Hyacinth (mythology)

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.


In Greek mythology, Hyacinth was given various parentage, providing local links, as the son of Clio and Pierus, or of king Oebalus of Sparta, or of king Amyclas of Sparta,[2] progenitor of the people of Amyclae, dwellers about Sparta. His cult at Amykles dates from Mycenaean Greece.

In the literary myth, Hyacinth was a beautiful youth and lover of the god Apollo. Apollo taught to his lover the use of bow, of music and the lyre, the art of prophecy and exercises in the gymnasium. [3] Hyacinthus was also admired by Zephyrus, the West Wind, and according to varied versions, by Boreas and Thamyris. One day Apollo and Hyacinth took turns throwing the discus. Hyacinth ran to catch it to impress Apollo, was struck by the discus as it fell to the ground, and died.[4] A twist in the tale makes Zephyrus responsible for the death of Hyacinth.[5] His beauty caused a feud between Zephyrus and Apollo. Jealous that Hyacinth preferred the radiant Apollo, Zephyrus blew Apollo's discus off course to kill Hyacinth.

When Hyacinth died, 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 [6] "AI AI" - "alas" was considered by the Greeks to be the most beautiful of all flowers.

The Bibliotheca said Thamyris also showed romantic feelings towards Hyacinthus, and the first man to have loved another man.[7]

The flower of the mythological Hyacinth has been identified with a number of plants other than the true hyacinth, such as the iris.[8]

Hyacinthia And Apotheosis

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 as Apollo Hyakinthios, though the division of honours is a subject for scholarly controversy.[9]. Beginning with mourning songs and dances for Hyacinth, the festival gradually evolved into a celebration of glory of Apollo. [10]

But according to the Spartans, Hyacinth was reborn as a God. As recorded by Pausanias, a bearded Hyacinth and his sister Polyboea are seen to be taken to heaven by Aphrodite, Athena and Artemis, accompanied by the Fates (Moirai), the Seasons (Horae), Demeter, Persephone and Hades[11]. The beard of Hyacinth represents his transformation from youth into an adult.[12]


The name of Hyacinth is of pre-Hellenic origin, as indicated by the suffix -nth.[13] 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.[14]

See also

Modern sources

  • 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

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. Ovid, Metamorphoses
  7. Bibliotheca, 1. 3.3.
  8. Other divinely beloved vegetation gods who died in the flower of their youth and were vegetatively transformed are Narcissos, Cyparissos and Adonis.
  9. As Colin Edmonson points out, Edmonson, "A Graffito from Amykla", Hesperia 28.2 (April - June 1959:162-164) p. 164, giving bibliography note 9.
  10. The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies By James Neill.
  11. Pausanias 3. 19. 4
  12. The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies By James Neill.
  13. "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).
  14. Pierre Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque, Klincksieck, 1999, article "ὑάκινθος", p. 1149b.
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