Narkissos

Of Gods and Men

by Pedro

pedro@awesomedude.com

His body groaned as he woke. The throbbing in his head told him to lie still.

Slipping from the arms of Morpheus, he realised he had another in his arms, sharing his couch. To avoid the bright sunlight of the new day aggravating the pain in his head, he kept his eyes shut as he ran his hands across the sleeping form next to him. He felt the firm smooth chest. He leant in and smelled the delicate muskiness. It must be the boy. He moved his hand along the body and found the expected conformation. The picture in his mind of the naked youth caused him to smile. To see the delightful form in the flesh, he raised himself on one elbow and opened his eyes.

For a brief moment, as the movement made his headache more acute, he pondered if he was getting too old for these revels. Perhaps he was. Although he had the body of a man in prime physical condition, complete with a full head of hair and a magnificent beard, the god was, a priori, older than the civilisation that believed in him.

Zeus, for it was he on the couch, indeed the king of the gods, looked down at Ganymede, his beautiful cup-bearer. The youth had the look of one well, if somewhat roughly, ridden. Zeus grew troubled. Clearly they had lain together but he could remember nothing of last night’s revels after the taking of wine with the first guests to the feast. He would need to be careful as he questioned the youth about the night. Zeus knew that the boy might feel ill-used and cause trouble if he came to realise that that he, Zeus, could not even remember what had happened between them.

In fact Ganymede would have preferred not to have been lusted after and plucked from the world of mortals, even if it was a god, the king of the gods, doing the lusting and plucking. Zeus thought Ganymede a mite ungrateful. After all it had taken a great deal of effort to take the form of an eagle in order to snatch and carry off the boy. And then he had given him a post as his cup-bearer. The sinecure might have been to cover the real reason he was on Mount Olympus, but it meant the youth could sup on ambrosia and wine and enjoy (being) the benefits of the godly lifestyle.

Zeus did remember that the revels were in celebration of the end of the month of Gamelion and the beginning of Anthersterion, the month that brought the first signs of spring. A gentle enquiry of Ganymede provoked a sharply spoken confirmation that Dionysus had been there. That explained why he could remember nothing of the night. He always drank far too much wine when sharing cups with Dionysus. Ganymede had probably had to clean him before leading him to their couch.

Greek athlete wearing the Kynodesme

While Ganymede did his morning exercises and ablutions, Zeus watched and made complimentary and encouraging remarks. He also flattered the young man with a few romantic comments. It wasn’t really in Zeus’s nature to be romantic but he could be as charming as Eros or Orpheus when necessary: seducing the nymphs or his other conquests. He even turned himself into a bull to seduce Europa.

Hera walked in just as Ganymede was tying a kynodesme on his foreskin to ensure that he could not be so uncouth as to display his glans in public. It always amused Zeus that the mortals considered a large penis and showing the glans were signs of barbarism and all the statues they made of him had a modest cluster to represent civilized and cultured behaviour. With the number of demi-gods he had sired, and his behaviour with the nymphs, he should have been shown with the equipment of a satyr.

Zeus was grateful he had spent the night with the ephobe and not a female companion. He would not have to endure one of his wife’s scolding tirades in his self-inflicted, delicate state.

Although she would not admit it publicly, Hera was actually quite pleased that Ganymede had been brought into the realm of the gods. He could offer Zeus something that she didn’t have. Ganymede would be at the drinking parties and would take care of Zeus so that she didn’t have to share the bed with him drunkenly slobbering over her. Furthermore Zeus would not spawn yet more demi-gods from coupling with Ganymede. That he was also a polite and personable young man was of course why he was on Mount Olympus at all.

Of course Hera had to admire the neat bow Ganymede had tied in his kynodesme and couldn’t resist saying that it would be a good thing if Zeus were to wear one more often or, better still, all the time.

Hiding a smile, Ganymede left to do his daily audit of wine and ambrosia supplies.

