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Endymion






Source: A Book Of Myths

To the modern popular mind perhaps none of the goddesses of Greece—not even Venus herself—has more appeal than has the huntress goddess, Diana. Those who know but little of ancient statuary can still brighten to intelligent recognition of the huntress with her quiver and her little stag when they meet with them in picture gallery or in suburban garden. That unlettered sportsman in weather-worn pink, slowly riding over the fragrant dead leaves by the muddy roadside on this chill, grey morning, may never have heard of Artemis, but he is quite ready to make intelligent reference to Diana to the handsome young sportswoman whom he finds by the covert side; and Sir Walter’s Diana Vernon has helped the little-read public to realise that the original Diana was a goddess worthy of being sponsor to one of the finest heroines of fiction.

But not to the sportsman alone, but also to the youth or maid who loves the moon—they know not why—to those whom the shadows of the trees on a woodland path at night mean a grip of the heart, while “pale Dian” scuds over the dark clouds that are soaring far beyond the tree-tops and is peeping, chaste and pale, through the branches of the firs and giant pines, there is something arresting, enthralling, in the thought of the goddess Diana who now has for hunting-ground the blue firmament of heaven where the pale Pleiades
“Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.”

Tennyson.
“She gleans her silvan trophies; down the wold
She hears the sobbing of the stags that flee
Mixed with the music of the hunting roll’d,
But her delight is all in archery,
And naught of ruth and pity wotteth she
More than her hounds that follow on the flight;
The goddess draws a golden bow of might
And thick she rains the gentle shafts that slay.
She tosses loose her locks upon the night,
And through the dim wood Dian threads her way.”

Andrew Lang.

Again and again in mythological history we come on stories of the goddess, sometimes under her best known name of Diana, sometimes under her older Greek name of Artemis, and now and again as Selene, the moon-goddess, the Luna of the Romans. Her twin brother was Apollo, god of the sun, and with him she shared the power of unerringly wielding a bow and of sending grave plagues and pestilences, while both were patrons of music and of poetry.

When the sun-god’s golden chariot had driven down into the west, then would his sister’s noiseless-footed silver steeds be driven across the sky, while the huntress shot from her bow at will silent arrows that would slay without warning a joyous young mother with her newly-born babe, or would wantonly pierce, with a lifelong pain, the heart of some luckless mortal.

Now one night as she passed Mount Latmos, there chanced to be a shepherd lad lying asleep beside his sleeping flock. Many times had Endymion watched the goddess from afar, half afraid of one so beautiful and yet so ruthless, but never before had Diana realised the youth’s wonderful beauty. She checked her hounds when they would have swept on in their chase through the night, and stood beside Endymion. She judged him to be as perfect as her own brother, Apollo—yet more perfect, perhaps, for on his upturned sleeping face was the silver glamour of her own dear moon. Fierce and burning passion could come with the sun’s burning rays, but love that came in the moon’s pale light was passion mixed with gramarye. She gazed for long, and when, in his sleep, Endymion smiled, she knelt beside him and, stooping, gently kissed his lips. The touch of a moonbeam on a sleeping rose was no more gentle than was Diana’s touch, yet it was sufficient to wake Endymion. And as, while one’s body sleeps on, one’s half-waking mind, now and again in a lifetime seems to realise an ecstasy of happiness so perfect that one dares not wake lest, by waking, the wings of one’s realised ideal should slip between grasping fingers and so escape forever, so did Endymion realise the kiss of the goddess. But before his sleepy eyes could be his senses’ witnesses, Diana had hastened away. Endymion, springing to his feet, saw only his sleeping flock, nor did his dogs awake when he heard what seemed to him to be the baying of hounds in full cry in a forest far up the mountain. Only to his own heart did he dare to whisper what was this wonderful thing that he believed had befallen him, and although he laid himself down, hoping that once again this miracle might be granted to him, no miracle came; nor could he sleep, so great was his longing.
SHE CHECKED HER HOUNDS, AND STOOD BESIDE ENDYMION

All the next day, through the sultry hours while Apollo drove his chariot of burnished gold through the land, Endymion, as he watched his flocks, tried to dream his dream once more, and longed for the day to end and the cool, dark night to return. When night came he tried to lie awake and see what might befall, but when kind sleep had closed his tired eyes,
“There came a lovely vision of a maid,
Who seemed to step as from a golden car
Out of the low-hung moon.”

Lewis Morris.

Always she kissed him, yet when her kiss awoke him he never could see anything more tangible than a shaft of silver moonlight on the moving bushes of the mountain side, never hear anything more real than the far-away echo of the baying of pursuing hounds, and if, with eager, greatly-daring eyes, he looked skywards, a dark cloud, so it seemed to him, would always hasten to hide the moon from his longing gaze.

In this manner time passed on. The days of Endymion were filled by longing day-dreams. His sleeping hours ever brought him ecstasy. Ever, too, to the goddess, the human being that she loved seemed to her to grow more precious. For her all the joy of day and of night was concentrated in the moments she spent by the side of the sleeping Endymion. The flocks of the shepherd flourished like those of no other herd. No wild beast dared come near them; no storm nor disease assailed them. Yet for Endymion the things of earth no longer held any value. He lived only for his dear dream’s sake. Had he been permitted to grow old and worn and tired, and still a dreamer, who knows how his story might have ended? But to Diana there came the fear that with age his beauty might wane, and from her father, Zeus, she obtained for the one she loved the gifts of unending youth and of eternal sleep.

There came a night when the dreams of Endymion had no end. That was a night when the moon made for herself broad silver paths across the sea, from far horizon to the shore where the little waves lapped and curled in a radiant, ever-moving silver fringe. Silver also were the leaves of the forest trees, and between the branches of the solemn cypresses and of the stately dark pines, Diana shot her silver arrows. No baying of hounds came then to make Endymion’s flocks move uneasily in their sleep, but the silver stars seemed to sing in unison together. While still those gentle lips touched his, hands as gentle lifted up the sleeping Endymion and bore him to a secret cave in Mount Latmos. And there, for evermore, she came to kiss the mouth of her sleeping lover. There, forever, slept Endymion, happy in the perfect bliss of dreams that have no ugly awaking, of an ideal love that knows no ending.





Next: Orpheus

Previous: Phaeton



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