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1621 Commentary for Emblem 4 In Deo laetandum

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The commentary that follows is a conflation of earlier commentaries by Migneault and others with the work of Thuilius, the editor of the 1621 edition. It is a storehouse of the Renaissance conceptions of the classical figure of Ganymede. This is the first translation into English and is the work of Jean Guthrie.

The commentary is divided into 4 parts:


Picture a young man shapely of form and happy of face, whom an eagle takes on its back, holds with its talons, and conducts into heaven. There can be added below (though not necessarily) a barking dog, first because Virgil and Statius tell the story in this way, as I will soon show; second to signify the calumny of the envious, who usually carp at happy outcomes. As to the title of the emblem, the reference seems to me to be taken from the words of St. Paul to the Philippians: Rejoice in the Lord and again I say rejoice.


I turn to the meaning and origin of this clever poem now, to anticipate, if I may, certain matters in place of a prelude and, as it were, argument. Plato teaches in Alcibiades 2 that poetry in general is full of enigmas, in that it is not accessible to the understanding of just anyone, because the truth of matters is concealed within certain mantles of words. Creations of this kind can be explicated in three ways, however, as we frequently discover in the writings of the ancients; for certain of them take note of physics, others ethics, some even take a theological approach, as do several trained in the doctrine of Plato's followers. For thus Homer, the summit of intellectual achievement, created four primary elements, fighting among themselves and reciprocally advancing [?] each other under the names of Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, and Pluto. The allegory is transferred to aspects of character -- as when they say Pallas stirs up disagreements and battles with Mars, we understand that she, a part of the psyche which is of course devoid of reason, [should "expers" be "experta," skilled in reason?] is raising herself to a superior level, and that vice is opposing virtue. And of this sort is the fable which I am about to explain.

Some details indeed are applicable to a theological interpretation; for instance since heaven with its motions gives rise to time, perpetually consuming what it creates, we take as an image of God, Heaven (or Coelus/Uranus), devouring his children Rhea and Saturn: among whom Coelus (or Coelius) represents the essence of the divine, Rhea the life force, and Saturn the mind of the same.

It seemed worth the effort to make these observations first, so that I can arrive more promptly at the meaning of our emblem, and as much as possible protect the ancient poets from the inept affronts of certain men of little knowledge. For I would have believed that the poets wished to attend to the same matter in their mythical narrratives as those earlier men skilled in law attended to (as Cicero notes in his work De Oratore), who to establish some authority and extend it did not want their professional arrangements made common property, except that Cn. Flavius first made them public, who on that account was said to have beaten them at their own game.

Clearly the great ancient poets in the same way, under a veil as it were, and that darkly, hid their meaning in mythical ornamentation in order to guard the mysteries of their quite abstruse wisdom, from the inexperienced herd. As Lactantius points out (1.11 and 1.19) when he says: Poets, taking things that have really happened, have transformed them with some embellishment, translated them into certain shapes by figurative phrasing, and committed untruth not in facts but in names. Therefore they are misled and clearly unsophisticated who in the fables of the poets and creations which require explication, take into account only the words themselves, and the bare denotations, or even the simple signs, and do not rather draw out those levels which contain some less obvious meaning. As those who in judging pictures notice certain colours or lines in the works, or as those who wonder at the tiles placed alongside the pictures when prices are included, nor do they notice what lies beneath the surface, or could be implied. For this divine study has I do not know what lying hidden and inaccessible, which is not equally obvious and open to all, but only to that man who possesses a talent, a mind more godlike, as Flaccus says, and as passed on in plain terms in several dialogues by the godlike Plato.

But may I add that to a greater degree than other Platonists, Maximus Tyrius contended that poets themselves were in no way secondary or inferior in wisdom to philosophers. To be sure, they seem to have accommodated themselves to the breeze of popular favour, and the lowest of the herd, while in fact they published fables of a kind which shaped in accordance with divine reasoning material more abstruse than common sense but clearer than riddles, equally distant from knowledge and lack of knowledge, creating faith in itself by being enjoyable, and creating admiration and other things not generally established enough; besides, poetry may stir the mind to careful investigation of things which are to hand, and diligent enquiry into those that are far off. In having this effect, truly these men have done something great, inasmuch as they have contrived certain snares for human ears, they -- poets in name, philosophers in fact -- have restored an odious thing to an art which to a great extent soothes the people.

