The abduction of Hylas: a very peculiar mosaic of Italica (Spain)
In Greek mythology there are numerous episodes in which powerful gods fall in love with beautiful mortals and procreate with them heroes, in their half immortal and in other half mortal. Also the goddesses fall in love sometimes with men, who are mortal. For example Venus is the mother of Aeneas, born from the mortal Anchises, from whom the race of Julius (Julius Caesar, Augustus, etc.) descended.
An episode often used in art and in ancient literature is the abduction or raptus of Hylas by Nymphs, goddesses of waters:
Hylas is a member of the expedition of the Argonauts to search the Golden Fleece; at some point, they have made landfall in the country Cio for the night; Hylax goes to fetch water for dinner; Nymphs of the river, loved by the young warrior, kidnapped and immersed him in water; his companions, especially his friend Hercules captivated by her beauty, come to look for, but they do not found him; the ship continues its course, leaving Hercules to land, who then walk to Colchis; Later they will know the truth of what happened; Hylas, kidnapped by the Nymphs, had become a divine being.
This myth of the Nymphs, Ondinas, Naiad, Nereids, dancing in the water where they live or in nearby meadows, and snatching mortals who have the misfortune of seeing them, has even reached our time in beliefs or folklore, such as the Asturian Xanas in Spain..
The myth already appears in the literature of V century BC and it is popular in the Hellenistic period. They are well known in the versions of Theocritus Idyll XIII and in Apollonius of Rhodes in the Argonautica. Interestingly it does not appear in the paintings of the attics or Sicilian Greek vases.
I reproduce the version of Theocritus and leave to the end of the article the very large and interesting version of Apollonius to ease the text.
Theocritus, Idyl XIII. Hylas
From what god soever sprung, Nicias, Love was not, as we seem to think, born for us alone; nor first unto us of mortal flesh that cannot see the morrow, look things of beauty beautiful. For Amphitryon’s brazen-heart son that braved the roaring lion, he too once loved a lad, to wit the beauteous Hylas of the curly locks, and even as father his son, had taught him all the lore that made himself a good man and brought him fame; and would never leave him, neither if Day had risen to the noon, nor when Dawn’s white steeds first galloped up in to the home of Zeus, nor yet when the twittering chickens went scurrying at the flapping of their mother’s wings to their bed upon the smoky hen-roost. This did he that he might have the lad fashioned to his mind, and that pulling a straight furrow from the outset the same might come to be a true man.
Now when Jason son of Aeson was to go to fetch the Golden Fleece with his following of champions that were chosen of the best out of all the cities in the land, then came there with them to the rich Iolcus the great man of toil who was son of the high-born Alcmena of Midea, and went down with Hylas at his side to that good ship Argo, even to her that speeding ungrazed clean through the blue Clappers, ran into Phasis bay as an eagle into a great gulf whereafter those Clappers have stood still, reefs ever more.
And at the rising of the Pleiads, what time of the waning spring the young lambs find pasture in the uplands, then it was that that divine flower of hero-folk was minded of its voyaging, and taking seat in the Argo’s hull came after two days’ blowing of the Southwind to the Hellespont, and made haven within Propontis at the spot where furrow is broadened and share brightened by the oxen of the Cianians. Being gone forth upon the strand, as for their supper they were making it ready thwart by thwart; but one couch was strown them for all, for they found to their hand a meadow that furnished good store of litter, and thence did cut them taper rushes and tall bedstraw.
Meanwhile the golden-haired Hylas was gone to bring water against supper for his own Heracles and for the valiant Telamon – for they two did ever eat together at a common board – bone with a brazen ewer. Ere long he espied a spring; in a hollow it lay, whereabout there grew many herbs, as well blue swallow-wort and fresh green maidenhair as blooming parsley and tangled deergrass. Now in the midst of the water there was a dance of the Nymphs afoot, of those Nymphs who, like the water, take no rest, those Nymphs who are the dread Goddesses of the country-folk, Eunica to wit and Malis and Nycheia with the springtime eyes. And there, when the lad put forth the capacious pitcher in haste to dip it in, lo! with one accord they all clung fast to his arm, because love of the young Argive had fluttered all their render breasts. And down he sank into the black water headlong, as when a falling star will sink headlong in the main and a mariner cry to his shipmates ‘Hoist away, my lads; the breeze freshens.’ Then took the Nymphs the weeping lad upon their knees and offered him comfort of gentle speech.
Meantime the son of Amphitryon was grown troubled for the child, and gone forth with that bow of his that was bent Scythian-wise and the cudgel that was ever in the grasp of his right hand. Thrice cried he on Hylas as loud as his deep throttle could belch sound; thrice likewise did the child make answer, albeit his voice came thin from the water and he that was hard by seemed very far away. When a fawn cries in the hills, some ravening lion will speed from his lair to get him a meal so ready; and even so went Heracles wildly to and fro amid the pathless brake, and covered much country because of his longing for the child. As lovers know no flinching, so endless was the toil of his wandering by wood and wold, and all Jason’s business was but a by-end. And all the while the ship stood tackle aloft, and so far as might be, laden, and the heroes passed thee night a-clearing of the channel, waiting upon Heracles. But he alas! was running whithersoever his feet might carry him, in a frenzy, the god did rend so cruelly the heart within him.
