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Commentary on Emblem 4This emblem depends for its force on an elaborate and very ancient pun on the name of Ganymede.
The Iliacan boy is Ganymede, a youth of the founding family of Troy (Ilium). Jupiter fell in love with him and, as an eagle, carried him off to heaven, to become his cup-bearer. The Maeonian is Homer (said to have come from Maeonia) who describes the moment in the Iliad 20.232. In Xenophon's Symposium (8.30) Socrates argues that
even in the case of Ganymede, it was not his person but his spiritual character that influenced Zeus to carry him up to Olympus. This is confirmed by his very name. Homer, you remember, has the words, "He joys to hear" (ganutai de t' akouon); that is to say, "he rejoices to hear"; and in another place, "harbouring shrewd devices in his heart" (pukina phresi medea eidos). This, again, means "Harbouring wise counsels in his heart." So the name given Gany-mede, compounded of the two foregoing elements, signifies not physically but mentally attractive; hence his honour among the gods.The Loeb edition (3:471), where this translation appears, notes that the first of the phrases quoted from Homer has never been located as such in the Homeric text, and the second may be based on a number of similar expressions. So the name is a compound of two archaic words, ganutai ("he joys," "exults") and medea ("devices," "thoughts"). These words actually appear (as ganusthai medesi) on many illustrations of the emblem. As Alciato's poem makes clear, one who is seized physically (raptus) by the god will receive pleasure if judgment and understanding are also engaged in worship. And there is also a suggestion that if we rejoice in God, we too shall be ravished by him. This begins the sequence on "God, or Religion" in the standard order of the emblems.
Contemporary readers would have been familiar with various references to Ganymede. The best known place was Ovid Metamorphoses 10.155-61, the song of Orpheus after he had lost his Eurydice, in which he sings of famous loves:
The king of the gods once burned with love for Phrygian Ganymede, and something was found which Jove would rather be than what he was. Still he did not deign to take the form of any bird save only that which could bear his thunderbolts. Without delay he cleft the air on his lying wings and stole away the Trojan boy, who, even now, though against the will of Juno, mingles the nectar and attends the cups of Jove.In Pliny Natural History 34.19.79 there is a description of a statue by Leochares of "an Eagle carrying off Ganymede in which the bird is aware of what his burden is and for whom he is carrying it, and is careful not to let his claws hurt the boy even through his clothes". Lucian (d 180 AD) has two very funny Dialogues of the Gods (4 and 5 [Loeb edition 8 and 10; 7:269-75 and 7:281-91]) in which Hera and Zeus argue over Zeus's new lover and in which Zeus tries to explain to the naive shepherd boy why exactly he has carried him off and what his new duties will be, during the day - and at night.
The barking dog in the picture for 1621 comes from Virgil Aeneid 5.250-7.Aeneas gives the winner of a ship-race a cloak as a prize. On this cloak is depicted Ganymede as he is carried off by the eagle. Below "his aged guardians in vain stretch forth their hands to the stars, and the savage barking of dogs rises skyward." The barking dog is not an element in the early versions of the picture (in 1531 and 1534, for instance), but became standard later on. This modification indicates how an emblem picture can develop independently of the text, instead becoming associated with the interpretive commentary that accompanies the text.
We have a draft translation of the 1621 commentary on this emblem.
Last modified 11 February 1998