For the philosopher conducts himself in relation to the popular multitude in the same way as the rich man towards those who are oppressed by poverty. We see a comparison in nature, in that those who are prone to a particular weakness do not sustain the contrary virtue, unless some disguise is introduced and counterfeits it. Truly the poet is held affable and compliant, and is especially valued for delight , but is not recognized at all, or at least rarely, for virtue. For thus doctors sprinkle a certain wholesome antidote in a sweet liquid lest the patient be put off by the bitterness of too pungent a flavour or medicine. The ancient must have thought in the same way of that philosophy which first seized and shaped the minds of men of old as if by clothing its meaning in the attire and magnificent adornment of image and lyric; and so it has been an enticement, since the vexatiousness [Migneault, 1577, has "modestia," restraint] of the discipline has been concealed in order to tame the established practice and severity of its manners. Nor would you call into question which group treats better of divine matters -- poets or philosophers. Rather you would discover that each discipline embraces the other as if they had entered into a treaty, mutually, so that you would not think them at odds. For when you say philosopher, you think poet; and when you say yes to the poet, you say yes to the philosopher.

These and many other observations Tyrius has made, which it has pleased me to bring together here, so that in what follows I am not compelled to repeat from time to time what it will be enough to have observed once. So that the scholar understands how much we owe to the poets , I will at last make plain my advice in the matter of mythological fables and poetic allegories. For if I had judged it enough to tack on a bald fable or narrative to these commentaries, however slender they are, I would be making an opening for ridicule, and for the reviling of these things as if I were putting out poetical ravings and rubbish (for there are some and have been for some time those who spurn this study of poetry as plainly worthless), and especially this fable about Ganymede, which has been castigated by Lanctantius, D. August. De Civit. 18.13, and Plato himself De Legib. 1, in the persona of the Athenian guest, presumably on account of the demented indecency of pederasty. But because I do not see how necessary it is to pursue the details so anxiously, I had rather return at last without interruption to the aim I set for myself.

And so, we take Ganymede, snatched up by the eagle, to represent the human spirit which, in the words of Plotinus, is said to hide its head amid the heavens, while it contemplates celestial matters with the eye of the mind, having left behind as it were the physical; something which of course is hardly likely to be achieved by rape. Moreover, when Plato in the Phaedo and the Theaetetus, orders the spirit to separate from the body, he does not mean that it must be separate in space, but advises that the spirit not cleave to the body, and not become alien to the higher mind, on account of the body■s activity, but try as far as possible to elevate to higher planes a kind of spirit subjected to the mind. Indeed it is known that the emblem is taken from the Symposium of Xenophon, where he explains fitly and appositely the truth of the matter of Ganymede. For he says that gods and heroes give a much higher value to friendship of the spirit than to enjoyment derived from the body. For Jupiter permits those women whose forms he loved (though they were mortal) to be mortal; but he has granted immortality to the men whose souls he pursued in love, to the number of whom Hercules, Castor and Pollux are said to belong, with some others whom they called heroes. Thus also he affirms that Ganymede was carried up to Olympus by Jupiter, for the grace of his mind not of his body. Indeed it is appropriate for me to draw evidence of this from his very name. For at one place in Homer it is written, "He delights in listening"; and also elsewhere, "knowing strategies by a mind full of wisdom." In both these texts the name Ganymede, conveying the delights of the mind, not the body, is counted among the Gods. But while there is time, here let me quote the words of the philosopher, so that I may at last relieve of a certain burden those who claim the Greek tongue:

[Passage to come]
Thus, more or less, Xenophon. It would be very easy for me to repeat the story of the honour, unless I am deceived by Pliny who has it thus in 34.8. Leocras pictures the eagle judging what he is undertaking in the case of Ganymede, or to whom to take him, sparing his talons even through the clothing, etc. Sanctius refers the origin of this Emblem to the Scholiast of Homer, Iliad 4, as follows:
Ganymede ministers only to Jupiter; since Jupiter is the prime intelligence; moreover, it is proper to take delight in the capacity of the mind, and this Ganymede celebrates.
The tale of Ganymede is restored to this interpretation by Homer, as Nicolaus Valla paraphrases it:
Tros was sown from an Erichthonian woman [?], from the blood of the Trojan king; and Ilus and Asaracus and Ganymede, outstanding in beauty, like a god,carried up into the highest heavens and placed by those above in heaven amid the honours of the gods, a beautiful youth, to mix the wine at table in the presence of Jupiter...
Ganymede was therefore the son of Tros, not of Laomedon as Cicero seems to have thought (Tusc. 1) having had a lapse of memory it seems (under which description great men are accustomed to labour, who, burdened as they are by rather weighty concerns, in citing authors or the evidence of authors, are as the saying goes, miles from the truth: as the diligent reader will discover often in the work of Aristotle, especially concerning morality). These are the words of Cicero:
Nor do I follow Homer who says Ganymede was carried off by the Gods for his beauty and served wine to Jupiter; there was no just cause why such an injury should be done to Laomedon. Homer was making up these things, and transferring human characteristics to the Gods; I would prefer he transferred divine characteristics to us.
And other poets too have been mindful of this fable. Virgil, Aeneid 5, thus:
The youth of royal descent, pictured in the embroidery, exhausts the swift deer in leafy Ida, with the javelin and the hunt; the armed bird of Jupiter has snatched him up in its clawed feet from Ida, eager, like one out of breath. The aged guards stretch out their palms to the skies in vain, and the barking of dogs rages to the heavens.
Statius, Theb. 1:
Hence the Phyrygian hunter is borne on golden wings. The peak of Gargara falls away as he soars, and Ida recedes. His companions stand grief-stricken, the dogs in vain stretch wide their jaws in sound. They seek the shade, and bark at the clouds.
Ovid writes that Ganymede was borne off not by Jupiter's eagle, but by Jupiter himself transformed into an eagle:
The king of the gods once burned with passion for the Phrygian Ganymede. And Jupiter found a shape which he preferred to his own. But he did not deign to be turned into a bird, except that which could carry his thunderbolts; without delay, beating the air with his dissembling wings, he bore off the Iliacan boy who now also mixes Jupiter's wine, and brings nectar to him, against the will of Juno.
And these lines lend support to the above:
Once Jupiter, as an eagle, to the handsome Ganymede, and then as a swan to the mother of Helen flew down.
There are some who relate this fable to the historical record, among whom Herodianus, 1. Albeit, he says, I discover in other authors that in that place, Ilus the Phrygian and Tantalus the Lydian made conflict, whether arising in the course of things or, more likely, because of the abduction of Ganymede. And since they battled for a long time with equal weight on each side, and many were laid low on each side, from that slaughter a name was given to the place. And the story is told that here Ganymede himself was murdered at the hands of his brother and lover who tore him apart, and that he was carried up from the fray and endowed with divine honours as a consolation for the catastrophe, when the story was told to Jupiter who bore him away. Paulus Orosius 1.12 says that because Tantalus, a king of the Phrygians most disgracefully raped Ganymede, son of Tros, king of the Dardanians, he engaged him at a higher cost in the hideousness of joining battle. As Phanocles the poet confirms, noting that a very great war was stirred up by this. Eusebius in his Chronica writes almost the same thing, saying: Because of the rape of Ganymede, a war broke out, as the poet Phanocles writes, between Tros father of Ganymede, and Tantalus. It is vain, then, to create the fable of Jupiter and the eagle abductor. The inhabitants of Chalcis were accustomed, however, to show the place (which they called Harpiguis) where Ganymede, they said, had been seized by Jupiter. Lucian, as is his custom, makes fun of this story of Ganymede in many places, so consult him if you want more on the subject. (See especially Hygin. In Astron. Poet. Martial, Epigrams 7, and Homer in the Hymn to Venus.)


Aspice Properly, for he invites us to contemplate the picture, which is grasped only by reflection and study.

Egegius pictor Excellent, outstanding, as if selected from the whole flock, skilled, of noble lineage . It is well known from Pausanias and Pliny that once upon a time, when Greece flourished, its painters were skilled not only in their own art, but in everything worthy of investigation. But who this outstanding artist was we scarcely need to ask. For you can grasp this about the particular artist who depicted these Emblems; unless you prefer a disquisition on Leocras, that most worthy artist, of whom, quoting from Pliny, I have been speaking.

Iovis alite Circumlocution for eagle. They call it the queen of birds, and the ancients believed that it brought Jupiter weapons and his thunderbolt. Horace, Carm. 4:

To such a thunder-bearing bird, the king of gods gave command of his realm, over birds who wander wide, having tested its loyalty in the matter of Ganymede of the golden hair.
That is to say it is under the protection of Jupiter in that it is not touched by his thunderbolt, as Pliny establishes, at 2. 51, and 10. 3. Or because it is capable of the highest flight, so that it soars over the clouds, and against the rays of the rising sun holds its gaze fixed, as Aristotle writes. Or because it is the queen of birds, as Pindar sings among the Olympians.Or because they thought that Jupiter was nourished by it, as Maero testifies:
But the high-flying eagle was accustomed to bring him directly in her beak sweet nectar which she drained from the crags. He that thunders on high, who victoriously took the kingdom from his father, then wished this bird to be immortal and given a place in heaven.
Phornutus wishes it to be sacred to Jupiter, because it excels other birds in speed of flight . See Pliny, 10. 4, 5. And Pierius Valerian. Hieroglyphics, 19. There are some who interpret the eagle in other ways: they understand it as a boat whose figurehead is an eagle, or a legion of soldiers, by which he is thought to have been carried off. Lactantius, 1. 10 Fulgentius, Mythologica, 1.

