THE DREAM OF ENDYMION
SERIES II · EPISODE α
In ancient days when the human race was young, the story is told that there was a youth who fell in love with the Goddess of the Moon, whose name was Selene.
Selene was the sister of Helios, the daughter of the old gods Hyperion and Theia. Every night Selene bathed in the silver waters of the ocean before donning her bright cloak, mounting her chariot, and driving her two strong-necked and full-maned horses up into the sky. Running at full speed, the beams from her crown strongly wax and wane as she runs her course across the sky...
The myth of Endymion comes down to us only in fragments and allusions. As with most Greek myth, 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 her; 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. Her distinctive iconography includes the bearing of a flaming torch, a silver diadem with a lunar crescent, her 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.
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 Titanomachy and played a decsive 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 Titanomachy, and gave us not only fire but also 'blind hope' and all of the arts of civilisation.
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 realm of the Gods and the mortal world 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 battle of wits between Zeus and Prometheus pits the rebellious and cunning intelligence of Prometheus, one of the Old Gods that represent 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 ignite the arts and crafts of human civilisation, represent the primal, aspirational nature of the human spirit which can inspire us to greatness, but also hubris. Prometheus' attempted deception of Zeus confers gifts on us, but inspires the God to retaliate and turn them into double-edged blessings and curses. Zeus doubles down on this with the creation of Pandora. In the original story the making of the first woman is intended as a curse, as women are mysoginistically described as parasites who consume everything men produce, but are required if a man wishes to have a legacy. The fateful jar that she carries releases curses on the earth which force men to work the land for food, and introduce sickness and ill health into the world.
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.
CONNECTIONS IN FOLKLORE
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 Hecate. The goddess Kirke (Circe) was ; and sorcerors and witches in general, like Medea and the Thessalian witches.
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.
STORY AND MUSIC
In Ancient Greek music, there were four primary kinds of song or musical composition. These were...
The Orphic Hymns includes a hymn to Selene:
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 imagined and created by Sara Pearl. Interpreted and performed 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.
You can follow Michael and his work on social media
You can follow Michael and his work on social media
Additional 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:
S: phlegmy remix of 160743__qubodup__tribal-battle-chants-shouts-1.flac by Timbre | License: Attribution Noncommercial