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

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“But even in death, so strong is Love,
I could not wholly die; and year by year,
[111] When the bright springtime comes, and the earth lives,
Love opens these dread gates, and calls me forth
Across the gulf.”
Lewis Morris.

The Goddess of Beauty also loved Anchises, Prince of Troy, but, ashamed of lavishing favors upon a mere mortal, extorted from him a promise that he would never reveal their secret marriage. Unfortunately, however, Anchises was of a boastful disposition, and ere long yielded to temptation and revealed the secret, incurring her wrath to such an extent, that some mythologists accuse her of borrowing one of Jupiter’s thunderbolts and slaying him. Others, however, report that Anchises lived to a ripe old age, and escaped from burning Troy on his son Æneas’ back. Venus’ love was, however, all transferred to her son Æneas, whom she signally protected throughout his checkered career.

Story of Hero and Leander.

Venus’ most ardent admirers and faithful worshipers were the young people, for she delighted in their youthful sentiments, and was ever ready to lend a helping hand to all true lovers when apparently insurmountable obstacles appeared on their path.

This was the case with a lovely maiden by the name of Hero, who was dedicated by her parents to Venus’ service, and, as soon as old enough, spent all her time in the temple, ministering to the goddess, or in a lonely tower by the sea, where she dwelt alone with her aged nurse.

“Honey-sweet Hero, of a princely race,
Was priestess to Queen Venus in that place;
And at her father’s tower, by the sea set—
Herself a Queen of Love, though maiden yet—
Edwin Arnold.

The maiden’s beauty increased with her years, until the fame of her loveliness spread throughout her native city Sestus, and even passed over the Hellespont and reached Abydus, where [112] Leander, the bravest and handsomest youth of the town, was fired with a desire to view the charming young priestess.

Just at that time a solemn festival in honor of Venus was to be celebrated at Sestus, to which all the youths and maidens were cordially invited. Under pretext of paying homage to the goddess, Leander entered her temple, and saw the young priestess, whose charms far surpassed all descriptions.

Venus, as has already been stated, was always deeply interested in young lovers; and when she saw these two, so well matched in beauty and grace, she bade Cupid pierce them with his love darts, which behest the mischief-loving god immediately obeyed.

“God Eros, setting notch to string,
Wounded two bosoms with one shaft-shooting,
A maiden’s and a youth’s—Leander he,
And lovely Hero, Sestos’ sweetest, she;
She of her town, and he of his, the boast;
A noble pair!”
Edwin Arnold.

An undying passion was thus simultaneously kindled in both young hearts; and, thanks to Venus’ assistance, Leander managed to exchange a few words with Hero, declared his love, implored her to view his suit kindly, and, above all, to grant him a private interview, or he would surely die.

The maiden listened to his pleading with mingled joy and terror, for she knew her parents would never consent to their union. Then, afraid lest some one should notice that she was talking to a stranger, she bade him depart; but he refused to go until he had learned where she lived, and proposed to swim across the Hellespont when the shades of night had fallen, and none could see his goal, and pay her a visit in her lonely tower.

“‘Sweet! for thy love,’ he cried, ‘the sea I’d cleave,
Though foam were fire, and waves with flame did heave,
I fear not billows if they bear to thee;
Nor tremble at the hissing of the sea!
[113] And I will come—oh! let me come—each night,
Swimming the swift flood to my dear delight:
For white Abydos, where I live, doth front
Thy city here, across our Hellespont.’”
Edwin Arnold.

At last his prayers overcame the maiden’s scruples, and she arranged to receive him in her sea-girt tower, promising at a given hour to light a torch and hold it aloft to guide him safely across the sea. Then only he departed.

Night came on; darkness stole over the earth; and Leander impatiently paced the sandy shore, and watched for the promised signal, which no sooner appeared, than he exultantly plunged into the dark waves, and parted them with lusty strokes, as he hastened across the deep to join his beloved. At times the huge billows towered above his head; but when he had escaped their threatening depths, and rose up on their foamy crests, he could catch a glimpse of the torch burning brightly, and pictured to himself the shy, sweet blushes which would dye Hero’s cheek as he clasped her to his passionate heart.

Leander had no fear—he cleft the wave—
What is the peril fond hearts will not brave!”

Venus, from the top of “many-peaked Olympus,” smilingly viewed the success of her scheme, and nerved Leander’s arm to cleave the rapid current. At last he reached the tower steps, and was lovingly greeted by Hero, whose heart had throbbed with anxiety at the thought of the perils her lover was braving for the sake of seeing her once more.

It was only when the dawn began to whiten the east, that the lovers finished their interview and parted, he to return to Abydus, and she to prepare for the daily duties which would soon claim her attention. But separation by day was all these fond lovers could endure, and night after night, as soon as the first stars appeared, Hero lighted her torch, and Leander hastened to her, to linger by her side till dawn.

[114] “Thus pass’d the summer shadows in delight:
Leander came as surely as the night,
And when the morning woke upon the sea,
It saw him not, for back at home was he.”