SERIES II · EPISODE II
Around the sixteenth year they had come, first a few, then in swelling numbers until it seemed that every rough blooded adventurer in the Seven Islands was gathered under this single roof.
They ate all of the food that came into the house, and drank up the casks of wine in the cellars. They slept in all the palace beds, in the corridors and the great hall. They opened all the chests and dressed themselves in the fine clothes and coloured linen. They burned up all the wood in the great fireplace.
And even as they did, the Lady of this House awaited the return of her husband. She did this even though the thieves and pirates that now stalked their halls called her ‘The Widow’, and every day, taunted her and asked her: which one of them was she going to marry?
The myth of Endymion comes down to us only in fragments and allusions. As with most Greek myths, there are competing stories and traditions. These fragments say, variously, that Zeus offered Endymion anything he desired and he chose eternal sleep; that Endymion cursed to eternal sleep by Zeus for lusting after Hera; that Selene loved him and begged Zeus to make him immortal so he would always be with them; or that instead it was Hypnos, the God of Sleep, who found Endymion so beautiful he cast him into immortal sleep, but with his eyes fixed forever open so that the God might gaze into them.
Some insist that Endymion and Selene were parents to fifty lunar nymphs called the Menae, whose number was said to represent the fifty lunar months of the Olympiad - the four years between each Olympic Games. Whether Endymion fathered them before or after his eternal sleep, these sources do not say!
Endymion is variously described as a king, a hunter, a shepherd, an astronomer or an astrologer in ancient sources. In art and sculpture, he is often depicted sleeping with a cloak, spear and hunting hounds. He was said to hail from the region of Karia (Caria) in Anatolia (within Modern Turkey), where we find the mountains of Latmos (today the Beşparmak Mountains). Endymion's resting place or 'tomb' was identified with a cave near the ancient town of Herakleia. The region was inhabited by the Carians before it was settled by the Ionian and Doric tribes of Greece, and Endymion's myth may have been a translation of native Carian mythology. His legend is sometimes confused with another Endymion from Olympia in Southern Greece, who decided his three sons should run a race to decide who inherited his kingdom: one won the race, one stayed at home, and the third left home angry when he lost.
Selene was a Titan, one of the second generation of primal gods overthrown by the Olympians in Greek Mythology. Their distinctive iconography includes the bearing of a flaming torch, a silver diadem with a lunar crescent, their white robes, and a chariot drawn by white horses. The story of the Titan Selene may have retained is prominence due to the fact that Artemis, the Olympain goddess associated with the moon, was fiercely virginal, so that the myth of Endymion could not be absorbed into her own mythos. In Renaissance revivals of classical mythology, Selene was often replaced with Diana, the Roman goddess who absorbed the Greek cult of Artemis.
Our telling also embraces an aspect of Selene which is sometimes lost: the idea that the Moon and its Divinity was sometimes conceived as non-binary, as sharing both masculine and feminine characteristics. Most sources and scholarship depict Selene as a feminine deity. However, Plato’s Symposium characterises the Sun as masculine, the Earth as Feminine, and the Moon as masculine and feminine. The Orphic hymns address Selene with feminine pronouns, but, in Thomas Taylor’s translation, she is declared ‘Female and Male’. Followed by the phrase ‘with borrow'd rays you shine’, this may have been based on the idea that she reflected the light of the (masculine) Sun. There is also a history of non-binary symbolism and performance in cultic practises related to Selene and Artemis, and the Greeks were apparently aware that the Egyptian divinity of the moon was intersex. In this telling of the tale, therefor, we have embraced a non-binary identity for Selene.
This episode also features the disguised figure of Zeus retelling the story of Prometheus, his stewardship of the human race, and his battle of wits with the King of the Olympian Gods. Prometheus was another Titan god, who remained free after the war with the Titans and played a decisive role in the creation of man. The stories of Prometheus' role in creating man and stealing for him the gift of fire appears early in the work of Hesiod, which described the birth of the gods and their relationship with human beings. The later works of the Athenian playright Aeschylus describe how Prometheus defected to the side of Zeus in the Titan War (the Titanomachy), and gave us not only fire but also 'blind hope' and all of the arts of civilisation.
THEMES & FOLKLORE
MORTAL AND IMMORTAL LOVE
In the myth of Endymion, sleep and dreams play a symbolic role in the relationship between the mortal and the divine. In art and literature, Endymion's love of the moon is often portrayed as a kind of unrequited passion which symbolises humanity's obsession with the unattainable. A the outset, Endymion is literally 'moonstruck', in love with something far beyond his reach and outside of his natural sphere.