Thus came fairest Hylas to be numbered of the Blest, and the heroes to gird at Heracles for a deserter because he wandered and left the good ship of the thirty thwarts. Nevertheless he made the inhospitable land of the Colchians afoot. (Translated by J.M. Edmonds)
They are numerous texts and ancient references to this myth; I reproduce any of them:
Apollonius of Rhodes tells us in the Argonautica, I, 1171-1357: I reproduce it at the end of this article. It is a very interesting text that gives a slightly different version.
Virgil makes a quick reference to it on the Eclogue VI, 40 et seq .:
Hinc lapides Pyrrhae iactos, Saturnia regna,
Caucasiasque refert volucres, furtumque Promethei:
his adiungit, Hylan nautae quo fonte relictum
clamassent, ut litus “Hyla, Hyla!” omne sonaret.
Then sang he of the stones by Pyrrha cast,
of Saturn's reign, and of Prometheus' theft,
and the Caucasian birds, and told withal
nigh to what fountain by his comrades left
the mariners cried on Hylas till the shore
then re-echoed “Hylas, Hylas!”
(English (J. B. Greenough, 1895)
Ovid also on Ars amandi, II,110
Sis licet antiquo Nireus adamatus Homero,
Naïadumque tener crimine raptus Hylas,
Ut dominam teneas, nec te mirere relictum,
Ingenii dotes corporis adde bonis.
Though you should be Nireus,be praised by ancient Homer, and the charming Hylas, carried off by the criminality of the Naiads; that you may retain your mistress, and not have to wonder that you are deserted, add the endowments of the mind to the advantages of the person. (Translator: Henry T. Riley)
Propertius, inspired by Apolonius and Theocritus, writes the poem Elegies, I,20:
Hoc pro continuo te, Galle, monemus amore,
quod tibi ne vacuo defluat ex animo:
saepe imprudenti fortuna occurrit amanti:
crudelis Minyis sic erat Ascanius.
est tibi non infra specie, non nomine dispar,
Theiodamanteo proximus ardor Hylae:
huic tu, sive leges Umbrae rate flumina silvae,
sive Aniena tuos tinxerit unda pedes,
sive Gigantei spatiabere litoris ora,
sive ubicumque vago fluminis hospitio,
Nympharum semper cupidas defende rapinas
(non minor Ausoniis est amor Adryasin);
ne tibi sit duros montes et frigida saxa,
Galle, neque expertos semper adire lacus.
quae miser ignotis error perpessus in oris
Herculis indomito fleverat Ascanio.
namque ferunt olim Pagasae navalibus Argo
egressam longe Phasidos isse viam,
et iam praeteritis labentem Athamantidos undis
Mysorum scopulis applicuisse ratem.
hic manus heroum, placidis ut constitit oris,
mollia composita litora fronde tegit.
at comes invicti iuvenis processerat ultra
raram sepositi quaerere fontis aquam.
hunc duo sectati fratres, Aquilonia proles
(nunc superat Zetes, nunc superat Calais),
oscula suspensis instabant carpere plantis,
oscula et alterna ferre supina fuga.
ille sed extrema pendentes ludit in ala
et volucris ramo summovet insidias.
iam Pandioniae cessit genus Orithyiae:
ah dolor! ibat Hylas, ibat Hamadryasin.
hic erat Arganthi Pege sub vertice montis,
grata domus Nymphis umida Thyniasin,
quam supra nulli pendebant debita curae
roscida desertis poma sub arboribus,
et circum irriguo surgebant lilia prato
candida purpureis mixta papaveribus.
quae modo decerpens tenero pueriliter ungui
proposito florem praetulit officio,
et modo formosis incumbens nescius undis
errorem blandis tardat imaginibus.
tandem haurire parat demissis flumina palmis
innixus dextro plena trahens umero.
cuius ut accensae Dryades candore puellae
miratae solitos destituere choros
prolapsum et leviter facili traxere liquore,
tum sonitum rapto corpore fecit Hylas.
cui procul Alcides ter 'Hyla!' respondet: at illi
nomen ab extremis montibus aura refert.
his, o Galle, tuos monitus servabis amores,
formosum ni vis perdere rursus Hylan.
Addressed to Gallus
I make you this warning, Gallus, in favor of continuous love
(so that you don't lose your mind and forget):
Disaster often comes to the unsuspecting lover.
The cruel Ascanius made that plain to the Argonauts.
Your boy approximates Theiodamantean Hylas,
in appearance as much as in name.
So, whether you choose streams in shady woods,
or the Anio's wave touches your feet,
whether you stroll on the Gigantean coast's shore,
on the wandering welcome of the stream, wherever,
always be on the lookout for ravenous Nymphs' attacks on him
(love isn't weaker for Italian Hadryades).
Don't insist on trekking to hard mounts and
frigid rock, Gallus, or to unexplored lakes:
Hercules wept by the untameable Ascanius
when he came wandering to foreign shores.
