Hero and Leander

William Etty -The Parting of Hero and Leander -c.1827

Hero and Leander are two of the most famous lovers in Greek myth. Hero was a beautiful young maiden, and priestess of Aphrodite who dwelled in Aphrodite's temple, a tower in Sestos, at the edge of the Hellespont. Leander, a handsome young man from Abydos, on the other side of the strait, fell in love with her, and he would swim every night across the Hellespont to be with her. Hero would light a lamp each night at the top of her tower, to guide his way through the treacherous waters.

Succumbing to Leander's soft words, and to his argument that Aphrodite, as goddess of love, would scorn the worship of a virgin, Hero allowed him to make love to her, and thus their love deepened. But then came one terrible, stormy winter night; the waves tossed Leander in the sea and the wind blew out Hero's light. Leander lost his way, and was drowned. Hero threw herself from the tower in grief and died as well.

 Hero and Leander - Henry Hugh Armstead 1875

Ovid, in The Heroides, imagines the voice of Hero, dreaming of Leander:

Now you seem to be nearer, now I see you swimming,
now my shoulders bear your briny arms,
now, as I do, I give the clothes from my breast to your wet limbs,
now, joined to you, I warm you with my heart,
and much besides is concealed, by the modest tongue,
thatís ashamed to speak of things it delights in doing.
Alas! Itís brief and pleasure is untrue:
for you always leave me, as sleep does.
Oh, letís bind our eager passions more firmly,
so that our joys lack nothing of faith and truth.
Why do I spend so many cold, empty nights?
Why are you so often, lingering slowly, absent from me?

-Hero To Leander - Ovid
Theodor von Holst - Hero and Leander in Moonlight Seascape

William Etty - Hero and Leander -1828

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