Hymenaios or Hymen was the Greek god of marriage. Since today I am lucky enough to be celebrating one year of marriage to the man of my dreams, I thought I'd share some thoughts about Hymenaios. This vase depicts, left to right, Eros, Hebe (beautiful goddess of youth), her bridegroom Heracles the hero, and Hymenaios.
Accounts of Hymenaios's birth differ. Some authors have him as the son of one of the muses (in the Catullus poem below, Urania) with Apollo, but he has also been described as the son of Aphrodite with Dionysus.
He is depicted similarly to Eros, as a handsome, winged youth. He carries a torch in his hand to light the bride's way to bed. He is invoked in the bridal hymn, and asked to bless the union.
When Orpheus wed Eurydice, Hymen attended the wedding, but his torch was smoky and made the guests' eyes tear. This was considered an ill omen and it was not surprising when Eurydice died that same day.
Various conflicting myths explain Hymenaios's association with marriage. One story is that he was in love with a girl but too poor to marry her. So, since he was a very beautiful boy with delicate features, he dressed up as a girl and tagged along with the girl's party to celebrate the Eleusian mysteries. The party of women were seized by pirates en route. Hymenaios killed the pirates, returned the girls to their home, and was granted his bride in reward for his valor. All the girls he had saved praised him in their bridal hymns, thus giving rise to the traditional refrain of O Hymenaios! O Hymen!
Another story says that he was a great musician who lost his voice and his life while singing the bridal hymn at the marriage of Dionysus and Ariadne, but that he was brought back to life by the great healer Asclepius.
Raise high the roof-beam, carpenters. (Hymenaeus!) Like Ares comes the bridegroom, (Hymenaeus!) taller far than a tall man. (Hymenaeus!)
Catullus writes (tr. Brendon Rau)
O, inhabitant of the mountain of Helicon, son of
Urania, who seize a dainty young woman and carry her off to
a man, o Hymenaeus, Hymen! o Hymenaeus Hymen! Crown your
temples with flowers, take your flame-colored veil, pleasant
with fragrant marjoram, and come over here, wearing a
reddish yellow slipper on a snow-white foot! And having been
roused from sleep on a cheerful day, singing wedding songs
in a high-pitched voice, strike the ground with your feet,
and shake the pinewood marriage-torch with your hand!
. . .Yo! Hymen Hymenaeus,
yo! Yo! Hymen Hymenaeus! You may come now, bridegroom: your
wife is in the marriage chamber, and her countenance is
flowery and radiant, like the white chamomile or the red
poppy. But (thus may the gods help me) you are no less
handsome, o bridegroom, and Venus is not indifferent to you.
But the day is ending. Proceed, and do not dally. You have
not waited long; now you are coming. May good Venus be of
help to you, since what you desire you desire openly, and
you do not conceal your good love. Let him who wishes to
count the many thousands of your love-plays first calculate
the amount of sand in Africa and the number of twinkling