Hero and Leander

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Hero and Leander is a Greek myth, relating the story of Hērō (Greek: Ἡρώ, pron. hay-RAW (ancient) and like "hero" in English), a priestess of Aphrodite who dwelt in a tower in Sestos on the European side of the Hellespont, and Leander (Greek: Λέανδρος, Léandros), a young man from Abydos on the opposite side of the strait. Leander fell in love with Hero and would swim every night across the Hellespont to be with her. Hero would light a lamp at the top of her tower to guide his way.

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. This routine lasted through the warm summer. But one stormy winter night, the waves tossed Leander in the sea and the breezes blew out Hero's light, and Leander lost his way, and was drowned. Hero threw herself from the tower in grief and died as well.

In high culture

Literature

The myth of Hero and Leander has been used extensively in literature and the arts:

  • Ovid treated the narrative in his Heroides, 18 and 19, an exchange of letters between the lovers. Leander has been unable to swim across to Hero in her tower because of bad weather, her summons to him to make the effort will prove fatal to her lover.
  • Byzantine poet Musaeus also wrote a poem; Aldus Manutius made it one of his first publications (c. 1493) after he set up his famous printing press in Venice (his humanistic aim was to make Ancient Greek Literature available to scholars). Musaeus's poem had early translations into European languages by Tasso (Italian), Boscán (Spanish) and Marot (French). This poem was widely believed in the Renaissance to have been pre-Homeric: George Chapman reflects at the end of his completion of Marlowe's version that the dead lovers had the honour of being 'the first that ever poet sung’. Chapman's 1616 translation has the title The divine poem of Musaeus. First of all bookes. Translated according to the original, by Geo: Chapman. Staplyton, the mid-17th century translator, had read Scaliger's repudiation of this mistaken belief, but still could not resist citing Virgil's 'Musaeum ante omnes' (Aeneid VI, 666) on the title page of his translation (Virgil's reference was to an earlier Musaeus).
  • Renaissance poet Christopher Marlowe began an expansive version of the narrative. His story does not get as far as Leander's nocturnal swim, and the guiding lamp that gets extinguished, but ends after the two have become lovers (Hero and Leander (poem));
  • George Chapman completed Marlowe's poem after Marlowe's death; this version was often reprinted in the first half of the 17th century, with editions in 1598 (Linley); 1600 and 1606 (Flasket); 1609, 1613, 1617, 1622 (Blount); 1629 (Hawkins); and 1637 (Leake).
  • Sir Walter Ralegh alludes to the story, in his 'The Ocean's Love to Cynthia', in which Hero has fallen asleep, and fails to keep alight the lamp that guides Leander on his swim (more kindly versions, like Chapman's, have her desperately struggling to keep the lamp burning).
  • Shakespeare also alludes to this story in the opening scene of Two Gentlemen of Verona, in a dialogue between Valentine and Proteus (the two gentlemen in the play):
  • Ben Jonson's play Bartholomew Fair features a puppet show of Hero and Leander in Act V, translated to London, with the Thames serving as the Hellespont between the lovers.
  • It is also the subject of a novel by Milorad Pavić, Inner Side of the Wind;
  • Leander is also the subject of Sonnet XXIX by Spanish poet Garcilaso de la Vega of the 16th Century;
  • The story has also been briefly alluded to in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, both when Benedick states that Leander was "never so truly turned over and over as my poor self in love" and in the name of the character Hero, who, despite accusations to the contrary, remains chaste before her marriage. It was also briefly alluded to in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in the form of a malapropism accidentally using the names Helen and Limander in the place of Hero and Leander. The most famous Shakespearean allusion is, however, the debunking one by Rosalind, in Act IV scene I of As You Like It:

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