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Subjects of the Visual Arts: Endymion  

In classical mythology, Endymion was a handsome, young shepherd (sometimes king) from Elis or Caria. Selene (Phoebe, Artemis, Diana), the moon goddess, fell in love with him and consequently neglected her lunar responsibilities.

As a result, Zeus offered Endymion a choice, death in whatever way he preferred or eternal sleep with perpetual youth. Endymion chose the latter. He slept in a cave on Mount Latmus where Selene continued to visit him.

The Greek poet, Licymnius of Chios, however, suggests that it was the god Hypnos (Sleep) who loved Endymion and lulled him to sleep with his eyes open so that the god might forever gaze into them.

Endymion was represented in ancient art as recumbent, usually nude or semi-nude, asleep, with one arm crooked behind his head. This motif appears commonly on sarcophagi of the Roman Empire. In the funerary context, the presence of Endymion suggests the possibility of a dream-like existence beyond death.

In domestic paintings and mosaics, the figure of Endymion is primarily erotic and represents not only male physical beauty, but also youthful innocence and sexual accessibility.

Numerous post-classical artists painted the story of Endymion, for example, Titian (ca 1508), Tintoretto (ca 1575-1580), Poussin (ca 1630), Rubens (ca 1636), van Loo (1731), and Fragonard (ca 1753-1755). Most notable is Endymion Asleep (1793) by Anne-Louis Girodet who captured not only the subtle effect of moonlight, but also the utter passivity of the supine Endymion.

In Jungian psychology, Endymion exemplifies the puer eternus (eternal youth), ageless, timeless, and fragilely connected to the invisible world, yet--at the same time--narcissistic, phallic, effeminate, and pensive.

Homoerotic photographers have evoked these "Endymion" qualities in numerous untitled compositions--luminous dreamboys, forever young and eternally available. A titled example is George Platt Lynes' Endymion and Selene (ca 1939).

Martin D. Snyder


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Top: An ancient marble frieze depicting Endymion.
Above: Endymion Asleep (1793) by Anne-Louis Girodet.

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arts >> Overview:  Classical Art

Ancient Greek and Roman art represents a variety of homoerotic experience in several different ways.

literature >> Overview:  Classical Mythology

The Greco-Roman myths concerning same-sex love have been of crucial importance to the Western gay and lesbian literary heritage, both as texts and as icons.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Neoclassicism

Homoeroticism is a prominent presence in neoclassicism, an artistic movement noted for its masculine style, its appreciation of male beauty, and its privileging of ancient Greece and Rome as civilizations to be emulated.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Nineteenth Century

Several artists and art critics of the nineteenth century achieved a self-aware homosexual identity that is expressed in both their lives and their works, but lesbianism is only rarely depicted in terms of identity during this period.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Renaissance

The various cultural patterns, especially the conditions of artistic production and the types of subjects and themes represented, provide a great deal of evidence about Renaissance sexuality and art.

arts >> Overview:  Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall

Although sparse in images documenting the gay community, pre-Stonewall gay male photography blurs the boundaries between art, erotica, and social history.

arts >> Girodet-Trioson, Anne-Louis

Throughout his long career, French neoclassical painter Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson concentrated on subjects that confused and conflated masculine and feminine characteristics, and often imbued them with homoeroticism.

arts >> Lynes, George Platt

American photographer George Platt Lynes made his fame as a fashion and portrait photographer, but his greatest work may have been his dance images and male nudes.


Crow, Thomas, Emulation: Making Artists for Revolutionary France. New Haven, Conn. and London: Yale University Press, 1995.

Hillman, James, ed. Puer Papers. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1980.

Koortbojian, Michael. Myth, Meaning and Memory on Roman Sarcophagi. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Leddick, David. George Platt Lynes. Cologne: Taschen, 2000.

Mayerson, Philip. Classical Mythology in Literature, Art, and Music. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1971.


    Citation Information
    Author: Snyder, Martin D.  
    Entry Title: Subjects of the Visual Arts: Endymion  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 13, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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