Leander to Hero: it’s your turn to swim

ἡ μὲν Σηστὸν ἔναιεν, ὁ δὲ πτολίεθρον Ἀβύδου,
ἀμφοτέρων πολίων περικαλλέες ἀστέρες ἄμφω,
εἴκελοι ἀλλήλοισι.

She dwelt in Sestos, and he in the city of Abydos, each the fairest star in each of their two cities, like to each other.

Hero looking for Leander

Mittit Abydenus, quam mallet ferre, salutem,
si cadat unda maris, Sesti puella, tibi.
si mihi di faciles, si sunt in amore secundi,
invitis oculis haec mea verba leges.
sed non sunt faciles; nam cur mea vota morantur
currere me nota nec patiuntur aqua?

Leander, he of Abydos, sends to you, Hero, young woman of Sestos, the greetings he would rather you bring, if only the waves of maleness should fall. If the gods are favorable to me, if they assist me in love, you will read these my words with reluctantly seeing eyes. But the gynocentric gods are not favorable, for why do they delay my vows of equal love, and urge me to hurry once again through familiar waters?

Quam mihi misisti verbis, Leandre, salutem
ut possim missam rebus habere, veni!
longa mora est nobis omnis, quae gaudia differt.
da veniam fassae; non patienter amo!
urimur igne pari, sed sum tibi viribus inpar:
fortius ingenium suspicor esse viris.
ut corpus, teneris ita mens infirma puellis —
deficiam, parvi temporis adde moram!

So that I, Leander, may enjoy in very truth the initial love claims you have sent in words, you come! Long to me is all delay that defers our joys. Forgive me what I say — I cannot be patient for equal love. We burn with equal fires, but I am not equal to you in my socially devalued manliness. Men, I think, must have a stronger disposition toward women. Body and soul are frail that pander to tender women. Delay but a little longer, and I’ll be dead to you: you will never see me again.

Parce continuis,
deprecor, lamentis;
ne, qua vincularis,
legem Amoris
nimium queraris.

Cease, I beg, your incessant complaints. For you are not enchained; you complain too much of the law of Love.

Vos modo venando, modo rus geniale colendo
ponitis in varia tempora longa mora.
aut fora vos retinent aut unctae dona palaestrae,
flectitis aut freno colla sequacis equi;
nunc volucrem laqueo, nunc piscem ducitis hamo;
diluitur posito serior hora mero.
his mihi summotae, vel si minus acriter urar,
quod faciam, superest praeter amare nihil.
quod superest facio, teque, o mea sola voluptas,
plus quoque, quam reddi quod mihi possit, amo.

We men, now hunting, and now farming the marital acres of the countryside, consume long hours in the varied tasks that you decree. But you, either the marketplace holds you, or you’re lubricated for wrestling with men, or you turn the neck of your responsive steed with the bit in his mouth. Now you take his bird with your snare, now the fish swallows your hook. The later hours you waste away with wine in front of you. I am denied these things. But even were I less fiercely burning, I can do nothing other than to seek to be loved. That is my only delight. I love with even greater love than could be returned to me.

quaeque tuum, miror, causa moretur iter;
aut mare prospiciens odioso concita vento
corripio verbis aequora paene tuis;
aut, ubi saevitiae paulum gravis unda remisit,
posse quidem, sed te nolle venire, queror;
dumque queror lacrimae per amantia lumina manant

I marvel upon what can keep you from your way. Looking forth upon the sea, I chide the billows stirred by the hateful wind in words almost your own. When the heavy wave has laid aside a little its fierce mood, I complain that you indeed could come, but will not. While I complain, tears course down from my eyes that love you.

λάζεο πῦρ, κραδίη, μὴ δείδιθι νήχυτον ὕδωρ.
δεῦρό μοι εἰς φιλότητα· τί δὴ ῥοθίων ἀλεγίζεις;
ἀγνώσσεις, ὅτι Κύπρις ἀπόσπορός ἐστι θαλάσσης,
καὶ κρατέει πόντοιο καὶ ἡμετέρων ὀδυνάων

Seize the fire, my heart, fear not the full-flowing water. Come forth to love! What care you for the surge? Do you not know that Cypris is offspring of the sea and mistress over the deep and over our sufferings?

hanc ego suspiciens, “faveas, dea candida,” dixi,
“et subeant animo Latmia saxa tuo!
non sinit Endymion te pectoris esse severi.
flecte, precor, vultus ad mea furta tuos!
tu dea mortalem caelo delapsa petebas;
vera loqui liceat! — quam sequor ipsa dea est.
neu referam mores caelesti pectore dignos,
forma nisi in veras non cadit illa deas.
a Veneris facie non est prior ulla tuaque.”

