Ch. 19: Endymion, Orion, Aurora, Galatea

Endymion was a beautiful youth who fed his flock on Mount Latmos.
One calm, clear night, Diana, the Moon, looked down and saw him
sleeping. The cold heart of the virgin goddess was warmed by his
surpassing beauty, and she came down to him, kissed him, and
watched over him while he slept.

Another story was that Jupiter bestowed on him the gift of
perpetual youth united with perpetual sleep. Of one so gifted we
can have but few adventures to record. Diana, it was said, took
care that his fortunes should not suffer by his inactive life,
for she made his flock increase, and guarded his sheep and lambs
from the wild beasts.

The story of Endymion has a peculiar charm from the human meaning
which it so thinly veils. We see in Endymion the young poet, his
fancy and his heart seeking in vain for that which can satisfy
them, finding his favorite hour in the quiet moonlight, and
nursing there beneath the beams of the bright and silent witness
the melancholy and the ardor which consumes him. The story
suggests aspiring and poetic love, a life spent more in dreams
than in reality, and an early and welcome death.
S. G. Bulfinch

The Endymion of Keats is a wild and fanciful poem, containing
some exquisite poetry, as this, to the moon:

"The sleeping kine
Couched in thy brightness dream of fields divine.
Innumerable mountains rise, and rise,
Ambitious for the hallowing of thine eyes,
And yet thy benediction passeth not
One obscure hiding place, one little spot
Where pleasure may be sent; the nested wren
Has thy fair face within its tranquil ken."

Dr. Young in the Night Thoughts alludes to Endymion thus:

"These thoughts, O Night, are thine;
From thee they came like lovers' secret sighs,
While others slept. So Cynthia, poets feign,
In shadows veiled, soft, sliding from her sphere,
Her shepherd cheered, of her enamored less
Than I of thee."

Fletcher, in the Faithful Shepherdess, tells,

"How the pale Phoebe, hunting in a grove,
First saw the boy Endymion, from whose eyes
She took eternal fire that never dies;
How she conveyed him softly in a sleep,
His temples bound with poppy, to the steep
Head of Old Latmos, where she stoops each night,
Gilding the mountain with her brother's light,
To kiss her sweetest."


Orion was the son of Neptune. He was a handsome giant and a
mighty hunter. His father gave him the power of wading through
the depths of the sea, or as others say, of walking on its

Orion loved Merope, the daughter of Oenopion, king of Chios, and
sought her in marriage. He cleared the island of wild beasts,
and brought the spoils of the chase as presents to his beloved;
but as Oenopion constantly deferred his consent, Orion attempted
to gain possession of the maiden by violence. Her father,
incensed at this conduct, having made Orion drunk, deprived him
of his sight, and cast him out on the sea shore. The blinded
hero followed the sound of the Cyclops' hammer till he reached
Lemnos, and came to the forge of Vulcan, who, taking pity on him,
gave him Kedalion, one of his men, to be his guide to the abode
of the sun. Placing Kedalion on his shoulders, Orion proceeded
to the east, and there meeting the sun-god, was restored to sight
by his beam.

After this he dwelt as a hunter with Diana, with whom he was a
favorite, and it is even said she was about to marry him. Her
brother was highly displeased and often chid her, but to no
purpose. One day, observing Orion wading though the sea with his
head just above the water, Apollo pointed it out to his sister
and maintained that she could not hit that black thing on the
sea. The archer-goddess discharged a shaft with fatal aim. The
waves rolled the dead body of Orion to the land, and bewailing
her fatal error with many tears, Diana placed him among the
stars, where he appears as a giant, with a girdle, sword, lion's
skin, and club. Sirius, his dog, follows him, and the Pleiads
fly before him.

