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Endymionis somnum dormit

Original post date: Friday, December 21, 2007

In English: He's sleeping the sleep of Endymion.

One of the nice pleasures of the winter academic break is getting a chance to sleep in. After all, the longest night of the year is just around the corner this weekend: a perfect excuse for a good long sleep. That's why I've decided to include the proverbial sleep of Endymion as today's saying. The saying is based on a famous myth, and is included in Erasmus's Adagia, 2.357.

The story goes that Endymion was a Greek shepherd. The Greek moon goddess, Selene, fell in love with Endymion because of his captivating physical beauty. She begged Zeus (who was Endymion's father in some versions of the story) to grant him eternal youth so that she could enjoy his beauty forever. Zeus agreed to do this by putting Endymion into an eternal sleep so that the moon, Selene, could gaze upon him endlessly from her post in the night sky.

You can see that this story has something in common with the story of the dawn goddess, Aurora (Eos in Greek). Aurora was also in love with a mortal, the prince of Troy named Tithonus. Wanting to keep him alive forever, Aurora begged Zeus to make Tithonus immortal. She failed, however, to ask him to keep Tithonus young. Zeus agreed to her request, and poor Tithonus lived on and on and on, eventually becoming so shriveled up that he turned into a grasshopper. You can read the sad story of Tithonus in this poem by Tennyson.

Just as Tithonus remained alive as a myth in the modern imagination, the same is true for Endymion! Here, for example, is a lovely passage from the great American essayist, Henry David Thoreau, in his essay Days and Nights in Concord in which he describes a walk by moonlight; the reference to Endymion comes at the very end of the passage:
I come out into the moonlit night where men are not, as if into a scenery, anciently deserted by men; the life of men is like a dream. It is three thousand years since night has had possession. Go forth and hear the crickets chirp at midnight. Hear if their dynasty is not an ancient one and well founded. I feel the antiquity of the night; she merely repossesses herself of her realms, as if her dynasty were uninterrupted, or she had underlain the day. No sounds but the steady creaking of crickets, and the occasional crowing of cocks. I go by the farmer's houses and barns, standing there in the dim light under the trees, as if they lay at an immense distance, or under a veil. The farmer and his oxen are all asleep, not even a watch-dog is awake. The human slumbers; there is less of man in the world. To appreciate the moonlight, you must stand in the shade and see where a few rods or a few feet distant it falls in between the trees. It is a "milder day," made for some inhabitants whom you do not see. I am obliged to sleep enough the next night to make up for it (after being out)—. Endymionis somnum dormire — to sleep an Endymion's sleep, as the ancients expressed it.
So, while Thoreau was out walking by the moonlight late at night and hence obliged to sleep the next day, I will confess that I was up until the wee hours last night playing ping pong (the ping pong table a Christmas present from my husband, who likes to play, too!). Just like Thoreau's lovely midnight foray into the world, late-night ping pong can also lead to the sleep of Endymion the next day!

So, hoping that all of you are enjoying good rest, for whatever reasons, during the holiday break, here is today's proverb read out loud:

2100. Endymionis somnum dormit.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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