The Myth of Endymion
The Hawthorn Spinner, Vol. I, No. 4, September 7, 1992, pp. 1-2
by Endymion Vervain
In keeping with the approach of the festival of Samhain, I recently discovered some poems pasted into a small shriveled pocket calendar dated 1876, owned by one of my ancestors. The poems appear to have been selected from various published sources and pasted into an available booklet as a sort of scrapbook by my great-great. grandmother, Isoda Cooper Rice (1860-1897), who resided near Smithfield, Missouri. Particularly in light of the craft name by which I have been known in various circles for several years, I was interested to find "The Man In The Moon" appear to contain elements of the Endymton myth conmnon to Keats and Leland. Although I have had the booklet in' my possession for many years, in genealogical files, I had never paused to read this particular poem.
The story of Endymion's love for the Goddess is well known to some, through such works as Keats' sonnet by its hero's name, penned in 1818, as well as Leland (1899), Frazer (1939), Hamilton (1942) and others. This version takes on particular significance to me as an apparent favorite of my ancestress. I thought it might be of interest to readers of The Hawthorn Spinner sheerly for its novel beauty:
THE MAN AND THE MOON
By Sallie A. Brock
The moon peeped foth from a veiling cloud--
Fringing the rift with light,
And cautiously peered through a leafy shroud,
In the mid-hour of the night.
knd, lo! in a forest dense and dark,
Beheld she a man at work;
Amd many a flashing, steely spark
With many a hard-breathed jerk.
For might and main, with pickaxe and spade,
Upheaved he the stones and mold,
And they saw (what I hardly dare to tell)
That this was indeed a grave!
And soon a coffin, all covered with black,
Was stealthily laid within,
And the stones and the mold were hurried back,
To hide a terrible sin.
Then whispered the moon to a star near by --
Hiding her face so fair --
With faltering lips and a quivering sigh,
"A neighbor is buried there."
His night's work done, with pickaxe and spade,
And whistling a careless tune,
The man sped on through the forest glade,
But dared not look at the moon.
He sped along, nor glanced he behind,
Whistling his careless tune;
And now he starts at each shriek of the wind,
And cannot look at the moon!
It is said that the theme of Endymion can be traced, albeit uncertainly, through the luxuriant tangles and by-paths of incident and description. Endymion, smitten with strange trance at the feast of Pan, confesses to his sister the vision of an immortal loved one that has turned his waking'life to despair.
Led on to "woe-worm wanderings" by a mysterious command, he descends "into the silent mysteries of earth." Succored by Diana, Endymion is urged on by Venus, who foretells his happiness, and is moved to pity by the vain loves of Alpheus and Arethusa. When at length his "fated way" leads him through the sea-depths to the rescue of spellbound Glaucus, Endymion's awakened sympathy with suffering gives him power not only to restore "all lovers tempest-tost" to eternal love and youth, but to win Cynthia and immortal bliss. At last his mortal love, an Indian damsel, reveals herself as the goddess; and through earthly loveliness he attains immortal beauty (Ency. Amer., 1952, X:324.)
The ancient Hesiod gives a whole list of abstractions, and their relations one to another, as follows: Night bore Fate and Doom, Death (Thanatos), Sleep (Hypnos, a figure common in literature and art, and not wholly foreign to religious beliefs, for there was an alter of Hypnos at Trozen, Dreams, Momos (a personification of fault-finding, who occurs in fables and the like as a sort of licensed grumbler, objecting to everything the gods do, in a manner reminiscent of the Accuser in the biblical book of Job.) Pain, Nemesis, Retribution for or Resentment at all ill deeds. Deceit, Philotes (pleasure or love), Old Age (Geras), and Strife.
Perhaps the statement that Night also caused( Endymion to sleep with his eyes always open is something more than pretty fancy of a literature, a la "the man in the moon.." (Rose, 1959.)
The story of Endymion also may also have common roots in the "Sleeping Beauty" or "Briar Rose" tales, each containing the theme of a neglected Goddess or fairy whose spite makes all the mischief. Greek goddesses and gods often play much the same part as fairies in modern Europe. Like fairies, the gods will not directly counter one another's actions.
Another interesting parallel to the plot of "Sleeping Beauty" is found, not only in the sleep of Endymton, but in the long sleep of the semi-historical Epimenides of Crete.
Another time, perhaps we might fill another page or so exploring some of the spiritual content of the Endymion myth, and some of these related elements, in the context of Jungian psychological perspectives of the unconscious or autonomous shadow.
Frazer, James G. (1939). The Golden Bough, New York: Macmillan. pp. 4 and 156.
Hamilton, Edith (1942). Mythology, Boston: Little Brown, pp. 113-114.
Leland, Charles Godfrey (1899). Aradia: or the Gospel of the Witches, London: David Nutt (reprinted York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1974), pp. 16-18.
Rose, H.J. (1959). A Handbook of Greek Mythology, New York: Dutton Press.