Friday, February 12, 2016

TFBT: Rubens' Abductions

Recently, an active member at Hour 25  suggested I do a quiz based on some of Rubens' works at the Prado.  The Prado kindly allows reproduction of their works for scholarly discussion.  (I hope my readers will kindly consider this an scholarly offering.)  Here we go.


Prado #P01658 Rubens The Abuction of Hippodamia 1636 - 1637 "At another marriage, when Pirithous was taking Hippodamia, daughter of Adrastus, Centauri, full of wine, attempted to carry off the wives of the Lapithae. The Centauri killed many of them, but by them perished."             Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 33 :

Prado #P01693 Rubens  The Abduction of Europa 1628– 1629  “Telephassa, (bore) a daughter Europa and three sons…Zeus loved (Europa) and turning himself into a tame bull, he mounted her on his back and conveyed her through the sea to Crete. There Zeus bedded with her, and she bore” (three sons)                              Apollodorus, The Library 3.1.1

Prado #P01679. Rubens. The Abduction of Ganymede. 1636 – 1638   "Tros, who was lord of the Trojans, and to Tros in turn there were born three sons unfaulted, Ilus and Assaracus and godlike Ganymedes who was the loveliest born of the race of mortals, and therefore the gods caught him away to themselves, to be Zeus' wine-pourer, for the sake of his beauty, so he might be among the immortals." Homer, Iliad 20. 232

Prado# P01659. Rubens, The Abduction of Persephone 1636 – 1637,"[Demeter's] trim-ankled daughter whom Hades rapt away, given to him by all-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer. Apart from Demeter, lady of the golden sword and glorious fruits, she was playing with the deep-bosomed daughters of Oceanus (Athena, Artemis) and gathering flowers over a soft meadow,” Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 

So there are four of Rubens’ masterpieces and the words that inspired them.  Now here is the quiz.  Good luck!


  1. A little scholarly discussion :-). In these paintings, females are fair-skinned and males, with the exception of Ganymede (who may be a honorary female) are darker. Like in Greek vase paintings.

  2. Maya,

    Great observation. At least in the USA that tradition is still in affect. As an aside I find it interesting how in myth and art the males are represented by beasts. Bill

  3. Thank you!
    I checked also another Rubens' abduction that is not in Prado, the rape of Leukippus' daughters. The rule is valid for it as well.

    OT: Why is in the quiz wrong that Daphne is Peneus' daughter? This is one of the versions of her parentage, probably the original one.

    1. Maya,
      I guess you mean the weekly quiz at Hour 25. Excelled point. And my apologies. Theoi offers three potential fathers. I chose (Hyginus Fabulae 203, and Ovid Metamorphoses ) Also I listed him as her father in question 5. Give yourself credit if you missed it


  4. In the new quiz - isn't Hyperion brother/husband of Theia, rather than her son?

  5. Unbelieveable! How could I do that?

  6. I guess you were thinking of something else at the moment, because the quiz is announced to be for the first week of April :-). (I made the same mistake in late January, thinking that March was coming.)
    BTW, thank you for the Pindar quote about the Islands of the Blessed! I thought that only Hesiod had given some details about them; now, from your quiz I know that Cronus has built a tower there. It is good that my "in-book audience" lives on the Islands, so details about the place are unnecessary.

  7. Maya,

    So, you garlanded and lyre in hand perform before the blessed heroes, heroines and initiates as the dine upon the shores of the Great River Ocean? Better audience that the mead-drunk warriors of Vahalla. A lot has been written about Homeric reception; the gods listening on high, the proverbial chieftains he entertained as an itinerant wanderer, the 20 thousand friendly faces at Athens each year and the endless immortal audience that you and I are part of. How do you envision your audience? Which parts make them weep and which are their favorites? Whom do you envision dining before you?


  8. The narrator is Prometheus, not me. The Islands of the Blessed, like Tolkien's Blessed Realm, are closed for humans. A human could not reach them, and even if he succeeded, he would never be allowed to return.
    After all, the function of these islands is to provide a human-free habitation where immortals can feel safe.

    When my Olympians decide to abandon the struggle against the humans and to evacuate, Hera says, "I think that if someone decides to remain here, he will sooner or later be captured by the humans. And then he will not only suffer badly but also will put us all in harm's way." Zeus agrees: "You are right. Were it not so, we could leave the Titan in the human world. Then it would be seen whether his beloved humans, for the sake of whom he betrayed his own people, really honor their benefactor. However, this would be too dangerous."

