|Hymenaeus, Heracles & Hebe, Athenian red-figure pyxis
C5th B.C., University of Pennsylvania Museum
HYMENAIOS (Hymen or Hymenaeus) was the god of weddings, or more specifically of the wedding hymn which was sung by the train of the bride as she was led to the house of the groom.
Hymenaios was numbered amongst the Erotes, the youthful gods of love.
As one of the gods of song, he was usually described as a son of Apollon and a Muse.
Hymenaios appears in Greek art as a winged child carrying a bridal torch in his hand, such as in the image right, depicting the wedding procession of Herakles and Hebe.
HYMEN or HYMENAEUS (Hymên or Hymenaios), the god of marriage, was conceived as a handsome youth, and invoked in the hymeneal or bridal song. The names originally designated the bridal song itself, which was subsequently personified. The first trace of this personification occurs in Euripides (Troad. 311), or perhaps in Sappho ( Fragm. 73, p. 80, ed. Neue). The poetical origin of the god Hymen or Hymenaeus is also implied in the fact of his being described as the son of Apollo and a Muse, either Calliope, Urania, or Terpsichore. (Catull. lxi. 2; Nonn. Dionys. xxxiii. 67; Schol. Vatic. ad Eurip. Rhes. 895, ed. Dindorf; Schol. ad Pind. Pyth. iv. 313; Alciphron, Epist. i. 13; Tzetz. Chil. xiii. 599.) Hence he is mentioned along with the sons of the Muses, Linus and Ialemus, and with Orpheus. Others describe him only as the favourite of Apollo or Thamyris, and call him a son of Magnes and Calliope, or of Dionysus and Aphrodite. (Suid. s. v. Thamurris; Anton. Lib. 23; Serv. ad Aen. iv. 127, ad Virg. Eclog. viii. 30.) The ancient traditions, instead of regarding the god as a personification of the hymeneal song, speak of him as originally a mortal, respecting whom various legends were related. According to an Argive tradition, Hymenaeus was a youth of Argos, who, while sailing along the coast of Attica, delivered a number of Attic maidens from the violence of some Pelasgian pirates, and was afterwards praised by them in their bridal songs, which were called, after him, hymeneal songs. (Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1157.) The Attic legends described him as a youth of such delicate beauty, that he might be taken for a girl. He fell in love with a maiden, who refused to listen to him; but in the disguise of a girl he followed her to Eleusis to the festival of Demeter. He, together with the other girls, was carried off by robbers into a distant and desolate country. On their landing, the robbers laid down to sleep, and were killed by Hymenaeus, who now returned to Athens, requesting the citizens to give him his beloved in marriage, if he restored to them the maidens who had been carried off by the robbers. His request was granted, and his marriage was extremely happy. For this reason he was invoked in the hymeneal songs. (Serv. ad Aen. i. 655, ad Virg. Eclog. viii. 30.) According to others he was a youth, and was killed by the breaking down of his house on his wedding-day whence he was afterwards invoked in bridal songs, in order to be propitiated (Serv. l. c.); and some related that at the wedding of Dionysus and Ariadne he sang the bridal hymn, but lost his voice (Serv. l. c.; comp. Scriptor Rerum Mythic. pp. 26, 148, 229; Ov. Met. ii. 683, who makes him a son of Argus and Perimele; Terent. Adelph. v. 7, 8.) According to the Orphic legends, the deceased Hymenaeus was called to life again by Asclepius. (Apollod. iii. 10. § 3.) He is represented in works of art as a youth, but taller and with a more serious expression than Eros, and carrying in his hand a bridal torch.
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
Sappho, Fragment 111 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric I) (Greek lyric C6th B.C.) :
"On high the roof--Hymenaios!--rise up, you carpenters--Hymenaios! the bridegroom is coming."
Licymnius, Fragment 768a (from Philodemus, On Piety) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric V) (Greek lyric C4th B.C.) :
"Kleio the Mousa (Clio the Muse) fell in love with a man, according to Likymnios (Licymnius), and some think Hymenaios (Hymenaeus) was her son."
Euripides, Trojan Women 310 ff (trans. Vellacott) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[Kassandra laments the fall of Troy and the enslavement of the Trojan Women:]
Kassandra (Cassandra): Raise the torch and fling the flame! Flood the walls with holy light! Worship the Almighty Hymen, God of Marriage! Agamemnon, master of my maiden flesh, King of Argos, take me! Heaven's blessing falls on me and falls on you. Hear our cry of worship, Hymen, God of Marriage!
Mother [Hekabe, Hecuba], since you crouch and cry weak with tears and loud with grief for my dear dead city and my murdered father, I have brought them--torches for my wedding-night, leaping light and dancing flame, in your honour, Hymen, God of hot desire! Queen of Darkness, send the gleam you love to lend to the ritual blessing of the wedded virgin!
