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The fine line of friendship: male homoerotic relationships in Mozart's Apollo et Hyacinthus.

On May 13, 1767, Apollo et Hyacinthus premiered as part of the graduation celebrations of Salzburg University, (1) an all-male Catholic school. The libretto was provided by Rufinus Widl, a priest and professor at the school, and the music was written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, age 11. Despite the conservative environment, the plot was overtly homoerotic, (2) yet the plot of the opera was not controversial. In fact, the opera elicited nothing other than praise, as recorded in the school's minutes:

13 May, Wednesday. In the morning short schools on account of phlebotomy. (3) After dinner was giving the Syntaxists' (4) comedy written by the Very Reverend Professor, and by desire performed by his students, which gave me the greatest pleasure. I congratulate the Professor on the public applause. The music for it, composed by Wolfgang Mozart, a youngster of eleven, delighted everybody, and at night he gave us notable proofs of his musical art at the harpsichord. (Deutsch, 1965, p. 75)

No mention is made of the homoerotic nature of the plot and as the recorder only felt "the greatest pleasure," and there was "public applause," it is unlikely that the opera was even slightly controversial.

This is surprising since previous to this opera the representation of male homoeroticism was negligible on the operatic stage. (5) Homoerotic situations sometimes occurred in Italian opera, but usually only when males dressed as women, for example, Amalta in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642/1643) and Aristea in Cesti's Orontea (1656). This was done for comedic effect. In France, there was a similar tradition for males, especially haute-contres, to perform en travesti for comedic effect, such as when Pierre Jelyotte premiered the role of the nymph Platee in Rameau's Platee (1745). Yet, regardless of whether the opera was Italian or French, these characters were intended for comic effect and were rarely involved in romantic subplots of their own. If any romantic desire was attached to these characters, the romance was never meant to be taken seriously by the audience. This makes the nuanced treatment of the homoeroticism in Mozart's Apollo et Hyacinthus more remarkable.

The Myth of Hyacinth Prior to the Opera

The original myth was that the beautiful Spartan youth Hyacinth was desired by both Zephyr and Apollo. Zephyr, jealous of Hyacinth's affection for Apollo, misdirected a discus thrown by Apollo to make it strike Hyacinth in the head, killing him. In remorse, Apollo transformed the body of his beloved Hyacinth into a flower. This myth was viewed as highly homoerotic by the Greeks, which is apparent from contemporary Greek art showing Zephyr and Hyacinth in the act of intercrural sex (see Figure 1).

The story of Hyacinth continued to be viewed sexually until Late Antiquity, when it fell into obscurity. When homoeroticism wanted to be evoked, Europeans instead favored the myth of Ganymede. (6) The myth of Hyacinth was not completely forgotten, but it was infrequently revived and then usually only at the same time as Ganymede. The love of Apollo and Hyacinth is mentioned in the poem "Hebe and Ganymede" from the 12th/13th century (Fone, 1998, p. 109) and importantly in Angelo Poliziano's (1454-1494) drama Favola di Orfeo (1480) during Orpheus's speech renouncing the love of women after losing his Eurydice: "Thus, Jove, enthralled by that delicious knot/ Shows faith in what I have to say of love,/ For Ganymede he did enjoy in heaven,/ While Phoebus (7) had sweet Hyacinth on earth" (p. 138). As is apparent from the quote, though, Hyacinth was almost synonymous with Ganymede and the myths were merely being evoked for their general homoerotic implications.

This began to change in the 1500s, when the story of Hyacinth came more specifically to represent pederasty in literature and the visual arts. Jacopo Caraglio's etching "Apollo and Hyacinth" (see Figure 2) was included in a print series on the loves of the gods but was the only homoerotic print. The print no longer merely evokes general homoeroticism, but rather pederasty. The figure of Hyacinth is significantly younger than Apollo, and Hyacinth's "leg [is] slung over Apollo's and placed between the god's thighs ... denoting sexual possession or provocation" (Saslow, 1986, p. 113). While the position of Hyacinth's legs implies sexual desire for Apollo, Apollo's outreached arm, which interrupts and halts Hyacinth's arms from reaching away, connotes a certain amount of physical conquering of the younger Hyacinth.


Depicting the relationship of Hyacinth and Apollo as pederastic would continue through the 16th century. In fact, Benevenuto Cellini's (8) sculpture of "Apollo and Hyacinth" from 1547 is even more pederastic (Figure 3a). Apollo's right hand is stroking Hyacinth's hair with the index finger pointed out (see Figure 3b), the same trope Cellini had used in his sculpture of "Ganymede and the Eagle" to denote sexual possession (Saslow, 1986). Yet, this sculpture is highly suggestive of anal intercourse. While Apollo's gaze is focused off in the distance, his weight is shifted toward the young Hyacinth. Hyacinth, who has his hand on Apollo's buttocks, is kneeling with his buttocks facing Apollo while his legs are spread out on either side of Apollo.


