HERO AND LEANDER
BY MRS. GUY E. LLOYD
The goddess Venus was the Queen of Love and
Beauty, and her worship was spread over all the
world, for indeed she was one of the greatest of the
immortals, and even the father of gods and of men himself
had to own her power.
She had many great and noted temples, and one of
these was at Sestos, close by the side of the Hellespont,
the sea in which Helle sank and was drowned when the
Golden Ram carried off her brother Phrixus and herself.
When this tale begins the priestess of the temple of
Venus at Sestos was a very beautiful maiden called Hero.
It was her duty to tend the altar of the goddess, to offer
sacrifices, to hang up the votive offerings of worshipers
round the walls, and to see that the slaves appointed to
the work kept the marble steps and pillars always shining
And many a youth came to worship at the temple, less
for the sake of the goddess than for the beautiful priestess;
but Hero never gave a glance at any man but
carefully fulfilled her daily task, and every night retired
to a tall tower on the cliff beside the sea, where she lived
alone with an aged nurse who loved her dearly and was
ready to do anything for her.
Every year a great festival was held at Sestos, in honor
of Adonis, the beautiful boy whom Venus had loved, and
who had been slain by a wild boar. To this festival
flocked all the countryside. Large-eyed oxen drew the
creaking wagons all adorned with flowers and grasses,
and crowded with rustics from the inland farms, and
across the narrow strait came gay barges, bringing worshipers
from the villages along the opposite shore. In
the festal company there came one day from the town
of Abydos, a beautiful youth named Leander. He was
tall and straight as a young poplar, his bright eyes
had a ready smile, his red lips a pleasant word
for every one, but no maiden had ever yet won his
Leander only laughed at these reproaches, but hidden
within his heart was the dream of a maiden fairer and
sweeter than any he yet had seen, to whom he would
give his whole heart, and who, so he dreamt, would give
him love for love.
So it came about that when the yearly feast of
Venus at Sestos returned, Leander determined to go
and sacrifice at the altar of the goddess and pray to
her that he might meet the maiden of his heart's
With the throng of worshipers Leander mounted the
hill to the temple of Venus. White marble steps led
up to a bright crystal pavement that was called by the
citizens of Sestos the glass of Venus. The walls were
of veined marble, and on the dome a cunning artist had
painted a vine of vivid green, with Bacchus, the friend
of Venus, gathering the purple grapes. On the wall behind
was Proteus, the changeful god of the changeful
sea, whence Venus had arisen. Rich offerings of gold,
silver, precious stones, and gorgeous raiment hung on the
walls between the carven figures. Leander gazed his
fill at all these wonders, till his eyes were caught and
held by the statue of the goddess that stood on a pedestal
in the middle of the temple. Beneath her feet was a
great sea-shell, borne on a breaking wave; in her hands,
held close against her breast, a pair of doves; her face,
looking out upon her worshipers, was such a miracle of
loveliness that the gazer caught his breath in awe and
Before the statue stood a little silver altar, and at this
the priestess was kneeling when Leander came to the
temple, for the sacrifice was just about to be consummated.
For a while Leander saw nothing but the face
of the marble goddess; then the kneeling priestess, robed
in her gauzy veil, arose and faced for a moment the congregation
of worshipers. Leander's eyes turned from
the marble image to the living woman who stood before
it, and the eyes of Hero met his. As if fascinated they
gazed at one another, while in both their hearts flamed
up the sudden fire of love.
The worshipers all knelt, and Leander knelt with
them, but his prayer was not to Venus: his soul was full
and overflowing with love for the fair priestess, and it
was of her alone he thought.
It seemed as though Hero had read his thoughts, for
as one who walks in his sleep she drew nearer to the
He started to his feet, and bending forward grasped
her hand. The sacrifice was over, the worshipers were
dispersing, the two were left alone, and for a moment
they stood motionless, both of them trembling and awed
at their own emotion.
But when Hero, as if waking from a dream, strove to
free her hand, Leander tightened his hold and whispered
eagerly: "Nay, leave me not, fair maiden, for I love
thee. Never before have I cared aught for mortal maid,
but now thou art more to me than everything in the
Hero flushed a rosy red, and her long eyelashes veiled
the light of her eyes.
"I know thee not, kind youth," she faltered, struggling
betwixt love and maiden modesty, abashed at what
she had done, and at the thought of how Leander's words
had made her heart leap for joy. "It is not fitting that
I should speak with thee—here." And then, in a lower
whisper, turning half away and blushing more deeply
than before, the maiden added hastily: "I dwell alone
with my servant in yonder tower by the sea-shore, and
when I leave the service of the goddess I ever put a
light in the turret at the top, so that those on the sea
may know where the haven lies and steer safely home.
But thou must not seek me there."
And snatching her hand from Leander's grasp the affrighted
maiden turned and fled, while the tears sprang
to her eyes, and as she ran she wept and smiled. As
she mounted the slope that led to her tower on the cliff
she slackened her pace, and dashing the tears from her
eyes, looked back. Leander stood still where she had
left him, gazing after her. Flinging her veil back over
her shoulder she resumed her homeward way, slowly
and with many a backward look.
When she came to her tower Hero told her old servant
to lay out all in readiness for the evening meal, and
then to retire to her chamber above.
