Notes for

Ovid, Heroides XVIII and XIX

Abydos, Abydosian:  Ancient town in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey); home of Leander.  Abydos had one of the best harbors on the Asian side of the Hellespont (the strait that is called the Dardanelles in modern times), and it was on one of the narrowest portions of the strait.  Sestos, the town where Hero lived, was northwest of Abydos on the European side of the Hellespont.

Actaean:  Here Actaean means simply Athenian.  The god of the north wind, Boreas, is said to have abducted and married the daughter of the king of Athens.

Alcyone:  One of the Pleiades, the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione.  She slept with the god of the sea, Neptune, and bore him three children (or five, according to another source).  She was the sister of Celaeno, another of Neptune's lovers.  The seven sisters were later transformed into the constellation, the Pleiades.

Amymone:  One of the fifty daughters of King Danaus.  Neptune rescued her from being raped by a satyr, and then seduced her himself.  To persuade her to yield to his advances, he showed her the sacred springs of Lerna (Neptune had previously dried up all the other springs nearby, in revenge for the region's worship of Juno rather than himself).  Amymone bore him a son, Nauplius.  [Note:  Amymone is sometimes identified with Hypermnaestra, the only daughter of Danaus who disobeyed her father's orders and refused to murder her husband.  See Heroides XIV for her story.]

Andromeda:  The northern constellation Andromeda; the spiral Andromeda Galaxy (M31) lies within the area of this constellation.  In mythology, Andromeda was the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia.  Cassiopeia boasted that she and her daughter were more beautiful than any of the sea-nymphs.  In revenge, the god of the sea, Neptune, sent a sea-monster to ravage the coast of their kingdom.  In order to lift the curse of this monster, Andromeda was chained to a rock by the sea as a sacrifice to the beast.  The hero Perseus was flying by (using the winged sandals that he had borrowed from the god Mercury), and he was smitten by her great beauty.  He agreed to save her, and the kingdom, if he could have her hand in marriage.  He slew the monster and married Andromeda.  There was a bloody sequel to this wedding, since Andromeda's former fiancÚ burst into the wedding and a savage battle erupted.  Perseus eventually prevailed, and he and Andromeda remained married.

Arctos:  The constellation Ursa Minor, or the Little Dipper.  Arctos was the Greek word for "bear," but the Lesser Bear (Ursa Minor) is meant here as the constellation that Phoenician sailors first used in navigation.  (Tyre was a Phoenician city in what is now Lebanon.)  For the mythological story associated with the constellation, see the note on Helice.

Aurora; wife of Tithonus:  Aurora was the goddess of the dawn, who drove the night away.  She was married to the mortal Tithonus.  She loved her husband dearly, and she begged Jove to grant him immortality.  Jove did so, but Aurora had forgotten to ask for eternal youth, so Tithonus continued to age, wasting away into a dried-up husk.  In one version of the myth, he was eventually transformed into a cicada.

beast of Olenus:  An apparent reference to Capella, a bright star in the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer, which is visible in the winter months.  Capella was sometimes identified with Aege, the daughter of Olenus, a legendary king of Athens.  Capella was the she-goat which suckled Jove as an infant.

Boreas:  God of the north wind and of chill winter storms.  He is said to have abducted and married Orithyia, daughter of King Erechtheus of Athens.  

Calyce:  Daughter of Hecataeon, or Hecaton.  She was the mother of Neptune's son Cycnus, who later became the king of Kolonai in Asia Minor.

Celaeno:  One of the Pleiades.  She was a lover of the god of the sea, Neptune, and bore him two sons, Lycus and Eurypylus.  She was the sister of Alcyone, another of Neptune's lovers.

Ceyx:  King of Thessaly and husband of Halcyone.  See the note on Halcyons for the story.

Colchis:  A kingdom on the Black Sea.  Jason and the Argonauts sailed to Colchis in order to acquire the Golden Fleece (see the note on Helle for more on the origin of the Golden Fleece).  Jason captured the Golden Fleece with the help of Medea, the daughter of the king of Colchis.  Medea then fled with Jason on his ship, the Argo.