Hyacinth was also evoked in the literature at the time for pederastic reasons, such as in Antonio Rocco's rhetorical dialogue L'Alcibiade Fanciullo a Scola (1652), which was written in defense of pederasty:

But let's come now to the point. In which of our gods do we have faith? ... Apollo didn't enjoy Cyparissus and Hyacinth? Hercules of Ilus [Hylas]? And is not Cupid, moreover, man and boy in order to show the principal love to be of boys. (Fone, 1998, p. 153)

But though Rocco's defense of pederasty came in the middle of the 17th century, ideas on male eroticism had begun to shift, albeit slowly. Starting around 1590, pederasty came to be looked upon more critically, and homosexual pairings between men of similar age began to be favored (Saslow, 1999). This is apparent in Annibale Carracci's "Apollo and Hyacinth" from around 1600 (Figure 4). Hyacinth is no longer a boy, but a muscular young man of about equal physical stature and maturity as Apollo. Representing Apollo and Hyacinth as being equal in age and stature became more and more popular, and by the mid-17th century, the myth of Hyacinth had lost any sense of pederastic overtones. (9)


Therefore, it is not surprising that Hyacinth and Apollo are clearly represented as being of nearly equal age in "The Death of Hyacinthus," by an anonymous Italian painter of the 17th century (Figure 5). What is more interesting, though, is that the discus from the original myth was altered to tennis (one can see the tennis racquets to the lower left). This alteration might have been done for several reasons. For one, discus had been mostly forgotten by the 17th century as tennis became favored among the nobility. In addition (and perhaps for that very reason), Giovanni Andrea dell'Anguillara's 1581 translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses into Italian had altered the text from discus to pallacorda (Giambattista Tiepolo, The Death of Hyacinthus, ca. 1752-53, n.d.). Pallacorda is a contraction of "palla della corda," which literally means "ball of the street" ("street ball") and was an Italian version/precursor of tennis, so it is possible that the artist did not know he was "altering" the original story. However, this "mistranslation" might not have been done purely for purposes of familiarity. Changing the discus to a ball created an opportunity for expanded male genital imagery in the story, which only further heightened the homoeroticism of the original myth. The Italian word "palla" is derived from the same root as the English word "ball," (10) and, as in English, the Italian word can just as easily be used as a slang to refer to testicles. In fact, the word "palla" is linguistically related to the word "phallus." (11) It is not surprising, therefore, that tennis rather than discus was used in future depictions of the myth of Hyacinth.




In fact, whether because of the homoerotic, testicular imagery of tennis balls (rather than a discus) or the continued depiction of Apollo and Hyacinth as being of approximately the same age, European men involved in homosexual relationships began to strongly identify with the myth. This is blatantly apparent in Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's "Death of Hyacinth" (1752), which was painted only 15 years before Mozart's opera premiered (see Figure 6).

This painting was commissioned by Wilhelm Friedrich Schaumburg-Lippe Buckeberg as a memorial to the death of his male lover in 1751 (Saslow, 1999). Even beyond the single painting, the letters of Wilhelm's father use language such as "your friend Apollo" in reference to Wilhelm and his lover (Saslow, 1999, p. 164). That, along with the fact Wilhelm commissioned the painting in honor of his friend and as a testament to their relationship, makes it clear that males attracted to males during the latter half of 18th century identified with the story of Apollo and Hyacinth and saw it as symbolic of male erotic relationships. Even after Mozart's opera premiered, art would continue to depict Apollo and Hyacinth as being of roughly similar age and in a close, intimate relationship, such as in the paintings of Jean Broc (1801) and Mery-Joseph Blondel (early 19th century).

The Opera

On November 29, 1766, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had just returned to Salzburg from the 3-year Mozart family grand tour (Sadie, 2006). Every year as part of the graduation ceremony at Salzburg University, a large student play in Latin would be produced, with musical entertainment interspersed. In 1767, the larger Latin play was Clementia Croesi by Rufinus Widl. Whether at Widl's own instigation, or pressure from Leopold Mozart (12) or Archbishop Schrattenbach, Widl also wrote a libretto titled Apollo et Hyacinthus for which Mozart was asked to provide the music. As Clementia Croesi was five acts, Apollo was divided into three sections. (13) Apollo et Hyacinthus (14) premiered (with Clementia Croesi) on May 13, 1767, to great success.

Like the larger play Clementia Croesi, Apollo et Hyacinthus was in Latin, an atypical language for an opera at the time. However, Salzburg University was founded and financed by Benedictine monasteries throughout France, Bavaria, Salzburg, and Austria, many of which sent students (Universitat Salzburg: Profiles and Goals, n.d.). Therefore, due to the multinational and multilingual composition of the student body, Latin was probably the most widely understood language as it was used not only for church ritual but also in the classroom as the language of education. Thus, a Latin libretto was not a pedantic exercise, as it was the lingua franca of the student body.

