Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 129


Sappho was a poetess who flourished in a very early age of Greek literature. Of her works few fragments remain, but they are enough to establish her claim to eminent poetical genius. The story of Sappho commonly alluded to is that she was passionately in love with a beautiful youth named Phaon, and failing to obtain a return of affection she threw herself from the promontory of Leucadia into the sea, under a superstition that those who should take that "Lover's-leap," would, if not destroyed, be cured of their love.

Byron alludes to the story of Sappho in Childe Harold, Canto II.:

Those who wish to know more of Sappho and her leap, are referred to the Spectator, Nos. 223 and 229, and also to Moore's Evenings in Greece.

Chapter XIX

Endymion. Orion. Aurora and Tithonus. Acis and Galatea

Endymion was a beautiful youth who fed his flock on Mount Latmos. One calm, clear night, Diana, the Moon, looked down and saw him sleeping. The cold heart of the virgin goddess was warmed by his surpassing beauty, and she came down to him, kissed him, and watched over him while he slept.

Another story was that Jupiter bestowed on him the gift of perpetual youth united with perpetual sleep. Of one so gifted we can have but few adventures to record. Diana, it was said, took care that his fortunes should not suffer by his inactive life, for she made his flock increase, and guarded his sheep and lambs from the wild beasts.

The story of Endymion has a peculiar charm from the human meaning which it so thinly veils. We see in Endymion the young poet, his fancy and his heart seeking in vain for that which can satisfy them, finding his favorite hour in the quiet moonlight, and nursing there beneath the beams of the bright and silent witness the melancholy and the ardor which consumes him. The story suggests aspiring and poetic love, a life spent more in dreams than in reality, and an early and welcome death. S. G. Bulfinch

The Endymion of Keats is a wild and fanciful poem, containing some exquisite poetry, as this, to the moon:

  "The sleeping kine
  Couched in thy brightness dream of fields divine.
  Innumerable mountains rise, and rise,
  Ambitious for the hallowing of thine eyes,
  And yet thy benediction passeth not
  One obscure hiding place, one little spot
  Where pleasure may be sent; the nested wren
  Has thy fair face within its tranquil ken."

Dr. Young in the Night Thoughts alludes to Endymion thus:

  "These thoughts, O Night, are thine;
  From thee they came like lovers' secret sighs,
  While others slept. So Cynthia, poets feign,
  In shadows veiled, soft, sliding from her sphere,
  Her shepherd cheered, of her enamored less
  Than I of thee."

Fletcher, in the Faithful Shepherdess, tells,

  "How the pale Phoebe, hunting in a grove,
  First saw the boy Endymion, from whose eyes
  She took eternal fire that never dies;
  How she conveyed him softly in a sleep,
  His temples bound with poppy, to the steep
  Head of Old Latmos, where she stoops each night,
  Gilding the mountain with her brother's light,
  To kiss her sweetest."