Claude Lorrain 001

Acis and Galatea by Claude Lorrain.

In Ovid's Metamorphoses, Acis (Greek: Άκις) was the spirit of the Acis River in Sicily,[1] beloved of the nereid, or sea-nymph,[2] Galatea (Γαλάτεια; "she who is milk-white"). Galatea returned the love of Acis, but a jealous suitor, the Sicilian Cyclops Polyphemus,[3] killed him with a boulder. Distraught, Galatea then turned his blood into the river Acis. The Acis River flowed past Akion (Acium) near Mount Etna in Sicily.


According to Ovid's Metamorphoses, Acis was the son of Faunus and the river-nymphSymaethis, daughter of the River Symaethus.

Fontaine Médicis Luxembourg

Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea, by Auguste Ottin (1866), the Fontaine Médicis, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris.

The tale occurs nowhere earlier than in Ovid; it may be a fiction invented by Ovid "suggested by the manner in which the little river springs forth from under a rock".[4] According to Athenaeus, ca 200 CE[5] the story was first concocted as a political satire against the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius I of Syracuse, whose favourite concubine, Galatea, shared her name with a nereid mentioned by Homer. Others[6] claim the story was invented to explain the presence of a shrine dedicated to Galatea on Mount Etna.

A first-century fresco removed from an Imperial villa at Boscotrecase, preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius, and now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art[7] shows the three figures as incidents in a landscape.

Cultural references

French Empire mantel clock

A 1822 French Empire mantel clock depicting Galatea. The respective allegoric composition in relief of the frieze, represents the “Triumph of Galatea”, based on the homonymous fresco by Rafael Sanzio.

The tale of Acis and Galatea was familiar from the Renaissance onwards: there are paintings of the subject, sometimes as mythological incidents in a large landscape, by Adam Elsheimer.[8] Nicolas Poussin (National Gallery of Ireland), and Claude Lorrain (Dresden).[9]

In music, the story was the basis for Lully's Acis et Galatée. Handel created both Acis and Galatea and Aci, Galatea e Polifemo on the story and Antonio de Literes wrote the zarzuela Acis y Galatea. Nicola Porpora's opera Polifemo and Jean Cras's opera Polyphème are also based on the story.

Claude Lorrain's painting of Acis and Galatea inspired Fyodor Dostoevsky's description of the 'Golden Age'; explicitly in 'A Raw Youth' and in Stavrogin's dream in 'The Devils', and implicitly in 'The Dream of a Ridiculous Man'.


  1. Ovid. Metamorphoses xiii. 750–68.
  2. Hesiod. Theogony; Homer. Iliad.
  3. Philoxenus of Cythera, Theocritus Idylls VI; Ovid Metamorphoses xiii.750-68.
  4. Schmitz, Leonhard (1867), "Acis", in Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1, Boston, MA, pp. 13, 
  5. Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 1.6e
  6. Scholiast on Theocritus' Idyll VI quoting the historian Duris and the poet Philoxenus of Cythera
  7. Polyphemus and Galatea in a landscape
  8. National Gallery of Scotland. Elsheimer changed his mind midway and painted out the figures, rendering the painting a pure landscape. Elsheimer highlights
  9. Other images of Acis, Galatea and Polyphemus are displayed at the ICONOS site.


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology by William Smith (1870).

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Acis and Galatea (mythology). The list of authors can be seen in the page history.
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