Lifting my eyes to the Moon, I say, “Favor me, bright goddess, and let the stones of Latmos rise in your mind. Endymion would not allow you to be austere of heart. Turn your face, I pray, to aid my secret enterprise. Goddess, you came down from the sky to seek a mortal. May I speak truth! – she whom I follow is herself a goddess. Without calling to mind her virtues, worthy of heavenly breasts, her beauty doesn’t appear except among true goddesses. After the beautiful face of Venus and yours, there’s none greater than hers.”

ἄλλη Κύπρις ἄνασσα, σαοφροσύνῃ τε καὶ αἰδοῖ.
οὐδέ ποτ᾿ ἀγρομένῃσι συνωμίλησε γυναιξίν,
οὐδὲ χορὸν χαρίεντα μετήλυθεν ἥλικος ἥβης
μῶμον ἀλευομένη ζηλήμονα θηλυτεράων —
καὶ γὰρ ἐπ᾿ ἀγλαΐῃ ζηλήμονές εἰσι γυναῖκες —,
ἀλλ᾿ αἰεὶ Κυθέρειαν ἱλασκομένη Ἀφροδίτην
πολλάκι καὶ τὸν Ἔρωτα παρηγορέεσκε θυηλαῖς
μητρὶ σὺν Οὐρανίῃ φλογερὴν τρομέουσα φαρέτρην.

She is a second Cyprian goddess in temperance and reverence. Never does she mingle among the gatherings of women, nor enter the graceful dance of young girls of her years. She shuns the word of blame, the envious word of women, for always at sight of beauty women are envious. Yet often she appeases Aphrodite the Cytherean, and often she would assuage Love too with sacrifices, together with his Heavenly mother. She fears his quiver of flame.

iamne putas exisse domo mea gaudia, nutrix,
an vigilant omnes, et timet ille suos?
iamne suas umeris illum deponere vestes,
pallade iam pingui tinguere membra putas?
adnuit illa fere; non nostra quod oscula curet,
sed movet obrepens somnus anile caput.
postque morae minimum “iam certe navigat,” inquam,
“lentaque dimotis bracchia iactat aquis.”

Old maid, do you think my joy has left her house already, or perhaps everyone is awakening, and she fears her family? Do you think she is now slipping off the robe from her shoulder and rubbing rich oil into her limbs? The old maid nods assent, not that she cares for our equal kissing, but slumber creeps upon her and slacks her ancient head. Then, after slightest pause, I say, “Now surely she is setting forth on her voyage, and she is parting the waters with the stroke of her tender arms.”

an medio possis, quaerimus, esse freto.
et modo prospicimus, timida modo voce precamur,
ut tibi det faciles utilis aura vias;
auribus incertas voces captamus, et omnem
adventus strepitum credimus esse tui.
Sic ubi deceptae pars est mihi maxima noctis
acta, subit furtim lumina fessa sopor.

I ask whether you could be mid-way across the strait. And now I look forth, and now in timid tones I pray that a favoring breeze will give you an easy course. My ears grab at uncertain notes, and at every sound I am sure that you have come. When the greatest part of the night has passed for me in such delusions, sleep steals upon my wearied eyes.

Saevus Amor ultima
urget in discrimina.
non ignis incendia,
Bosfori non aspera
perorrescit equora.

Cruel love drives us into the utmost dangers. It shrinks from neither raging fire nor the rough seas of the Bosporus.

Vincit Amor omnia,
regit Amor monia.
fuga tantum
fallitur amantum.

Love conquers everything, love rules everything. Only by the flight of lovers is he cheated.

forsitan invitus mecum tamen, inprobe, dormis,
et, quamquam non vis ipse venire, venis.
nam modo te videor prope iam spectare natantem,
bracchia nunc umeris umida ferre meis,
nunc dare, quae soleo, madidis velamina membris,
pectora nunc nostro iuncta fovere sinu
multaque praeterea linguae reticenda modestae,
quae fecisse iuvat, facta referre pudet.
me miseram! brevis est haec et non vera voluptas;
nam tu cum somno semper abire soles.

