Being the most beautiful of all mortals, he was carried off by the gods that he might fill the cup of Zeus, and live among the eternal gods.
The traditions about Ganymedes, however, differ greatly in their detail, for some call him a son of Laomedo, others a son of Ilus and others, again, of Erichthonius or Assaracus.
The manner in which he was carried away from the earth is likewise differently described for while Homer mentions the gods in general, later writers state that Zeus himself carried him off, either in his natural shape, or in the form of an eagle, or that he sent his eagle to fetch Ganymedes into heaven. (Apollodorus I.) Other statements of later date seem to be no more than arbitrary interpretations foisted upon the genuine legend. Thus we are told that he was not carried off by any god, but either by Tantalus or Minos, that he was killed during the chase, and buried on the Mysian Olympus.
One tradition, which has a somewhat more genuine appearance, stated that he was carried off by Eos.
There is, further, no agreement as to the place where the event occurred. The early legend simply states that Ganymedes was carried off that he might be the cupbearer of Zeus, in which office he was conceived to have succeeded Hebe but later writers describe him as the beloved and favourite of Zeus, without allusion to his office.
Zeus compensated the father for his loss with the present of a pair of divine horses and Hermes, who took the horses to Tros, at the same time comforted him by informing him that by the will of Zeus, Ganymedes had become immortal and exempt from old age.
Other writers state that the compensation which Zeus gave to Tros consisted of a golden vine.
The idea of Ganymedes being the cupbearer of Zeus (urniger) subsequently gave rise to his identification with the divinity who was believed to preside over the sources of the Nile and of his being placed by astronomers among the stars under the name of Aquarius.
Ganymedes was frequently represented in works of art as a beautiful youth with the Phrygian cap. He appears either as the companion of Zeus or in the act of being carried off by an eagle, or of giving food to an eagle from a patera. The Romans called Ganymedes by a corrupt form of his name Catamitus.
Ganymedes was an appellation sometimes given to handsome
slaves who officiated as cupbearers.