Zeus did not take the bait. Hera should have known of his philandering when she married him. After all she was his seventh wife.

Not getting the reaction she had wanted, Hera summonsed her chariot and peacocks and went to attend a sacrifice being held at her temple on Samos.

Zeus decided to have a quiet day. Definitely no throwing of thunderbolts — not a good idea with the headache he still had. He too left Mount Olympus and wandered down to the lake in that part of Arcadia occupied by the nymphs. The cool waters of the lake might refresh his body and sooth his head. If that worked and some of the nymphs happened to come by, something might come up and maybe Ganymede could have a night off.

At that time of the afternoon when the fauns were beginning to awake, the nymphs arrived at the pool, ready to wash away the heat of the day. Zeus watched them disrobe and splash into the water. Feeling sufficiently recovered he started to swim across the lake to join the nymphs. As he got closer he could hear a buzzing sound. At first he thought it was some bees nesting in a nearby tree, but when he was spotted by the group of nymphs and heard a high pitched squeal, he realised the youth Echo was amongst them and that it was his incessant chatter that sounded like the bees.

Echo was a very beautiful youth. Indeed, he was one of the two most beautiful boys on the earth after Ganymede had been taken to the realm of the gods. The other was Narcissus. However while Narcissus liked the hunt and other manly pursuits, Echo was effeminate and passed in the company of the nymphs where he was welcomed for his ability to discover and recite tales of news and libidinous adventures down to the last iota. His failing was that he would never cease talking, seemingly never needing to stop to breathe. Although he admired the boy’s beauty, Zeus found his manner and high pitched lisping prattle annoying.

Zeus became enamoured of a couple of the nymphs and they swam to a more secluded part of the lake. Unfortunately he could still hear Echo babbling away and, still nursing the last vestiges of his hangover, his attention was distracted from the nymphs, and so he started to complain about the boy. The more his companions tried to quiet him the more vociferous Zeus became in his complaints. Finally he could contain his frustration no longer and shouted at the boy to be silent and cracked a thunderbolt above his head for emphasis.

It was only a small thunderbolt because Zeus had not wanted to aggravate his headache, but it was enough to declare his presence to the group around Echo. Zeus basked in the blessed silence that fell, until the group turned to face him. It was then that he understood why the nymphs he had been cavorting with had been so insistent that he should remain quiet. Amongst the listeners Echo had been entertaining with his stories was none other than his wife, Hera.

Hera had long suspected that Zeus frequented the lake to indulge his passions with the nymphs but had never caught him on her visits there, always being distracted by the latest reports and tales from the youth, Echo. Now she realised that his distractions were a deliberate ploy to protect her husband from discovery. In her wrath at the deception, Hera cursed Echo that he should never speak again save to repeat the last two syllables he heard.

Poor Echo was so ashamed at the loss of that great part of him — the sound of his own voice — that he fled into the forest.

Zeus, when he had recovered from the further headache induced by the scolding he received from his wife, came to realise that he had ill-used the boy, Echo, and wished him some recompense. Unable to overturn a direct command of his wife, he sought help from the god Pan who had domain over Arcadia.

Pan found Echo in a rocky place weeping his tears into a still, dark pool. Pan studied the boy and was struck by his beauty and his resemblance to the youthful hunter, Narcissus. Indeed, to his eyes, they might almost pass as twins. It gave him an idea for what to do about Echo.

Ganymede might have warned Echo that being favoured by the gods was not always beneficial to the recipient of those favours. Given his treatment by Zeus and Hera already, Echo would have concurred.

Pan decided that in helping Echo he could also resolve the difficulties he was having on account of Narcissus. For the youth was of such beauty that all who saw him must fall in love with him, yet he would rebuff all suitors with disdain, not willing to be taken as eromenos for an erastes — as the beloved of an older mentor. Such was the despair of those who were rejected, that they would kill themselves rather than live without his love. And it was not only the men of Arcadia who fell under his spell. Many who would be his wife were scythed down by his rejections. With all the rotting corpses, Pan feared Arcadia was becoming less than arcadian because of Narcissus.