They say the Argo set off from the port at Pagasa
to make the long journey to Colchis;
already the gliding raft has crossed the Hellespont's waves
and has come ashore on Mysian rocks.
Here, the band of heroes, standing on the calm shore,
covers a coast decorated in lush foliage.
But the unconquered youth's companion has gone
beyond, to seek fresh water from a hidden spring.
Two brothers follow him, Aquilonian seed,
Zetes is above him and above him Calais,
standing with hands poised to snatch kisses,
to smother him with kisses, one at a time.
He hangs beneath a high wing, hidden,
and shoos away the rapid pranksters with his stick.
Already the race of Pandionian Orithyia has ceased.
o for shame! Hylas was on his way, on his way to the Hamadryads.
He was in Pege, the wet abode favored by
the Thynian Nymphs, beneath the peak of Mount Arganthus.
Dewy fruit hung from wild trees,
product of no human labor,
and shining lilies flourished all over in the damp grass,
mixed with purple poppies.
Like a child, he'd pluck them with his delicate nail,
preferring the flower to his assigned duty.
And now, lying mindless near the beautiful water,
he prolongs his dallying with the lovely reflections.
At last, he prepares to draw water with cupped palms,
propped on his right arm, drinking his fill.
The Dryad nymphs are excited by his whiteness,
they break off their usual chorus and stare.
Lightly, they draw him, slipping, into the gentle water.
Then, his body caught, Hylas raises a shout.
Far off, Hercules sends a response, but the breeze
returns the name from distant mountains.
You've been warned, Gallus: protect your love.
You appear to have trusted your beautiful Hylas to the Nymphs.
(Vincent Katz. trans. Los Angeles. Sun & Moon Press. 1995.)
The version of Apollonius, which I reproduce below, inspired several poets of the Flavian period. Valerius Flaccus, III, 545-564; Martial VI, 68.9; VII, 15.1 to 1; IX, 65.14. Statius: Silvae, I, 5.22; III, 4, 42-43.
Valerius Flaccus Argonautica, III, 545-564:
So saying she puts up a swift hart through the trackless brushwood, all lofty-antlered, right in the lad’s path. By tardy flight and lengthy halt it challenges his ardour, and provokes him to content in speed of foot. Hylas adventures, and madly afire for so near a quarry, gives chase, while Alcides looking after him urges him on with cheering cry. And now both are out of sight, when as the boy presses on and with weary arm threatens a shot the stag leads him far onward to where a bright fountain gushes forth, and himself with light bound springs clear over the pool. Thus is the lad’s hope baffled nor is he fain to struggle farther; and since sweat had bathed his limbs sand labouring breast, he greedily sinks beside the pleasant stream. Even as the light that shifts and plays upon a lake, when Cynthia looks forth from heaven or the bright wheel of Phoebus in mid course passes by, so doth he shed a gleam upon the waters; he heeds not the shadow of the Nymph or her hair or the sound of her as she rises to embrace him. Greedily casting her arms about him, as he calls, alack! too late for help and utters the name of his mighty friend, she draws him down; for her strength is aided by his falling weight. (TRANSLATED BY J. H. MOZLEY )
sic ait et celerem frondosa per avia cervum
suscitat ac iuveni sublimem cornibus offert.
ille animos tardusque fugae longumque resistens
sollicitat suadetque pari contendere cursu.
credit Hylas praedaeque ferox ardore propinquae
insequitur; simul Alcides hortatibus urget
prospiciens; iamque ex oculis aufertur uterque,
cum puerum instantem quadripes fessaque minantem
tela manu procul ad nitidi spiracula fontis
ducit et intactas levis ipse superfugit undas.
hoc pueri spes lusa18 modo est, nec tendere certat
amplius; utque artus et concita pectora sudor
diluerat, gratos avidus procumbit ad amnes.19
stagna vaga sic luce micant, ubi Cynthia caelo
prospicit aut medii transit rota candida Phoebi:
tale iubar diffundit aquis; nil umbra comaeque
turbavitque sonus surgentis ad oscula Nymphae.
illa avidas iniecta manus heu sera cientem
auxilia et magni referentem nomen amici
detrahit; adiutae prono nam pondere vires.
Martial also makes reference to it on several occasions, for example in VI, 68
LXVIII. TO CASTRICUS, ON THE DEATH OF THE YOUNG EUTYCHUS.
Bewail your crime, you Naiads, bewail it through the whole Lucrine lake, and may Thetis herself hear your mourning! Eutychus, your sweet inseparable companion, Castricus, has been snatched away from you, and has perished amid the waters of Bais. He was the partner and kind consoler of all your cares: he was the delight, the Alexis, of our poet. Was it that the amorous nymph saw your charms exposed beneath the crystal waves, and thought that she was sending back Hylas to Hercules? Or has Salmacis at length left her effeminate Hermaphroditus, attracted by the embrace of a tender but vigorous youth? Whatever it may be, whatever the cause of a bereavement so sudden, may the earth and the water, I pray, be propitious to you. (anonymous translation published in the Bohn edition)
Flete nefas vestrum, sed toto flete Lucrino,
Naides, et luctus sentiat ipsa Thetis.