Crown:  A northern constellation.  In mythology, it represented the wedding crown of Ariadne, a daughter of King Minos of Crete.  Ariadne helped the hero Theseus defeat the Minotaur; in return she asked for him to marry her and take her with him when he left.  She left Crete with Theseus, but he then abandoned her on an island (the island of Naxos in Ovid's version of the story).  The god Bacchus discovered her there, fell in love with her, and married her.  Ariadne's wedding crown, which had been forged by the god Vulcan, was placed among the stars as a constellation.  See Heroides X for more on this story.

Cynthia; bright goddess:  Diana, the goddess of the hunt, of chastity, and of the moon.  The goddess of the moon (originally Selene, but the story was later transferred to Diana) fell in love with the human youth Endymion.  She asked Jove to give the boy eternal youth, and he did so, at the same time putting Endymion into a deep, unending sleep.  Endymion slept in a cave on Mount Latmos, where the moon-goddess would visit him every night.  [Note:  There are a number of variants of this story, but Ovid seems to be using one that is close to the version given here.]

Daedalus:  The master artificer and inventor of Greek and Roman mythology; builder of the Cretan Labyrinth.  In one of the most famous episodes of his career, he and his son, Icarus, were imprisoned in a high tower.  Daedalus fabricated wings from feathers and wax, and the two of them escaped from the tower by flying away.  Daedalus had warned his son not to fly too close to the sun since the sun's heat would melt the wax that held the wings together.  Icarus ignored this warning and his wings failed, sending him plummeting to his death in a part of the sea which was named the Gulf of Icarus, or the Icarian Gulf, in his honor.

dutiful mother:  Nephele, the mother of Helle and her twin brother Phrixus.  When the siblings' hostile step-mother plotted Phrixus' death, Nephele sent a golden flying ram to carry the children away.  See the note on Helle for the story.

Elean:  Having to do with the city-state of Elis.  Elis was famous for breeding horses, and was the site of the ancient Olympic games (which included chariot racing).

Endymion:  A handsome youth who was loved by the moon-goddess.  He remained eternally young in a deep sleep in a cave on Mount Latmos, where the goddess would visit him each night.  For the story, see the note on Cynthia.  

grasping at fleeing fruit:  The reference is to Tantalus, who served a cannibalistic feast to the gods, and was punished by being eternally "tantalized" by hunger and thirst.  He was immersed in water up to his neck, but when he bent to drink, it all drained away.  Luscious ripe fruit hung on branches above his head, but when he reached for it, the winds blew the branches out of reach.

Halcyons:  Halcyone was the wife of Ceyx, king of Thessaly.  The two of them were happily married and very devoted to one another.  Then Ceyx took a sea-voyage to consult an oracle, even though Halcyone begged him not to go, fearing for his safety on the stormy seas.  After Ceyx was drowned in a storm on this journey, the gods sent a dream to Halcyone, showing her the events of his death.  When she awoke, she ran to the shore, where she saw his body.  Distraught with grief over the loss of her beloved husband, she committed suicide by throwing herself into the sea.  The gods took pity on the pair and transformed them into birds--the halcyons, or kingfishers.  Thereafter the gods decreed that there would always be a period of calm on the sea during the time in which these birds built their nests along the shoreline; this period was known as "Halcyon days" in remembrance of them.

Hecataon, or Hecaton:  The father of Calyce, who was seduced by the god of the sea, Neptune.  Little else is known about Hecaton.

Helice:  The constellation Ursa Major, or the Big Dipper.  In mythology, Ursa Major (the Greater Bear) represented the nymph Callisto, who was raped by Jove and bore him a son named Arcas.  Jove's wife, Juno, was enraged, and turned Callisto into a bear.  Her son almost killed her when he was out hunting, but Jove turned him into a bear as well, and then set the two of them in the heavens as constellations--Ursa Major and Minor, or the Greater and Lesser Bear.

Helle; the maiden; Athamus' daughter; sunken virgin:  All of these refer to Helle, daughter of King Athamus, of Boeotia;.  Helle and her twin brother, Phrixus, were hated by their stepmother, Ino.  Ino plotted Phrixus' death, but before he could be killed, both siblings were rescued by a golden-fleeced flying ram which had been sent by their own mother, Nephele.  Phrixus was carried safely to the kingdom of Colchis on the Black Sea, but Helle fell off the ram as it flew and was drowned in the Hellespont ("the water of the maiden;" "the sea of Athamus' daughter"), which was named in her honor.  The pelt of the golden ram became the famous "Golden Fleece" that Jason and the Argonauts sailed to Colchis to retrieve.