At that time, Salzburg was a prince-bishopric under the Archbishop of Salzburg, and the archbishop, Siegmund Christoph von Schrattenbach, was a religious leader of notable conservative piety. As a result, "the Enlightenment did not systematically penetrate institutions [of Salzburg] until after his death" (Eisen & Keefe, 2006, p. 451). Unsurprisingly, Salzburg University was a conservative environment within a deeply conservative theocratic state. Probably due to the conservative tastes of Salzburg, Widl structured the libretto as a traditional opera seria using five characters: Zephyrus, Hyacinthus, Apollo, Melia (sister of Hyacinthus), and Oebalus (father of Hyacinthus and Melia). The form of opera seria was so outdated by that time that Leopold Mozart in 1768 would say,

[The Emperor] asked the boy twice whether he would like to compose an opera ...? Wolfgang said, Yes.... It is not an opera seria, however, for no operas of that kind are being given now. (Deutsch, 1965, p. 121)

Yet, in Salzburg in 1767, this old-fashioned form would have appealed to the Archbishop's conservative tastes. Therefore, it would seem surprising that Widl would select such a profoundly homoerotic myth as Hyacinth

to be the subject of his libretto, but as will be shown, the opera served as a moral lesson to the students on how to handle homoerotic feelings.

Identifying Widl's source for the libretto and all its characters is problematic. Ovid's version of the myth, found in Book X, lines 162 to 221 of his Metamorphoses, is commonly cited as the source; however, that is problematic as Ovid's Apollo accidentally kills Hyacinth and no mention is made of the character of Zephyr. Ovid's version, lacking Zephyr, is also found in Apollodorus's Library. (15) Ovid's version does mention Oebalus, but when Ovid calls Hyacinth a "Son of Oebalus" this merely signifies Hyacinth was a Spartan as Oebalus was the famous king of Sparta who fathered Tyndareus, Icarius, and Hippocoon. Widl possibly conflated the Ovid line to make Hyacinthus the actual son of Oebalus, yet it is more likely Widl based Oebalus being Hyacinth's father from Hyginus's Fabulae. In Hyginus, Hyacinth was listed under "Especially Handsome Teenagers" as "Hyacinth son of Oebalus (Oebali filius), whom Apollo loved" (Apollodorus & Hyginus, 2007, p. 178) as if Hyacinth were the actual progeny of Oebalus, as all the other teenagers in the list have their true parents given. The character of Zephyr, and the transmogrification of the story into Zephyr killing Hyacinth out of jealousy, comes not from Ovid, Apollodorus, or Hyginus, but from Palaiphatos, (16) Lucian, (17) Philostratus the Elder, (18) and Philostratus the Younger. (19) The version including Zephyrus was retold in the Lexikon Mythologicum published in Liepzig in 1751, making it more familiar to the educated German-speaking populace (Berke, 2004, p. X). The Greek and Latin sources as well as the Lexikon Mythologicum would all have been available for Widl to draw upon, and it is probable he drew upon more than one source. The character of Melia does not appear in any Hyacinth myth, nor is any mention made of a sister. Widl seemingly took the name Melia from the nymph Melia whom Apollo abducted in other myths and who gave birth to Teneros.

As in the original myth, Hyacinthus in the opera has affection for both Apollo and Zephyrus, though the exact nature of his affections is unclear: Hyacinthus worries that his relationship with Zephyrus is displeasing to the gods, whereas Zephyrus worries that Apollo is trying to steal Hyacinthus's affections. Zephyrus's physical homoerotic attraction to Hyacinthus is apparent in the first scene:
Act I, Scene I (Recitative).

Hyacinthus: Amice! lam parata       Hyacinthus: Friend, everything
  sunt omnia. Aderit, ut spero,       is ready. My father, 1 hope,
  cum sorore dilecta meus ad          will soon arrive with my dear
  sacra, quae constituit,             sister for the sacrifice that
  actutum pater.                      he has arranged.

Zephyrus: Ni fallor, est            Zephyrus: If I am not mistaken,
  Apollo, quern colitis.              it is Apollo you revere.

Hyacinthus: Hie est                 Hyacinthus: That is so.

Hyacinthus: At solus istud          Hyacinthus: But this temple
  Apollo sibi templum suo             Apollo has reserved to his own
  vindicat honori. Genitor hunc       honor. My father worships him
  magnum Deum venerator, et ego       as a great god, and, following
  veneror exemplo paths.              Father's example, I do too.

Zephyrus: O care! Quam              Zephyrus: My dear, how gladly
  libenter offerrem ilia              would I offer my heart and
  pectusque, si tu Apollo mihi        body if you were my Apollo!
  meus fores!

