Ganymede was abducted by Zeus from Mount Ida, near Troy in Phrygia. Ganymede had been tending sheep, a rustic or humble pursuit characteristic of a hero's boyhood before his privileged status is revealed. Zeus either summoned an eagle or turned into an eagle himself to transport the youth to Mount Olympus.
depicting the eagle, Ganymede wearing his Phrygian cap
, and a third figure, possibly his grieving father
In the Iliad, Zeus is said to have compensated Ganymede's father Tros by the gift of fine horses, "the same that carry the immortals", delivered by the messenger god Hermes. Tros was consoled that his son was now immortal and would be the cupbearer for the gods, a position of much distinction. Walter Burkert found a precedent for the Ganymede myth on an Akkadian seal that depicts the hero-king Etana riding heavenwards on an eagle.
In Olympus, Zeus granted him eternal youth and immortality and the office of cupbearer to the gods, supplanting Hebe. Edmund Veckenstedt associated Ganymede with the genesis of the intoxicating drink mead, which had a traditional origin in Phrygia. All the gods were filled with joy to see the youth, except for Hera, Zeus's consort, who regarded Ganymede as a rival for her husband's affection. Zeus later put Ganymede in the sky as the constellation Aquarius, which is associated with that of the Eagle (Aquila). A moon of Jupiter, the planet named for Zeus's Roman counterpart, was named Ganymede by the German astronomer Simon Marius.
Ganymede pouring Zeus a libation (Attic red-figure calyx krater by the Eucharides Painter
, c. 490–480 BCE)
Plato accounts for the pederastic aspect of the myth by attributing its origin to Crete, where the social custom of paiderastía was supposed to have originated (see "Cretan pederasty"). Xenophon portrays Socrates as denying that Ganymede was the catamite of Zeus, and instead asserting that the god loved him for his psychē, "mind" or "soul," giving the etymology of his name as ganu-, "taking pleasure," and mēd-, "mind." Xenophon's Socrates points out that Zeus did not grant any of his lovers immortality, but that he did grant immortality to Ganymede.
In poetry, Ganymede became a symbol for the beautiful young male who attracted homosexual desire and love. He is not always portrayed as acquiescent: in the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, Ganymede is furious at the god Eros for having cheated him at the game of chance played with knucklebones, and Aphrodite scolds her son for "cheating a beginner." The Augustan poet Virgil portrays the abduction with pathos: the boy's aged tutors try in vain to draw him back to Earth, and his hounds bay uselessly at the sky. The loyal hounds left calling after their abducted master is a frequent motif in visual depictions, and is referenced also by Statius:
Here the Phrygian hunter is borne aloft on tawny wings, Gargara’s range sinks downwards as he rises, and Troy grows dim beneath him; sadly stand his comrades; vainly the hounds weary their throats with barking, pursue his shadow or bay at the clouds."