The Pleiads were daughters of Atlas, and nymphs of Diana's train.
One day Orion saw them, and became enamored, and pursued them.
In their distress they prayed to the gods to change their form,
and Jupiter in pity turned them into pigeons, and then made them
a constellation in the sky. Though their numbers was seven, only
six stars are visible, for Electra, one of them, it is said, left
her place that she might not behold the ruin of Troy, for that
city was founded by her son Dardanus. The sight had such an
effect on her sisters that they have looked pale ever since.

Mr. Longfellow has a poem on the "Occultation of Orion." The
following lines are those in which he alludes to the mythic
story. We must premise that on the celestial globe Orion is
represented as robed in a lion's skin and wielding a club. At
the moment the stars of the constellation one by one were
quenched in the light of the moon, the poet tells us,

"Down fell the red skin of the lion
Into the river at his feet.
His mighty club no longer beat
The forehead of the bull; but he
Reeled as of yore beside the sea,
When blinded by Oenopion
He sought the blacksmith at his forge,
And climbing up the narrow gorge,
Fixed his blank eyes upon the sun."

Tennyson has a different theory of the Pleiads:

"Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising through the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid."
Locksley Hall

Byron alludes to the lost Pleiad:

"Like the lost Pleiad seen no more below."

See also Mrs. Heman's verses on the same subject.


Aurora, the goddess of the Dawn, like her sister the Moon, was at
times inspired with the love of mortals. Her greatest favorite
was Tithonus, son of Laomedon, king of Troy. She stole him away,
and prevailed on Jupiter to grant him immortality; but forgetting
to have youth joined in the gift, after some time she began to
discern, to her great mortification, that he was growing old.
When his hair was quite white she left his society; but he still
had the range of her palace, lived on ambrosial food, and was
clad in celestial raiment. At length he lost the power of using
his limbs, and then she shut him up in his chamber, whence his
feeble voice might at times be heard. Finally she turned him
into a grasshopper.

Memnon was the son of aurora and Tithonus. He was king of the
AEthiopians, and dwelt in the extreme east, on the shore of
Ocean. He came with his warriors to assist the kindred of his
father in the war of Troy. King Priam received him with great
honors, and listened with admiration to his narrative of the
wonders of the ocean shore.

The very day after his arrival, Memnon, impatient of repose, led
his troops to the field. Antilochus, the brave son of Nestor,
fell by his hand, and the Greeks were put to flight, when
Achilles appeared and restored the battle. A long and doubtful
contest ensued between him and the son of Aurora; at length
victor declared for Achilles, Memnon fell, and the Trojans fled
in dismay.

Aurora, who, from her station in the sky, had viewed with
apprehension the danger of her son, when she saw him fall
directed his brothers, the Winds, to convey his body to the banks
of the river Esepus in Paphlagonia. In the evening Aurora came,
accompanied by the Hours and the Pleiads, and wept and lamented
over her son. Night, in sympathy with her grief, spread the
heaven with clouds; all nature mourned for the offspring of the
Dawn. The Aethiopians raised his tomb on the banks of the stream
in the grove of the nymphs, and Jupiter caused the sparks and
cinders of his funeral-pile to be turned into birds, which,
dividing into two flocks, fought over the pile till they fell
into the flame. Every year, at the anniversary of his death,
they return and celebrate his obsequies in like manner. Aurora
remains inconsolable for the loss of her son. Her tears still
flow, and may be seen at early morning in the form of dew-drops
on the grass.

Unlike most of the marvels of ancient mythology, there will exist
some memorials of this. On the banks of the river Nile, in
Egypt, are two colossal statues, one of which is said to be the
statue of Memnon. Ancient writers record that when the first
rays of the rising sun fall upon this statue, a sound is heard to
issue from it which they compare to the snapping of a harp-
string. There is some doubt about the identification of the
existing statue with the one described by the ancients, and the
mysterious sounds are still more doubtful. Yet there are not
wanting some modern testimonies to their being still audible. It
has been suggested that sounds produced by confined air making
its escape from crevices or caverns in the rocks may have given
some ground for the story. Sir Gardner Wilkinson, a late
traveller, of the highest authority, examined the statue itself,
and discovered that it was hollow, and that "in the lap of the
statue is a stone, which, on being struck, emits a metallic
sound, that might still be made use of to deceive a visitor who
was predisposed to believe its powers."