Fecerit He is a maker, one of the poets, for they are so called from the Greek to make. This refers to the picture, for a picture is nothing more than a silent poem; as conversely a poem is a speaking picture.

Puerum Iliacum Ganymede, from Ilium, the city of Troy, whose father was Tros, king of Troy; and he is said by the poets to have been borne off by the eagle, and taken into heaven, to preside over the drinking vessels of the gods. Martial

As the eagle bore the youth through the heavenly airs, the burden hung there, unharmed in her bulging talons ...
Summa per astra I think it refers to the wings of the spirit, a subject on which Plato has written.

Vehi A remarkable metaphor: by it is meant the vehicle of the spirit, thought or contemplation.

Quisne Iovem Jupiter is the same as "helping father," whom in a different case we call Jove, from iuvare. So says Cicero, De Nat. Deor. 2. He is spoken of in a similar way by the Greeks as Zeus, because he is the creator of the life of all (in Greek of living, like vivo). The same they also call Dia in Greek, because through him everything exists. These matters and more Diogenes Laertius in his Vita Xenonis.

Tactum puerili, etc. The sacred writings record in various places that childlike simplicity, that is, innocence and purity of mind, are very pleasing to God. On which that of sacred scripture should be quoted: Suffer little children to come unto me, and Except we become as little children etc.

Maeonius Homer, who is called the blind Maeonian by Martianus Capella, De Nuptiis Philologiae, 1, is said to have been so named after King Maeon by whom he was brought up. Thersagoras, in Lucian on the Encomium of Demosthenes, thus speaks concerning Homer: his father the Maeonian was a Lydian; his mother Menalopes they say was a nymph of the dryads. Others say he was called the Maeonian or the Maeonidan from Maeonia, a region of Asia Minor (Pliny and Ptolemy so testify), now called Lydia, because it was from there that Homer, as is the opinion of certain scholars, took his origin. But concerning the homeland of Homer, certain things have been passed on, and many epigrams written on this subject. I shall append one distich from Gellius, Noct. Attic. 3.11:

Seven cities vie for the origin of the distinguished Homer: Smyrna, Rhodes, Colophon, Salamis, Ios, Argos, and Athens.
But Plutarch, following the opinion of Ephorus of Cumae, relates that the name Maeonian comes not from a country but from a family. For he lists three Cumaean brothers, Artelles, Maeon, and Dius: of whom Dius is said to have migrated to Ascra, a village of Boeotia, and there to have fathered Herodius with his wife Pycimis; Attelles is said to have died in his native land and to have left his daughter, named Critheis, in the care of his brother Maeon. Having made her pregnant, Maeon, fearing disgrace, arranged to marry her to Phemius the grammarian, and not long after she gave birth by the river Meles, to Homer, who is threfore called Meligenes. His life is very extensively covered by Herodotus; consult him.

Senex For the wisdom of age, for his authority and dignity, Homer has been advanced so far in honour that he is acclaimed by the most celebrated writers not only as a divine author of ancient poetry among the Greeks (see Apuleius, 9), but at the highest level of attainment, as the parent of letters and the fountainhead of learning. And it is especially memorable that when Palaton the poet , using words like a painter, described Homer, he pictured him as if gushing, and other poets standing in his ambit, drinking in what he cast out. That description of Ovid can be applied fittingly to it:

Behold the Maeonian, by whom as by a perennial fountain the mouths of the poets are refreshed with Pierian streams.
If I wished to proclaim further the praises of this man, I fear I would be undertaking an empty and altogether futile labour, since there seems nothing else to do but praise him, because no one criticizes him and everyone reveres and esteems him. Or I might even take up with Aristophanes from what source to accept muriamphoron, according to the commentary of Suidas a word for ten thousand amphoras, with which I can rebuke him worthily enough. Praise of him, his native land, the loss of his sight, and the time in which he lived (on which authors are in some doubt) Melchior Guilandmus has collated from the most reliable sources, in Tract. de Papyro, 4.

Consilium mens atque Dei, etc. This is the myth by which he responds to what is asked: in which it should be noted how graphically and aptly he expresses the force of Ganymede's name. The Greek means he is one who rejoices: What he said corresponds with this: offer joys; and medea, purposes from which "rejoices in the mind of God," explains the sense of the emblem and the fable. For that joy, he says, is proper which arises out of reflection and contemplation, and in which several philosophers have placed the highest good. I explicate the distich thus: he to whom the purposes and thoughts of God manifest their joys, is believed to be close to great Jupiter.


