Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

In the Moonlight

The moon had different names. She was called Selene or Artemis. As Artemis she was a mighty hunter and the friend of hunters. She and Apollo, the sun-god, were twins, and their mother was Latona.

It is said that Latona was once going on a long journey, carrying her children in her arms. She reached the country of Lycia, very tired and thirsty. In a valley she saw a number of people gathering willows on the banks of a pond where the clear water sparkled in the sunlight.

She knelt down to drink, but the countrymen stopped her.

"You cannot drink here," they said.

"Why not?" she asked. "It is true I am a stranger here, but water, like the air and light, is free to all. Why should you prevent me from drinking when my thirst is so great? See, I ask it of you as a favor. I will not bathe in it, but only cool my parched throat. That will not rob you, for there is plenty. Even my poor children stretch their hands to plead with your for this mercy."

But the rude and unkind people said, "No! You are a foreigner. Your dress is strange; you do not talk as we do. Where do you come from with these children? You should have stayed in your own country and drunk its waters. This pond is ours, and it is not for you."

To make sure that she should not drink, they waded into the pond, and with their feet stirred up the mud from the bottom. Latona was angry, and she prayed to the gods in heaven.

"O ye gods!" she said, "if there is any among you who pities a poor mother and her helpless children thus wronged, hear my prayer! Grant that these cold-blooded wretches may never leave that pond, but live there, they and their children after them, forever."

A change came over the men in the pool. Their mouths stretched very wide, and out of them came harsh, croaking voices. Their heads joined their bodies without any neck between. Their breasts turned white and their backs green, and their legs grew very slim. Some jumped out upon the bank of the pond, but soon jumped in again. Some swam in the water, others dived into the mud. They were no longer men; they had become frogs.

The story of Endymion is very different. He kept a flock of sheep upon Mount Latmos, and in the quiet nights of summer, when the moon was shining brightly, he delighted in singing to the moon, whose light he loved. One evening he saw before him a charming young woman, as he supposed. Her belt and sandals were silver, and in her hand she carried a silver bow. A diamond sparkled like a star upon her forehead. At the same moment the moon had gone behind a cloud, but the young woman herself seemed to shine all over.



The shepherd was surprised but not afraid. "Fair creature," he said, "you wander late upon the mountain side."

"Yes," she answered; "it is my duty, as it is yours to keep sheep."

"But you are a stranger here," said Endymion. "I have seen all the daughters of the shepherds upon this mountain, and you are not one of them."

"The daughter of a shepherd! No!" she replied. "Yet you have often looked upon my face."

"Pardon me!" he returned. "your dress and manner show me that you are at least the daughter of a king, and if I had ever seen you I could not have forgotten."

"You have not only seen me, but you have sung to me. Many a night I have heard you praising me when flock and men were wrapped in sleep and only you and I were awake."

Then Endymion knew that this was Artemis, the moon goddess.

"Have my poor songs made you angry?" he asked.

"Oh, no!" she answered. "They have pleased me so much that I have come to thank you and to ask what you most desire, that I may grant it to you."

"Bright goddess!" he cried, "I do not want to grow old. Grant that I may be forever young."

"For that," she replied, "I must ask the king and father of the gods. For to-night farewell. To-morrow evening we shall meet again."

Then she vanished, but the moon smiled all night on the mountain side.

The next night she came again, but her face was sad.

"I have brought your gift," she said, "but I am sorry you asked it. The king of heaven commands that you shall be forever young, but that you must forever sleep."

"Alas!" he cried. "Then I can see you no more, you whom I love!"

His eyes closed, he sank down upon the grass. The Greeks believed that he lay somewhere on top of Latmos, and that the moon-goddess watched over his long sleep. Every night when her bright light shone on the mountain the people said, "Artemis is smiling upon Endymion."