Friday, April 27, 2007

Zeus and Ganymede, Temple of Zeus at Olympia

This terracotta statue of Zeus (c. 470 BCE) transporting Ganymede to Mount Olympus, where eternal youth will be his, has always struck me as slightly absurd. Both characters adopt stiff, artificial poses, and the scene is unconvincing either as rape or as seduction. However, I believe it is an effective acroterion, and I can well assume it looks better from below looking up. Zeus' archaic smile is in full bloom, and although the figures may be a bit more vigorous than their Archaic counterparts, it seems to herald the end of one style rather than the opening of another.

Thematically, the piece fits into a program, of sorts, at the Olympia site, where pederastic motifs associate with the theme of athletics and with the story of Pelops and the chariot race with king Oinomaus. Pelops was beloved of Poseidon, the god of the sea. Pindar, as Judith Barringer points out, links both couples in his first ode [Pelops is the son of Tantalos]:

Meet is it for a man that concerning gods he speak honourably; for the
reproach is less. Of thee, son of Tantalos, I will speak contrariwise
to them who have gone before me, and I will tell how when thy father
had bidden thee to that most seemly feast at his beloved Sipylos,
repaying to the gods their banquet, then did he of the Bright
Trident[6], his heart vanquished by love, snatch thee and bear thee
behind his golden steeds to the house of august Zeus in the highest,whither again on a like errand came Ganymede in the after time. (Pindar, Olympian Ode #1, translated by Ernest Myers)
The word catamite, incidentally, derives from the name of Ganymede.