Inter Baianas raptus puer occidit undas
Eutychos ille, tuum, Castrice, dulce latus.
5Hic tibi curarum socius blandumque levamen,
Hic amor, hic nostri vatis Alexis erat.
Numquid te vitreis nudum lasciva sub undis
Vidit et Alcidae nympha remisit Hylan?
An dea femineum iam neglegit Hermaphroditum
10Amplexu teneri sollicitata viri?
Quidquid id est, subitae, quaecumque est causa rapinae,
Sit, precor, et tellus mitis et unda tibi.
What boy is this that retreats from the sparkling waters of Ianthis, and flees from the Naiad their mistress? Is it Hylas? Well is it that Hercules is honoured in this wood, and that he so closely watches these waters. You may minister at these fountains, Argynnus, in security; the Nymphs will do you no harm; beware lest the guardian himself should wish to do so. (anonymous translation published in the Bohn edition)
Quis puer hic nitidis absistit Ianthidos undis?
Effugit dominam Naida numquid Hylas?
O bene, quod silva colitur Tirynthius ista
Et quod amatrices tam prope servat aquas!
Securus licet hos fontes, Argynne, ministres:
Nil facient Nymphae: ne velit ipse, cave.
Statius, Silvae, I,5,22
ite. deae virides, liquidosque advertite vultus
et vitreum teneris crimen redimite corymbis,
veste nihil tectae, quales emergitis altis
fontibus et visu Satyros torquetis amantes,
Non vos, quae culpa decus infamastis aquarum,
quae culpa decus infamastis aquarum. 3 4 [p. 60]
20sollicitare iuvat: procul hinc et fonte doloso
Salmacis et viduae Cebrenidos arida luctu
flumina et Herculei praedatrix cedat alumni,
vos mihi, quae Latium septenaque culmina, nymphae,
incolitis Thybrimque novis attollitis undis,
25quas praeceps Anien atque exceptura natatus
Virgo iuvat Marsasque nives et frigora ducens
Marcia, praecelsis quarum vaga molibus unda
crescit et innumero pendens transmittitur arcu—:
You, who with guilt have defamed the honour of the streams, I care not to solicit: far hence remove thou, O Salmacis, with thy deceiving fount, and the river of Cebrenis left forlorn, that grief made dry, and the ravisher of Hercules’ young ward!”But ye Nymphs who dwell in Latium and on the Seven Heights and make Thybris swell with your fresh waters, ye whom headlong Anio delights and the Maiden destined to welcome the swimmer, and Marcia that brings down the Marsian snow and cold, ye whose travelling waves flood through the lofty masonry and are carried high in air over countless arches- (Translated by J.H.Mozley. The Loeb Classical Library)
Statius Silvae III, 4, 40 ss.
… cedet tibi Latmius ultro
Sangariusque puer quemque irrita fontis imago
et sterilis consumpsit amor. te caerula Nais
mallet et adprensa traxisset fortius urna.
tu, puer, ante omnis; solus formosior ille,
cui daberis.’ sic orsa leves secum ipsa per auras
tollit olorinaque iubet considere biga.
…Straightway will the Latmiam yield to thee, and the Sangarian youth,and he whom the fruitless image in the fountain and barren love consumed. The Nymph of the dark-blue water would have preferred thee,and grasped thy urn and drawn thee doen more boldly. Thou, boy,dost surpass them all; only he to whom I shall give thee is more beautiful. (Translated by J.H.Mozley. The Loeb Classical Library)
Although, as I said, this ground of Hylas does not appear in the paintings of Greek vases of Attica or Sicily, itself stucco reliefs instead it appears profusely in wall paintings, in stucco reliefs, in sculptural reliefs, on works of gold and especially in mosaics, which have been preserved better. All these representations are spread over several sites and appear between the beginning of the empire and the V century, totaling no less than forty. Of course it was an oft-repeated theme in mosaics adorning the mansions of the rich men at the time. We found it in Italy, Africa, Hispania, Gaul...
There are more than fifteen in the vicinity of Pompeii and Herculaneum and Stabiae, (where especially the murals paintings are ). Mosaics appear in Saint Colombe in France, in Thina in Carthage, Constantine and Djemila in Algeria, Volubilis in Morocco, at various points in Rome (Via Appia, Bassus Iunius Basilica, Via Flaminia at the tomb of the Nasoni). They appear sculptural reliefs, coins, etc.
