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 (Ancient 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.


Hyacinthus and the West Wind on a red-figure vase

Hyacinth was given various parentage, providing local links, as the son of Clio and Pierus[2], or of king Oebalus of Sparta[3], or of king Amyclus of Sparta,[4][5] progenitor of the people of Amyclae, dwellers about Sparta. As the youngest and most beautiful son of the latter and Diomedes, daughter of Lapithes, Hyacinth was the brother of Cynortus, Argalus[6], Polyboea[7], Laodamia[8] (or Leanira[9]), and in other versions, of Daphne[10].


Apollo and Hyacinth, by Annibale Carracci

In Greek mythology, Hyacinth was a very beautiful Spartan prince and lover of the god Apollo. Hyacinth was also admired by the West wind Zephyrus, the North wind Boreas and also by a mortal man named Thamyris. But Hyacinth chose Apollo over the others. The couple indulged themselves in hunting and climbing steep, rough mountains around Sparta. With Apollo, Hyacinth visited all of Apollo's sacred lands in the chariot drawn by swans. Apollo taught to his lover the use of bow, of music and the lyre, the art of prophecy and exercises in the gymnasium.[11]

Hyacinthus meeting Apollo (not seen here) in a biga drawn by swans, Etruscan oinochoe

One day, Apollo was teaching him the game of quoit.

Here is the god.....with unshorn locks; he lifts a radiant forehead above eyes that shine like rays of light, and with a sweet smile he encourages Hyakinthos, extending his right hand with the same purpose. The youth keeps his eyes steadfastly on the ground, and they are very thoughtful, for he rejoices at what he hears....[12]

They decided to have a friendly competition by taking turns to throw the discus. Apollo threw first, with such a strength that the discus slit the clouds in the sky. Hyacinth ran behind it to catch it and impress Apollo. But as the discus hit the ground, it bounced back, hitting Hyacinth's head and wounding him fatally.[13] Alternatively, Zephyrus is held responsible for the death of Hyacinth.[14][15][16][17] Jealous that Hyacinth preferred the radiant Apollo, Zephyrus blew Apollo's quoit boisterously off course to kill Hyacinth.

Apollo holding Hyacinth in his arms, sculpted by Malcolm Lidbury

Apollo's face turned as pale as his dying lover as he held him in his arms.[18]He used all his medicinal skills, and even tried giving ambrosia to heal Hyacinth's wound, but in vain, for he couldn't cure the wound done by the Fates.[19] When Hyacinth died, Apollo wept, blaming himself. He wished to become a mortal and join his lover in his death.[20] However, as that was not possible, Apollo promised that he would always remember Hyacinth in his songs and the music of his lyre. From Hyacinth's blood that was spilled, Apollo created a flower, the hyacinth. This flower, on whose petals Apollo had inscribed the words of despair, "AI AI" - "alas" was considered by the Greeks to be the most beautiful of all flowers.[21]

The Bibliotheca said Thamyris who showed romantic feelings towards Hyacinthus, was the first man to have loved another man.[22]


The flower hyacinth that rose from Hyacinth's blood is said to have had a deep blue hue and an inscription resembling "AI" on its petals, a symbol of sorrow. However, this flower has been identified with another plant, the larkspur, or an iris, rather than what we today call hyacinth.[23]

Ancient Greeks associated with Apollo a deep blue, or violet precious gem called hyacinth. It was called so because its color resembled that of the hyacinth flowers. This gem was held sacred to Apollo due to the mythological connection. The people who visited Apollo's shrine, as well as his priests and the high priestess Pythia, were required to wear this gem.[24]

"Hyacinthine hair" is used by the poets to describe curly hair that resembles the curled petals of hyacinth flowers, which in turn resembles the hair of Hyacinth himself. The term could also be descriptive of the color of the hair; either dark, black or deep violet. In Homer's Odyssey, Athena gives Odysseus hyacinthine hair to make him look more beautiful. Edgar Allan Poe, in the poem To Helen, uses the same term to beautify Helen's hair.[25][26]

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.[27]. Beginning with mourning songs and dances for Hyacinth, the festival gradually evolved into a celebration of glory of Apollo. [28]

As recorded by Pausanias, Hyacinth with beard, is taken along with his sister Polyboea to heaven by Aphrodite, Athena and Artemis.[29]. The beard of Hyacinth represents his transformation.[30]


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.[31] 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.[32]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.3.3
  3. ^ Lucian, Dialogi Deorum 16
  4. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.10.3
  5. ^ Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 3.1.3
  6. ^ Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 3.1.3
  7. ^ Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 3.19.4
  8. ^ Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 10.9.5
  9. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.9.1
  10. ^ Parthenius, Erotica Pathemata 15
  11. ^ Philostratus the younger, Imagines
  12. ^ Philostratus the younger, Imagines
  13. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.3.3.
  14. ^ Lucian, Dialogues of the Gods
  15. ^ Maurus Servius Honoratus, commentary on Virgil Eclogue 3. 63
  16. ^ Philostratus of Lemnos, Imagines 1.24
  17. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.184
  18. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses
  19. ^ Bion, Poems 11 (trans. Edmonds)
  20. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 162
  21. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses
  22. ^ Bibliotheca, 1. 3.3.
  23. ^ Other divinely beloved vegetation gods who died in the flower of their youth and were vegetatively transformed are Narcissos, Cyparissos and Adonis.
  24. ^ A. Hyatt Verrill, Precious Stones and Their Stories
  25. ^ M. Eleanor Irwin, Odysseus' "Hyacinthine Hair" in "Odyssey" 6.231
  26. ^ Shmoop Editorial Team. "To Helen: Stanza 2 Summary." Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 16 Nov. 2018.
  27. ^ As Colin Edmonson points out, Edmonson, "A Graffito from Amykla", Hesperia 28.2 (April - June 1959:162-164) p. 164, giving bibliography note 9.
  28. ^ The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies By James Neill.
  29. ^ Pausanias 3. 19. 4
  30. ^ The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies By James Neill.
  31. ^ "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]).
  32. ^ Pierre Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque, Klincksieck, 1999, article "ὑάκινθος", p. 1149b.


  • 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

External links[edit]