Dancers, come! Loose your leaping feet, wild with wine of ecstasy! Glorify my father's happy fate! God Apollon, lead this holy ritual dance! In your temple-court, under your immortal laurel-tree, I your priestess call on you! Hymen, mighty god, Hymen, hear!
Come and dance, mother, dance with me; charm the Powers with lucky words, loudly chant your daughter's wedding-song! Wildly whirl and turn in purest ecstasy! Maids of Troy, wear your brightest gowns: come, and sing my wedding-song, hail the lover Eros (Love) and Fate appoint for me!"
Aristophanes, Birds 1720 (trans. O'Neill) (Greek comedy C5th to 4th B.C.) :
"[A wedding song:] Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaios (Hymenaeus)! Rosy Eros (Love) with the golden wings held the reins and guided the chariot; 'twas he, who presided over the union of Zeus and the fortunate Hera. Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaios!"
Aristophanes, Peace 1316 ff :
"[A wedding song or hymenaios:]
Trygaios: Come, wife, to the fields and seek, my beauty, to brighten and enliven my nights. Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaios (Hymenaeus)!
Leader of the Chorus (singing): Oh! thrice happy man, who so well deserve your good fortune! Oh! Hymen! oh oh! Hymenaios!
Chorus (singing): Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaios!
Trygaios (singing): What shall we do to her?
Chorus (singing): What shall we do to her?
Trygaios (singing): We will gather her kisses.
Chorus (singing): We will gather her kisses.
Leader of the Chorus (singing): But come, comrades, we who are in the first row, let us pick up the bridegroom and carry him in triumph. Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaios! Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaios!
Trygaios (singing): You shall have a fine house, no cares and the finest of figs. Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaios! Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaios!
Leader of the Chorus (singing): The bridegroom's fig is great and thick; the bride's very soft and tender.
Trygaios (singing): While eating and drinking deep draughts of wine, continue to repeat: Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaios! Oh! Hymen! oh! Hymenaios, Hail, hail, my friends. All who come with me shall have cakes galore."
Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 1158 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"[The Phaiakes (Phaeacians) celebrate the wedding of Jason & Medea:] Then their temples wreathed with leafy twigs, they sang the hymnela song in unison outside the bridal chamber to the clear notes of Orpheus' lyre."
Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 23 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Magnes [King of Magnesia] . . . had a son, Hymenaios (Hymenaeus), admired by all around for his appearance. Apollon saw the lad and fell in love with him and would not leave the house of Magnes."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 14. 295 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"[Hekabe (Hecuba) of Troy laments the sacrificial marriage of her daughter Polyxena to the ghost of Akhilleus (Achilles):] ‘They have thrust thee away, when near was Hymenaios' (Hymenaeus') hymn, from thine espousals.’"
Philostratus the Younger, Imagines 10 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"Do the light of the torches, and the marriage hymn (hymenaios), the sound of the flutes and the twanging of the lyre and the rhythmic motion of the dancers attract your attention? You see also the women visible through the vestibules as they marvel and all but shout for joy. This is a marriage, my boy, the first gathering of the bridal party, and the bridegrooms are bringing their brides."
[N.B. The wedding-hymn (hymenaios) is not personified her, but the passage demonstrates its place within the marriage ceremony.]
Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 757 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"To his heart he [Perseus] took Andromeda, undowered, she herself his valour‘s prize. With waving torches Amor [Eros, Love] and Hymenaeus lead the wedding, full and fat the perfumed fires of incense burn and garlands deck the beams."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 428 ff :
"When they [the doomed Tereus and Procne] were married, Juno [Hera] was not there to bless the rite, nor Hymenaeus nor the Gratia [Kharis, Grace]. The Eumenides [Erinyes, Furies] held the torches, torches seized from mourners' hands; the Eumenides made their bed."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 9. 764 ff :
"[Iphis, a girl disguised as a man, is about to marry the women she loves:] ‘Aye me why should Hymenaeus, the Wedding-god, preside without a groom, with both of us a bride!’
She said no more. The other girl, in love was eager, prayed the Wedding-god to haste . . . The morning's radiance revealed the world; Venus [Aphrodite], Juno [Hera] and Hymenaeus joined to bless the wedding rite; their love was sanctified, and Iphis gained Ianthe, groom and bride. Thence Hymenaeus came, in saffron mantle clad, at Orpheus' summons through the boundless sky to Thessaly, but vain the summons proved. True he was present, but no hallowed words he brought nor happy smiles nor lucky sign; even the torch he held sputtered throughout with smarting smoke, and caught no living flame for all his brandishing. The ill-starred rite led to a grimmer end [the sudden death of Orpheus' wife Eurydice]."