And it is right to say he his in love with 'some thing' - as the identity of the moon shifts between the lunar object and its personification in the figure of a goddess like Diana or Selene - all in all, a force of nature or of divinity that is bigger than merely human. Endymion's love for the goddess stands as a symbol of human longing for the divine in general - with the ideas of beauty, life and feeling as perfect and eternal states.
Selene's love for Enydmion, too, is disturbed by her knowledge that his own particular vigor and beauty is ephemeral, and so she seeks to have him elevated to the sphere of the Gods. The fact that this can only be accomplished—in this story at least— if he is also fated to eternally sleep, might be taken to symbolise the impossibility of bringing the mortal and immortal realms together. In some religions, humanity is granted eternal life: but in Greek mythology, immortality was not in the nature of humans unless granted as an extraordinary gift of the gods.
The mytheme of the Endymion story is of the 'sleep' of Endymion. But many have taken the natural step of wondering about his dreams. The poet John Keats wrote a poetic epic of Endymion, in which the shepherd hopelessly searches for a beautiful and mysterious goddess he first glimpsed in a dream. Some paintings of the myth are also titled as 'Endymion's Dream'. Keat's story extends the metaphor of love and longing into the realm of dreams, another natural metaphor for the chase after things which appear fleeting and ephemeral.
THE BATTLE OF THE GODS & THE CREATION OF HUMANITY
The stories of Endymion and Prometheus are combined in this tale because they are both symbolic of the relationship between the Immortal world of the Gods and the Mortal realm of humanity. Just as Endymion and Selene's story shows how there will always be an unbridgeable distance between the mortal and the divine, the story of Prometheus explains the condition of the human race and its relationship with the gods.
THE MYTH OF PROMETHEUS
The battle of wits between Zeus and Prometheus pits the rebellious and cunning intelligence of Prometheus, one of the Old Gods that symbolised the primal and elemental powers of nature, against the power of the new Olympian King, who symbolises the Natural Order embodied in the workings of Fate, and civilised law and customs. Prometheus is a constant threat to Zeus, who becomes a patron to humanity partly out of sympathy for their lowly condition, and perhaps from a desire to challenge Zeus' sovereignty. In this way, Promethues' patronage, and his gift of fire, which literally ignites the arts and crafts of human civilisation, represents the primal, aspirational spirit that is part of human nature, which can inspire us to greatness, but also to hubris.
THE MYTH OF PANDORA
Prometheus' attempted deception of Zeus confers gifts on us, but inspires the God to retaliate and beggar us further. In the original story, the creation of Pandora, the first woman, is intended as a curse, as women are mysoginistically described as parasites who consume what men produce, but are needed to produce children and create the man’s patrimony. The fateful jar that she carries pours out curses on the earth which force men to work to bring food from the land, and introduce sickness and ill health into the world.
Our source for this story is Hesiod, and interestingly, scholars believe it is probably an intentional corruption and perversion of an earlier myth about a patron goddess who provided for humankind: a female alternative or counter-part to Prometheus, if you will. The name ‘Pandora’ itself means ‘Gift-Giver’, and archaeology has uncovered references to Pandora in the context of fertility cults and rituals. In this interpretation, Hesiod’s tale about Pandora would be a deliberate re-writing of the myth of a female benefactor to fit his own belief that women were the source of all the evil in the world.
Our version of the Pandora subverts by borrowing an idea used elsewhere by the Greek playright Euripedes, who wrote a play about Helen of Troy in which the real Helen was abducted by the gods to a fara-away island, and a illusory shade or phantom, called an Eidolon in Greek, was put in her place. This illusory version of Helen was the object for Paris’ lust and the whole of the Trojan War: Helen the person was not present at all. Euripedes' story allows for a critique of the traditional character of Helen as a sexist construction: held up as an ideal of beauty and desirability, but also a symbol for sexist ideas about female infirmity and wickedness. It also lays the blame in a much more appropriate place: it is not Helen, but men’s desire to possess and control their idea of ‘the most desirable woman in the world’ which leads to the hubris and destruction of the Trojan War.
As well as recasting the Pandora myth using the concept of the Eidolon, we also looked to Plato’s alternative story about the origins of love for a Greek tradition that embraces broader concepts of gender, identity and sexuality than those found in Hesiod.
