Jul 1, 2016

Endymion: The Eternal Sleeper

When I was in grad school in English, we had to read the poem "Endymion" by John Keats (1818).  Four thousand dreary lines about the ancient Greek shepherd Endymion, who is in love with Diana, the goddess of the moon, but also with an Indian maiden, but it turns out that they're both the same person, because all women are really one woman, the Eternal Feminine who is the goal of "all" men's lives.

As Snoopy would say, "Bleah!"

At least the first lines are praising male beauty:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness.

In the original Greek myths, it was Selena, Goddess of the Moon, not Diana (who didn't care for men), who fell in love with Endymion and asked Zeus to make him immortal, so his beauty would last forever.  Zeus consented, but -- psych! -- he also put Endymion into an eternal sleep, so Selena couldn't act on her desires.

But she found a way to make it with Endymion while he was asleep.  Eventually they had 50 children.

Another myth says that it was Hypnos, the God of Sleep, who fell in love with the sleeping Endymion and decided to keep him that way.

Endymion is a favorite of artists interested in depicting muscular men who aren't being killed or trying to kill someone.  Usually Selena or Diana is hanging around, but it's pretty obvious that she's not getting anywhere with him, as in this painting by Francesco Trevisani (1656-1746).

Or this one by George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), where Selena looks more like the crescent moon than a real woman.

Other artists just skip the moon goddess altogether, as in the Endymions of Nicolas Guy Brenet (1728-1792), and Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824) .  Girodet was male, by the way.

This Endymion by Girolamo Troppa (1637-1733) has him sleeping sitting up.

There are lots of sculptures, too.  Endymion was a mainstay on ancient sarcophagi, since he represented the "eternal sleep" of death.

This supine statue is by Antonio Corradini (1668-1752).

You may have noticed that Endymion was a favorite of the Baroque Era.  He doesn't show up much in the 19th and 20th century,, although this naturalistic (and very well hung) sleeper by contemporary American painter Kendric Tonn is called "Nocturne in Blue (Endymion)."