That it was why the theme of pictures of some painters, we also deduct from Petronius in his Satyricon, 83, where a painting of the Greek painter Apelles with this motive is described, though it may well just be a literary creation without which there had been a painting about we know nothing more:
Petronius, Satyricon, 83:
I took a walk through all the public arcades and) entered a picture-gallery, which contained a wonderful collection of pictures in various styles. I beheld works from the hand of Zeuxis, still undimmed by the passage of the years, and contemplated, not without a certain awe, the crude drawings of Protogenes, which equalled the reality of nature herself; but when I stood before the work of Apelles, the kind which the Greeks call "Monochromatic," verily, I almost worshipped, for the outlines of the figures were drawn with such subtlety of touch, and were so life-like in their precision, that you would have thought their very souls were depicted. Here, an eagle was soaring into the sky bearing the shepherd of Mount Ida to heaven; there, the comely Hylas was struggling to escape from the embrace of the lascivious Naiad. Here, too, was Apollo, cursing his murderous hand and adorning his unstrung lyre with the flower just created. Standing among these lovers, which were only painted, "It seems that even the gods are wracked by love," I cried aloud, as if I were in a wilderness. "Jupiter could find none to his taste, even in his own heaven, so he had to sin on earth, but no one was betrayed by him! The nymph who ravished Hylas would have controlled her passion had she thought Hercules was coming to forbid it. Apollo recalled the spirit of a boy in the form of a flower, and all the lovers of Fable enjoyed Love's embraces without a rival, but I took as a comrade a friend more cruel than Lycurgus!" (translation by W. C. Firebaugh)
In pinacothecam perveni vario genere tabularum mirabilem. Nam et Zeuxidos manus vidi nondum vetustatis iniuria victas, et Protogenis rudimenta cum ipsius naturae veritate certantia non sine quodam horrore tractavi. Jam vero Apellis quam Graeci mon(kthmon appellant, etiam adoravi. Tanta enim subtilitate extremitates imaginum erant ad similitudinem praecisae, ut crederes etiam animorum esse picturam. Hinc aquila ferebat caelo sublimis Idaeum, illinc candidus Hylas repellebat improbam Naida. Damnabat Apollo noxias manus lyramque resolutam modo nato flore honorabat. Inter quos etiam pictorum amantium vultus tanquam in solitudine exclamavi: "Ergo amor etiam deos tangit. Iuppiter in caelo suo non invenit quod diligeret, sed peccaturus in terris nemini tamen iniuriam fecit. Hylan Nympha praedata temperasset amori suo, si venturum ad interdictum Herculem credidisset. Apollo pueri umbram revocavit in florem, et omnes fabulae quoque sine aemulo habuerunt complexus. At ego in societatem recepi hospitem Lycurgo crudeliorem."
The mosaics usually decorate the rooms according to what they represent. So it is logical that the Muses or Graces adorn spaces dedicated to literary or artistic delight, that mosaics depicting hunting scenes decorate large salons of rich and idle landowners; that paintings or referring to love mosaics decorate more intimate spaces, such as bedrooms.
The abduction of Hylas by the Nymphs has various interpretations. The most obvious, if not the only, seems certainly the rapture of love; Hylas was abducted by the force of love, by passion. Moreover, on several occasions this theme appears along with other of certain similarity: Artemis and Actaeon, Pyramus and Thisbe, Amymone and Poseidon, Narcissus, nymphs and satyrs, Selene and Endymion, etc. This was a commonplace in antiquity, and the first apologists and church fathers, as I will say later, criticize and often grouped them. Clearly, if the scene appears in a sarcophagus, it seems more logical to interpret as abduction by the gods after death, as the way of life to the world of the dead.
In his pictorial or musivarish representation there are numerous variations, but also some iconographic and compositional unity, quasi fossilized: Hylas with the pitcher at the banks of the river or lake, a fully bent knee, resting on a rock, while the other leg, stretched, is in the water, anticipating the time of the fall; the nymphs taking his arms, at other times the legs or torso.
In Spain there have been found several mosaics depicting the myth in Los Villares, near the La Bañeza in Leon, in Carranque and in Italica. I will devote specially my attention to this latter by its special features.
Mosaic Hylas and the Nymphs. Quintana del Marco (Provincial Archaeological Museum of León).
Roman Villa of Carranque (Toledo. Spain)
The myth appears in Italica as the central emblem of a geometric mosaic of great dimension. It was first interpreted as the god Neptune or Neaereus; later García Bellido then definitively identified it as the abduction of Hylas. In 1962 it was transferred to the Archaeological Museum of Seville, where it continues beeing.
Although the plane of the house in which it appears is not clear, it is certainly an area of some privacy, because it is not open to the peristyle, away from the meeting rooms, in the center of a large mosaic geometric meandering form swastikas, perhaps in the entrance area to the bedrooms or cubicula. This would support its erotic-romantic interpretation.
In this mosaic of Italica the central iconographic motif is the abduction of Hylas. On the left they appear three nymphs, who grip the hero, who appears naked with chlamys, spear and amphora or jar to collect water. On the right the male figure of Heracles appears with raised right arm and mantle and mace on the left. By setting background gloom and dark tones (the myth takes place in a forest at dusk), by the water delicately suggested, the trees stripped of leaves and the arrangement of the characters, this mosaic seems to be the the transposition of a pictorial model that on turn follows a Hellenistic model. The composition is very dramatic: the three nymphs, Hylas about to disappear in the water, on the other side Heracles alarmed when it is supposed that Hylas is dipping immediately. Like some Pompeian paintings and unlike most paintings, the figure of Hylas is not centered. As in almost all tiles, it is represented with a bent knee on a rock and the other leg over the water. Commentators often noted as the most outstanding feature the appearance of Heracles, who usually does not appear in either, except in Italica, because they focus on the essential motive of the myth: the rapture.
