In Greek mythology, a myth set in Chios tells of Kyparissos (Greek: κυπάρισσος, "cypress") — or Cyparissus (Latin: cupressus, "cypress") — a young boy and son of Telephus. Though the mythic context and the setting is Hellenic, the subject is essentially known from Hellenizing Latin literature and Pompeiian frescoes.
Apollo gave the boy a tame deer as a companion, but Cyparissus accidentally killed it with a javelin as it lay asleep in the undergrowth. The gift of a hunter's prey is an initiatory gift in the spear of the hunt, a supervised preparation for the manly arts of war and a testing ground for behavior (Koch-Harnack 1983). The tameness of the deer may be purely Ovidian. In a late reversal of the boy's traditional role, perhaps an interpretation applied by Ovid, Cyparissus asks Apollo to let his tears fall forever. Apollo turns the sad boy into a cypress tree, whose sap forms droplets like tears on the trunk. Cypress was one of the trees Orpheus charmed.
According to a different tradition, Cyparissus was the son of Orchomenus, the brother of Minyas, and the mythical founder of Kyparissos in Phocis, which later was called Anticyra. Servius, in commentary on Virgil's Georgics (1.20)explains Virgil's association of Silvanus with the cypress with a narrative of the god's passion for Cupressus: after Silvanus had accidentally killed the boy's pet stag, Cupressus died of grief and was turned into a cypress, a branch of which Silvanus carried. Peter Dorcey observes that Servius has simply applied to Silvanus the episode of Cyparissus narrated by Ovid, noting in passing the common motif in ancient and modern folklore of a man transmuted into vegetal form.
The word Cupressus has been used to describe a genus of cypress trees; this genus was first described in the 18th century by the Swedish biologist Linnaeus. In modern times there is a taxonomic debate regarding which species should be retained in the genus Cupressus.
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