Hyacinthus: Dilecte, quid me,       Hyacinthus: Dear Zephyrus, why
  Zephyre, permisces Diis?            do you confuse me with the
  Honore non me dignor, at now        gods? I do not deem myself
  bene: extorsit ista nimius in       worthy of glory; but 1 well
  Hyacinthum amor.                    know that too great a love for
                                      Hyacinthus prompted these

The nature of the relationship between Zephyrus and Hyacinthus is named in the first word of this opera--"Amice." This idea of friendship immediately labels Zephyrus and Hyacinthus's relationship as being between equals. In addition, in the latter half of the 1700s, the German-speaking world was well aware of the classical tradition in which male-to-male friendship had both erotic and sexual connotations. This concept of male friendship was the focus of Christoph Meiners's 1775 "Betrachtungen uber die Mannerliebe der Griechen" ("A Tract Concerning Greek 'Love-Between-Men'") and the publication was not controversial (Tobin, 2006, p. 28). Even though sexual relationships between men were not publicly approved, the educated public was well aware of the possibility of male homoerotic friendship.

Within the environment of a Latin-speaking Benedictine university such as Salzburg University, there was even more likely to be a general awareness of the ancient tradition of male-to-male erotic relationships through the reading of Virgil, Ovid, Martial, and Horace as these authors' works had been available to the student body. The library at Salzburg University only has a bibliography of textbooks used in the curriculum from 1630-1735/1736. However, the school's records from 1735/1736 indicate that Virgil, Ovid, Martial, and Horace were all part of the required curriculum. While this was 30 years before the premiere of Mozart's opera, there is no indication that these authors' works would have been removed from the curriculum or made unavailable to the students.

In addition, the all-male environment of the University and the preponderance of pubescent boys in close lodging with each other provided a fertile ground for homoerotic encounters; indeed, at the time, boarding schools "were notorious for such sexual mischief [between boys]" (Sibalis, 2006, pp. 103-104). In fact, Montesquieu in his 1748 De Vesprit des lois [The Spirit of the Laws] blamed male homosexual behavior on the "sequestering of young males in single-sex schools" (Crompton, 2003, pp. 501-502). Thus, when Zephyrus declares, "O care! Quam libenter offerrem ilia pectusque, si tu Apollo mihi meus fores!" ["My dear, how gladly would I offer my heart and body if you were my Apollo!"], the students in the audience were likely aware of the erotic implications. Tellingly, Hyacinthus immediately chastises Zephyrus for having "too great a love." While Hyacinthus might call Zephyrus, "Amice," the word for Hyacinthus seemingly only implies chaste friendship.

Importantly, though, Zephyrus's line is not a quiet aside meant only for himself or the audience. It is an unapologetic and very public declaration to Hyacinthus within the theatrical world being created on the stage; it is not an aside meant only for the audience. The fact that Zephyrus states his desire publicly is very important to the plot. Just after this passage of recitative, there is an offering made to Apollo, which is rejected by the god, causing trepidation among all the other characters. Even in the libretto, Hyacinthus surmises that it was the act of Zephyrus giving voice to his desire for Hyacinthus that enraged Apollo enough to reject the offering. Zephyrus's public declaration of affection for Hyacinthus was presumably overheard by Apollo, setting the entire plot in motion.
Act I, Scene 2 (Recitative).

Oebalus: An aliquis forsan ex       Oebalus: Has any of you
  vobis Deum yiolavit?                offended the god?

Melia: Haud me, Genitor,            Melia: No, father! I am
  ullius ream invenio culpae.         conscious of being guilty of
                                      no fault

Hyacinthus: Semper hunc colui       Hyacinthus: I have always
  Deum. (O Zephyre! Quantum           revered this god. (O Zephyrus,
  timeo, ne verbis tuis haec ira      how I fear that the words you
  sit succensa, quae dixisti          spoke earlier kindled his
  prius.)                             wrath!)

Zephyrus: (Hyacinthe! Si me         Zephyrus: (Hyacinthus, if you
  diligis, cela patrem, et verba      love me, conceal from your
  prolata prius a nobis tace!)        father, and say nothing of,
                                      the words we exchanged

Source. Salter (1981, p. 5).

Other than Hyacinthus's supposition that Zephyrus's words inspired Apollo's wrath, no other possible explanation is given for Apollo's rejection of the offering, so it must have been in response to Zephyrus's line, "O care! Quam libenter offerrem ilia pectusque, si tu Apollo mihi meus fores!" ["My dear, how gladly would I offer my heart and body if you were my Apollo!"]. It is unclear from the libretto what exactly angered Apollo about this line: the homoerotic implications, or the fact that Zephyrus attempts to place himself in the place of Apollo as deserving of worship. While Zephyrus, as a god, was not as important as Apollo, Zephyrus was still the god of the West Wind and was not undeserving of some worship, so it is unlikely Widl was suggesting Zephyrus overreached his boundaries. As for the homoerotic implications, Apollo does not reject the sacrifice out of jealousy, for unlike in the original myth Apollo feels no erotic desire for Hyacinthus in the opera. Instead Apollo loves Melia, the sister of Hyacinthus, and offers to marry her. What is most likely is that Apollo is angered by the homoeroticism, which he finds inappropriate and intolerable. As Apollo is the representation of divine will in the opera, it is clear that Widl presented passionate homoerotic feelings as displeasing to divine will as Zephyrus feels fearful when in the presence of the divine.
Act I, Scene 3 (Recitative).