Ovid, Heroides 2. 33 ff (trans. Showerman) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Phyllis, forsaken by Demophoon, laments:] ‘Where now the bond of Hymenaeus promised for years of life together--promise that was my warrant and surety for the wedded state?’"
Ovid, Heroides 6. 43 ff :
"[Hypsipyle forsaken by Jason laments:] ‘Alas! where is the faith that was promised me? Where the bonds of wedlock, and the marriage torch? . . . Juno [Hera] was there to join us when we were wed, and Hymen, his temples bound with wreaths. And yet neither Juno nor Hymen, but gloomy Erinys (Fury), stained with blood, carried before me the unhallowed torch.’"
[N.B. The Erinys carries the wedding torch in place of Hymen, since the marriage was doomed.]
Ovid, Heroides 9. 133 ff :
"Iole, the daughter of Eurytus, and Aonian Alcides [Herakles] will be basely joined in shameful bonds of Hymen."
Ovid, Heroides 11. 101 ff :
"[Kanake (Canace), who has committed incest with her brother, and whose father has sent a sword to end her life, laments:] Take away afar, deluded Hymenaeus, thy wedding-torches, and fly with frightened foot from these nefarious halls! Bring for me the torches ye bear, Erinyes (Fury) dark, and let my funeral pyre blaze bright from the fires ye give! Wed happily under a better fate, O my sisters."
Ovid, Heroides 12. 137 ff :
"[Medea witnesses the marriage of Jason and Kreousa (Creusa):] ‘All suddenly, there came to my ears the chant of Hymen, and to my eyes the gleam of blazing torches, and the pipe poured forth its notes, for you a wedding-strain . . . The throng pressed eagerly on, crying "Hymen, O Hymenaeus!" in full chorus.’"
Ovid, Heroides 14. 25 ff :
"[The wedding of the husband-murdering Danaides:] On every side shine bright the lamps girt round with gold; unholy incense is scattered on unwilling altar-fires; the crowd cry ‘Hymen, Hymenaeus!’ The god shuns their cry; Jove's [Zeus'] very consort [Hera] has withdrawn from the city of her choice!"
[N.B. Hymenaios and Hera, the divinities of marriage, shun the doomed wedding.]
Ovid, Heroides 21. 155 ff :
"[The bride Kydippe (Cydippe), afflicted with illness, fails three times to attend her own appointed wedding day:] For why is it that, as oft as the sacraments for marriage are made ready, so oft the limbs of the bride-to-be sink down in languor? Thrice now has Hymenaeus come to the altars reared for me and fled, turning his back upon the threshold of my wedding-chamber; the lights so oft replenished by his lazy hand scarce rise again, scarce does he keep the torch alight by waving it. Oft does the perfume distil from his wreathèd locks, and the mantle he sweeps along is splendid with much saffron. When he has touched the threshold, and sees tears and dread of death, and much that is far removed from the ways he keeps, with his own hand he tears the garlands from his brow and casts them forth, and dries the dense balsam from his glistening locks; he shames to stand forth glad in a gloomy throng, and the blush that was in his mantle passes to his cheeks."
Seneca, Medea 56 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"[A wedding hymn or epithalamium or hymenaios:] May the high gods who rule over heaven, and thy who rule the sea, with gracious divinity attend on our princes' marriage, amid the people's solemn applause. [To the gods of marriage:] First to the sceptre-bearing Thunderers [Zeus and Hera] let the bull with white-shining hide offer his high-raised neck. Lucina [Eileithyia or Hera] let a heifer appease, snow-white, untouched by the yoke; and let her [Aphrodite] who restrains the bloody hands of rough Mars [Ares], who brings peace to warring nations and holds plenty in her rich horn, mild goddess, be given a tender victim. And do thou [Hymenaios, Hymenaeus], who the torches of lawful marriage attendest, dissipating the night with propitious hand, hither come, reeling with drunken footstep, binding thy temples with garlands of roses. And thou star [Hesperos], forerunner of twilight, who returnest ever slowly for lovers--thee, mothers, thee, brides eagerly await, to see the full soon thy bright beams scattering . . . Sport, youths, with free banter and jesting; let your songs ring out, O youths, in responsive cadence; rarely against our lords is unrebuked licence given. Comely, noble scion [Hymenaios] of Lyaeus [Dionysos] the thyrsus-bearer, now is the time to light thy torch of frayed pinewood; toss on high the ritual fire with languishing fingers."
Seneca, Medea 116 :
"Upon my ears has sounded the marriage-hymn (hymenaeus)."
Seneca, Medea 299 :
"But the marriage rites summon me, summons the festal day to pray to Hymenaeus."
