Photo: Hyacinth Changed into a Flower, a painting by Nicolas Rene Jollain the Younger
A Tale as Old as Time
a retelling of the ancient myth of Hyacinthus and Apollo
By Myka Salvacion
I was becoming terribly bored of the dull voice of my tutor. Besides having particularly unpleasant features worthy of the Cyclopes in the gods’ forges, he also felt the need to act in the most unnecessarily harsh manner toward me.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, my rear becoming sorer and sorer as the seconds ticked by. I glanced outside the window. Sunlight spilled into the palace garden like a waterfall, and I yearned for the vivid green spring outside with its soft blue skies, rainbows of flowers and trees, and children laughing and playing along the river bed. They looked so free.
“Prince, are you listening?”
“Huh?” I turned to my tutor. His Cyclops eye—er, eyes, pierced my daydream. “Uh, yes. I was listening.”
He sighed, clearly annoyed. “Prince. This behavior is unacceptable. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the people think you are. At this rate, the entirety of Amyclae will fall to ruin with someone as unsophisticated, childish, and wholly foolish as you in charge.”
Like I said, harsh. “Gods, sorry that I don’t find the military exploits of every single city-state in Greece interesting. Oh, whatever shall Amyclae do?”
My tutor slammed shut the textbook he’d been reciting passages from, making me flinch. Not again. This wasn’t the first time a tutor had given up on me, but it still stung. The look on every single one of their faces was etched into my memory—the same look of bitter hatred.
Before my tutor walked out the door, he turned one last time towards me, presumably to give some encouraging words to the eldest and only son of the king Amyclas of Amyclae, the beautiful, young heir to an all-powerful Spartan military and city-state.
“I hope the people never find out who you truly are. You do not belong here.”
He didn’t even bother shutting the door behind him.
I spent the next week almost entirely outdoors, exploring every nook and cranny of the lush forest and the lively river. I’d managed to avoid my father only because he was visiting another city in Sparta, but I knew the second he returned I would be chained to another tutor, another Cyclops. I tried to keep my mind off the inevitable with every blade of grass, every chirping bird, every sweet buzzing bee.
I was lying underneath the shade of my favorite oak tree when he found me. Not my father, as you and I would expect, but a stranger. His hair was golden yellow, its rich beauty surpassing anything King Midas could have ever hoped for, and a sort of inner radiance shone from his bronze skin, as if he were harboring a piece of the sun within him.
“You look comfortable,” he said almost teasingly.
“I am—thank you very much,” I replied. “How did you find this place? I purposely chose to rest here in the hopes of no one bothering me.”
“Oh, am I bothering you?” he laughed, and it sounded like a song. “My apologies. I was only trying to find a secluded place myself, so I could play my lyre without disturbance.”
I sat up. “You have a lyre with you?”
“Yes, why not?” He sat next to me and pulled out the most beautifully crafted instrument that I’d ever seen—its warm wood glowed just like this stranger did, with intricately carved designs cascading both arms. The strings themselves seemed to be made of solid gold that caught the fading sunlight in its glow.
But the lyre’s physical beauty paled in comparison to the sound of him playing. His fingers slid over the strings effortlessly, creating melodies that danced through the air—even the birds quieted to listen. His voice rose above the chords like a wave, a gentle, rolling symphony that resonated from the heavens and enveloped me in a warm embrace.
When he finished, I realized I’d been holding my breath. I cleared my throat. “Th-that was… um, that was beautiful.”
“Thanks, I’ve had my fair share of practice,” he laughed again.
Golden eyes. Golden lyre. Golden hair. I had a sudden realization.
“Who are you?”
He smiled. “I think you know who I am.”
“Apollo,” I marveled. God of prophecy and oracles, poetry, archery, healing, and, of course, music. “I… Thank you. For playing the lyre. My father doesn’t exactly see the value of music, so it’s been a while since I’ve even heard a song, let alone music as moving as yours.”
“He won’t allow music? That must be terribly lonely.”
Lonely. I nodded.
“Well, I’m here now.”
“Why?” I was surprised to find my voice breaking, my eyes fighting the sudden urge to cry. You do not belong here.
“I like you. That’s all there is to it. And,” he smiled slyly, “I have a soft spot for those who feel they… don’t belong.”
I stiffened. “Can you read my mind?”
“No, no,” he chuckled. “Gods can’t do that. I have been watching you, though. I’ve seen the way they treat you—your father, instructors, the people.” He wiped away a tear that had escaped from my eyes. “I’m sorry, Hyacinthus.”
If there’s one thing you learn from falling in love with a god, it’s that you can’t hide anything from them. You are forced to lay bare every ugly insecurity and treat vulnerability as a close companion, but that only makes being loved regardless so much sweeter. So much more freeing.
