|A Relief of Hero and Leander|
Hellespont, Leander lived on the European side (Sestos) and had to swim to his lover each night, on the Asiatic side at Abydos. Leander was guided in his swim by a light Hero held out in her hand. Tragically, one night the light was extinguished by a gust of wind, Leander lost his way and was drowned. Stricken with grief, Hero committed suicide.
The earliest appearances of the story that we know of were by Virgil (Georgics. iii. 258), Statius (Theb. vi. 535) and Ovid (Heroides xviii. and xix.), although the story seems to have been clearly established in the folklore of the time. In Virgil:
What of the youth, when love's relentless might
Stirs the fierce fire within his veins? Behold!
In blindest midnight how he swims the gulf
Convulsed with bursting storm-clouds! Over him
Heaven's huge gate thunders; the rock-shattered main
Utters a warning cry; nor parents' tears
Can backward call him, nor the maid he loves,
Too soon to die on his untimely pyre.
The use of a tower for the purpose of displaying a light is more plainly described by Ovid with his imagined words from the two lovers:
"So when day’s done, and night’s more friendly hour
shows its bright stars, driving away the daylight,
straight away I set out the unsleeping lights in the tower’s top"
"Seeing a distant light, I said: ‘My fire is in that fire:
that is the shore that holds my light.'"
|Hero and Leander depicted in a 17th c. painting by Feti|
|Hero and Leander Depicted on a 17th c. Plate|
Abydos is located close to Nara Point and is about 2 km away from Çanakkale and more than 30 km away from Cape Sigeum. The site of Abydos was excavated in 1675, but was performed badly and much valuable information was lost. We are left with a clear indication that lightstructures were built on either side of the narrowest part of the Hellespont. The probability is that the structure at Abydos on the southern shore, being more closely associated with the focus of activity in Troy, was constructed first.If we accept the presence of lightstructures at the entrance to the Hellespont in the south, there is every reason to suppose the existence of similar structures on the Bosporus at the entrance from the Black Sea in the north. Ancient texts do report more recent lightstructures on the European side of the narrows at Byzantium, and on the Asian side at Chrysopolis. Early towers may have existed during the period from 1250 -100 BC, say. However, as centres of population, they did not compete with Troy until centuries later, so we conclude that the southern entrance was almost certainly lit first. The towers built on the Bosporus were probably later restored or rebuilt by the Romans, but there is very little evidence for lightstructures here to compete with those at the southern entrance. There is no evidence yet discovered to suggest that the peoples of Troy built lightstructures in other locations.
|A 16th c. Plate Depicting Hero and Leander|