Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 68

One of the best known of the marble busts discovered in our own time, generally bears the name of Clytie. It has been very frequently copied in plaster. It represents the head of a young girl looking down, the neck and shoulders being supported in the cup of a large flower, which by a little effort of imagination can be made into a giant sunflower. The latest supposition, however, is that this bust represented not Clytie, but Isis.

Hood in his Flowers thus alludes to Clytie:

  "I will not have the mad Clytie,
  Whose head is turned by the sun;
  The tulip is a courtly quean,
  Whom therefore I will shun;
  The cowslip is a country wench,
  The violet is a nun;
  But I will woo the dainty rose,
  The queen of every one."

The sunflower is a favorite emblem of constancy. Thus Moore uses it:

  "The heart that has truly loved never forgets,
  But as truly loves on to the close;
  As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets
  The same look that she turned when he rose."

It is only for convenience that the modern poets translate the Latin word HELIOTROPIUM, by the English sunflower. The sunflower, which was known to the ancients, was called in Greek, helianthos, from HELIOS, the sun; and ANTHOS a flower, and in Latin, helianthus. It derives its name from its resemblance to the sun; but, as any one may see, at sunset, it does not "turn to the God when he sets the same look that it turned when he rose."

The Heliotrope of the fable of Clytie is called Turn-sole in old English books, and such a plant is known in England. It is not the sweet heliotrope of modern gardens, which is a South American plant. The true classical heliotrope is probably to be found in the heliotrope of southern France, a weed not known in America. The reader who is curious may examine the careful account of it in Larousse's large dictionary.


Leander was a youth of Abydos, a town of the Asian side of the strait which separates Asia and Europe. On the opposite shore in the town of Sestos lived the maiden Hero, a priestess of Venus. Leander loved her, and used to swim the strait nightly to enjoy the company of his mistress, guided by a torch which she reared upon the tower, for the purpose. But one night a tempest arose and the sea was rough; his strength failed, and he was drowned. The waves bore his body to the European shore, where Hero became aware of his death, and in her despair cast herself down from the tower into the sea and perished.

The following sonnet is by Keats:


  "Come hither, all sweet maidens, soberly,
  Down looking aye, and with a chasten'd light,
  Hid in the fringes of your eyelids white,
  And meekly let your fair hands joined be,
  As if so gentle that ye could not see,
  Untouch'd, a victim of your beauty bright,
  Sinking away to his young spirit's night,
  Sinking bewilder'd 'mid the dreary sea.
  'Tis young Leander toiling to his death.
  Nigh swooning, he doth purse his weary lips
  For Hero's cheek, and smiles against her smile.
  Oh, horrid dream! See how his body dips
  Dead-heavy; arms and shoulders gleam awhile;
  He's gone; up bubbles all his amorous breath!"