The Golden Fleece, Herbert James Draper, 1904, Bradford Museums
Theophane was an extremely beautiful maiden and the daughter of Bisaltes. Her beauty was so famous that suitors continually came asking for her hand.
Poseidon, the ocean ancient Greek god of the ocean, took her away by force to the island of Crumissa, but even there, the suitors kept harassing the woman. Poseidon, at that point, decided to change Theophane into a ewe and himself into a ram. The rest of the island’s inhabitants were turned into cattle and the suitors into wolves. From the union (or rape) of Theophane and Poseidon was born the ram bearing the legendary golden fleece.
Medusa, Carlos Schwabe, 1895, private collection, via Art Renewal Centre
The Gorgon Medusa was not always a terrifying creature turning those looking at her into stone. At first, Medusa was a beautiful woman who had the bad fortune of being beautiful enough to become Poseidon’s target.
According to Ovid (VI.103-128), he god raped the woman as a bird inside the temple of Athena. Of course, Athena could not leave the sacrilege of her temple unpunished. Then again, she could not punish Poseidon, who was also a god and also older than her. Instead, Athena directed her anger towards Medusa, transforming her into an ill-famed beast so ugly that those looking at it turned into stone.
Photo of a dolphin
Melantho was a daughter of the legendary Deucalion and a princess of Phokis. Poseidon seduced her by shapeshifting into a dolphin. Melantho bore the ancient Greek god a son named Delphos.
Phrixus and Helle, Roman fresco from Pompei, 45-79 CE, Archaeological Museum, Naples
Helle was a princess of Athamantia in Boiotia. Her story was tragic, but that is a topic for another time. What matters is that at some point, Helle fell into the Hellespont strait (named after her) to escape her stepmother. Poseidon saved her and seduced her while he was transformed into an ocean nymph.
Neptune calming the waves, Lambert-Sigisbert, 1737, Louvre
In the same way, Zeus visited Danae in the form of golden rain, Poseidon visited Iphimedeia, the wife of Lord Aloeus of Malis, in the form of seawater. However, there are not many details about this story.
The Abduction of Ganymede, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1635, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
“A pleasant thing hath lad’s-love ever been since Ganymede was loved of the great Son of Cronus, the king of the Immortals, who seized and brought him to Olympus and made him a God, what time his boyhood was in its lovely flower.”
THEOGNIS, FRAGMENT 1. 1345
Ganymede is a case of special interest. His story is indicative not only of the ancient Greek perceptions surrounding rape but also pedophilia.
According to Greek Mythology, Ganymedes was born in Troy. While still at a young age, he became the object of desire for none other than Zeus. The Greek god transformed into an eagle and abducted Ganymedes, bringing him to Olympus, where he was granted immortality and eternal youth, as long as he served as the gods’ cupbearer.
Erigone, Carle Van Loo, ca. 1747, High Museum of Art
Erigone, the daughter of Icarius, the man who introduced the cult of Dionysus to Athens, is said by Ovid to have been raped by Dionysus in the form of a bunch of grapes.
Canace, Jean Pichore, 15th century, via BnF Gallica
Just as Zeus abducted Europa in the form of a bull, Poseidon also transformed into a bull to abduct and rape Canace, a Thessalian princess.
Conclusion: Ancient Greek Gods And Rape In Antiquity
Rape remains a dark but surprisingly common aspect of Greek mythology. Xenophanes, the presocratic philosopher, criticized Homer, Hesiod, and most Greeks in general for fashioning their gods based on their societies. If that is true, then we can safely argue that rape was a pretty common practice of the strict patriarchal ancient Greek society. The normalization of rape extended to the point that it is almost impossible to distinguish between consensual intercourse, abduction, and rape in Greek mythology. Other times, even if it is clear that someone has been raped, the moral implications of such an act are not always explicit.