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

Page: 50

Byron, the celebrated English bard, attempted Leander’s feat of swimming across the Hellespont, and, on his return from that dangerous venture, wrote the following lines, which are so familiar to all English-speaking people:—

“The winds are high on Helle’s wave,
As on that night of stormy 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
Her turret torch was blazing high,
Though rising gale, and breaking foam,
And shrieking sea-birds warn’d him home;
[117] And clouds aloft and tides below,
With signs and sounds, forbade to go,
He could not see, he would not hear,
Or sound or sign foreboding fear;
His eye but saw that light of love,
The only star it hail’d 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.”

An equally loving and unfortunate pair were Pyramus and Thisbe. Although no waves divided them, and they had the good fortune to occupy adjoining houses in Babylon, their parents having quarreled, they were forbidden to see or speak to each other. This decree wrung their tender hearts; and their continuous sighs finally touched Venus, who prepared to give them her aid. Thanks to this goddess’s kind offices, a crack was discovered in the party wall, through which the lovers could peep at each other, converse, and even, it is said, exchange a kiss or two.

Sundry stolen interviews through this crack made them long for uninterrupted and unrestrained meetings: so they made an appointment to meet on a certain day and hour, under a white mulberry tree, just without the city gates.

Thisbe, anxious to see her lover, was the first to reach the trysting place, and, as she slowly paced back and forth to while away the time of waiting, she wondered what had happened to delay Pyramus. Her meditation was suddenly broken by a rustling sound in some neighboring bushes; and, thinking Pyramus was concealed there, she was about to call to him that he was discovered, when, instead of her lover, she saw a lion emerge from the thicket and come towards her, slowly lashing his sides with his tail, and licking his bloody jaws. With one terrified shriek the girl ran away, dropping her veil, which the lion caught in his bloody mouth and tore to shreds, before beating a retreat into the forest.

[118] Shortly after, Pyramus came rushing up, out of breath, and full of loving excuses for Thisbe, who was not there, however, to receive them. Wondering at her absence, Pyramus looked around, and after a short investigation discerned the lion’s footprints and the mangled veil. These signs sufficed to convince him that Thisbe had perished, and in a fit of despair he drew his dagger from its sheath and thrust it into his heart.