This week's "poem" is an excerpt from Christopher Marlowe's epyllion , Hero and Leander , a splendid piece of narrative verse that was never completed — or not by Marlowe. It was entered into the Stationer's Register in , a few months after the dramatist's alleged murder in a tavern brawl, and, at that stage, consisted of only two cantos. In , George Chapman completed the poem with four more cantos, one of them an extensive digression, "The Tale of Teras", and additional "arguments" to all six. It was Chapman who called the cantos "Sestyads", on the principle of the Iliad, so named because it focused on events in Ilium. The tale of Hero and Leander is set largely in Hero's birthplace, Sestos.
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Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course. Log in or Sign up. Marlowe's poem starts with the description of the young lovers: the incomparably lovely virgin, Hero , dedicated to the service of the love goddess Venus, and the astonishingly handsome Leander.
The two lovers live on either side of the Hellespont the strait which joins the Black Sea and the Aegean. Hero lives in Sesto, and Leander lives across the water in Abydos.
Leander falls in love with Hero, and Hero, shot with an arrow of love by the god Cupid, falls in love with Leander. But, even though Leander uses all his charm, wit, and good looks to convince Hero that her vow to Venus to remain a virgin is no way to serve her goddess or herself , Hero puts off his advances and returns to her tower. Leander goes home across the water to Abydos. There, his father sees in his face that he has fallen in love, and forbids him to act upon it.
Leander flees from his father's command, and goes to stand upon the rocks, gazing across the water at Hero's tower. When he cannot bear to be parted from Hero any longer, he takes off his clothes and dives into the water to swim back to her. While Leander is swimming, the sea-god Neptune sees him and mistakes him for Ganymede, cupbearer to Zeus, and one he has long yearned for. Neptune takes this as an opportunity to steal Ganymede from Zeus, and, in his mistaken longing, captures Leander, and takes him down to his palace in the deep.
But when Leander is almost drowned, Neptune realizes that he cannot be Ganymede, who was made immortal by Zeus, and brings Leander back to the surface. Breathing air again, Leander begins to swim toward Sestos , but Neptune follows underneath him, kissing and caressing him. Leander is frightened by Neptune's unrelenting caresses and talk of love. Until Neptune at last sees that Leander will not give in to his desires, and angrily lets him go.
Leander makes it to Hero's tower and knocks on her door. Hero is surprised to find him standing there, dripping wet and naked. She brings him inside, and, since he is cold, she lets him lie next to her in bed. They embrace and kiss repeatedly, but Hero, mindful of the value of her sacred virginity , tries to hold Leander off for a time. Eventually, though, they are overcome by their desires , and consummate their love. The poem ends as morning dawns, with the long return journey across the Hellespont still to come, and an angry Neptune lying in wait.
Hero is described as so beautiful that the love-god Cupid mistakes her for that most beautiful of the goddesses, his mother Venus. Leander is described as so attractive that even men find him beautiful, a description which foreshadows his encounter with the sea god, Neptune, later in the poem.
The lovers first meet at the yearly festival of Adonis one of Venus' lovers in Sestos, Hero's hometown, and fall in love. But Hero is bound by her vow of chastity to Venus, and it is her ambivalence toward her vow and her budding sexual desire that drive both the poem and Leander's pursuit of her. Hero is invested in remaining sexually pure and, although his actions could be perceived as romantic or admirable, Leander is, ultimately, invested in conquering her sexual purity.
Leander gets a brief taste of his warlike approach to Hero's sexual ambivalence with Neptune's unwanted advances toward him. Although Leander is frightened and nearly drowns, the sea god pursues him across the Hellespont, kissing and caressing him as he tries to escape.
But this gives him no insight into himself or his own pursuit of Hero. In fact, when he shouts in frustration at Neptune's pursuit, that he is 'no woman,' we understand that his maleness is a defense against unwanted sexual advances, and by implication, that Hero's femaleness is no defense at all. This warlike approach is most apparent in the implication of rape at the end of the poem when Hero tries to flee the bed upon which Leander has taken her virginity, and 'as her naked feet were whipping out,' Leander grabs her, and she falls to the floor, her body half-exposed like that of a mermaid.
As the self-satisfied Leander gazes at her nakedness, he is unromantically described as Dis, god of the Underworld, greedily contemplating his gold. He has overcome an enemy - in this case, her vow of chastity - and Hero, as vessel, is now defeated and becomes but the spoils to which he is entitled.
There is then the final ominous foreboding in the strange twilight that seems to fall upon Hero's face, as the evening star, Hesperus, casts eerie shadows across this moment of sexual glory and defeat. It is then that Night drives off in a fury , and morning dawns, symbolizing Hero's emotional turmoil as she realizes her defeat. As for Leander, he has still to swim back across the Hellespont, with a spurned Neptune lurking in the deep, reminding us that love, when invested in a desire to conquer, is as destructive as any battle for land or gold.
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Try it risk-free for 30 days. Save Save Save. Want to watch this again later? In this lesson, you will learn who Hero and Leander are and what their roles are in Marlowe's epic poem of the same name.
Take a look at the summary and analysis and then test your knowledge with a quiz. Summary Marlowe's poem starts with the description of the young lovers: the incomparably lovely virgin, Hero , dedicated to the service of the love goddess Venus, and the astonishingly handsome Leander. Analysis 'Hero and Leander' is an epyllion, a short epic poem in which Hero and Leander are lovers separated by the Hellespont, a narrow strip of water between Sestos and Abydos, the towns in which Hero and Leander live.
Try it risk-free No obligation, cancel anytime. Want to learn more? Learning Outcomes Enjoy the lesson, then find out if you've remembered enough to: Provide details about Hero and Leander Verbalize the plot of the epic poem Analyze the poem and its various literary devices.
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Christopher Marlowe's Hero and Leander: Summary & Analysis
This poem starts with the description of the young lovers: the incomparably lovely virgin, Hero , dedicated to the service of the love goddess — she is "Venus' nun" line 45 -- and the handsome Leander. Both young people are described as having more than human beauty. Hero is so beautiful that the love-god Cupid mistakes her for that most beautiful of the goddesses, his mother Venus. Leander's description is even more extreme, and perhaps a bit bizarre. He is described as so attractive that even men find him beautiful. Marlowe shows his extreme handsomeness as feminine. Later, Marlowe describes him, however, in great detail, with a muscular, masculine figure.
Christopher Marlowe's Poems Summary and Analysis of Hero and Leander
The First Sestiad excerpt. The achievement of Christopher Marlowe, poet and dramatist, was enormous—surpassed only by that of his exact contemporary, William Shakespeare. A few months the elder, Marlowe was usually the leader, although Shakespeare was able to bring his art to a higher perfection. Most dramatic poets of Prose Home Harriet Blog. Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library. Newsletter Subscribe Give.
Hero and Leander
NIMMO One hundred and twenty copies of this Edition on Laid paper, medium 8vo, have been printed, and are numbered consecutively as issued. Two editions of Hero and Leander appeared in The first edition, containing only Marlowe's portion of the poem, is entitled Hero and Leander. By Christopher Marloe. The title-page of the second edition, which contains the complete poem, is Hero and Leander: Begun by Christopher Marloe; and finished by George Chapman.