That next year of my life was happier than I ever could have ever dreamed. I gathered what few possessions I cared for and never returned home. I didn’t know what my father thought of me when he learned that I’d run off with the great god Apollo. A part of me hoped that he would have boasted about his handsome son winning the heart of an Olympian, but it was more likely he just felt relieved to have another problem out of his hands. It didn’t matter; I stopped thinking about him, about Amyclae, about being a prince.
I accompanied Apollo all over the world in his chariot of swans. I saw beauty beyond imagination, incomparable sights from every corner of the world, both mortal and divine. Though I was nowhere as skilled as him, he also taught me how to play the lyre and took the time to show me how to hunt, handle a bow, discern this medicinal plant from that, and simply love.
Apollo, the charmer that he was, often told me during this time that I only seemed to grow more and more beautiful every day.
“You only say that because you like me.” Under a starry sky, we were lying in the soft grass of a place whose name I don’t remember.
“No, I say it because it’s true. Have you not noticed?” He turned on his side toward me and placed a small flower in my hair. “You’re quite the heartthrob.”
I laughed and pushed him away.
“I’m being serious! Even the great wind god Zephyrus is in love with you.”
“Well,” I grabbed his hand. “Frankly, I don’t care. I choose you, Apollo. You know that I’ll choose you every time.”
He gave me the sweetest smile as a breeze whispered over the grass and carried the flower in my hair away.
Sometime after that, and I’m not sure how long because it is the ancient law of the universe that love alters and fluctuates time, Apollo was teaching me how to throw a discus.
“Are you ready?” He held the sizable round disc (gold, of course) in both hands. “You’re going to love this.”
He shifted the disc to one hand and readied himself. His throwing arm gracefully swung back as he bent his knees, and I could feel the earth shake as he took a single turn and hurled the discus into the sky.
Apollo was always so gentle with me that I often forgot that he, being a god, had godly strength. The discus soared out of his hands so rapidly that it became a mere blur, and as it rocketed towards the heavens its sheer momentum split apart the white clouds hovering above us. Apollo turned to me in glee.
“I don’t know if I can compete with that!” I laughed. “Showing off to me, huh?”
“I didn’t mean to throw it that hard! We’ll have to wait for it to come back before you try.”
After more than a dozen minutes of singing and playing the lyre as we’d done every other day, I could see a small shape hurtling from the sky.
“Apollo! The discus is coming back!” I scrambled to my feet. “Wait here, I’ll go catch it for you.”
“Alright! Be careful, my love.” I watched for a moment as Apollo continued to strum his lyre with gentle fingers, and I was brought back to the day I had first met him and the music, the voice, the man I had so easily fallen in love with. My love. With him, I was immortal.
I began to run towards the discus, only a couple hundred feet from the ground now. I was planning on waiting for it to bounce off the soft earth before catching it—but just then, I felt the slightest gust of ice-cold wind. A shiver passed through my body, goosebumps rising on my skin.
“Apollo?” I turned towards him behind me. “Did you feel that—”
I was knocked to the ground. My vision blacked, and all I could feel was sharp pain blossoming from the back of my head.
I heard a voice shriek, but it was muddled, almost like it was underwater. I was rolled onto my back. I looked up and saw a beautiful man, almost too beautiful to be real.
“Oh no, no, no, Hyacinthus. It’s going to be okay.” He was repeating the same words over again. My name. It was going to be okay. I already knew that. I felt so safe in his arms.
He started putting his hand over my forehead and muttering something under his breath. I wonder what it was. He was so golden.
Golden. Apollo. Oh no.
“A-Apollo…” I managed to croak.
“Hyacinthus?” He was crying. He was so beautiful when he cried. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. I can’t— I don’t know why I can’t—”
“Hey… it’s okay, love.” I tried my best to smile. “Thank you. Thank you for giving me a life I don’t regret. For… finding me. Saving me.”
“I don’t want you to die.” He held my face in his hands and gently stroked my cheeks. In times like these, he was not the god of light or healing. Just my Apollo. “I wish… by the gods, I would trade my immortality to be with you. I want to die with you.”
My heart broke for him. “It will be okay, my love. You have already made me so infinitely happy. Even in death, you know I will only continue to love you.”
Apollo gave me one last golden smile. “I love you, Hyacinthus. I love you, and I promise you that you will never be forgotten. I will never forget you.”
I released my final breath in a soft smile, letting pure light wash over me.
Before Hades is able to take his soul, Apollo touches the grass where his lover’s blood had spilled, and from it sprouts a magnificent flower. Its petals bear eternal witness to his grief, and its radiant beauty shines even in the darkest of nights.
The great god of light fondly smiles at his flower.
Myka Salvacion (College ’25), undeclared in her major, is a student at the University of Pennsylvania.