Zephyrus: (Hyacinthe! Quantum       Zephyrus: (Hyacinthus, how I
  timeo praesentem Deum!)             fear the presence of the god!)

Hyacinthus: (Me quoque              Hyacinthus: (His formidable
  tremenda dignitas timidum           majesty makes me afraid, too.)

Apollo: Hyacinthe! Amicum           Apollo: Hyacinthus, you shall
  semper addictum tibi habebis        always have in me a friend
  in me, amare si Deum potes.         well disposed to you, if you
                                      can love the god!

Hyacinthus: O quanta res,           Hyacinthus: O how wonderful if
  diligere si Hyacinthum potes!       you can be Hyacinthus's

Zephyrus: (Heu! Nunc amatum         Zephyrus: (Alas! Now Apollo is
  Apollo mihi puerum rapit!)          stealing the beloved boy from

However, Apollo does offer Hyacinthus friendship, and while Zephyrus's friendship with Hyacinthus is laced with homoerotic desire, Apollo's offer of friendship is chaste and without any homoerotic implications. After all, Apollo previous to this dialogue had just exchanged words of love with Melia, the sister of Hyacinthus, yet Zephyrus is oblivious to that interchange of Melia and Apollo, for he only has his focus on Hyacinthus. Zephyrus feels that Apollo is attempting to steal Hyacinthus away as Zephyrus interprets Apollo's offer of friendship to Hyacinthus as indicating Apollo having sexual desire for the boy. Friendship, in Zephyrus's mind, always implies homoerotic desire for the other person.

Apollo's actions to Zephyrus are slightly confusing in this scene. While Apollo rejected the sacrifice due to Zephyrus's homoerotic words to Hyacinthus, Apollo does not punish Zephyrus for them. In fact, Apollo does not even chastise Zephyrus. Instead, as Oebalus says to Melia in Act II, Scene 1, "Cum fratre disco ludit et Zephyro simul in nemore" ["With your brother [Hyacinthus] and Zephyrus, [Apollo] throws the discus in the woods"] (Salter, 1981, p. 7). Apollo is obviously willing to socialize with Zephyrus, so apparently Apollo's rejection of the sacrifice and subsequent appearance was merely done to halt Zephyrus from any further protestations of love to Hyacinthus. Therefore, as Zephyrus's line does not actually warrant punishment, Widl's moral advice on homoerotic behavior is seemingly muddled. He seems to tolerate homoerotic friendship. If the language is too passionate, the relationship should be watched carefully, but the feelings of passion are tolerable as long as they do not cross the line into physical consummation, leading one to think of the famous line from Brideshead Revisited: "I know of these romantic friendships of the English and the Germans ... I think they are very good if they do not go on too long" (Waugh, 1945/1999, p. 101). If the point of Apollo appearing was to halt Zephyrus's desires, then Apollo failed, for Zephyrus is not checked by the arrival of Apollo. In fact, the arrival only exacerbates Zephyrus's jealousy as he sees the friendship between Apollo and Hyacinthus as a threat to his feelings of passion for Hyacinthus. Driven by jealousy, Zephyrus kills Hyacinthus with a discus.

Zephyrus's subsequent actions after the murder of Hyacinthus may seem confusing to a modem audience, but they clearly reflect European views on sexuality at that time. In the 1700s, there was no concept of homosexuality, bisexuality, or heterosexuality as identities that defined a person or predetermined someone's future sexual behavior. There were no sexual identities: only individual sexual acts that were either "sins or capital crimes" (Crompton, 2003, p. xiv). After murdering Hyacinthus, Zephyrus tells Oebalus and Melia that Apollo is responsible for the murder, which is not surprising. After all, Zephyrus fears divine punishment, and he would not want the man who stole Hyacinthus away (in Zephyrus's mind at least) around in any capacity. What is surprising, though, is that Zephyrus then almost immediately expresses romantic interest in Melia after realizing that Apollo desires Melia's hand.
Act II, Scene 2 (Recitative).

Zephyrus: (Quid audio? An           Zephyrus: (What do I hear? Is
  coniugia meditatur Deus? Am         the god thinking of marrying?
  Meliam et rapuisse mihi amatam      Does he desire to seize my
  cupit? Qui rapuit Hyacinthi,        beloved Melia from me, he who
  anne et istius mihi rapiet          took Hyacinthus? Am I to be
  amorem?)                            robbed of her love too?)

Source. Salter (1981, p. 7).

