There was once a young and handsome shepherd king in Anatolia. However privileged, poor Endymion, was touched by sadness. He was lonely and although one day he might find love, he knew death would come to take it. And so, to ease his melancholy, Endymion would take long strolls through the country side at night. Eventually Selene, the goddess of the moon, took notice of his beauty and his sorrow and wanted so much to rid him of his despair. She fell in love with him, but from a great distance. She was nervous to even cast her light on him, because he was a mortal and would one day surely die. Until, that is, when finally she thought of asking Morpheus, the god of dreams, and his brother, Hypnos, the god of sleep, to grant her an intriguing favor: if Endymion could live forever in his dreams, where no one dies, surely he would be close to an immortal. Sebele worked up courage, then, to meet Endymion and the two fell deeply in love. She told him her plan and he agreed: in dreams he could be like as a god and live with Selene in her palace on Olympus. And so he became like one of them in his own odd way and, like anyone who knows he’s dreaming, unafraid of consequences. He filled his life with constant diversions because he was now no longer weary. He became a hero in his imagination, fighting centaurs and harpies, retrieving golden apples from the tallest trees at the ends of the earth. And he was happy. He was in love and it would never end, but in his earthly kingdom trouble came.
A hundred years or more had passed and still Endymion’s subjects were beholden to a sleeping king. Not only that but Death, Thanatos, brother of Sleep and Dreams, grew resentful. Of all the gods, he was most hated by the living: Death is never welcome by the children of men, and yet here this fool Endymion makes a mockery of his only sovereign power. He embarked upon a ruse to trick Endymion and give his subjects their relief. There was a cave not far from the Laurel tree beneath which Endymion would often rest his eyes. Thanatos disguised himself as a raven and interrupted the pseudo-deity’s idle daydreams with a song:
“But, why miss does the baby cry? Because she’s lost an apple? But I have here two to share with her, And yet she goes on weeping.
“Does she not know there are no laws down here and all the vagabonds are kings?
“Or does she miss the one good thing she knew would always be around?
“But though she hasn’t any teeth to eat it with,
“She still has hands with which to hold and misses it.
“Come my little darling, do you hear that laughter down below?
“Or is it singing: the joy of forgetting what we know.
“Below, but not beneath us, are canaries in the coal mines singing.
“They forget the only reason for their being
“Is to die and flood the halls with silence should the good air go.
“But, mother, why does she go on?
“The hungry most of us are missing something,
“Why can’t we stop the wanting?
“Maybe what we’re missing’s in the mines below.
“That unremembered paradise before our mothers’ birthed us,
“Cursed us to chase our apples down the holes.
“But was there ever any reason to go out seeking an end to sadness?
“Once we eat the apple it is gone forever,
“But our memories of how good it was go on forever hurting.
“And the apple slips away from us, gently down the stream.”
And with his cordivae calling, Thanatos led the king into the cave.
“The ground beneath your feet opens wide its doors, go on and enter hero, see what lies in store.Perhaps a golden apple, maybe more.” And with that Endymion ventured down into the shadows never to be seen again. For though he could not die in his endless sleep, he could get lost forever in the labyrinth and tricked into believing he had been killed, which is just as close to death as one can get without giving up the flesh.
But for whatever reason, Thanatos changed his mind and let me live.