Hyacinth (mythology)

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The Death of Hyacinthos, by Jean Broc. The discus that killed Hyacinthos can be seen at his feet. Musée Sainte-Croix, Poitiers, France.

Hyacinth /ˈhəsɪnθ/ or Hyacinthus (Greek: Ὑάκινθος Huákinthos) is a divine hero from Greek mythology. His cult at Amyclae southwest of Sparta dates from the Mycenaean era. A temenos or sanctuary grew up around what was alleged to be his burial mound, which was located in the Classical period at the feet of Apollo's statue.[1] The literary myths serve to link him to local cults, and to identify him with Apollo.


Hyacinth was given various parentage, providing local links, as the son of Clio and Pierus, or of king Oebalus of Sparta, or of king Amyclus of Sparta,[2] progenitor of the people of Amyclae, dwellers about Sparta. As the son of the latter and Diomedes, Hyacinth was the brother of Cynortus. His cult at Amykles dates from Mycenaean Greece.


Hyacinthus and the West Wind on a red-figure vase

In the literary myth, Hyacinth was a beautiful youth and lover of the god Apollo. Hyacinth was also admired by Zephyrus, the West Wind, Boreas and also by a mortal named Thamyris. But Hyacinth chose Apollo over them. Apollo taught to his lover the use of bow, of music and the lyre, the art of prophecy and exercises in the gymnasium. They indulged themselves in hunting and trekking in steep, rough mountains. With Apollo, Hyacinthus visited all of Apollo's sacred lands in his chariot drawn by swans.[3]

One day Apollo and Hyacinth took turns throwing the discus. Hyacinth ran to catch it to impress Apollo, and was struck by the discus as it fell to the ground, and was fatally wounded.[4] Another version of the tale makes Zephyrus responsible for the death of Hyacinth.[5] Jealous that Hyacinth preferred the radiant Apollo, Zephyrus blew Apollo's quoit boisterously off course to kill Hyacinth.

Apollo grieved greatly over his dying lover. He used all his medicinal skills, and even tried giving ambrosia to heal Hyacinth's wound, but in vain.[6] When Hyacinth died, Apollo wished to become a mortal and join his lover in his death.[7] However, as that was not possible, Apollo did not allow Hades to claim the youth; rather, he made a flower, the hyacinth, from his spilled blood. This flower, on whose petals Apollo had inscribed the words [8] "AI AI" - "alas" was considered by the Greeks to be the most beautiful of all flowers. This flower, however, has been identified with another plant, the larkspur, or an iris, rather than what we today call hyacinth.[9]

The Bibliotheca said Thamyris who showed romantic feelings towards Hyacinthus, and the first man to have loved another man.[10]

Hyacinthia And Apotheosis[edit]

Hyacinth was the tutelary deity of one of the principal Spartan festivals, Hyacinthia, celebrated in the Spartan month of Hyacinthia (in early summer). The festival lasted three days, one day of mourning for the death of Hyacinth, and the last two celebrating his rebirth, though the division of honours is a subject for scholarly controversy.[11]. Beginning with mourning songs and dances for Hyacinth, the festival gradually evolved into a celebration of glory of Apollo. [12]

As recorded by Pausanias, Hyacinth with beard, or "first facial hair", is taken along with his sister Polyboea to heaven by Aphrodite, Athena and Artemis, accompanied by the Fates (Moirai), the Seasons (Horae), Demeter, Persephone and Hades[13]. The beard of Hyacinth represents his transformation.[14]


The Death of Hyacinth by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

The name of Hyacinth is of pre-Hellenic origin, as indicated by the suffix -nth.[15] According to classical interpretations, his myth, where Apollo is a Dorian god, is a classical metaphor of the death and rebirth of nature, much as in the myth of Adonis. It has likewise been suggested that Hyacinthus was a pre-Hellenic divinity supplanted by Apollo through the "accident" of his death, to whom he remains associated in the epithet of Apollon Hyakinthios.[16]

See also[edit]

Modern sources[edit]

  • Gantz, Timothy (1993). Early Greek Myth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Kerenyi, Karl (1959). The Heroes of the Greeks. New York/London: Thames and Hudson.

Spoken-word myths - audio files[edit]

The Hyacinth myth as told by story tellers
Bibliography of reconstruction: Homer, Iliad ii.595-600 (c. 700 BC); Various 5th century BC vase paintings; Palaephatus, On Unbelievable Tales 46. Hyacinthus (330 BC); Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.3.3; Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 162-219 (1–8 AD); Pausanias, Description of Greece 3.1.3, 3.19.4 (160 – 176 AD); Philostratus of Lemnos, Images i.24 Hyacinthus (170–245); Philostratus the Younger, Images 14. Hyacinthus (170–245); Lucian, Dialogues of the Gods 14 (170); First Vatican Mythographer, 197. Thamyris et Musae


  1. ^ There have been finds of sub-Mycenaean votive figures and of votive figures from the Geometric Period, but with a gap in continuity between them at this site: "it is clear that a radical reinterpretation has taken place," Walter Burkert has observed, instancing many examples of this break in cult during the "Greek Dark Ages", including Amykles (Burkert, Greek Religion, 1985, p 49); before the post-war archaeology, Machteld J. Mellink, (Hyakinthos, Utrecht, 1943) had argued for continuity with Minoan origins.
  2. ^ Bibliotheca 3. 10.3; Pausanias 3. 1.3, 19.4
  3. ^ Philostratus the younger, Imagines
  4. ^ Bibliotheca, 1. 3.3.
  5. ^ Lucian, Dialogues of the Gods; Maurus Servius Honoratus, commentary on Virgil Eclogue 3. 63; Philostratus of Lemnos, Imagines 1. 24; Ovid Metamorphoses 10. 184.
  6. ^ Bion, Poems 11 (trans. Edmonds)
  7. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 162
  8. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses
  9. ^ Other divinely beloved vegetation gods who died in the flower of their youth and were vegetatively transformed are Narcissos, Cyparissos and Adonis.
  10. ^ Bibliotheca, 1. 3.3.
  11. ^ As Colin Edmonson points out, Edmonson, "A Graffito from Amykla", Hesperia 28.2 (April - June 1959:162-164) p. 164, giving bibliography note 9.
  12. ^ The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies By James Neill.
  13. ^ Pausanias 3. 19. 4
  14. ^ The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies By James Neill.
  15. ^ "As the non-Greek suffix- nth indicates, Hyakinthos was an indigenous deity at Amyklae in Laconia", remarks Nobuo Komita, "Notes on the Pre-Greek Amyklaean God Hyakinthos", 1989 (on-line text[permanent dead link]).
  16. ^ Pierre Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque, Klincksieck, 1999, article "ὑάκινθος", p. 1149b.

External links[edit]