However there are an exceptional detail that is not highlighted. Generally the Nymphs grab arms, legs and even the chest or torso of Hylas. In this mosaic, exceptionally, one of the nymphs just grabs his penis, which supports the erotic-festive interpretation.
I do not know another similar representation. If this is a unique case, we should perhaps relate it to the old and extraordinary sense of humor that the southern lands of Hispania had already developed when it was not yet called Andalusia but Baetica.
So it's incomprehensible the prudery of the Archaeological Museum of Seville which reproduces it in a souvenir postcard or merchanding, but only from the waist up. But putting some doors in Andalusia seems a meaningless and impossible task.
The myth has obvious erotic sense and that explains that often and as in the case of Italica, these mosaics appear far from the central colonnade of Roman houses and at rather more hidden area, often at the entrances to cubiculum or bedroom. It confirms this erotic sense that also it appears often associated with other myths, both literary texts as pictorial representations or “musivaria” representations, such as the abduction of Ganymede ("the most beautiful of mortals" according Iliad, XX, 231) by Jupiter, Hyacinth, accidentaly killed by Apollo, Actaeon watching Diana in the bath, Narcissus reflecting his beautiful face in the water, with a similar result as Hylas ...
Some Christian writers found already that Ganymede, Hyacinth and Hylas agreed that they aroused the gay character in the gods (Hylas, although kidnapped by the Nymphs, was loved by Hercules).
Clement of Alexandria says so in Protrepticus II, 33.5:
Heracles is the son of Zeus, begotten in this long night. And a true son he is; for long and weary as the time was in which he accomplished his twelve labours, yet in a single night he corrupted the fifty daughters of Thestius, becoming at once bridegroom and adulterer to all these maidens. Not without reason, then, do the poets dub him “abandoned” and “doer of evil deeds.” It would be a long story to relate his varied adulteries and his corruption of boys. For your gods did not abstain from boys. One [Heracles] loved Hylas, another [Apollo] Hyacinthus, another [Poseidon] Chrysippus, another [Zeus] Ganymedes. These are the gods your wives are to worship! Such they must pray for their own husbands to be, similar models of virtue, – that they may be like the gods by aspiring after equally high ideals! Let these be they whom your boys are trained to reverence, in order that they may grow to manhood with the gods ever before them as a manifest pattern of fornication! But perhaps in the case of the gods, it is the males only who rush eagerly after sexual delights while. (Translated by Butterworth, G W. Loeb Classical Library Volume 92. Cambridge, MA. Harvard Universrity Press. 1919.)
Also Firmicus Maternus says on De errore profanarum religionum 12,2;
Adulterio delectatur aliquis: Iovem respicit, et inde cupiditatis suae fomenta conquirit; Probat imitatur et laudat, quod deus sus in cygno fallit, in tauro rapit ludit in satyro, et ut liberalis in flagitiis esse consuescat, quod inclusam regiam virginem auro largiter fluente corruperit. Puerorum aliquis delectatur amplexibus: Ganymedem in sinu Iovis quaerat, Herculem videat Hylam impatiente amore quaerentem, Hyacinthi desiderio captum Apollinem discat, Chrysippum alius, alius Pelopem videat, ut per deos suos sibi licere dicat quicquid hodie severissime Romanis legibus vindicatur.
One person is fond of adultery; well, he cats a glance at Jupiter and in that quarter finds encouragement for his passion. He approves, imitates, and glorifies the fact that his god was a deceiver in the shape of a swan, a kidnaper in the of a bull, a hoaxer in the shape of a satyr, and (as if fain to cultivate the habit of generosity –but for debauched purposes) a briber who corrupted with with lavishly flowing gold the princess maiden pent. Another person is fond of the embraces of boys: well,let him look for Ganymede in Jupiter’s bosom, let him see Hercules questing after Hylas with the impatience of love, let him learn how Apollo was overcome with desire for Hyacinthus, let someone else look at the case of Crhysippus,and another at that of Pelops, so that he may declare that his gods authorize him to do whatever is todfay most severely punished by the laws of Rome. (Firmicus Maternus: The Error of the Pagan Religions Translator Clarence A. Forbes.Edit. Paulister Press, 1970)
Also Arnobius on Seven Books against the Heathen (Adversus Nationes), IV,26,10.
Quid quod non contenti feminei generis adtribuisse diis curas etiam sexus adiungitis adamatos ab his mares? Hylam nescio quis diligit, Hyacintho est alius occupatus, ille Pelopis desideriis flagrat, hic in Chrysippum suspirat ardentius, Catamitus rapitur deliciarum futurus et poculorum custos, et ut Iovis dicatur pullus, in partibus Fabius aduritur mollibus obsignaturque posticis..
