Here, in Act 1, Scene 3, Celia describes her relationship with Rosalind as an extremely close one, alluding to classical myth.
Celia: [...] We still have slept together,
Rose at an instant, learned, played, eat together,
And, wheresoe’er we went, like Juno’s swans
Still we went coupled and inseparable.
In this scene, Celia compares her tight relationship with Rosalind to that of “Juno’s swans.” Juno was the Roman goddess of marriage, motherhood, and family life. She was also Jupiter’s wife, and queen of the Gods. The symbols she was typically associated with were the cuckoo, the peacock, and the cow; she was often depicted in a chariot drawn by peacocks. Curiously, Juno was not typically accompanied by swans in Roman art. The swan was usually associated with Aphrodite, goddess of beauty, love, and pleasure. Aphrodite was sometimes depicted in a chariot drawn by swans.
This discrepancy could have been a mistake on Shakespeare’s part, but in light of the way love and marriage are portrayed in the play, this seems unlikely. As You Like It continually satirizes traditional depictions of romantic love as destructive and foolish. The triumphant end of the play comes when Rosalind, in her extreme practicality, matches together the characters in the play based on compatibility. They all marry, assured their relationships will add to their lives rather than take from them.
For Celia to describe her relationship to Rosalind as like that of “Juno’s swans,” she suggests a love between them that is sustainable, genuine, and long-lasting, echoing Juno’s traditional values rather than Aphrodite’s more hedonistic ones. In this way, Shakespeare subtly indicates to us that the friendship between the two women is real, rather than one of the many shallow friendships of the court.
In Act 1, Scene 3, before they go into exile together, Celia and Rosalind decide on the names and identities they will assume on the road. Celia will pretend to be a shepherdess, and Rosalind a shepherd. They choose new names, and Rosalind throws out a reference to Greco-Roman myth:
Celia: What shall I call thee when thou art a man?
Rosalind: I’ll have no worse a name than Jove’s own page,
And therefore look you call me Ganymede.
Rosalind, who is unusually tall for a woman, thinks it prudent that she dress as a man. Two women on the road, she reasons, are not safe. So she assumes the masculine name of “Jove’s own page,” the mythological Ganymede.
In classical legend, Ganymede was said to have been the son of Tros, the first king of Troy, and the most beautiful mortal on Earth. Because of his beauty, he was chosen to be cup-bearer to the gods on Mount Olympus. According to some legends, Zeus came to him disguised as an eagle and bore him away; much classical art depicts him with an eagle by his side. The earliest versions of the story have no implication of homosexuality, though later versions suggest that Zeus had a sexual interest in Ganymede. As a result, Ganymede as a figure is often associated with or used as a reference to male homosexuality in literature.
Rosalind’s choice to rename herself “Ganymede” opens up interesting readings of her relationship to Celia. While any lesbian relationship between them seems unlikely, given the arc of the play, their friendship is depicted as a kind of love. They are like two of “Juno’s swans,” a steadfast, stable pairing that can stand the test of time. Their friendship reflects a deep commitment to one another.
Rosalind’s decision to disguise herself as a man, and to take on the identity of Ganymede, also represents her journey into a deeper understanding of male sexuality. As “Ganymede,” Rosalind becomes close to Orlando, and learns the nature and depth of his affection for her; “Ganymede” becomes his confidante and sounding board as he pursues Rosalind. The sexual undercurrent of her chosen name reflects her coming of age as she leaves a familiar, familial environment (the court) and goes into a new, strange world in which she comes into contact with the opposite sex in a meaningful way for the first time (Arden).
In Act 3, Scene 2, Celia reads out loud from Orlando’s poem to Rosalind. Replete with mythological and legendary allusions, it features a series of hyperbolic comparisons between Celia and several figures of antiquity:
Nature presently distilled
Helen’s cheek, but not [her] heart,
Atalanta’s better part,
Sad Lucretia’s modesty.
Thus Rosalind of many parts
By heavenly synod was devised
Of many faces, eyes, and hearts
To have the touches dearest prized.
Heaven would that she these gifts should have
And I to live and die her slave.
Orlando describes Rosalind as having the best qualities of every mythological woman. He writes that Rosalind has Helen of Troy’s beauty (but not her faithless heart) and the regality of Cleopatra. He also describes her as being as modest as Lucretia, a legendary Roman noblewoman known for her beauty and virtue, and as having the “better part” of Atalanta, the Greek huntress who would only marry a man who could outrun her in a footrace. In this way, Orlando says, Rosalind was created from many parts (“faces, eyes, and hearts”), a treasure trove of positive attributes, by the will of “Heaven.” In so doing, Heaven has also willed Orlando to “live and die [Rosalind’s] slave,” in love with her and bent to her will.
To say that Orlando’s poem deals in cliches is an understatement–even Rosalind terms it a “tedious sermon of love.” It deals in the hyperbole typical of love poetry in this period: the qualification of the beloved as the most beautiful, the most chaste, the most ideal woman on Earth, and the lowering of the admirer to a “slave” of her charms. Not even Rosalind can take this seriously, though she seemed to be flattered by his earlier poetry.
This hyperbole is important because it shows how most of what Orlando knows about love has come from stories, poems, and myth, rather than his own experience. Not only are the comparisons borrowed, they depict a relationship dynamic that doesn’t exist between Orlando and Rosalind, or really anyone they know (except Silvius and Phoebe, who are deeply unhappy). This poem is the one that convinces Rosalind that Orlando needs an education in love.