"Thou art overtired, my pretty one," said the old
crone. "These crowded festivals and long days of sacrifice
are too much for such a tender flower as thou.
Never fear, I will leave thee here in peace—and see,
I will light thy lamp in the turret above, even now in
the daylight, then may I seek the couch whereof my old
bones ever are full fain, and thou shalt not need to climb
those weary stairs."
"As thou wilt, good nurse," answered Hero, turning
aside to take off her veil and to hide her blush of pleasure.
She had told Leander that the light was the signal
that her office was ended for the day—would he notice
it? Would he come?
She wandered out in the twilight and broke off
branches of roses to deck the room; she put on the table
the candied fruits and honey-cakes and wine of Cyprus
that the worshipers of Venus offer to her priestess. The
heavy footsteps of the old dame sounded as she mounted
the stair and came back to her chamber and her wished-for
bed. Then silence fell on the tower, and Hero sat
with beating heart and waited.
Leander had climbed to the top of the cliff, and there
had lain down with his face to the sea, determined to
keep his eyes from the tower till there was a reasonable
chance of seeing the light.
"When I see it glow," said Leander to himself, "then
shall I too know where the haven lies, and steer safely
He closed his eyes that he might see once more in
fancy the sweet averted face under the fine veil.
A noise below the cliff made him look up; the boat
that had come from Abydos in the morning was starting
back again. He watched it with a smile. It seemed to
him a lifetime since he stepped from its deck upon the
quay. Straight across to the other shore of this narrow
arm of the sea was but a mile, but the slanting course
to Abydos was full three miles' distance. Leander
watched the boat as she left the quay with all his friends
on board; then he could wait no longer; he looked up
at Hero's tower; and there, in the top of the turret,
flamed the signal light.
Small pause made Leander when once he had seen
Meanwhile, from her casement, Hero too had seen the
boat putting out for Abydos, and believing Leander to
be on board, gone from Sestos perhaps forever, the
maiden sank down beside her open door, and covering her
face with her hands she wept sore.
"Alas," she murmured, "he is gone, gone, gone! The
boat has sailed away."
Leander, as he mounted the rocky stairs that led to
the turret, overheard the maiden's cry, and, rushing forward,
he flung himself on his knees beside her and softly
kissed her fingers. Then, looking up with a start, the
maiden would fain have seemed wroth at the sight of
him, but it was too late. She had yielded at a touch,
and Love was lord of all.
But on the morrow Leander must return to his home
at Abydos. So he took ship early in the morning, finding
a vessel that was sailing thither, and came to his
own home again. His father noticed at once that the
youth was wearing a sprig of myrtle and a scarf embroidered
with the doves of Venus, and he chid him
"There are plenty of fair maids here, in thy own
land," said he; "choose one of them and be happy with
her, but woo not the priestess of Venus, or harm will
come of it."
Leander made no answer to his father's admonition,
but in his heart he knew that no other maiden could
ever after content him, and that he must see Hero again,
though he died for it.
After his father's admonition he dared not be seen
crossing the strait by day, but when night fell he wandered
by the sea, looking longingly across the dark water;
then, far and faint, like a star through the clear
night, he caught the glimmer of Hero's lamp.
"Alas!" cried Leander, "there lies the haven. Ah,
would that I might steer safely home."
Then with sudden resolution he flung his outer garment
from him and plunging into the water oared his
way with mighty strokes towards the glimmer of the
light, and Hero, combing her long locks in the moonlight
and thinking of her lover, was ware that he stood
before her, and could hardly believe it was his very
So once more they had joy of one another's love until
the daybreak appeared in the sky, and then Leander said
farewell with many kisses and swam safely home again,
and no man the wiser.
The days passed on and the youth's father was
pleased at his restored cheerfulness, and thought that
Hero must be forgotten, for he never crossed as he had
been wont to Sestos.
The summer passed, and one day there swept down
from the hills the first of the autumn storms.
Poor Hero, as she set her light in the turret, looked
out across the tossing, white-capped waves and sighed
as she thought that no swimmer could cross a sea like
that. But Leander flinched not, for he plunged, buffeting
the angry waves with a good heart, and ever as he
rose upon their crests looking out for Hero's light. The
fury of the sea could not master him, but the autumn
chill struck home to his bones. Long he battled with
the rising billows, but the storm waxed fiercer and the
farther shore seemed no nearer. Fainter and fainter
grew the swimmer, but still he struggled on. When he
looked from a crest of the waves his lodestar was gone;
a black cloud had hidden the turret lamp. Then at last
his heart failed him, and flinging up his arms he sank
to his watery grave.
Long did Hero wait that night, hoping and fearing
by turns; and when her lover did not come she wept bitter
tears. But far worse pain was to come. For on
the next day came to her tower the father of Leander.
"Is my son here?" he asked, briefly and sternly.
Hero trembling answered, "No, fair sir."
"Is it true that he hath many times swum across the
sea and visited thee?"
The maiden hanging her head and blushing deeply answered,
"Then without doubt my son is drowned, and by thy
fault," said the grief-stricken father, "for this morning
were his garments found near the water's edge, but of
him there was no sign."
Even while he spoke there came from the quay a cry
of sorrow and lamentation, and clambering swiftly down
the cliff those two saw, laid upon the shore by tender
hands, the strong and beautiful body of the dead Leander,
whom they both had loved beyond all other living things
upon the earth.