Painting: Hylas and the Nymphs (1896) by John William Waterhouse.
Hylas’ characterises the features of male delicacy, passivity, youth, beauty, and mortality.
Hylas is the companion and servant and/or son of Hercules in Greek and Roman Mythology. He joins Hercules as one of the Argonauts until he is abducted by the Nymphs and disappears without a trace.
In Ancient Greece, sacrifices were made in his honour at festivals and rituals were performed in his name.
His relationship with Hercules differs depending on the myth, but in each version, he is undoubtedly loved by the demi-god in one way or another. Book One of the Argonautica, the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, Hylas is the companion, servant and preferred love interest of Herakles.
Hylas in Philosophy
Hylas’ name comes from the Greek word for “matter”.
In philosophy, Hylas becomes synonymous with materialism thanks to Berkley’s Essay Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (1713) Berkeley was famous for refuting the existence of material objects, claiming they are nothing more than light and colour. The dialogues use Hylas as a voice of materialism arguing against Philonous as a representation of Berkeley’s philosophy.
Philonous’ whose name means “lover of mind”, argues against the scepticism, atheism and materialism or “sensible things”. Hylas is used as a means of bringing to conversation the popular philosophical thoughts of the time.
Berkley was writing during the 18th century when the scientific revolution was blossoming and the Enlightenment brought empiricism and logical evidence-based thinking to the fore. But why would he choose Hylas? Was it the disappearing
Why would Berkley choose Hylas, of all mythological characters? Was it the disappearing material body,
Hylas and the Nymphs
There are many versions of the Hylas myth, but the feature they all share is that he is associated in some way with Hercules and disappears after meeting the Nymphs at a river bank.
Interestingly, some versions share features with the myth of Narcissus and Echo: he has great beauty, he disappears at the river bank, he turns into an echo so that when his name is called it echoes back to the caller 3 times.