This lithographic print portrays the myth of Ganymede’s abduction, or rape, by Zeus. The adolescent Trojan shepherd, Ganymede, was known in Ancient Greece as the most beautiful of all mortals. He was abducted by the bisexual god Zeus, disguised as an eagle, so he could serve as his wine-pourer and bedfellow.
Plato famously claimed that Cretans invented the Ganymede myth in order to justify their pederasty. Pederasty was widely considered a socially acceptable erotic relationship between an adult male and an adolescent male in Ancient Greece. The forms of intercourse it involved were highly standardised. It most commonly involved intercrural sex, where the older partner rubs his penis between the younger’s thighs. The English word ‘catamite’, used specifically to refer to the junior partner in a pederastic relationship, was derived from the Latin form of Ganymede, Catamitus.
Since antiquity Ganymede has consistently served as an artistic expression for homosexuality. However, the very different manner in which he is portrayed at different points in history is revealing of the changing attitudes to homosexuality in those time. In ancient times the homoerotic character of the myth was a feature of numerous vase paintings. In the middle ages some depictions focused on the homosexual content of the myth in order to portray all male-male sexuality as immoral. This was part of an ongoing transformation of classical myths into Christian moral parables. Others whitewashed the myth, by removing the sexual overtones and portraying Ganymede as a pure child or baby enraptured by a divine presence. In the Renaissance period artists such as Michelangelo, focussed on the youthful beauty of Ganymede. By the late-nineteenth century the myth of Ganymede had been rewritten in official sources to exclude any reference to homosexuality. However, the renaissance image of Ganymede as a beautiful youth persisted amongst learned gay men, ensuring he was still sometime utilised as an expression of homosexual desire.
This print by the Liverpool-based printmaker and painter Percy Bulcock differs from most representations of Ganymede by picturing him as an infant attempting to flee the clutches of the eagle. It is therefore unlikely that this image is intended to portray the myth in connection to either homosexuality or pederasty. The younger partner in pederastic relationships in ancient Greece are thought to have been commonly aged from around fifteen to their early twenties. It may be based on Rembrandt’s 1635 painting entitled ‘Rape of Ganymede’ which similarly presents Ganymede as a baby, urinating in fright. This painting is thought to have been symbolic of a different Protestant allegorical interpretation of Ganymede as a beloved child "abducted from life too soon". Bulcock’s lithograph may similarly have been intended to symbolise the untimely death of a child.