The Heart of Zeus
Ganymede carried the smell of ozone and animal musk with him always, the union of celestial and terrestrial scents, like the skin of a new born babe left out in a thunderstorm. The chambers of Zeus were thick with the smell, mired in the god’s clothing past any lye to wash away, and in the sheets of the bed they shared. The smell marked him, and all the gods recognized it. Most gave the cupbearer a wide berth, eyes elsewhere; newcomers were often confused and sometimes jealous of it at first, especially Zeus’ paramours, at least until they learned better. Only Hera and Vesta, of them all, were kind to the slender youth, and for their own reasons.
The sister-wife of the lightning-bearer had, perhaps, more reason than most to hate Ganymede if she so chose. By those rights and customs that the gods had set for people, and yet continually failed to live up to themselves, hers was the only bed that her brother-husband should set in each night, and rise from to greet the light of Apollo each morning. Jealous Hera’s wrath and glory were well-respected among the gods, her revenge already legend among all peoples, but the frail cupbearer did not cringe or drag in her presence, his eyes displayed no guilt or pride when he met her gaze. Perhaps that saved him, for among all those of Olympus, Ganymede was the only one who understood something of what the queen of the gods felt when their shared king was down on earth, plowing some shepherd-girl to slake a momentary lust. Both would wait for their lover to return.
Zeus himself was not shameless in these affairs, though few save Hera would ever grief him of it. Often it would come on the king of gods like a quickening storm, an explosion of passion that was impossible to contain, and when it came upon him anything or anyone within his sight could be a target. It was never clear to Ganymede if Zeus ever even took pleasure from these acts, for he never remained when his ardor was spent. Then he would come back to his chambers—not the high throne in the meeting chamber of the gods, where Vesta cared for the hearth, but alone in his chambers that smelled of lightning and musk, to stare into the darkness. Ganymede would fill the bowl then, without water, and bring it for Zeus to drink deep as he mulled the terrible venal appetite that ruled the ruler of the skies.
Sometimes a rage would build against himself, and Zeus would shatter the cup; and Ganymede would bring another. Sometimes the god sat in silence to brood, and sometimes to whisper hoarsely the dark things he had done, the carnal horrors inflicted on some princess or peasant or she-goat, the fantastic and perverse shifts in form and demeanor that would come across him. Sometimes there was nothing left at all, the momentary lover destroyed as by a thunderbolt. Ganymede would wait on the king of the gods during these accounts, and sometimes let a hand fall to stroke the god’s hand or knee, for the recount could sometimes inspire an echo of that original passion in both of them.
Yes, it would have been understandable if Hera had hated Ganymede, that Zeus should prefer to pry his alabaster buttocks apart instead of hers, and to spit the mortal boy and make love to him with greater care than his own sister-wife. Yet Hera of all the gods knew that the heart of Zeus belonged to the young boy, not just to slake himself between the cupbearer’s thighs or in his mouth or with his soft hands, but with the guileless youth that accepted him. However far Zeus might spread his seed, and all the bastard children he would spawn, however much Zeus may love his sister-wife, the god of gods would always return to Ganymede—and Ganymede, in turn, was always faithful, standing there in his turn and waiting to serve him.