  9. There is controversy in ancient sources whether gods weep. I preferred the version in Euripides' Hippolytus, where they do not weep (except presumably when they deal with onion or a foreign body in the eye).
    So in my story, as in the real world, emotional lacrimation is a trait unique to humans. When the flood kills off the ash-tree (Bronze) generation, Pyrrha weeps but Deucalion doesn't shed a tear. Half-breed gods such as Heracles, Dionysus and the Dioscuri also could weep, due to their human genes.

  10. The origin of this function is revealed when Athena tries to convince Prometheus to stay aside from the humans:
    "You understand that Zeus wouldn't approve what you are doing, but you have apparently decided not to stop until you are neck deep in trouble. Well, let me put the question from another angle. Are you sure that what you are doing is good for the humans? As long as they are living in misery and ignorance, they are struggling for existence like all other living creatures and their brains have no time to play with loftier ideas. But as you are helping and teaching them, they will start to muse over uneatable things... Their mortal fate can be bearable only if they do not realize it. If they begin to think too much, they will stare into their imminent death and will collapse. Did you provide them with anything to help them tolerate mortality?"
    He replies, "No, I didn't think it was needed, nor had I any idea how to do it. I just made the lacrimal glands activate by strong emotions."

  11. I suppose that my immortal audience will be saddened, like we would be, by the mention of those who have died - Asteria, Daphne, Iasion, Leuce, Achilles. And by the memory of their lost homeland. Though, if they are honest, they must admit that they gained from their exile, because the last lever of Zeus' absolute rule - the oath by Styx, has been inactivated. I made the power of this oath to weaken proportionally to the distance to the river Styx - in fact, proportionally to the square of the distance.
    I'd wish to know an example of a god who has broken his oath and has suffered the consequences. Hesiod describes what would happen but doesn't give any example. Some sources say that Zeus lied to Hera about Io under oath, yet nothing happened.

  12. How do you think, which parts of mythological plots would be liked most the gods? To me, a very damning characterization of the divine community is their laughter when the lame Hephaestus serves as cupbearer (Ganymede is mentioned in the Iliad but not shown on Olympus). It is normal for a 3-yr-old to laugh when his baby brother is crying, but we try very hard to extinguish this repulsive feature. Homeric gods are adults, in fact more adult than we can ever be, yet show the emotional immaturity of young children - or of sociopaths.
    Anyway, let's say that gods (similarly to people) like when the oppressors are humiliated and defeated, and when a weak individual shows courage, even if he is not someone they like very much. So the audience will enjoy the Mecone story, the moment when Thetis proclaims during a party on Olympus that she will never lay with Zeus, the discussion among humans whether to take the chance and accept the fire, the killing of the Cyclopes and the feat of Heracles. (I'm afraid the Cyclopes are mourned by no one other than their mother.)
    Also, I guess the gods like gossip and will wish to hear more about Aphrodite's affairs. Like the Phaeacians.

  13. You said once, that Prometheus would live somewhere in isolation, like Laertes. However, Laertes was considered harmless. After all the trouble with Prometheus, my Zeus orders him to live together with the Olympians. "Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer."

    I am now reading a text about Hera as a challenger to Zeus and I start to suspect that Zeus marries Hera to keep a dangerous enemy in control. Has there ever been any love or at least erotic attraction between them? In the Iliad, Zeus is attracted to Hera while they are young, their parents are in control and the struggle for power is irrelevant. By the time of the Trojan War, Hera never wants Zeus and he wants her only under influence. Otherwise, the first meaningful thing we hear about their marriage is how they create children in isolation and in a sort of competition.

    Zeus also keeps on Olympus most of his immortal rape victims. However, he lets Demeter go. And probably regrets it later. Why doesn't he tell her about his decision to marry off Persephone to Hades? I thought that he is scared by the inevitable scandal and tries to postpone it as long as possible. However, he may well underestimate her and not bother to inform her about important things. And then... as we say, she shows him where crabs spend the winter.
    To me, it is curious that Hera is absent from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. The obscure Rhea is there but Hera isn't. Do we ever see these two Olympian sisters together in one myth? Do they compete for a single position, that of Zeus' spouse and political rival?