Hellespont; Hellespontine sea:  The Hellespont, a strait which in modern times is known as the Dardanelles.  It runs through modern-day Turkey, dividing Europe from Asia and forming part of the connection between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.  Abydos and Sestos, the homes of Leander and Hero respectively, were located on opposite sides of this narrow strait.

Hero:  A beautiful young priestess of Venus who lived in Sestos, a town in southern Thrace on the European shore of the narrow strait called the Hellespont.  She was forbidden to marry a foreigner, but she fell in love with Leander, a young man from the town of Abydos on the Asian side of the Hellespont.  To keep their love a secret, Leander would swim across the Hellespont each night to be with her, and then swim back before morning.  Hero lived in a tower on the seashore, and she would light a lamp to guide Leander on his way.  One night the wind blew out Hero's lamp.  With nothing to guide him, Leander lost his way and drowned in the Hellespont.  When his body washed up on shore the next day, Hero threw herself from the top of the tower.

him whom the bitten herb:  Glaucus, a mortal fisherman who discovered a patch of grass where fish swam as though in water.  He chewed on some blades of the grass and was transformed into a sea-god.

homeland:  Hero lived in Sestos, on the European side of the Hellespont, while Leander lived in Abydos, on the Asian side.

Icarian shore:  The shore of the Icarian Gulf; named after Icarus, the son of Daedalus who flew too close to the sun and then fell to his death in the sea.  See the note on Daedalus for the story.

Idaean adulterer:  Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy.  He abducted (or eloped with) Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.  This violation of Menelaus' marriage resulted in the Trojan War, a ten-year siege that ended with the complete destruction of the city of Troy.  Paris is called "Idaean" because he grew up on Mount Ida, a mountain near Troy.

Jason:  A legendary Greek hero; leader of the Argonauts.  Jason and his crew sailed in the Argo to Colchis, on the Black Sea, to retrieve the Golden Fleece.  There he received help from Medea, the king's daughter, who eloped with him when he left.  He later abandoned her in favor of a projected marriage to the daughter of the king of Corinth.  Medea then murdered the king and his daughter, as well as her own children by Jason, before fleeing the city.  Jason is presumably called "Pegasaean" because he is from Thessaly, near the Pegasaean Gulf.  For more information, see Heroides XII.  

Jove:  The king of the gods.  For the story of his "love," see the note on Helice.

Lacedaemon:  The region of Greece in which Sparta is located.  See the note on Idaean adulterer.

Laodice:  A fairly common name for high-ranking women in classical mythology.  One woman of this name is mentioned as a lover of the god of the sea, Neptune, but details of the encounter are unclear.

Latmos:  Mount Latmos, near the Greek city of Miletus.  Endymion was supposed to have slept his eternal sleep in a cave on Mount Latmos, where he was visited each night by the goddess of the moon.  For the story, see the note on Cynthia.

Leander:  A young man from the town of Abydos, a port on the Asian side of the narrow strait called the Hellespont.  He was in love with Hero, who lived across the Hellespont in Sestos, but she was forbidden to marry a foreigner.  In order to be with her, and to keep their love a secret, he would swim across the Hellespont each night, and then swim back before morning, guided by a light at the top of Hero's tower.  One night the wind blew out Hero's lamp.  With nothing to guide him, Leander became disoriented and drowned in the rough waters of the strait.  His body washed up on the shore the next morning; when Hero saw it, she committed suicide by leaping from the top of her tower.

Liber:  Bacchus, the god of wine, song, and somewhat unruly merrymaking; also associated with fertility.  For the story of his "love," see the note on Crown.

Lucifer:  The morning star; the name means "bearer of light," and the morning star appeared in the sky just before dawn.  (It still appears there--it is actually the planet Venus.)  There is no reference here to the Christian conception of Lucifer as Satan or another demon.

Medusa:  A Gorgon, daughter of Phorcys and Ceto, who had venomous snakes for hair; anyone who looked directly at her was turned into stone.  In early versions of the myth, she was born monstrous, but in Ovid's retelling of the story in his Metamorphoses she was originally a very beautiful young woman.  The god of the sea, Neptune, raped her in a temple of Minerva.  Minerva was outraged that her temple had been profaned in this way, and she transformed Medusa into a snaky-haired monster.  Medusa was killed by the Greek hero Perseus, who cut off her head.  When she died, she gave birth to two offspring by Neptune:  the winged horse Pegasus and the giant Chrysaor.