Seneca, Oedipus 497 ff :
"The new-made bride [Ariadne] is led to the lofty heavens [by Dionysos]; Phoebus [Apollon] a stately anthem sings . . . and twin Cupides [Eros and either Anteros or Hymenaeus] brandish their torches."
Statius, Thebaid 5. 65 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[Aphrodite placed a curse on the island of Lemnos when they spurned her worship:] Straightway fled ye from Lemnos, ye tender Amores [Erotes, Loves] : Hymen fell mute and turned his torch to earth; chill neglect came o'er the lawful couch , no nightly return of joy was there, no slumber in the beloved embrace."
Statius, Silvae 1. 2. 238 (trans. Mozley) (Roman poetry C1st A.D.) :
"[At a wedding:] Leaning against the portal hath Hymen sought to utter a new song in honour of their marriage, and to gladden the poet's heart. Juno [Hera] brings the holy bonds, and Concordia [Harmonia goddess of harmony and concord] marks the union with twofold torch."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 16. 289 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[Wedding song at the nuptials of Dionysos and Nikaia (Nicaea):] Pan's following voice; dancing over the ground the pipes tootled out loudly ‘Hymen Hymenaios’; the forest fire resounded, ‘A blessing on this bridal.’"
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 24. 261 ff :
"[Aphrodite neglected her duties in love when she was competing with Athena in a weaving contest:] Then the harp made no lovely music, the syrinx did not sound, the clear pipes did not sing in clear tones Hymen Hymenaios (Hymenaeus) the marriage-tune."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 33. 64 ff :
"She [Aphrodite] found him [Eros, Love] on the golden top of Olympos, shooting the nectar-drops from a cup [i.e. playing cottabus, a game in which wine was thrown out of a cup at a mark]. Beside him stood Hymenaios (Hymenaeus), his fair-haired playfellow in the dainty game. He had put up as a prize for the victor something clever made by his haughty mother Ourania [the Muse Urania], who knew all the courses of the stars, a revolving globe like the speckled form of Argos; winged Eros had taken and put up a round golden necklace which belonged to his mother sea-born Aphrodite, a shining glorious work of art, as a prize of victory. A large silver basin stood for their game, and the shooting mark before them was a statue of Hebe shown in the middle pouring the wine. The umpire in the game was Ganymedes, cupbearer of Kronides [Zeus], holding the garland. Lots were cast for the shots of unmixed wine, with varied movements of the fingers [i.e. a finger game similar to ‘rock, paper, scissors’ played to determine who goes first]: these they held out, these they pressed upon the root of the hand closely joined together. A charming match it was between them.
Daintyhair Hymenaios drew the first try. He took the cup, and shot the flying nectar-drop high in the air over the basin; but he offered no prayer then to his mother the Mousa: darting from the cup the dew went scattering high through the air, but the leaping drops turned aside and swerved fell back about the face of the statue so as to touch the top of the head without a sound. Second, crafty Eros took hold of the lovely cup in a masterly way, and secretly in his heart prayed to Kyprogeneia [Aphrodite]; then with a steady eye on the mark, he shot the liquid into the distance--the dewy nectar went straight, unswerving, and curved round until it fell from the air upon the forehead above the temple with a loud plop. The elegant statue rang, and the basin echoed the sound of victory for the golden son of Kyprogeneia. Ganymedes laughing handed the dainty garland to Eros. Quickly he picked up the beautiful necklace and lifted the globe, and kept the two prizes of their cleverdrop game. Bold Eros went skipping and dancing for joy and turned a somersault, and tried often to pull his rival's hands from his sorrowful face."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 43. 3 :
"[Poseidon and Dionysos compete for the hand of Beroe in marriage:] Lusty Hymenaios (Hymenaeus) was he that kindled the quarrel for Earthshaker [Poseidon] and Dionysos--he danced into the battle, holding the bronze pike of Amyklaian Aphrodite, while he droned a tune of war on a Phrygian hoboy."
- Greek Lyric I Sappho, Fragments - Greek Lyric C6th B.C.
- Greek Lyric V Licymnius, Fragments - Greek Lyric C4th B.C.
- Euripides, Trojan Women - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd B.C.
- Aristophanes, Birds - Greek Comedy C5th-4th B.C.
- Aristophanes, Peace - Greek Comedy C5th-4th B.C.
- Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th A.D.
- Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Philostratus the Younger, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Ovid, Heroides - Latin Poetry C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Seneca, Medea - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Seneca, Oedipus - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Statius, Silvae - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
Other references not currently quoted here: Catullus 61.2; Scholiast on Euripides Rhesus 895; Scholiast on Pindar Pythian 4.313; Suidas 'Thamyris'; Alciphron Epist. 1.13; Tzetzes Chil. 13.599; Servius on Aeneid 4.127 & on Eclogues 8.30; Eustathius on Homer 1157; Athenaeus 13.603