It is possible that Zephyrus could be merely driven by jealousy and wants to deny Apollo the opportunity to marry Melia, but Zephyrus does call Melia "beloved," and does so in a private aside that no other character hears. This would imply that at some point he began to have feelings for Melia or is at least trying to convince himself that he does (and by extension trying to metatextually convince the audience as well). Notwithstanding whether Zephyrus's feelings are genuine, his proclamation about Melia makes it impossible to label Zephyrus a "homosexual" even in today's terms (though, as previously noted, such a concept would be foreign to Salzburg society in the 1700s). Zephyrus might have expressed homoerotic affection for Hyacinthus an act ago in the opera, but this does not prevent him from feeling desire for Melia now that Hyacinthus is dead. Regardless of Zephyrus's intentions, Melia is dumbfounded and confused, as Zephyrus has just informed her of Hyacinthus's death. Zephyrus, though, further presses his case in his aria, the most substantial musical material he has in the opera.
Act II, Scene 2 (Aria).

Zephyrus:                 Zephyrus:
En! Duos conspicis:       Look, you see two people.
amantem et nocentem,      a lover and a criminal
iuvantem et furentem;     one who helps and one who rages;
cui manum porrigis?       to whom do you hold out your hand?
Apollo te necabit:        Apollo will kill you,
at Zephyrus amabit        but Zephyrus will love you.
Fraterno qui dexteram     He who stained his hand
tinxit cruore.            with your brother's blood
tentabit in tenera        will venture more
plura sorore:             against his tender sister.
quern prudens eligis.     whom will you be wise and choose?

Source. Salter (1981, p. 8).

Immediately after this aria Apollo appears, interrupts Zephyrus's proposal, and banishes Zephyrus for good. Thus, the last thing the audience sees of Zephyrus is him proposing to a female character. As this is the last impression, the audience's final glimpse of Zephyrus is of him engaging in heterosexual behavior. In fact, Apollo cites Zephyrus's heterosexual behavior as one of the reasons to banish Zephyrus, as Zephyrus is accused not only of the crime of killing Hyacinth but also for trying to steal Melia away from Apollo: "Hyacinthus amicum rapere non fuerat satis? Rapuisse sponsam numquid et nostrum simul sceleste! tentas? Crimen et mendax novis criminibus auges?" ["Was it not enough to rob me of my friend Hyacinthus? Are you trying, wicked man, also to steal my bride at the same time? Liar, are you compounding your crime with fresh crimes?"] (Salter, 1981, p. 8). This makes Zephyrus immoral not based solely upon his homoerotic and homosexual behavior but also upon his actions of murder and general sexual transgressions: not only adoring Hyacinthus but also trying to steal Melia away from her fiance.

Zephyrus's foray into what would nowadays be called "bisexuality" might confuse today's audiences, but Zephyrus's quick transfer of affection to a woman was perfectly in line with what European society at that time expected. As noted before, past homoerotic desire was not seen as indicative of future sexual desires in the 1700s; thus, there was a "denial" of the possibility that some men might only be attracted to men. Any man (regardless of past history) could be attracted to a woman at any time, and society would not think that unusual. Widl, by making Zephyrus's last act be one of heteronormalizing himself, helped reassure the audience that homoerotic feelings could always be transitory. So, while Melia (and today's audiences) may doubt the genuineness of Zephyrus's feelings for her, the Salzburg audience of 1767 would have seen it as underscoring the societal view that all men could easily change from homoerotic to heteroerotic desire. After all, Zephyrus is a fictional character, and Widl used his characters to create a world that operated the way that he, and the society of his day, felt it should.

And yet, it is almost impossible not to see Zephyrus's aria text as problematic because the aria text reads more as a self-biographical aria of desperation than a serious declaration of love. Instead of seeing the text as a debate about Melia choosing between Apollo and Zephyrus, the real conflict seems to be within Zephyrus's own psyche. His "self' seems to be tortured and split between identities. The text, instead of being about a choice between Apollo and Zephyrus, seems more about Zephyrus's cognitive dissonance. It reads as a debate within his own mind about who he is: "En! Duos conspicis: amantem et nocentem, iuvantem et furentem;cui manum porrigis?" ["Look, you see two people, a lover and a criminal, one who helps and one who rages; to whom do you hold out your hand?"]. In reality, the two people he is speaking of are really one: They are both himself. Zephyrus is both the lover and criminal. He loved Hyacinthus, but acted criminally by murdering Hyacinthus; he was a helping friend to Hyacinthus who also raged against Hyacinthus and killed out of jealousy. When Zephyrus asks "to whom do you hold out your hand?" to Melia, it seems more of a question to himself about the true nature of his own identity.

Thus, the final line is loaded with irony: "Fraterno qui dexteram tinxit cruore, tentabit in tenera plura sorore: quern prudens eligis." ["He who stained his hand with your brother's blood will venture more against his tender sister: whom will you be wise and choose?"]. As it was Zephyrus who murdered Melia's brother, he is literally saying that it would be wise for Melia to not choose him (if only she knew the truth). Yet, the loathing that Zephyrus expresses in this aria is really directed at himself. Regardless of Widl's original intentions, the emotional focus seems more about Zephyrus's inner conflict of trying to hide who he is: Not only was he the man who murdered Hyacinthus; he was also the man who loved Hyacinthus.

The homoerotic content of Apollo et Hyacinthus is not merely limited to the characters of Apollo, Zephyrus, and Hyacinthus. The female character of Melia adds additional metatextual homoeroticism because, as Apollo was written to be performed by an all-boys school, every role was portrayed by a male. The original cast list consisted of one older boy who played the father, while the rest of the characters ranged from age 12 to 17.
Original Cast.

Oebalus (tenor)        Mathias Stadler, 23 (Theology, Morals, and Law)
Melia (soprano)        Felix Fuchs, 15 (Grammar)
Hyacinthus (soprano)   Christian Enzinger, 12 (Rudiments)
Apollo (alto)          Johann Ernst, 12 (of the Chapel [Choirboy])
Zephyrus (alto)        Joseph Vonterho, 17 (Syntax)

Source. Deutsch (1965, p. 76); Gianturco (1981, pp. 44-45).

While the character Melia is female, the audience would have clearly perceived a cross-dressed male actor being adored and romantically pursued by another male, Apollo. This cross-dressing is even more extraordinary for the period as none of these boys were castrati, and males portraying females on stage was not an operatic convention of the Classical period. (20) The older Baroque convention of males' cross-dressing in opera had never been popular in German-speaking areas for non-castrati.

Cross-dressing has always been a sexually charged event both on the stage. A man dressed as a woman is neither one nor the other. A man who dresses up as a female character represses his masculinity, while the femininity that is being expressed is false as the body underneath is masculine. A boy in a dress is both male and female, while at the same time neither. The disguise consists of, what is to the audience, merely some superfluous things: clothing, make-up, and mannerisms (Orgel, 1996). The audience is aware of the deception, yet in the world created on the stage, the disguise is indestructible (Orgel, 1996). Within the world of Apollo et Hyacinthus, the character Melia is oblivious of the deception. She is completely unaware of her male identity, but the audience is fully aware, especially as the actors portraying Melia and Apollo would be known as fellow students, further underscoring the intrinsic maleness of both characters in the minds of the other students and audience. This makes the union of Melia and Apollo rife with homoeroticism when it is actually presented on stage. Even when Zephyrus is pursuing Melia (which would seem a heterosexual act), Zephyrus is, in reality, desiring marriage with a person who is only dressed as a female.


At first glance, Widl's approach to homoerotic behavior in Apollo et Hyacinthus seems very nebulous. However, in reality, it is not. Widl used his characters to create a world that operated the way that he, and the society of his day, felt it should. Therefore, Apollo et Hyacinthus served as a perfect instructional tool to the student body of Salzburg University about how they should, as Roman Catholics, deal with sexual feelings and homoeroticism in their lives.

Widl and, by extension, the Church realized that male relationships often had some homoerotic implications: After all, the Biblical relationship of Jesus with his apostles, especially John, was often charged with erotic language. Therefore, the idea that men were having homoerotic feelings for each other was so prevalent in the 1700s that even in the very conservative city of Salzburg, depicting homoeroticism was not controversial. The Catholic Church had no problem with homoerotic feelings, as long as those feelings did not transgress into physical desire and sexual actions. Thus, Hyacinthus warns Zephyrus about having "too much love," but Apollo (God) does not punish Zephyrus for having those feelings: Apollo's appearance to the characters is to merely serve as a warning that Zephyrus is starting to go too far. It is only when Zephyrus further pursues a blatantly homoerotic relationship with Hyacinthus at the expense of God (Apollo) that death, destruction, and punishment result. In fact, the opera celebrates chaste homoerotic friendships, as Widl favors the friendship of Apollo and Hyacinthus. Widl uses the homoeroticism between Zephyrus, Apollo, and Hyacinthus to underscore to the student body the belief that homoerotic attachments are approved, as long as they do not transgress the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior, and as long as they do not conflict with one's relationship with the divine.

In addition, Widl uses the relative ages of the actors to further underscore the disfavor and suspicion that European society in the 1700s had on male homoerotic friendships between men of dissimilar ages. Widl portrays the relationship between Hyacinthus and Zephyrus as destructive. The actor who played Zephyrus was 17, whereas the age of the actor for Hyacinthus was 12. This age difference would have been noticeable on the stage, and so there is a possible warning there for the students against having too close of an attachment to an older man as that relationship could result in pederasty or an abuse of power. However, the relationship that is favored by Widl is between Apollo and Hyacinthus. Both of those actors were 12 years old. Widl, as well as European society in the 1700s, was privileging relationships between men of the same age, finding them more equitable and less likely to involve manipulation. Thus, Widl is using even the ages of the actors to instruct the audience and the student body about what to beware of in male friendships.