Neptune:  The god of the sea; brother of Jove and Juno.

Palaemon:  A minor god of the sea, who came to the aid of distressed sailors.  He was born mortal, but he became a god when his mother leaped into the sea with him, apparently to escape persecution by Juno.

Parrhasian Bear:  The constellation Ursa Major, or the Big Dipper.  See the note on Helice for the mythology associated with the constellation.

Pegasaean:  Having to do with the winged horse Pegasus, or with the Pegasaean Gulf near Thessaly.  See the note on Jason.

Perseus:  One of the great Greek heroes; son of Jove and Danae, and founder of Mycenae.  Perseus killed the Gorgon Medusa (and later used her severed head as a weapon, since it could turn people to stone).  For the story of his "love," see the note on Andromeda.  

Phasian girl:  Medea, the daughter of the king of Colchis on the Black Sea.  She helped Jason acquire the Golden Fleece, against her father's wishes.  She then eloped with Jason.  She is called "Phasian" because of the nearby Phasis River (called the Rioni River in modern-day Georgia).

Phrixus:  Son of King Athamus of Boeotia.  Phrixus and his twin sister, Helle, were carried across the sea on the back of a golden flying ram.  Helle fell off into the Hellespont, which is named after her.  For the story, see the note on Helle.

Pleiades:  A constellation made up of seven stars.  They represent the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione; they were companions of the goddess Diana, and caretakers of the god Bacchus during his infancy. 

Pontus:  An area along the coast of the Black Sea.

prize:  Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta; she is often called "Helen of Troy" because Paris carried her off to the city of Troy.  See the note on Idaean adulterer.

sea that is called...:  The Hellespont, into which Helle fell to her death.  See the note on Helle.

Sestos:  Ancient town on the European side of the Hellespont (the Dardanelles, in modern-day Turkey); home of Hero.  Sestos was situated on the Chersonese, the modern peninsula of Gallipoli.  It was northwest of Leander's home, Abydos, on one of the narrowest portions of the Hellespont.

son of Hippotes:  Aeolus, a mortal (or in some accounts a minor god) who had command of all the winds.

stepmother:  Ino, the second wife of Athamus and the stepmother of Helle and Phrixus.  She tried to have Phrixus lput to death.  See the note on Helle for more details.

Thessalian pine:  The Argo, the ship of Jason and the Argonauts.  (Jason was from the Greek region of Thessaly; hence the ship would have been constructed of Thessalian wood.)

Thracian:  Thrace was a region of ancient Greece.  Specifically, Hero's home town of Sestos was in the Thracian Chersonese, the modern Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey.

Tyre:  A Phoenician port city on the Mediterranean, in what is now Lebanon.  The Phoenicians were great sailors and navigators, who were experts in the use of the stars for navigation.  They were reputed to be the first to identify Ursa Minor as a distinct constellation and use it as an aid in navigation.

Tyro:  Daughter of Salmoneus; she was married to Cretheus, but she was in love with the river-god Enipeus, whom she pursued unsuccessfully.  The god of the sea, Neptune, was enamored of Tyro and disguised himself as Enipeus in order to seduce her.  She bore Neptune two children, Pelias and Neleus.

Ulysses:  Greek hero and king of Ithaca   His Greek name is Odysseus, and he is the protagonist of Homer's Odyssey.  He was one of the leaders of the Greek forces during the Trojan War and, along with Diomedes, he devised the stratagem of the Trojan horse, which led to the final destruction of the city of Troy.  Ulysses was a wily trickster, and the god of the sea, Neptune, was implacably opposed to him.

Venus:  The goddess of love.  One version of her birth says that she was born of the foam of the sea.  Hero was a priestess of Venus in Sestos.

Watcher of the bear:  The constellation Bootes, which circles around and "guards" the bears of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor; Leander uses the Greek name of the constellation, Arctophylax, which means "watcher of the bear."  Also, the brightest star in the constellation is Arcturus, which can be taken to mean "bear guard."




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Last updated 06/23/2013