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Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 49

No one suspected their meetings; and all went well until the first fierce storms of winter swept down over the Hellespont. Hero, in the gray dawn of a winter’s morning, besought her lover not to leave her to battle against the waves, which beat so violently against the stone tower; but he gently laughed at her fears, and departed, promising to return at night as usual.

The storm, which had raged so fiercely already in the early morning, increased in violence as the day wore on, until the waves were lashed into foam, while the wind howled more and more ominously as the darkness came on again; but none of these signs could deter Leander from visiting Hero.

“There came one night, the wildest of the year,
When the wind smote like edge of hissing spear,
And the pale breakers thundered on the beach.”
Edwin Arnold.

All day long Hero had hoped that her lover would renounce his nightly journey; but still, when evening came, she lighted her torch to serve as beacon, should he risk all to keep his word. The wind blew so fiercely, that the torch wavered and flickered, and nearly went out, although Hero protected its feeble flame by standing over it with outstretched robes.

At sight of the wonted signal, Leander, who had already once been beaten back by the waves, made a second attempt to cross the strait, calling upon the gods to lend him their aid. But this time his prayers were unheard, drowned in the fury of the storm; yet he struggled on a while longer, with Hero’s name on his lips.

Refer to caption

HERO AND LEANDER.—Bodenhausen.

At last, exhausted and ready to sink, he lifted his eyes once more to view the cheering light. It was gone, extinguished by [116] a passing gust of wind. Like a stone Leander sank, once, twice, thrice, and the billows closed forever over his head.

Hero in the mean while had relighted her torch, and, quite unconscious of the tragedy which had taken place, stood on the tower, straining her eyes to pierce the darkness. All night long she waited and watched for the lover who did not come; and, when the first sunbeams shone over the tossing sea, she cast an anxious glance over the waters to Abydus. No one was in sight as far as she could see. She was about to descend to pursue her daily tasks, when, glancing at the foot of the tower, she saw her lover’s corpse heaving up and down on the waves.

“As shaken on his restless pillow,
His head heaves with the heaving billow;
That hand, whose motion is not life,
Yet feebly seems to menace strife,
Flung by the tossing tide on high,
Then level’d with the wave.”
Byron.

Hero’s heart broke at this sad sight, and she longed to die, too, that she might not be parted from Leander. To hasten their meeting, she threw herself into the sea, and perished in the waves, close by his side. Thus lived and died the faithful lovers, whose attachment has passed into a proverb.


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