Alciatus has brought the abduction of Ganymede to those who by devout reflection and zealous disposition of spirit penetrate as it were into the dwelling-place of God, and to such a degree take pleasure in those things which are pleasing to God that even in this life they experience some of the delights of eternal blessing. The commentary on Homer does not dispute this (Iliad 4) designating the highest understanding by Jupiter's name, and by Ganymede's the man who rejoices in divine powers of judgment.

The poet of old, Naumachius, with almost the same sense, said "It is beautiful for a virgin to delight always in pure thoughts"; that is (for the Greek words accord very appropriately with the etymology of Ganymede's name):

But even the grammarians, not only but also philosophers the blessed or lucky, whom they call [in Greek] prosperous and happy,
think the name is given to those men in no other sense than because they hold someone to be in concord with the gods. For they interpret "to be happy" in Aristotle as "to live well"; some also as "to contemplate," and "happily" [?] from "rejoicing." The reference is Arist. Moral. ad Nichomach. 7; and 10.4, whose meaning Sanctius renders a little less expansively [as follows].

There is, he says, in each sense a particular pleasure, as in hearing, tasting, etc. But in each sense there will be a perfect pleasure, if that sense is of the purest and the object of that sense is of the highest excellence.To make this idea clearer by illustration: If the sense of hearing is fully purified, and it is presented with some heavenly, ethereal music, then the highest pleasure of that sense will be engendered. The same with sight. What does it profit if you be shown the most intricately wrought picture of Apelles or Timanthis, if you are purblind or deprived of sight altogether? It is essential in the end, that your sight be of the clearest, and its object be of the highest excellence. Therefore, as each sense has a pleasure that is proper to it, so do the mind, the understanding, the faculty of contemplation; and similarly, the highest pleasure of our understanding is created if that faculty, as far as is possible, be of the purest and cleanest, and choose for itself of all things that which is of the highest excellence, namely God, to contemplate him and, with all its powers, be seized by him. The man who deploys his understanding in this way, and is not intent upon the vile and transient things of this age, can deservedly be called a Ganymede. For truly (as Aristotle says, 10. 8), if the gods care for human affairs (as indeed they do care), it is surely fitting that they delight in what is best, and what is most closely conjoined in a bond of kinship with them themselves, as the mind seems to be, and that they bestow benefits on those men who love that thing especially and cultivate it; because the gods take care of those things which they hold dear, and they seek to do what is right and above reproach. Therefore whoever is dearest to God must be most happy; thus the wise man is especially likely to be happy. This is what he says.

Therefore I add besides a note on the matter of devotion: the story of Ganymede's abduction does not contain a disgrace, but a fable by which men can be aroused to the worship of God. I have praised authors, certainly thinking them worthy, Xenophon of course, and Eustathius, commentator on Homer. Plainly our scholars have not been rash in attributing to St. John the hieroglyphic of the eagle, in that they showed his insight in divine matters to be, if I may say so, especially penetrating and keen-sighted. As indeed the eagle, aquila, like the little needle, acula, is so named for acumen, sharpness of mind; and as Homer bears witness, the eagle is the most sharp-sighted of the winged things flying in the heavens; thus the godly one, by directing the blade of his sight into the recess of the highest divinity, above all others saw the mysteries of the god-man, whereby he destroyed the unspeakable heresy of the Ebionitae; he also flew on airborne wings, and from that very nest of things divine borrowed those pellucid gems which since then have been bringing to the blurred eyes of men, clarity true and certain.

But here I restrain myself, because I see that to be the task of the theologians, if I may add a quotation from Lactantius Firmianus, 5. 10, which makes the general argument of this emblem: To render favourable the God whom you worship, he says, you need those things in which you know he rejoices and delights. Thus it happens that God shapes the life of his worshippers according to the quality of his will, since worship is the most religious act [imitari?].

Therefore the entire emblem suggests that he who will be of exquisite and outstanding beauty, that is, pure of all sin, and stained by no vices, but brilliant in the integrity of his life, and endowed with virtues in every way resplendent, and who, being humble in spirit and innocent like a boy, with all his purposes and thoughts rejoices in God alone - he is said to be seized of God by an eagle, so signifying the mind of man (which in the form of a bird flies towards the heavens). Such a one will truly rejoice in God, and lastly, will pledge Him fitly in heaven with that eternal and sweetest nectar.

Last revised 11 January 1998