Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 69

The story of Leander's swimming the Hellespont was looked upon as fabulous, and the feat considered impossible, till Lord Byron proved its possibility by performing it himself. In the Bride of Abydos he says,

"These limbs that buoyant wave hath borne."

The distance in the narrowest part is almost a mile, and there is a constant current setting out from the Sea of Marmora into the Archipelago. Since Byron's time the feat has been achieved by others; but it yet remains a test of strength and skill in the art of swimming sufficient to give a wide and lasting celebrity to any one of our readers who may dare to make the attempt and succeed in accomplishing it.

In the beginning of the second canto of the same poem, Byron alludes to this story:

  "The winds are high on Helle's wave,
  As on that night of stormiest water,
  When Love, who sent, forgot to save
  The young, the beautiful, the brave,
  The lonely hope of Sestos' daughter.
  Oh, when alone along the sky
  The turret-torch was blazing high,
  Though rising gale and breaking foam,
  And shrieking sea-birds warned him home;
  And clouds aloft and tides below,
  With signs and sounds forbade to go,
  He could not see, he would not hear
  Or sound or sight foreboding fear.
  His eye but saw that light of love,
  The only star it hailed above;
  His ear but rang with Hero's song,
  'Ye waves, divide not lovers long.'
  That tale is old, but love anew
  May nerve young hearts to prove as true."

The subject has been a favorite one with sculptors.

Schiller has made one of his finest ballads from the tragic fate of the two lovers. The following verses are a translation from the latter part of the ballad:

  "Upon Hellespont's broad currents
  Night broods black, and rain in torrents
  From the cloud's full bosom pours;
  Lightnings in the sky are flashing,
  All the storms below are dashing
  On the crag-piled shores.
  Awful chasms gaping widely,
  Separate the mountain waves;
  Ocean yawning as to open
  Downward e'en to Pluto's caves."

After the storm has arisen, Hero sees the danger, and cries,

  "Woe, ah! Woe; great Jove have pity,
  Listen to my sad entreaty,
  Yet for what can Hero pray?
  Should the gods in pity listen,
  He, e'en now the false abyss in,
  Struggles with the tempest's spray.
  All the birds that skim the wave
  In hasty flight are hieing home;
  T the lee of safer haven
  All the storm-tossed vessels come.

  "Ah! I know he laughs at danger,
  Dares again the frequent venture,
  Lured by an almighty power;
  For he swore it when we parted,
  With the vow which binds true-hearted
  Lovers to the latest hour.
  Yes! Even as this moment hastens
  Battles he the wave-crests rude,
  And to their unfathomed chasms
  Dags him down the angry flood.

  "Pontus false! Thy sunny smile
  Was the lying traitor's guile,
  Like a mirror flashing there:
  All thy ripples gently playing
  Til they triumphed in betraying
  Him into thy lying snare.
  Now in thy mid-current yonder,
  Onward still his course he urges,
  Thou the false, on him the fated
  Pouring loose thy terror-surges.
  Waxes high the tempest's danger,
  Waves to mountains rise in anger,
  Oceans swell, and breakers dash,
  Foaming, over cliffs of rock
  Where even navies, stiff with oak,
  Could not bear the crash.
  In the gale her torch is blasted,
  Beacon of the hoped-for strand;
  Horror broods above the waters,
  Horror broods above the land.