Moreover, not content to have ascribed to the gods love of women, do you also say that they lusted after men? Some one loves Hylas; another is engaged with Hyacinthus; that one burns with desire for Pelops; this one sighs more ardently for Chrysippus; Catamitus is carried off to be a favourite and cup-bearer; and Fabius, that he may be called Jove's darling, is branded on the soft parts, and marked in the hinder. (Trans. Christian Classics Ethereal Library (English ed.). IntraText Digital Library.)
And Lucian of Samosata, on The true History II,17
And I saw Socrates son of Sophroniscus in converse with Nestor and Palamedes; clustered round him were Hyacinth the Spartan, Narcissus of Thespiae, Hylas, and many another comely boy. With Hyacinth I suspected that he was in love; at least he was for ever poking questions at him. (ranslated by Fowler, H W and F G. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1905).
Otherwise the myth has had and continues to have a remarkable success to this day. No doubt the beautiful men also occupy the imagination and dreams of women.
In this blog I do not usually use images, especially in an abusive manner; at this time I reproduce numerous after the text of Apollonius to demonstrate the strength and vigor that this myth has to this day.
Apollonius of Rhodes, The Argonautica, I, 1200-1357:
Meantime Hylas with pitcher of bronze in hand had gone apart from the throng, seeking the sacred flow of a fountain, that he might be quick in drawing water for the evening meal and actively make all things ready in due order against his lord's return. For in such ways did Heracles nurture him from his first childhood when he had carried him off from the house of his father, goodly Theiodamas, whom the hero pitilessly slew among the Dryopians because he withstood him about an ox for the plough. Theiodamas was cleaving with his plough the soil of fallow land when he was smitten with the curse; and Heracles bade him give up the ploughing ox against his will. For he desired to find some pretext for war against the Dryopians for their bane, since they dwelt there reckless of right. But these tales would lead me far astray from my song. And quickly Hylas came to the spring which the people who dwell thereabouts call Pegae. And the dances of the nymphs were just now being held there; for it was the care of all the nymphs that haunted that lovely headland ever to hymn Artemis in songs by night. All who held the mountain peaks or glens, all they were ranged far off guarding the woods; but one, a water-nymph was just rising from the fair-flowing spring; and the boy she perceived close at hand with the rosy flush of his beauty and sweet grace. For the full moon beaming from the sky smote him. And Cypris made her heart faint, and in her
confusion she could scarcely gather her spirit back to her. But as soon as he dipped the pitcher in the stream, leaning to one side, and the brimming water rang loud as it poured against the sounding bronze,
straightway she laid her left arm above upon his neck yearning to kiss
his tender mouth; and with her right hand she drew down his elbow, and
plunged him into the midst of the eddy.
Alone of his comrades the hero Polyphemus, son of Eilatus, as he went forward on the path, heard the boy's cry, for he expected the return of mighty Heracles. And he rushed after the cry, near Pegae, like some beast of the wild wood whom the bleating of sheep has reached from afar, and burning with hunger he follows, but does not fall in with the flocks; for the shepherds beforehand have penned them in the fold, but he groans and roars vehemently until he is weary.
Thus vehemently at that time did the son of Eilatus groan and wandered
shouting round the spot; and his voice rang piteous. Then quickly
drawing his great sword he started in pursuit, in fear lest the boy
should be the prey of wild beasts, or men should have lain in ambush for him faring all alone, and be carrying him off, an easy prey. Hereupon as he brandished his bare sword in his hand he met Heracles himself on the path, and well he knew him as he hastened to the ship through the darkness. And straightway he told the wretched calamity while his heart laboured with his panting breath.
"My poor friend, I shall be the first to bring thee tidings of bitter woe. Hylas has gone to the well and has not returned safe, but robbers have attacked and are carrying him off, or beasts are tearing him to pieces; I heard his cry."
Thus he spake; and when Heracles heard his words, sweat in abundance poured down from his temples and the black blood boiled beneath his heart. And in wrath he hurled the pine to the ground and hurried along the path whither his feet bore on his impetuous soul. And as when a bull stung by a gadfly tears along, leaving the meadows and the marsh land, and recks not of herdsmen or herd, but presses on, now without cheek, now standing still, and raising his broad neck he bellows
loudly, stung by the maddening fly; so he in his frenzy now would ply
his swift knees unresting, now again would cease from toil and shout
afar with loud pealing cry.
