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Polyphemus and Galateia (Roman fresco from Pompeii, Naples National Archaeological Museum )

Galateia ( Greek  Γαλατεία "the milk white", Latin Galatea ) is a nymph of Greek mythology . She is one of the Nereids , a daughter of Nereus and Doris .

Galateia and Polyphemus

She was connected to the Cyclops Polyphemus , known from Homer's Odyssey , and was even the mother of a boy named Galatos through him, but was loved by the shepherd boy Akis . The jealous Cyclops slew the lover, whereupon the nymph, out of pity, turned the boy's flowing blood into a river.

Polyphemus' love for the beautiful nymph was already expressed many times in antiquity, first in the dithyrambs of Philoxenus of Kythira , who turned the threatening figure in Homer into comic. Odysseus tries to persuade the lovesick Cyclops that he, Odysseus, is a magician and that it is easy for him to transform the brittle Galateia into a willing creature of pleasure. Only Polyphemus had to move the stone blocking the cave entrance aside so that Odysseus could go to Galateia. In the meantime Polyphemus should clean up a little, perfume himself and wreath. Polyphemus does not fall for the trick, however.

According to Athenaeus , this comical story had a tragic background. According to Athenaios, the work of Philoxenus, the Cyclops , was created as a satire on Dionysius , tyrant of Syracuse , in the quarries of Sicily. Originally, tyrants and poets were drinking buddies. But when Philoxenus began a love affair with a daughter of Dionysius named Galateia, he was sent to the stone-breaking.

In painting, too, the contrast between comedy and tragedy remained. One of the pictorial descriptions of Philostratos shows, as an ancient version of Beauty and the Beast, on the one hand the lovesick Cyclops, hairy all over his body and armed with tusks, who consoles himself with sentimental flute playing and forgets herds and the world and even for the sake of his loved one of man-eating contains, on the other hand, the white, radiant Galateia, which chases a quadriga of dolphins over the waves of the sea.

Akis and Galateia with Ovid

In effect, determine the design of the myth in the should Metamorphoses of Ovid be: Here is the antithesis of the relationship of Polyphemus and Galatea is exacerbated by the introduction of the young lover Akis, who, 16 years old, hardly any fluff on the delicate cheeks In contrast to this, Polyphemus wears the terrifying figure of the wilderness, which is now trying to civilize itself by pulling a rake as a comb through the matted shaggy. Already in Philoxenus the suffering Polyphemus sought consolation in the muses, in Ovid he starts:

O Galateia, as white as the leaf of a snowy privet,
Blossoming and fresh as the meadow, as slender as the protruding alder,
Shining like bright crystal, mischievous like the jumping goat,
As smooth as shells washed on the beach by the constant sea ...

What is poetically convincing, however, he then continues with an erotically rarely productive criticism of the beloved:

O Galateia, as stubborn as defiant cattle,
As treacherous as the flowing tide, hard like oak of many years
Tough as willow bushes, like whitish tendrils on the vine,
Unyielding like the rock here, quick-tempered like a power fall,
Proud like the magnificent peacock, hurting like a burning fire ...

If that wasn't enough, if the beloved had perhaps forgiven harsh criticism, Polyphemus kills any remaining inclination with disdainful sobriety:

All these cattle are mine; many still wander in valleys,
Many of them are still in the forest, and many are stabled in caves.
If you asked me about it, I can't tell you the number:
The poor count their cattle alone. From the praise of mine
Don't believe my word; come yourself and look at the sheep

Tragic and funny at the same time, as the ogre thinks he can animate the sea nymph to count sheep. And it turned out badly, Akis was slain, but turned into a river in death.

But as I said: According to the oldest reports (e.g. Bakchylides ), the Cyclops' love for the nymph was in the end neither completely unhappy nor completely sterile.

A forerunner of Ovid's treatment of the subject was Theokritus , the inventor of bucolic poetry as a genre. Polyphemus, in love, appears twice in the poems handed down under the title Eidyllia . On the one hand in Idyll No. XI “The Cyclops” ( Κύκλωψ Cyclops ): here Polyphemus dedicates a languishing song to the beloved, very similar to Ovid. On the other hand, in Idyll No. VI, "The Cattle Shepherds " ( Βουκολιασταί Bukoliastai ), one sees a Galateia furiously throwing stones at the herds of Polyphemus, while Polyphemus calmly blows the flute and does not seem to notice. He has succeeded in arousing jealousy in Galateia, and jealousy overlooks defects in the subject.

Galateia in art

The myth of Akis and Galateia was often taken up in art, in ancient painting designs of the subject are not only documented, but also handed down. For example in a Pompeian wall painting from the house of the priest Amandus, on which Polyphemus sits on a hill while a dolphin carries Galateia away, using her veil as a sail.

Even in the visual arts of the modern age, the subject was often shaped. Some examples:

The theme was also designed in music, for example in the following works:

as well as in the modern interpretation of the poet Albert Samain :


Web links

Commons : Galatea  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Homer Iliad 18:45; Hesiod Theogony 250; Libraries of Apollodorus 1.11
  2. Properz 3,2,7f .; Nonnos of Panopolis Dionysiaka 39,257-264
  3. ^ Timaeus FGrH 566 F 69
  4. ^ David A. Campbell: Greek Lyric. Vol. 5. Cambridge, Mass. 1993. Fragments 59, 817-819, 821-822
  5. Athenaios Deipnosophistai 1.6e-7a
  6. Philostratos Eikones 2.18
  7. Ovid 's Metamorphoses 13780-897. Translations from
  8. room b; today in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples