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The myth centers on the mortal Acis and the sea nymph (Nereid) Galatea’s love; after Acis is killed by the envious Cyclops Polyphemus, Galatea changes her beloved into an eternal river spirit. In the Renaissance and afterwards, the incident served as the inspiration for songs, operas, paintings, and monuments.
A later myth claims that Galatea ultimately gave in to Polyphemus’ embraces. Galas or Galates, their son, was the ancestor of the Gauls. Galates was referred to by the Sicilian-born Hellenistic historian Timaeus as the child of Polyphemos and Galateia.
Galatea is portrayed as Acis’s lover in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Acis is the son of Faunus and Symaethis, a river nymph who is the daughter of the River Symaethus. Galatea and her boyfriend were resting by the sea one day when Polyphemus passed by. In his envious rage, the latter tore a sizable boulder out of Mount Etna’s side and threw it at the boy. Acis attempted to get away, but was killed when he was crushed beneath the massive rock. The Sicilian River Acis, which flows through Etna and bears Galatea’s name, was then created when his blood poured out from behind a rock. She transformed her partner into the horned stream deity.
Featured image: François Perrier – Acis, Galatea, and Polyphemus. Between 1645 and 1650, oil on canvas.
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