See ye there the ancient graying
Castles, 'cross the straits surveying,
Sunny gilded citadels,
Where the Hellespont is rolling
Waves between the high patrolling
Portals of the Dardanelles?
Hear ye how the stormy billows
Break upon the cliffs above?
Asia they have torn from Europe,
Yet they do not frighten Love.
Hearts of Hero and Leander,
Made by Cupid’s arrow fonder,
Aching from his holy pow'r.
Hero, fine as Hebe blooming,
He, through mountains gladly roaming,
Hearty in the huntsman’s bow'r.
Yet the fathers’ opposition
Drove apart the couple’s bliss,
And the sweet fruit of affection
Hung upon the precipice.
There, on Sestos’ rocky towers,
Battered by the foaming powers
Of the Hellespont’s mad swells,
Sat the lonely maiden, gazing
Toward Anydos’ coast so pleasing,
Where the hot-belovéd dwells.
Ah, to that most distant shoreline
Doth no humble footbridge sway,
From the strand no craft emerges
And yet Love did find a way.
From the Labyrinth it guides you,
With the thread that it provides you,
Makes the fool a wise man now.
Savage beasts it bends to harness,
Yokes the bull, its breath a furnace,
To the diamond-sparkling plow.
Not the Styx’s nine-fold current
Can prevent all-daring Love;
Pluto forfeits the belovéd,
Stolen to the world above.
Also through the watery surges,
Love, with fiery yearning, urges
on Leander’s courage now.
When the day’s resplendent glimmer
Fades, then the audacious swimmer
Plunges in the flood below,
Parts the waves with arms untiring,
Striving toward that dearest strand,
Where, upon the lofty platform,
Flickers now the burning brand.
In the soft arms of his lover
May the happy one recover
From the journey’s heavy trial,
'Twas for this that Love should save him,
This reward the gods all gave him
In this blissful domicile,
'Til the bordering Aurora
Wakes him from his ecstacy,
Frights him from Love’s dreamy bosom
To the cold bed of the sea.
Thirty suns did take their measures
Swiftly, as the stolen pleasures
That the happy pair had seen,
Like the wedding night’s sweet blisses,
Envied by the gods, these kisses,
Ever young and evergreen.
He has never tasted rapture,
He who never, at the verge,
Plucked the pilfered fruit of heaven
From the hellish watery scourge.
Hesper and Aurora taking
Turns, as sundown and day breaking,
Yet the lovers saw it not,
Not the hues of fall appearing,
Not the angry winter nearing
That the icy North begot.
Happily they watched the days grow
Shorter, shorter; for the use
Made of longer, longer nights, they
Offered up their thanks to Zeus.
Soon enough the scales stood even,
Days and nights divided heaven.
Hero stood upon the heights,
Watching as Apollo’s horses
Fled along their solar courses
Where the ocean joins the nights.
And the sea lay still and placid,
Like a mirror, smooth and clean,
Not a breeze’s gentle weaving
Moved the crystal-perfect scene.
Merry dolphin-troops cavorted,
In the silver-clear they sported,
All along the placid coast,
And in grey processions wending,
From the ocean’s floor ascending,
Tethys’ multicolored host.
These and these alone had witnessed
Stolen trysts beside the sea;
Hecate, from out her darkness,
Sealed their lips eternally.
Hero, gladdened by the ocean,
Spoke with coaxing, mild emotion
To the lovely element:
“Beauteous god, couldst thou betray me?
No! They lie that do portray thee
Faithless, mean and fraudulent.
False is Man, and cruel a father’s
Heart, that could my love disdain;
Ah, but thou art mild and gracious,
And art moved by lovers’ pain.”
“In these barren walls of sorrows
I should spend my sad tomorrows
Withering amongst these stones;
Yet upon thy back thou bearest
With no bridge nor boat, a dearest
Friend that I may call mine own.
Fearsome are thy depths, thy frightful
Flood of churning waves and foam,
Ah, but Love compels thy mercy,
Thou'rt by courage overcome.”
“And to thee, the god of oceans,
Eros’ bow brought strong emotions,
As when golden Aries flew,
Helle, borne upon her brother,
Bloomed in beauty like no other,
High above thy sea below.
Captured by her charms, thou’st quickly
Snatched the prize that Aries bore,
To thy dark abyss thou’st swept her,
Down upon the ocean floor.”
“Goddess and inamorato
In the deepest water grotto,
Now she lives eternally;
Helpful in her haunted fashion,
Now she tames thy savage passion,
Guides the sailor home from sea.
Lovely Helle, noble goddess,
Blesséd one, may I implore,
Bring my love across the channel,
Lead him safely to my door!”
And then soon the torrent darkened,
From her porch the maiden hearkened
As she lit the signal flare.
With the trusted sign providing
Light through empty realms, and guiding,
It should lead her lover there.
From afar it starts to rustle,
Foam appears upon the sea,
Stars begin to wink and vanish,
Storm approaches, dreadfully.
Night descends upon the surface
Of the vast and roiling Pontus,
Water plunges from the clouds;
From their ghastly, rocky niches
Storms emerge, and lightning twitches
Through the mist that all enshrouds.
Churning, now, the great abysses,
Each more monstrous than before,
Yawning, like a hellish vengeance,
Opens up the ocean’s floor.
“Woe is me!” the maid lamented,
“Mercy, Zeus!” and so repented,
“Ah, what have I dared to crave!
If the gods have heard my praying,
If my love the price is paying
In the travails of the waves!”
All the birds that know the ocean
Head for home in hasty flight,
All the tempest-tested vessels
Safer harbors seek tonight.
“Yes, he gave himself to daring,
For it is a proud, unsparing
God that spurs him on to swim.
When he last did stand before me,
Love’s most holy oath he swore me,
Only death releases him.
Now the angry sea surrounds him
With the ocean’s nemesis,
Ah! This very moment, it shall
Hurl him down to the abyss!”
“Pontus, thy deceitful silence
Hid thy treachery and violence,
Like a mirror before mine eyes;
Calm thy ripples, mild thy season,
'Til he’s captured by thy treason
In thy faithless realm of lies.
In the middle of thy torrent,
Now the pathway back is closed,
Now unto the poor betrayed one
All thy terrors are exposed!”
Furious, the storm is rending,
High as mountaintops ascending
Swells the sea, the billows break
Foaming in the awful suction;
Sturdy ships of oak construction
No such voyage undertake.
And the winds have quenched the beacon
That would guide the swimmer through;
Terror beckons in the waters,
Terror at the landing too.
And she prays to Aphrodite,
Begs her to appease the mighty
Waves, the ocean tempest-torn,
And, to calm the wind’s vexation,
Offers up for immolation
Now, a bull with golden horn.
All the goddesses below us!
All the gods that dwell on high!
Hero bids them, pour some soothing
Oil upon the storming sea.
“Listen to my cry resounding,
Rise up from thy green surroundings,
Blessed Leukothea, please!
When the sailor shakes with fear, then
Oftentimes dost thou appear, and
Save him from the angry seas.
Reach to him thy mystic garment,
Reach to him thy sacred veil,
Lift him, unafflicted, from a
Murky grave beneath the gale!”
And the savage winds are ending,
Eos’ flashing steed ascending
Up the heavens’ thoroughfare.
In its bed, with tranquil motion,
Mirror-smooth becomes the ocean,
Brightly smile the sea and air.
Now the waves are gently breaking
Up against the craggy land,
And the peaceful, playful ripples
Wash a corpse up on the sand.
Yes, 'tis he, though he be broken,
Honored is the vow last spoken!
Swiftly doth she recognize.
Such a silence is she keeping,
No lamenting and no weeping,
Stares with cold, despairing eyes.
Down into the barren depths she
Gazes, in the Aether’s glow,
And a lofty, noble fire
Reddens her pale visage now.
“Yes, I know ye, awful beings!
Stringently your rights decreeing,
Horrifying and malign.
Though my fate, I can't postpone it,
Happiness supreme, I've known it,
And the sweetest lot was mine.
While I lived I served thy temple,
Thine own priestess have I been,
Now I sacrifice me gladly,
Noble Venus, mighty Queen!”
And with all her garments flying,
Hero leaps the tower, hying
Down into the foaming waves.
There resides the ocean god, he
Tumbles high her holy body,
And the sea becomes her grave.
Satisfied with this, his plunder,
Smiling, gladly forth he goes,
Pouring from his endless urn the
Current, that forever flows.
Original translation by Daniel Platt.
Posted with permission of the translator.
Daniel Platt is a translator, poet and musician who resides in Los Angeles. More of his best translations can be found here.