to fetch him (or in some accounts transforming himself into an eagle) the Sky-Father brought him to Olympus. There he made him cupbearer to the Gods and granted him the boon of immortality so that he would ever remain young and beautiful.

This myth has long inspired controversy. In his Laws Plato stated "The Cretans are always accused of having invented the story of Ganymede and Zeus because they wanted to justify themselves in the enjoyment of unnatural pleasures by the practice of the god whom they believe to have been their lawgiver" and claimed " the intercourse of men with men, or of women with women, is contrary to nature, and that the bold attempt was originally due to unbridled lust." (While Plato praised relationships between adult and adolescent males in Phaedrus, he felt that sexual desire led to irrational, dangerous behavior and should be confined to procreative intercourse).

Others have claimed the relationship between Zeus and Ganymede was chaste, despite the fact that the dramatist Euripedes referred to Ganymede as the "dear delight of Zeus's bed" and the poet Callimachus claimed "Yea, by Ganymedes of the fair locks, O Zeus in heaven, thou too hast loved." His very name contains a double meaning, being derived from the Greek ganumai ("gladdening") and mêdon ("prince") or medeôn ("genitals"). And if their relationship was chaste, why did Virgil and other writers claim Hera became enraged at the youth and take her revenge on the kingdom of his origin, Troy?

A 3,500 year-old Cretan chalice and 2,400 year-old text by the historian Ephorus describes a male initiation rite which may shed light on this story. The chalice (known as the "Chieftan cup") depicts a young man offering a sword and javelin to a younger boy: on the other side the young men's friends bring ox hides for making a shield. The text by Ephorus states that weapons were among the lover's gifts to the beloved, and that the lover's friends would help to provide presents. It also states that the courtship began with a ritualized "kidnapping" – one which could only take place after the boy's father had granted approval. For the next two months a paideia (education – found in our English words "encyclopedia" and "pederasty") takes place between the lover and beloved. At the end of this time the youth receives three ritual gifts as a token of his entrance into the world of manhood: a military outfit, an ox and a wine cup.

While we may rightfully be disturbed at some of the implications of the Ganymede myth, perhaps we should turn our attention to some of our culture's myths about child sexuality and child desirability. Our educational system continues to crumble: we incur enormous debts and create environmental messes that will cause suffering for generations to come. Yet to hear much contemporary discourse, you'd think the greatest threat our children faced was pedophiles and child pornographers seeking new victims in playgrounds, schoolyards and Internet chatrooms. As James Kinkaid points out, "In saying so loudly that pedophilia is monstrous, even impossible, aren't we building up a chorus that sings of how the sexual attractiveness of children is indubitable and pedophilia is inevitable? What could be more normal than this monstrousness?"