Long, long ago a beautiful, young priestess of Aphrodite, named Hero, used to live in a tower in Sestos on the European side of the Hellespont, today’s Dardanelles, while Leander, a handsome and healthy young man with his dark locks flowing down onto his shoulders and pleasant smiling lips, was living in Abydos, on the side of Asia.
Hero, the beautiful girl with her hair shining as brightly as the brilliant crown of Apollo, was wooed by many eligible young men, which include even the sun god, who longed for her fervently. Every year, during the festival of Aphrodite in Sestos, when the streets were filled with dance and music, when rare beauties, as bright as the stars in the sky, participates in dance and celebration, especially around the temple of the goddess, Hero always stole the show, blowing the hearts of the young men, searching for their lady love. But Hero refused them all, as she was a priestess of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and she was determined to abstain from sex.
One of those days during the festival, as she came down from her high tower overlooking the sea in the evening and walked through the town on her way to the temple of Aphrodite, everybody paused to look at her unearthly appealing beauty and were dumbstruck.
As she was passing by, she was leaving a sweet scent and with the rhythm of her walk, her golden hair was flowing and dancing with the gentle wind, while her dress was shimmering with embroidered stars and her necklace was sparkling like dazzling diamonds, although it was made of sea-smooth pebbles, collected from the beach. As she was approaching the temple gates, her hazel eyes unknowingly met the glance of a handsome young man, casually leaning against the gate, with pleasantly smiling lips and expressive eyes, seemingly embracing her even before he spoke. He was Leander, who at the same time felt the sweet pain of Cupid’s arrow deep in his heart. He overtook the lady, knelt down on one knee before her and prayed for her hand. Although the priestess of the goddess of love blushed crimson, had no answer but that she loved him too, she lied and said that she cannot return her love, as made an oath to Aphrodite to remain virgin. Leander in his turn tried to persuade her by saying that it is not anybody’s hand to love or hate and it is advisable to devote heart to honour her love and soul, which would be the best way to honour her mistress Aphrodite, the Queen and the Goddess of love.
Ultimately, she gave in and told him in a low voice to meet her in her tower after dark, overlooking the sea, when she would hang a lamp from her window at the top of the tower, as a signal to locate the tower through the darkness of the night.
Since then, every evening Leander used to swim across the Hellespont, following the signal from across the sea, to be with his lady. They followed routine regularly, spent nights together sitting face to face, looking at each other, with a gulf of dreams between them and talking about nothing, till the early hours of the day, when Leander swam back to the opposite side of the strait. Although Hero tried to abstain from sex, as she was a priestess of Aphrodite, eventually, she surrendered and allowed Leander to make love to her and a long hot summer of romantic trysts began between them.
Unfortunately, one stormy night, while Leander was struggling against the vicious waves of the turbulent sea, a sudden strong gusty wind blew out the light of the Hero’s lamp. It was a disastrous blow for Leander as he lost his way in the wild darkness. Although his strong arms untiringly propelled his smooth body swiftly across the water and his head bobbed over the waves, he was knocked off his way several times by the giant waves. He struggled and splashed, but was drowned despite his courageous effort.
Hero spent the night in apprehensive anxiety, looking at the dark sea from her sleepless window. Early in the morning, when she noticed the body of her lover at the foot of her tower, she understood everything. She knew that Leander gave his life for his desperate attempt to cross the sea, daring the stormy weather, only to meet her and felt that her life without Leander would be unbearable. She immediately made up her mind and threw herself from the top of the tower into the depth of the sea to embrace death, with the desire to meet her lover after her death.
The mythological tale of Hero and Leander was retold by several ancient poets, including Ovid and Virgil. Based on the story, Christopher Marlowe, an English poet and playwright, wrote his poem Hero and Leander, which was completed by George Chapman, following his untimely death.Apart from that, it was also adapted by later poets, like Lord Byron, John Keats, and Lord Tennyson.The tale also inspired paintings by Rubens, Turner, and Rossetti.