The vocal statue of Memnon is a favorite subject of allusion with
the poets. Darwin, in his Botanic Garden, says,

"So to the sacred Sun in Memnon's fane
Spontaneous concords choired the matin strain;
Touched by his orient beam responsive rings
The living lyre and vibrates all its strings;
Accordant aisles the tender tones prolong,
And holy echoes swell the adoring song."


Scylla was a fair virgin of Sicily, a favorite of the Sea-Nymphs.
She had many suitors, but repelled them all, and would go to the
grotto of Galatea, and tell her how she was persecuted. One day
the goddess, while Scylla dressed her hair, listened to the
story, and then replied, "Yet, maiden, your persecutors are of
the not ungentle race of men, whom if you will you can repel; but
I, the daughter of Nereus, and protected by such a band of
sisters, found no escape from the passion of the Cyclops but in
the depths of the sea;" and tears stopped her utterance, which
when the pitying maiden had wiped away with her delicate finger,
and soothed the goddess, "Tell me, dearest," said she, "the cause
of your grief." Galatea then said, "Acis was the son of Faunus
and a Naiad. His father and mother loved him dearly, but their
love was not equal to mine. For the beautiful youth attached
himself to me alone, and he was just sixteen years old, the down
just beginning to darken his cheeks. As much as I sought his
society, so much did the cyclops seek mine; and if you ask me
whether my love for Acis or my hatred for Polyphemus was the
stronger, I cannot tell you; they were in equal measure. Oh,
Venus, how great is thy power! This fierce giant, the terror of
the woods, whom no hapless stranger escaped unharmed, who defied
even Jove himself, learned to feel what love was, and touched
with a passion for me, forgot his flocks and his well-stored
caverns. Then, for the first time, he began to take some care of
his appearance, and to try to make himself agreeable; he harrowed
those coarse locks of his with a comb, and mowed his beard with a
sickle, looked at his harsh features in the water, and composed
his countenance. His love of slaughter, his fierceness and
thirst of blood prevailed no more, and ships that touched at his
island went away in safety. He paced up and down the sea-shore,
imprinting huge tracks with his heavy tread, and, when weary, lay
tranquilly in his cave.

"There is a cliff which projects into the sea, which washes it on
either side. Thither one day the huge Cyclops ascended, and sat
down while his flocks spread themselves around. Laying down his
staff which would have served for a mast to hold a vessel's sail,
and taking his instrument, compacted of numerous pipes, he made
the hills and the waters echo the music of his song. I lay hid
under a rock, by the side of my beloved Acis, and listened to the
distant strain. It was full of extravagant praises of my beauty,
mingled with passionate reproaches of my coldness and cruelty.

"When he had finished he rose up, and like a raging bull, that
cannot stand still, wandered off into the woods. Acis and I
thought no more of him, till on a sudden he came to a spot which
gave him a view of us as we sat. 'I see you,' he exclaimed, 'and
I will make this the last of your love-meetings.' His voice was
a roar such as an angry Cyclops alone could utter. AEtna
trembled at the sound. I, overcome with terror, plunged into the
water. Acis turned and fled, crying, 'Save me, Galatea, save me,
my parents!" The Cyclops pursued him, and tearing a rock from
the side of the mountain hurled it at him. Though only a corner
of it touched him it overwhelmed him.

"All that fate left in my power I did for Acis. I endowed him
with the honors of his grandfather the river-god. The purple
blood flowed out from under the rock, but by degrees grew paler
and looked like the stream of a river rendered turbid by rains,
and in time it became clear. The rock cleaved open, and the
water, as it gushed from the chasm, uttered a pleasing murmur."

Thus Acis was changed into a river, and the river retains the
name of Acis.

Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Sonnet-a-Day Newsletter
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.