THE SPLITTING OF SOULS
Plato’s Symposium is a philosophical dialogue exploring the nature of love. It is remarkable on the one hand for basing its discussion of love primarily around homosexuality, and also for including a partly comedic account of the origins of love and the concept of ‘soul mates’. Within the dialogue, the character of the comedien Aristophanes explains that human beings were once bi-partite creatures with eight limbs and two heads. Some of these hybrid creatures were made of two male halves, some of two female halves, and some were androgynous, made of a male and female half. Zeus split these creatures in two, because, as so often in these myths, these human beings were hubristic and sought to climb up to Mount Olympus and displace the gods. The result was that human beings were deprived of one half of their being, leaving them to forever search for and chase after their missing halves, with the implication that homosexual, lesbian and heterosexual love arose from these original three kinds of being.
THE FIRE OF DREAMS
In mythology and early philosophy, the element of fire was often materially identified with the divine power or spirit which was the life of the human mind. Fragments from the early philosophers referred to dreams as fires of the human soul kindled within the body at night; while Plato believed that vision was explained by a subtle stream of fire which poured out of the eyes, causing dreams when it was shut inside the body at night.
As the Promethean fire allows for craft and invention - cooking, light in the darkness, metalwork - so it stands as a symbol of the imagination, our capacity to 'dream' in the sense of envisioning, planning and creating new things. It seems significant that in Aeschylus' plays, Prometheus may be responsible for the gift of 'Blind Hope', the only thing left in Pandora's jar. Hope here is blind because we don't know our fate like the gods do—but our ignorance leads us to always hope and strive for the best.
In this way, the story of Endymion's dreams and Prometheus' fire go together perfectly as emblems of human nature. Our hopes, our dreams, and our creativity - our perpetual striving after impossible dreams, even if they will always be frustrated.
ASTROLOGY, ASTRONOMY AND LUNAR LORE
There are many other legends and folktales about individuals who either fall in with the moon, try to chase it, or bring it down to earth. These traditions are probably the origin of mythemes that relate love and lovesickness with the influence of the moon. Endymion's love and observation of the moon has also given rise to the notion that he was the first astronomer (or astrologer, the two not always being distinct in the past).
Selene is connected to many other mythological figures associated with the moon in mythology. As a celestial body that stood between the realms of heaven and earth,which rose and fell above and below the sky, and which appeared and disappeared in distinct phases, the moon was often thought of as a transitional force, a crossing or a doorway between different realms like the heavens and the underworld. Gods linked to the moon were thus described as similarly transitional - the gods of paths, crossroads or the underworld. As a potential bridge for power from these realms, the moon and its gods played a significant role in the occult and witchcraft. In the Greek mythos these included Hecateand Kirke (Circe), goddesses of witchcraft and sorcery.
THE GIFT OF FIRE
The story of the theft or gift of fire recurs in many places in world mythology. Maori legend, and there are strong echoes in the Halloween tradition of Jack of the lantern, who receives a burning coal from hell to light his way in the world. We ourselves drew on this tradition to create a new adaption of an existing Christmas folktale, which we called The Christmas Coals.
The Orphic Hymns includes a hymn to Selene:
VIII. TO THE MOON [SELENE]
Trans. Thomas Taylor
The Fumigation from Aromatics.
Hear, Goddess queen, diffusing silver light,
bull-horn'd and wand'ring thro' the gloom of Night.
With stars surrounded, and with circuit wide Night's torch
extending, thro' the heav'ns you ride:
Female and Male with borrow'd rays you shine,
and now full-orb'd, now tending to decline.
Mother of ages, fruit-producing Moon,
whose amber orb makes Night's reflected noon:
Lover of horses, splendid, queen of Night,
all-seeing pow'r bedeck'd with starry light.
Lover of vigilance, the foe of strife,
in peace rejoicing, and a prudent life:
Fair lamp of Night, its ornament and friend,
who giv'st to Nature's works their destin'd end.
Queen of the stars, all-wife Diana hail!
Deck'd with a graceful robe and shining veil;
Come, blessed Goddess, prudent, starry, bright,
come moony-lamp with chaste and splendid light,
Shine on these sacred rites with prosp'rous rays,
and pleas'd accept thy suppliant's mystic praise.
This episodes feature 'Song to Selene' by Michael Levy. You can listen to it here, or follow the links to the Lore & Legend Season 2 Playlist.
Story interpreted by Rick Scott.
Sound editing, audio design and original illustrations by Rick Scott.
Lore & Legend Series Themes composed and performed by Robert Bentall.
Podcast hosting by Anchor. Video and audiogram creation using Headliner.
Additional sound and effects sourced from the community at Freesound.org.
Incidental music, background ambience and sound effects by multiple authors sourced from Freesound.org. See below for the full list of audio files and attribution credits: