According to Greek mythology, Endymion was a young shepherd who slept in a cave on Mount Latmus. We are also told by Pliny the Elder that he was the first human to observe the movements of the moon. One night, Selene the Goddess of the Moon, caught sight of the sleeping youth and resolved forthwith that Endymion should remain exactly thus, and to sleep forever, so that every night she could descend to embrace him.
It was a creative and fruitful partnership. They say that he and Selene had fifty daughters. Dreams are important - and we use the night wastefully if it's set aside only for sleeping.
Selene - by William James Neatby
Keats and Wilde The poet John Keats published his poem ‘Endymion’ in 1818. The opening lines contain some of the best known poetry in the English language:
‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.’
Portrait of the poet John Keats by William Hilton.
Oscar Wilde also wrote a poem entitled ‘Endymion.’ But it is in another of his poems ‘The Garden of Eros’ that he encapsulates the allegory of the myth, especially from a modern perspective (and with a smile):
‘Methinks these new Actaeons boast too soon That they have spied on beauty; what if we Have analysed the rainbow, robbed the moon Of her most ancient, chastest mystery, Shall I, the last Endymion, lose all hope Because rude eyes peer at my mistress through a telescope!’
In the visual arts there are, in fact, numerous representations of Selene and her shepherd. Here is a rather passionate one from 1869, by the English Victorian painter G.F.Watts
And here, in the wonderful baroque painting by Guercino, complete with telescope!
'Sleeping Endymion' by Gurecino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri 1591-1666)
Plus a splendid drawing by Pelagio Palagi ...
Detail from 'The Sleeping Endymion' by Pelagio Palagi (1775-1860).
Endymion is even ‘away with the fairies’ in this charming Victorian picture by John Atkinson Grimshaw (more widly-known for his Moonlit landscapes)
Endymion on Mount Latmus, John Atkinson Grimshaw, 1879.