Perhaps, false one, you pass the night with me although against your will. Perhaps you will come, though yourself you do not wish to come. For now I seem to see you already swimming near, seem to feel your wet arms about my neck. You throw your usual clothes about your dripping limbs and warm your bosom clasped to mine. We do many things of which a modest tongue should not speak. Memory delights in them, but telling brings a blush. Ah me! Brief and unreal pleasures are these, for you always leave when sleep leaves.

Παρθένε, σὸν δι᾿ ἔρωτα καὶ ἄγριον οἶδμα περήσω,
εἰ πυρὶ παφλάζοιτο καὶ ἄπλοον ἔσσεται ὕδωρ.
οὐ τρομέω βαρὺ χεῖμα τεὴν μετανεύμενος εὐνήν,
οὐ βρόμον ἠχήεντα περιπτώσσοιμι θαλάσσης·
ἀλλ᾿ αἰεὶ κατὰ νύκτα φορεύμενος ὑγρὸς ἀκοίτης
νήξομαι Ἑλλήσποντον ἀγάρροον· οὐχ ἕκαθεν γὰρ
ἀντία σεῖο πόληος ἔχω πτολίεθρον Ἀβύδου.

Young man, for the sake of your love I will cross even the wild surges, even should they seethe with fire, and the water be closed to ships. I fear no heavy storm in journeying to your bed. I would not cringe before the resounding crash of the sea, but every other night, I your wife, wet and sea-tossed, will swim the strong-flowing Hellespont. Not far off, opposite your city, is mine, the city of Sestos.

firmius, o, cupidi tandem coeamus amantes,
nec careant vera gaudia nostra fide!
cur ego tot viduas exegi frigida noctes?
cur totiens a me, lente morator, abes?
est mare, confiteor, non nunc tractabile nanti;
nocte sed hesterna lenior aura fuit.
cur ea praeterita est? cur non ventura timebas?
tam bona cur periit, nec tibi rapta via est?
protinus ut similis detur tibi copia cursus,
hoc melior certe, quo prior, illa fuit.

O more firmly let our eager loves be knit, and our joys be faithful and equal! Why have I passed so many cold and lonely nights? Why, O tardy loiterer, are you so often away from me? The sea, I grant, is not now fit for the swimmer, but yesterday night the gale was gentler, and it was your turn. Why did you let it pass? Why did you fear what was not to come? Why did so fair a night go by for nothing, and you not seize upon the way? Grant that a similar chance for coming be given again to you soon. But this chance was better, surely, since it was earlier.

ferre tamen possum patientius omnia, quam si
otia nescio qua paelice captus agis,
in tua si veniunt alieni colla lacerti,
fitque novus nostri finis amoris amor.
a, potius peream, quam crimine vulnerer isto,
fataque sint culpa nostra priora tua!
nec, quia venturi dederis mihi signa doloris,
haec loquor aut fama sollicitata nova.
omnia sed vereor—quis enim securus amavit?

Yet I could with greater patience bear all things other than to have you linger in the bonds of some other man’s charms, see other arms clasped round your neck, and a new love end the love we bear. Ah, may I rather perish than be wounded by such a crime! May fate overtake me before you incur that guilt! I do not say these words because you have given sign that such grief will come to me, or because some recent tale has made me anxious, but because I fear everything — for who that loves was ever free from care?

effice nos plures, evicta per aequora lapsus,
o penitus toto corde recepte mihi!
in tua castra redi, socii desertor amoris;
ponuntur medio cur mea membra toro?
quod timeas, non est! auso Venus ipsa favebit,
sternet et aequoreas aequore nata vias.
ire libet medias ipsi mihi saepe per undas,
sed solet hoc maribus tutius esse fretum.

Ah, make us one more, glide over the conquered wave, O you, you whom I have welcomed to all my innermost heart! Come back to camp, deserter from mutual love. Why should my body be alone in the center of our bed? There is nothing for you to fear. Venus herself will smile upon your venture. She, born of the sea, will make the paths of the sea smooth for you. Often I myself feel prompted to swim through the midst of the waves, but it’s your turn, and the strait is usually safer for women.

Forsitan ad reditum metuas ne tempora desint,
aut gemini nequeas ferre laboris onus.
at nos diversi medium coeamus in aequor
obviaque in summis oscula demus aquis,
atque ita quisque suas iterum redeamus ad urbes;
exiguum, sed plus quam nihil illud erit.

Perhaps you fear no time for you to return, or that you won’t be able to endure the effort of coming and going. Then let us both from opposite sides come together in mid-sea, give each other kisses on the waters’ crest, and then return again each to our own places. That would be little, but equal, and better than nothing at all.

πάντοθι δ᾿ ἀγρομένοιο δυσάντεϊ κύματος ὁρμῇ
τυπτόμενος πεφόρητο, ποδῶν δέ οἱ ὤκλασεν ὁρμή,
καὶ σθένος ἦν ἀνόνητον ἀκοιμήτων παλαμάων.
πολλὴ δ᾿ αὐτόματος χύσις ὕδατος ἔρρεε λαιμῷ,
καὶ ποτὸν ἀχρήιστον ἀμαιμακέτου πίεν ἅλμης.

As the wave on every side hunted him with irresistable force, he was beaten and hurled along. The thrust of his feet grew slack, and useless was the strength of his ever-flailing hands. Great waves of water poured themselves into his throat, and he drank unneeded drinks of the irresistible brine.

He had yielded to her. He didn’t insist: “The rule is women first. Staying at home is much less dangerous than swimming the sea. Hero, it’s your turn to be a hero.”

Hero laments dead Leander

*  *  *  *  *

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Hero and Leander is myth that was well-known in the Roman Empire more than two thousand years ago. Leander and Hero lived across the Hellespont strait from each other; he in Abydos, she in Sestos. Hero was a beautiful woman who made men feel sexually harassed. Leander was an equally beautiful and splendidly charming man. Hero fell in love with Leander. They began secretly to spend nights together, with Leander undertaking the burden of swimming across the Hellespont every night to be with Hero. One stormy winter night, Leander, unwilling to just say no to Hero, died attempting to swim across the Hellespont to her. Hero realized that she was complicit in the gynocentric oppression that took her beloved Leander’s life. She then committed suicide, a relatively rare event for women compared to men.

The earliest reference to Hero and Leander is Virgil, Georgics 3.258-263. Horace, Epistles 1.3.3 probably also refers to the myth. Ovid and Musaeus provide the most extensive ancient treatments of Hero and Leander. With keen insight into gynocentric oppression, Lord Byron in 1810 swam across the Hellespont starting from Sesto and going to Abydos. That’s the initial swim Hero would have undertaken in sharing the burden of swimming with Leander. Byron then wrote a sardonic poem about his experience, “Written after swimming from Sestos to Abydos.” In a purer romantic vein, John Keats in 1817 wrote a sonnet “On a Picture of Leander.” The best-known version of the myth today is that of Christopher Marlowe and George Chapman (1598). For the literary history of the myth, Dümmler (2012) p. 414, Montiglio (2016), and Montiglio (2017).

All the Greek quotes above are from Musaeus’s Hero and Leander. Little is known about Musaeus. Some manuscripts give him the epithet “grammarian {γραμματικός}.” His Hero and Leander is now dated to the second half of the fifth century. Dümmler (2012) p. 413. Only 343 verses long, Hero and Leander generically called an epyllion (little epic). It shows Christian influences and has been been read as a Neo-Platonic Christian allegory concerning the soul. Gelzer (1973), introduction. Hero and Leander generically has features of both ancient Greek epics and ancient Greek novels. It’s an unusual “hexameter novel.” Dümmler (2012) passim. On sexual symmetry in the ancient Greek novels, Konstan (1994).

In the above quotations of Musaeus’s Hero and Leander,  Gelzer (1973) supplies the Greek text. I’ve used Gelzer’s translation, adapted it slightly, and made small but significant changes. A Greek text is freely available online. The English translations of Stapylton (1645) and Sikes (1920) are also freely available online. Specific citations for the above Greek quotes are (by line number in Gelzer’s Greek): 21-23 (She dwelt in Sestos…), 247-50 (Seize the fire…), 33-40 (She is a second Cyprian goddess…), 203-9 (Young {man}, for the sake of your love…), 324-8 (As the wave on every side…).

