Saturday, March 6, 2010

Apollo and Hyacinth

I'm taking a class in Greek Mythology. This is one of my assignments:

I’ve always wondered why plants and flowers have Latin names. Thanks to this myth I now have my answer.

Hyacinth, or Hyacinthus, was a beautiful young Spartan boy from the southwest of Sparta who was loved by many.

Apollo, Zephyr (the God of the West Wind) and Thamyies (Apollo’s grandson) all declared their love for Hyacinth. But Hyacinth chose Apollo. Apollo was the God of prophecy and oracles, healing, plague and disease, music, song and poetry, archery, and the protection of the young.

Apollo often neglected his own duties so he could spend time with Hyacinth. Apollo taught him to shoot with a bow and arrow, and they spent time together fishing, hunting and hiking in the mountains. Apollo also taught Hyacinth to play the lyre and to throw the discus.

One day Apollo and Hyacinth were having a friendly contest throwing the discus to see who could throw the farthest. Hyacinth was feeling playful and he ran to catch the discus Apollo had thrown even though it was obviously out of reach. The discus hit a rock, rebounded and hit Hyacinth in the head. Some versions of the myth say that Zephyr blew the discus off course and deliberately killed Hyacinth out of jealousy. Apollo tried to staunch the wound but it was too late, Hyacinth died in his arms.

Apollo wouldn’t allow Hades to claim Hyacinth. He transformed the spilled blood into a flower and named it Hyacinth in honor of his friend. This flower was not like the Hyacinths we know today but rather it was lily shaped and crimson… some say purple. Apollo was so grieved that he wrote the 2 Greek symbols for “Alas, alas” on its petals.

Hyacinth’s tomb was located at the feet of Apollo’s statue and every summer there was the Spartan Festival of Hyacinthia to honor his memory. There was one day of mourning followed by two days of rejoicing to celebrate his rebirth. Some believe that this was a celebration of the transition from childhood to adulthood.

I like the idea that I can go in my garden now and imagine it full of playful deities that were changed into flowers upon their death. There is a painting by Nicolas Poussin painted in 1631 entitled The Empire of Flora, the Goddess of Spring and Flowers, showing her surrounded by all those adults and children who were transformed into flowers on their death.


  1. Shirley I love Greek Mythology. I am so glad you are taking this course so maybe I can learn something. You told that story very well and it was very entertaining, keep up the good work.

  2. I love stories like that! It is neat how mythology explains things, like the beautiful flowers! :o)