Hylas and the Nymphs

Those who see ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming” – Oscar Wilde

Until a few days ago, the above painting by J W Waterhouse hung in the Manchester Art Gallery. No more. It has been replaced by a disorderly collection of post-it notes. This is more like valid art, the gallery appears to think. But not their visitors. Not judging by the contents of said post-it notes.

The 1896 painting depicts an episode from Greek myth, “Hylas and the Nymphs”. The pre-Raphaelite painting usually hangs in a room of 19th century art called ‘In Pursuit of Beauty’.

But Clare Gannaway, the museum’s curator of contemporary art, has called the ‘In Pursuit of Beauty’ collection a cause for “embarrassment.” Gannaway said that recent anti-sexual harassment campaigns such as Time’s Up and #MeToo had an influence on the decision to remove the painting. She said, “For me personally, there is a sense of embarrassment that we haven’t dealt with it sooner. Our attention has been elsewhere.”

She added “it wasn’t about denying the existence of particular artworks.” Hmm.

The gallery insists it is not banning the picture but simply wants to provoke debate – to ‘prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks’ and how to make them ‘relevant’ in the 21st century.

I am happy to oblige. You will soon see why I am taking up your time with this matter, which appears to be merely the latest bit of feminist nonsense. There is a delightful twist in this tale, though the imbeciles who do this sort of thing know nought of it.

Hylas was one of the Argonauts. As merely the son of a King, Hylas must have felt rather socially inferior as so many of the crew of the Argo were sons of Gods. Not having the status of major Hero, poor Hylas, a mere mortal boy, was destined to be one of those who did not survive the adventures of the Argonauts. At least – he didn’t return.

It is said by some sources that Hera was behind it. That it was she who put the Nymph, Dryope, to the task of kidnapping Hylas. What the poor boy had done to anger the Goddess is not recorded. But one does not need to be a genius to work it out. The Queen of Heaven was renowned for her jealousy and resentment for other lovers of her husband and brother, Zeus. And, of course, their bastard offspring – of which Heracles was one.

Hera was to dedicate herself to the torment of Heracles for the duration of his mortal life (and who knows what thereafter). His every adventure was plagued by the revengeful Goddess.

Heracles’s favourite was none other than Hylas, the golden boy. The great demi-God and Hero raised Hylas as a warrior and as his personal assistant. Oh dear, poor Hylas. What tragedy to be both mortal and the favourite of one permanently the target of Hera. And how like the spiteful Goddess Queen to strike at his favourite, the Hero himself being harder to damage directly.

So it was that when Hylas went to fetch water from the river he was ensnared. The chief culprit was the nymph Dryope, operating in accord with Hera’s will. Hylas knew nothing of Nymphs. As he bent down to fill his pitcher he heard silvery voices, calling, calling. He bent lower and two slender white hands suddenly rose from the black water and pulled him in. He was in the power now of Dryope and her sisters. His fate was sealed and Hylas was never seen again by mortal man.

So distraught was Heracles that he spent days on end searching for his companion. So long, in fact, that the Argo sailed without him.

And what of the art gallery’s request: to make this myth relevant to the 21st century? You see, it already is. Any follower of Jordan Peterson knows that myths appeal to Archetypes, and hence are timeless.

Hera is the great Matriarch, the Goddess of women and marriage; the Great Sacred Cow. She is the seat of female power, the Earth Mother. The Nymphs are a mechanism of her power, expressed as the visible female form, hence wielding the power of desire over men. Thus, Hera and the Nymphs together represent gynocentric power over men.

Hera was not only a sworn enemy of Heracles, she was also jealous of the purely male bond between Heracles and his Hylas. Such a thing is a challenge to gynocentric power and must be broken. The Nymphs, the manifestation of desire, are the means by which Hera breaks the male bond, depriving Heracles of his golden boy, and depriving Hylas of his Father-Mentor.

The story is allegorical and of particularly apposite contemporary relevance. It tells of the breaking of male companionship by jealous gynocentric power. Think destruction of male spaces.

Look closer and you will see that this myth, this picture which these fools have chosen to challenge, is a warning to men of the very thing being played out by #MeToo and the Presidents Club. It warns that alluring female pulchritude may be a trap set to divide and conquer men.

I am confident that this was not the conscious intention of those responsible for the painting’s removal.

Is this, then, just a stupendous irony? Or is it a case of the wicked being betrayed by their own subconscious?


Henrietta Rae’s version of Hylas and the Nymphs (clearly a case of internalised misogyny – or possibly just a first rate artist, who am I to say?)