The above Latin quotes in elegiac couplets are from Ovid, Heroides 18, “Leander to Hero {Leander Heroni}” (Latin, A.S. Kline’s translation) and Heroides 19, “Hero to Leander {Hero Leandro}” (Latin text; A.S. Kline’s translation). The English translations above draw upon the English translation in Showerman (1914), which is a fairly literal, prose translation. I’ve made small but significant changes to Showerman’s translation. Specific citations are (by poem and line number in the Latin of Heroides): 18.1-6 (Leander, he of Abydos…), 19.1-8 (So that I, Leander…), 18.9-18 (We men, now hunting…), 19.20-25 (I marvel upon what…), 18.61-69 (Lifting my eyes to the Moon…), 19.41-48 (Old maid, do you think…), 19.50-56 (I ask whether you could be mid-way…), 19.57-66 (Perhaps, false one…), 19.67-76 (O more firmly let our eager loves…), 19.101-109 (Yet I could with greater patience…), 19.155-162 (Ah, makes us one more…), 19.165-170 (Perhaps you fear no time…). For an earlier cultural appropriation of Ovid’s Heroides, “Leander to Hero” and “Hero to Leander,” Radcliffe (1673).

The three quotes above from the Latin sequence are from Parce Continuis, an eleventh-century poem. It survives in two manuscripts: Florence, Bibliotheca Laurenziana, Aedilium ecclesia codex 197, fol. 131v, and Augsburg, Bibliothek des Bischöflichen Ordinariats 5, fol. 1r. The Latin texts and English translations (de-lineated) are from Traill (1986), except for the first English translation. That I’ve taken from Stock (1969) on the grounds of its better poetic merit to my ears. Specific citations are (by line numbers in Traill’s text): 1-5 {1a} (Cease, I beg you…), 59-63 {from 4b} (Cruel love drives us…), 124-7 {from 7b} (Love conquers everything…).

[images] (1) Last Watch of Hero (looking for Leander). Painting by Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton. Made in 1880. Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Hero laments the dead Leander. Painting by Jan van den Hoecke. Made about 1636. Preserved under accession # GG_727 in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Vienna, Austria). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Dümmler, Nicola Nina. 2012. “Musaeus, Hero and Leander: Between Epic and Novel.” Pp. 411-446 in Baumbach, Manuel, and Silvio Bär, eds. Brill’s Companion to Greek and Latin Epyllion and its Reception. Leiden; Boston: Brill.

Gelzer, Thomas, ed. and trans. 1973. Musaeus. Hero and Leander. Pp. 291-420 in C. A. Trypanis, T. Gelzer, Cedric H. Whitman, eds and trans. Callimachus, Musaeus. Aetia, Iambi, Hecale and Other Fragments. Hero and Leander. Loeb Classical Library 421. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Konstan, David. 1994. Sexual symmetry: love in the ancient novel and related genres. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Montiglio, Silvia. 2016. “The End? The Death of Hero and Leander from Antiquity to the Rediscovery of Musaeus in Western Europe.” Antike Und Abendland. 62 (1): 1-17.

Montiglio, Silvia. 2017. The Myth of Hero and Leander: the history and reception of an enduring Greek legend. London: I.B. Tauris. (Hardin’s review)

Radcliffe, Alexander. 1673. Ovidius exulans, or, Ovid travestie: a mock-poem on five epistles of Ovid: viz. Dido to Ænæas, Leander to Hero, Laodameia to Protesilaus, Hero to Leander, Penelope to Ulysses: in English burlesque, by Naso Scarronnomimus. London: Printed by Peter Lillicrap for Samuel Speed and sold by most booksellers in London and Westminster.

Showerman, Grant, ed. and trans., revised by G. P. Goold. 1914. Ovid. Heroides. Amores. Loeb Classical Library 41. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sikes, E. E., trans. 1920. Hero & Leander: translated from the Greek of Musaeus. London: Methuen.

Stapylton, Robert, trans. 1645. Musaeus. Erotopaignion / The Loves of Hero and Leander: a Greeke poem. Oxford: Printed by Henry Hall.

Stock, Brian. 1969. “Parce Continuis: Some Textual and Interpretive Notes.” Mediaeval Studies. 31: 164-173.

Traill, David A. 1986. “Parce Continuis: A New Text and Interpretive Notes.” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch 21: 114—24.