Ganymed (written 1774, published 1789)

The ancient Greek myth of Ganymede tells of his homosexual relationship with Zeus, the father of the gods. According to Homer, Ganymede was the most beautiful young man in the world. Zeus fell in love with him and carried him up to mount Olympus, so that Ganymede could stand at his side and serve as his cupbearer. Goethe’s version expresses the ecstatic union of the self with the divine principle.

When Goethe published ‘Ganymed’ in 1789 he placed it next to ‘Prometheus’, a poem of defiance. Goethe saw life as an alternating process of self-assertion (systole) and self-loss (diastole); ‘systole’ is a movement of convulsion (e.g. of the heart or lungs) and ‘diastole’ is a movement of dilation/relaxation. ‘Prometheus’ resists (systole), and ‘Ganymed’ yields (diastole).

Further Reading in English

S. S. Prawer, German Lyric Poetry: A Critical Analysis of Selected Poems from Klopstock to Rilke (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965), pp. 59-63

Further Reading in German

W. Daniel Wilson, Goethe Männer Knaben. Ansichten zur ‘Homosexualität’ (Berlin: Insel, 2012)