9 thoughts on “Hylas and the Nymphs

  1. Groan

    Excellent piece and good to see Rae’s Hylas too. You quote Wilde, whose fall was the result of a new piece of legislation, the latest in a series that had begun with the Offences of the Person Act 1861 and ended with the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, which as well as tackling prostitution and sex with minors made “gross indecency” a crime. “In practice, the law was used broadly to prosecute male homosexuals where actual sodomy (meaning, in this context, anal intercourse) could not be proven. The penalty of life imprisonment for sodomy (until 1861 it had been death) was also so harsh that successful prosecutions were rare.” The new law was much more enforceable. It was also meant to raise the age of consent for heterosexual intercourse. Support for these laws was from the Church and in particular from the various powerful women’s organisations that proliferated amongst the growing female bourgeoisie (who, not working, had time for such things). This included feminists as well as religious women.
    “Public Opinion” (and of course “public” meant upper middle classes and “Society”) at the time was thus in favour of stricter legislation and harsher penalties for sexual offenders, and better treatment for women and children. Social purity groups like the Society for the Suppression of Vice and feminists led by Josephine Butler focused on the evils of child prostitution as the chief factor in the sexual exploitation of the young. In addition, during the 1860s and 1870s, child advocacy groups were concerned with child abuse and other forms of maltreatment. Furthermore, groups like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC) were concerned about the limitation of the testimony of young children”.

    All sound familiar? A focus on rampant male sexuality and the perils to children finally taking in homosexual males (no laws on lesbian sex of course) particularly if they went about with lower class rent boys. Sadly for the hagiographers of the flawed genius Wilde, he was not “done” for the love that dares not speak its name, but for sex with working class male prostitutes.
    However the point is there are parallels with the determination to “control” male sexual behaviours, the highlighting of abuse of children, issues of “power” in the desperation of the young men for money, “consent” is used in the trial too! And the presumption that women (well middle class women) needed protection from being led astray. And of course no one had any focus on the idea women might like sex and certainly that they might have sex with women. The laws gradually repealed and reformed in the 1960s/70s had in fact been supported and pushed by women in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Of course its not exactly the same; but the parallels are quite marked when reading the debates etc.

    Of course at the time his vilification was not only that his love for his “Hylas”, Bosie, had also included a parade of young men who were paid; but that he’d ruined his Wife and Family (this latter point tends to be skated over now but was central at the time). In other words Wilde had comprehensively defied the gynocentrism of his times.

  2. Vincent McGovern

    Nobody since the great LJK Setright in my limited experience has provided such entertaining and educational prose as the author above. Extraordinary wide ranging and yet so incisive in each case. True quest for knowledge is so much greater than parrot like sloganising from the dumb. And yet the dumb and dumber control social discourse via their apostles and disciples in mainstream media. Education and effective rebuttal are inextricably linked.

    1. William Collins Post author

      Praise indeed – though I leave the struggle with the infernal combustion engine to others of greater fortitude.

  3. david eggins

    A different “gotcha” moment, William. As with the Peterson moment (well half-hour) which we can all enjoy, it is almost the dissection of the techniques, Youtubed by others later, which is more important than the brief enjoyment of the original. So, too, with your unraveling of the allegory for us much lesser mortals. I am (we are?) entertained!
    Posted in the Times on-line today: Women’s refuges may get transgender staff: Another terrific utterly newsworthy attention grabbing issue which I am delighted to read. For those of a different opinion the following blog might be of interest – the removal of Hylas and the Nymphs from exhibition in Man chester: http://empathygap.uk/?p=2193

  4. Thoughtcrime

    Allegorical indeed. Let’s face it, what bloke hasn’t gone down to his local watering hole looking to have a quiet drink, only to be persuaded into going for a skinny dip by some by scantily clad nymphs? Me neither.

    At least in traditional gynocentrism there is something in it for men. Feminism is malignant gynocentrism offering noting but perpetual war on maleness. Banning films and art is only a goose step away from burning books. Let’s stop appeasing these female supremacists.

  5. James Murphy

    Absolutely fascinating analogy! I have been using my social media to denounce this degenerate feminist censorship over the past couple of says – so far I’ve received tot al support with not a soul in disagreement. It really is astonishing that this story is not actually headline news! The fact that feminists are now confiscating our art and artistic tradition! As no less a (socialist) light than Orwell declared (in relation to Stalin’s purges, I think: ‘those who control history control [our understanding of] the present.’ – Terrifying where this is all going so quickly.

    1. William Collins Post author

      “Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future” – indeed.


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