The other source of homoeroticism in the opera, Melia, also further underscores Catholic moral teaching. Widl uses the homoeroticism that results from Melia being performed en travesti to help support the idea of chaste relationships between males and females. If Melia had been performed by a female, the audience would have seen her as something sexually desired by the males (Apollo and Zephyrus). However, Melia is not a female who might eventually have sexual relations with one of the males vying for her attention. The audience knows that Melia is a male, and at no point will Melia, as a female, ever have a sexual relationship with Apollo, even after marriage. This "false" union of Melia with Apollo at the end of the opera does celebrate the Catholic idea of marriage as between one man and one woman; however, in the 1700s the Church was not going to celebrate the sexual act. Rather, the Church privileged chastity, and nothing could be more fully "chaste" than a marriage on stage between a man and a woman that could never have sex as a man and a woman. Thus, the homoeroticism of Melia being a man dressed as a woman serves not to instruct the student body on homoeroticism, but to instead instruct them on the desirability of chaste relationships between men and women.

Therefore, it is no surprise that this opera, rife with homoeroticism, was written for the graduation celebration of an all-boys Catholic school, as it served as a Catholic instructional tool. Widl carefully remade the myth of Hyacinth into something that perfectly reflected European views on sexual behavior in the 1700s and underscored Catholic morals. While an audience today can see in moments such as Zephyrus's aria the tensions that likely resulted from those views, the actual opera was completely orthodox in its treatment of homoerotic behavior. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Apollo et Hyacinthus, so full of homoeroticism, was favorably received by its audience when it debuted in 1767.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

DOI: 10.1177/1060826514561990


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(1.) Salzburg University was founded in 1622, and the Salzburg Gymnasium was attached to it--students and faculty from both the University and the Gymnasium took part in Apollo et Hyacinthus.

(2.) Before delving further into the opera and its plot, a definition of "homoeroticism" should be offered. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "homoeroticism" as "pertaining to or characterized by a tendency for erotic emotions to be centred on a person of the same sex." This definition, while succinct, could be misconstrued if "erotic" is taken to refer only to the physical sexual act, yet "erotic" is more broadly defined. "Erotic," again taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, means "of or pertaining to the passion of love; concerned with or treating of love." Thus, any romantic feeling between two same-gendered people is homoerotic, whether or not there is physical consummation.

(3.) Bloodletting, presumably done to keep the student body healthy.

(4.) Rufinus Widl was the Professor of Syntax.

(5.) The possibility of homoeroticism in Monteverdi's (1989) L'incoronazione di Poppea Act II, Scene V between Lucano and Nerone is debated (p. xiv).

(6.) After the 1700s, Ganymede was supplanted by Antinous, mostly due to the work of Johann Joachim Wincklelmann (1717-1768; Saslow, 1999, p. 159).

(7.) Phoebus is another name for Apollo.

(8.) Cellini had many sexual liaisons with men and boys, so it is not surprising to find the statue pairing intimate and sexualized.

(9.) The myth of Ganymede, though, would continue to be used to represent pederasty.

(10.) According to the Oxford English Dictionary, almost all European languages share the same Indo-European base for "ball."

(11.) This again descends from an Indo-European base, but which in Greek became linked with the erect phallus symbolizing the "regenerative power of nature" according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

(12.) "Mozart" in this article shall refer to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; if Leopold Mozart is meant, I will use "Leopold Mozart."

(13.) Apollo's Act I was placed before Clementia Croesi's Act I; Apollo's Act II before Clementia Croesi's Act III, and Apollo's Act III before Clementia Croesi's Act V (Berke, 2004, p. XI).

(14.) The libretto was printed without a title at its premiere. The title by which it is known today is from Nannerl's entry (or an entry made by someone else at her bequest) into a full list of Mozart's works made in 1799 for a catalog preparation for Breitkopf & Hartel (Clive, 1993, p. 181).

(15.) Sometimes attributed to Pseudo-Apollodorus.

(16.) Palaiphatos, "Peri apiston istorion."


(18.) Philostratus the Elder, Imagines, Book 1: 24.

(19.) Philostratus the Younger, Imagines, 14.

(20.) Trouser roles of females portraying adolescent boys did become a convention. While cross-dressing on stage always invites the possibility of a homoerotic reading, the fact that trouser roles became a standard convention for females makes it problematic to say that every trouser role implied purposeful homoeroticism.

Steven Soebbing [1]

[1] Frostburg State University, MD, USA

Corresponding Author:

Steven Soebbing, Frostburg State University, 101 Braddock Road, Frostburg, MD 21532-2303, USA.


Steven Soebbing is an adjunct instructor of music at Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD. He teaches studio voice as well as courses on music history and gender in music. His research interests focus on the portrayal of gender and sexuality in music.
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Date:Jan 1, 2015
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