Can I get a Hero?

In the opening weeks of our discussion of As You Like It, we talked a little about Christopher Marlowe, since Phebe had referenced him after meeting Ganymede:

Dead Shepherd, now I find thy saw of might,
‘Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?’
  • III.v.81-82

As I mentioned then, the quoted line comes from one of Marlowe’s poems, “Hero and Leander.”

In the poem, Hero was a priestess of Aphrodite who lived in a tower at the city of Sestos on one side of the Hellespont. Leander was from the other side, but fell in love with her, and swam across the water every night to be with her. She would help him by lighting a lamp that he could see as he was swimming. Over the course of a summer, he wooed her and she succumbed to his advances.

End of poem.

Nice sexy story, huh?

Only that’s not the end. According to the myth, during the next winter, on another night-time swim, a storm blew out the lamp, and Leander drowned.

I don’t know how it got by me before, but in going over the text again, I see that story referenced by Ganymede in the very next scene. And Ganymede knows the full myth. While “she” chides Orlando for being late, she says, “Well, in her person, I say I will not have you” (IV.i.85) to which Orlando says he will die. She counters that no man ever died for love, citing Troilus, and then Leander:

Leander, he would have lived many a fair year, though Hero had turned nun, if it had not been for a hot midsummer night; for, good youth, he went but forth to wash him in the Hellespont and being taken with the cramp was drowned and the foolish coroners of that age found it was ‘Hero of Sestos.’ But these are all lies.
  • IV.1.92-8

Rosalind says Leander died of a “cramp” and it was just the fools who said it was Hero who was the cause. It’s a nice debunking of the myth.

But here’s the weird part. Rosalind references the myth, while Phebe quotes Marlowe’s poem… only Marlowe’s version never got to the death part, only the love part. It’s not known if the poem’s premature (happy) ending was because Marlowe died during its composition or if that’s where he would have ended it. Ganymede knows the myth well enough to finish off the story though, death and all.

Is this supposed to be some kind of statement of the education the aristocracy receives versus that of what the rustics learn?

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