But straightway the morning star rose above the topmost peaks and the breeze swept down; and quickly did Tiphys urge them to go aboard and avail themselves of the wind. And they embarked eagerly forthwith; and they drew up the ship's anchors and hauled the ropes astern. And the sails were bellied out by the wind, and far from the coast were they joyfully borne past the Posideian headland. But at the hour when gladsome dawn shines from heaven, rising from the east, and the paths stand out clearly, and the dewy plains shine with a bright gleam, then at length they were aware that unwittingly they had abandoned those men. And a fierce quarrel fell upon them, and violent tumult, for that they had sailed and left behind the bravest of their comrades. And Aeson's son, bewildered by their hapless plight, said never a word, good or bad; but sat with his heavy load of grief, eating out his heart. And wrath seized Telamon, and thus he spake:
"Sit there at thy ease, for it was fitting for thee to leave Heracles behind; from thee the project arose, so that his glory throughout Hellas should not overshadow thee, if so be that heaven grants us a return home. But what pleasure is there in words? For I will go, I only, with none of thy comrades, who have helped thee to plan this
He spake, and rushed upon Tiphys son of Hagnias; and his eyes sparkled like flashes of ravening flame. And they would quickly have turned back to the land of the Mysians, forcing their way through the deep sea and the unceasing blasts of the wind, had not the two sons of Thracian Boreas held back the son of Aeacus with harsh words. Hapless
ones, assuredly a bitter vengeance came upon them thereafter at the
hands of Heracles, because they stayed the search for him. For when they were returning from the games over Pelias dead he slew them in sea-girt Tenos and heaped the earth round them, and placed two columns above, one of which, a great marvel for men to see, moves at the breath of the blustering north wind. These things were thus to be accomplished in after times. But to them appeared Glaucus from the depths of the sea, the wise interpreter of divine Nereus, and raising aloft his shaggy head and chest from his waist below, with sturdy hand he seized the ship's keel, and then cried to the eager crew:
"Why against the counsel of mighty Zeus do ye purpose to lead bold Heracles to the city of Aeetes? At Argos it is his fate to labour for insolent Eurystheus and to accomplish full twelve toils and dwell with the immortals, if so be that he bring to fulfilment a few more yet; wherefore let there be no vain regret for him. Likewise it is destined for Polyphemus to found a glorious city at the mouth of Cius among the Mysians and to fill up the measure of his fate in the vast land of the Chalybes. But a goddess-nymph through love has made Hylas her husband, on whose account those two wandered and were left behind."
He spake, and with a plunge wrapped him about with the restless wave; and round him the dark water foamed in seething eddies and dashed against the hollow ship as it moved through the sea. And the heroes rejoiced, and Telamon son of Aeacus came in haste to Jason, and
grasping his hand in his own embraced him with these words:
"Son of Aeson, be not wroth with me, if in my folly I have erred, for grief wrought upon me to utter a word arrogant and intolerable. But let me give my fault to the winds and let our hearts be joined as before."
Him the son of Aeson with prudence addressed: "Good friend, assuredly with an evil word didst thou revile me, saying before them all that I was the wronger of a kindly man. But not for long will I nurse bitter wrath, though indeed before I was grieved. For it was not for flocks of sheep, no, nor for possessions that thou wast angered to fury, but for a man, thy comrade. And I were fain thou wouldst even champion me against another man if a like thing should ever befall me."
He spake, and they sat down, united as of old. But of those two, by the counsel of Zeus, one, Polyphemus son of Eilatus, was destined to found and build a city among the Mysians bearing the river's name, and the other, Heracles, to return and toil at the labours of Eurystheus. And he threatened to lay waste the Mysian land at once, should they not discover for him the doom of Hylas, whether living or dead. And for him they gave pledges choosing out the noblest sons of the people and took an oath that they would never cease from their labour of
search. Therefore to this day the people of Cius enquire for Hylas the
son of Theiodamas, and take thought for the well-built Trachis. For
there did Heracles settle the youths whom they sent from Cius as pledges.
And all day long and all night the wind bore the ship on, blowing fresh and strong; but when dawn rose there was not even a breath of air. And they marked a beach jutting forth from a bend of the coast, very broad to behold, and by dint of rowing came to land at sunrise. (Translation by Seaton, R.C.: "Apollonius Rhodius: Argonautica" (Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1912).
Pompeya VII, 4, 62. Museo Nazionale di Napoli
In the northern Greek city of Amphipolis
Saint Colombe (France). Museum of Grenoble. 3rd. century
Opus sectile. From the Basílica of Iunius Bassus on the Esquiline Hill
Tor Bella Monaca. Museo Nazionale Romano
Djemila (Argelia) Museum of Djemila
Pietro Santo Bartoli (1635-1700): Hylas A Nymphis Raptus (Hylas Captured by the Nymphs), after Giulio Romano Engraver
Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844)-Hylas and the Water Nymphs-Thorvaldsens Museum
Carl Ferdinand Sohn, 1805-1867- Der Raub Des Hylas
Hylas and the Nymphs (1896) by John William Waterhouse
Duncan Grant (1885-1978
Hylas and the Nymphs- Karl Bryullov, 1827
According to the above
Hylas stolen by the Nymphs, from an antique painting by Santi Bartoli-Giovanni Battista Piranesi.
Henrietta Rae (1859–1928)
Hylas And The Water Nymps. by David Neaves
Hylas and the Water Nymphs by Edouard Theophile Blanchard
HYLAS RESCUED FROM THE RIVER BY THE NYMPHS' (31), by Joshua Cristall, (1767-1847) in the East Anteroom at Attingham Park
ECLECTICLANZ - Artwork
Atley Loughridge as Dyrope and Justin Blanchard as Hylas in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Argonautika, written and directed by Mary Zimmerman. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Hylas and the Nymphs by KatiaST