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Leander swimming to Hero (from Pompeii)

Leander swimming to Hero (from Pompeii)

Who was Hero?

In this Greek version of an old story, Hero was a priestess of Aphrodite, whose father sent her to live alone in a tower on the European side of the Hellespont, in the town of Sestos.

The god Aphrodite
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Who was Leander?

Leander was a young man who lived on the Asian side of the Hellespont, in the town of Abydos. The Hellespont is a narrow bit of ocean, almost a mile across, between Sestos and Abydos.

Leander swims the Hellespont

Somehow Leander fell in love with Hero, and every night he swam across the Hellespont to be with his girlfriend. Hero placed a light in her window to show him the way.

Swimming in the ancient world

A sad ending

But one night, it was very stormy. The wind blew out Hero’s light. Leander fought the waves, but finally he was drowned. When Hero saw that Leander was dead, she was so upset that she jumped out the window of her tower into the ocean and drowned too.

Where is this story from?

Nobody in Greece told this story until after the time of Alexander, about 300 BC, and it’s likely that Greek writers adapted the story of Hero and Leander from one they heard as they traveled around Alexander’s empire. It might be a version of the earlier Persian story of Zal and Rudaba.

Alexander of Macedon
Hellenistic Greece
Zal and Rudaba

That story has also come to us as the story of Rapunzel (though that version has a happy ending). Or it might have started as some Indian story about doomed lovers. Maybe it was some combination of the two.

Learn by doing: go swimming!
Greek swimming
Zal and Rudaba

Bibliography and further reading about Hero and Leander:

D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, by Edgar and Ingri D’Aulaire.

Pandora’s Box: A Three-Dimensional Celebration of the Mythology of Ancient Greece, by Sara Maitland and Christos Kondeatis (1995). Not really about Pandora specifically, but a complex of stories, games, and puzzles about Greek mythology. People love it!

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