Pan cast Echo to sleep while he went in search of Narcissus. Finding the young hunter, Pan took the form of a beautiful stag and lured him in the chase to the pool. There, Pan resumed his own form and hid with Echo among the rocks.

Pan roused Echo and showed where Narcissus was standing on the other side of the pool. As expected, Echo fell in love and would willingly have had Narcissus as his erastes.

Narcissus, thirsty from the chase, knelt down to drink from the dark pool. In doing so, he saw his own reflection, succumbed to the spell of his own beauty and fell in love with himself.

Seeing Narcissus staring into the pool, Echo became distraught, fearing rejection by the object of his love. Pan calmed him and whispered how his desires might be fulfilled. It would mean Echo holding his breath for some time, but from his incessant talking, he was no stranger to breath control.

So Echo, making no ripples, carefully lowered himself into the pool and swam below the surface to where Narcissus was admiring his reflection. He then rose as far as possible without breaking the surface and, still holding his breath, waited for his chance.

The two boys were so alike in countenance that Narcissus could not discern Echo behind his own reflection. As he closed his eyes and leant down to kiss the object of his desires, his own reflection, Narcissus spoke the words Echo was waiting to hear: ‘I love you’. In accordance with Hera’s curse he whispered back, ‘love you’ as he surfaced. He then locked the other boy in a kiss before forcing them both back on to the bank of the pool. Convinced by the sensuality of the kiss that the object of his desire had risen from the pool to claim him, Narcissus responded in ecstasy.

Pan watched as they writhed in their passion and, as they neared climax, they appeared to meld into one before disappearing from mortal view for ever, but where the seed that was spent as the result of their ardent frottage had landed on the ground there stood a beautiful flower.

.oOo.

In his retirement Zeus often reminisced about his time on Mount Olympus and how the world had changed since.

He mused how Ovid, the poet, like all good storytellers, had changed the tale to suit his audience and made Echo one of the nymphs. Ovid, of course, was a Roman and the Romans never quite understood the noble relationship of erastes and eromenos.

Zeus remembered how he upset Ganymede once too often and the boy took his revenge by pouring away all the ambrosia, wine and water causing an inundation of the earth. The other gods made him banish Ganymede from Mount Olympus, so Zeus had put him in the heavens as the constellation Aquarius, which is in the ascendant much in line with the old lunar month of Gamelion.

He thought on how the gods who made him redundant had taken various festivals and re-made them to suit their own purposes. They even have one at about the time of the beginning of Anthesterion celebrating love and lovers, although they don’t approve of the love between erastes and eromenos.

It also amused Zeus mightily that mankind has become so immodest that large penises are no longer considered barbaric. As for being uncivilised and showing the glans in public, some now have their foreskin surgically removed and must therefore show their glans all the time. How uncouth!

As for the fate of Echo and Narcissus — although they are never seen, they still must be in the world of men for Echo is often heard repeating the last words he hears. That they also must still be spilling the results of their love everywhere is evidenced by the number of daffodils to be seen each spring. Zeus was jealous of their continued passion and its manifest expression. They had a further small revenge on him too — inspiring the poet, Wordsworth:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils:
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

So romantic and sickly sweet it made old Zeus’ stomach churn.

Note

The erastes-eromenos relationship was expected to include the mentoring of the younger man in the ways of the world, in particular tutelage in the skills he would need to run his estates and to take his place in the polis of the city state in which he lived. For more information read the Wikipedia entries here and here. Although there could be a sexual element to the relationship, penetrative sex was unlikely to have been as common as might be imagined as it was considered dishonourable for the recipient.


Picture credits

Narkissos, painting by Finnish artist Magnus Enckel 1879-1925, public domain.

Greek athlete wearing the Kynodesme, attributed to the Triptolemos painter, dating from about 480 B.C.E, public domain.

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