Gateway to the Classics: Gods and Heroes by R. E. Francillon
Gods and Heroes by  R. E. Francillon

The Hyacinth

Y OU remember that Apollo and Diana were born in the island of Delos. The part of Delos where they were born was a mountain called Cynthus; and for that reason Apollo was often called Cynthius, and Diana, Cynthia. Bear this in mind, in order to follow this story.

While Apollo was on earth, Ămyclas, the King of Sparta, engaged him to be the teacher of his son. This boy, named Hyacinthus, was so handsome and so amiable that Apollo became exceedingly fond of him; indeed, he could not bear to be away from his pupil's company.

But the west wind, whose name is Zĕphyrus, was also very fond of the boy, whose chief friend he had been before Apollo came. He was afraid that the son of Amyclas liked Apollo best; and this thought filled him with jealousy. One day, as he was blowing about the king's garden, he saw Apollo and the boy playing at quoits together. "Quoits" are heavy rings made of iron: each player takes one, and throws it with all his strength at a peg fixed in the ground, and the one who throws his quoit nearest to the peg wins the game. Zephyrus was so angry and jealous to see the two friends amusing themselves while he was blowing about all alone, that he determined to be revenged upon both of them.

First of all the boy threw his quoit, and came very near to the peg indeed—so near that even Apollo, who could do everything better than anybody, thought he should find it very hard to beat him. The peg was a great way off, so Apollo took up the heaviest quoit, aimed perfectly straight, and sent it flying like a thunderbolt through the air. But Zephyrus, who was waiting, gave a great blast, and blew Apollo's quoit as it was flying, so that it struck the boy, who fell to the ground.

It was a cruel thing altogether. Apollo thought that he himself had struck his friend by aiming badly: the boy thought the same, for neither could tell it was Zephyrus,—nobody has ever seen the wind.

So perished Hyacinthus: nor could Apollo do anything to show his love and grief for his friend except change him into a flower, which is called Hyacinth to this day. It is said that, if you look, you will find "Hya" written in Greek letters upon every petal of the flower. Some people, however, say that it is not "Hya" at all, but "Aiai," which means "alas." I don't know which is true; but if you will some day look at the petal of a hyacinth through a microscope (the stronger the better, I should say), you will find out for yourself and be able to tell me.

Apollo seems to have been rather fond of turning his friends into trees and flowers. There was another friend of his named Cypărissus, who once, by accident, killed one of Apollo's favorite stags, and was so sorry for what he had done, and pined away so miserably, that the god, to put him out of his misery, changed him into a cypress-tree. "Cypress" comes from Cypărissus, as you will easily see. And we still plant the cypress in churchyards, because it is the tree of tears and mourning that cannot be cured.

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