by Patrick Hunt
Endymion was a young shepherd. At age eighteen, he was as shy as he was good-looking. He was muscular from chasing sheep all over the hills and he had a very kind face, the sort people trust. He had a winsome smile that showed perfect white teeth and a straight nose and his eyes were deep and wide. He even bathed himself regularly; unlike the other shepherds who smelled too much like the sheep dung they burned around their campfires. But the other shepherds teased him constantly, partly because they were less attractive and thus jealous, and also because Endymion’s shyness made it painful for him to talk to girls, despite their obvious interest in him whenever the shepherds came to town.
“Endymion, that ewe is making eyes at you again,” they joked.
“Look at the way she looks at him, just like that farmer’s wife.”
“She keeps wiggling her tail at him, too. Ha! Isn’t she inviting?”
Endymion tried to ignore their crude remarks. It wasn’t that he didn’t like girls, on the contrary. But he didn’t know what to say to them. And he had been looking for that special girl for a while, not just a short night with a careless woman like the other shepherds often shared.
“Just say anything, They don’t care what you say. They just want to be kissed.”
But Endymion knew that wasn’t true. The last time he was interested in a girl from the village over the hills, the conversation had ended quickly. He was flushed with embarrassment after a few sentences. She had stood there looking up at him sweetly and tried small talk about the weather, but he ran out of steam. It was just too hard, he sighed that evening as the shepherds gathered the flocks into a rocky corral. As the sun had already set, a few stars were beginning to wink in the sky that changed from blue to coral to lavender. The sheep had stopped bleating and were settled down. After their dinner of cheese and bread, the other shepherds sat by the awful-smelling fire, drinking too much sour wine and telling their dirty stories, but Endymion wandered off by himself to look at the horizon, lit up by a moon that was just about to rise over the hill, one of the dogs following him because he never kicked it and usually shared a little food with it. He knew from experience the other shepherds would soon stagger over to the sheepfold and pass out, using the sheep to warm themselves.
While waiting for the moon, which would be full this night, Endymion turned and counted the brilliant stars on the other horizon. He looked at the familiar late winter constellations. Orion was already descending to the northwest and only his dogs still ran across the sky. Not far away the dim campfire was now silent as their wine stupefied the other sleeping shepherds. Endymion was sad over his loveless life. He remembered the goddess Artemis was also the moon, and he knew she was a virgin like himself, sworn to protect her chastity. He made a little prayer to the goddess.
“O Goddess of the Lonely Moon, hear my prayer. I know you have chosen your life, but I too am lonely. I ask your help to remain pure to the one I will love lifelong. Help me in my loneliness to wait for her.”
Then the moon came up and its silver light spread over the landscape as Endymion turned to watch. It was so large even trees on the ridge were silhouetted behind it. He had never seen a lovelier moon. He imagined the moon was pulling herself up by the tree branches into the sky. A moonbeam danced between the leaves that a light breeze rustled. The light of a moon that must have been like the first an awed human had watched completely enchanted Endymion. Finally, his light-filled eyes grew heavy, almost blinded with the moon’s beauty. Endymion nestled against the rocks and shut his eyes. He smiled as he could still see the light through his eyelids and then fell asleep. But what Endymion dreamed that night was remarkable.
In his dream, he opened his eyes. The moon herself had climbed down the tree. She silently glided over to him, shimmering with light. He could see she was hauntingly beautiful, the loveliest woman he had ever seen as she stood in front of him. Or maybe she was a goddess, he wondered. He stood up only to bow, but the moon laughed and took his hand, raising him up. As she bent down to him, her long hair glistened with silver light and her eyes were shining full. Then she spoke and he shuddered with delight. Her voice was liquid and watery like a waterfall, cascading and floating.
“Endymion,” she said. “For the first time I heard your sweet prayer tonight. I saw into your heart and saw goodness there. Unlike other men, you don’t behave like an animal.”
“Who are you, O great Goddess? I am only a youth.”
“I am Artemis, to whom you prayed. I had not seen you before. But you are so unlike other humans. Accept my friendship.” She smiled at him and melted his shyness. “Let us walk a little way and talk.”
Endymion obeyed and her moonbeams dazzled him as they reflected off the hillside. What would he talk about with a goddess? But Artemis drew him out of his shyness. They talked about trees and rocks and sheep and stars. By this time they had walked quite a distance, crossing woods and streams that rippled with the moon’s silver, and once in awhile Endymion saw great-horned stags bow their antlered heads in the silvery light to the goddess as they passed through the night countryside. Great-eared rabbits, their wombs heavy with unborn young, climbed out of their dens and stood before the goddess, their fur outlined in light. Mother bears ushered their usually scuffling and rolling cubs to all stand well behaved and respectful before the goddess who walked with Endymion. Once he took off his mantle and wiped water off her glowing feet when they had crossed a playful little waterfall that grew overjoyed in the moonlight, lightly splashing the goddess with silver droplets. Before he knew it the night was almost over and the horizon was gray.
“I must go now, Endymion,” the lovely moon said in her tingling laugh that was higher than the stars. “But I will come again. I enjoyed your company.” To his surprise he found they had walked in a circle and he was back where they had started. Moments later the moon glided away over the western horizon and disappeared.
Endymion awoke a few minutes later and sat up. He saw it was just before dawn. He shook his head over what he could still remember so clearly, This was a dream unlike anything he had ever experienced. He stood up and stretched and the dog yawned itself awake too. Then he realized his mantle was gone. In his dream, he had draped it over the rocks to dry after they had passed the waterfall. He looked around, but it was nowhere. He thought he must have lost it and forgotten it. Or maybe one of the other shepherds had taken it in the night. So he went over to the sheepfold where the other shepherds were snoring, but it wasn’t there either.
Just to make sure, telling himself he was crazy, he retraced his steps in the dream over the familiar landscape. Sure enough, Endymion soon came to the little waterfall now bathed in dawn and he could see his mantle lying on the rocks.
“How can this be true?” he asked himself in wonder.
He ran toward his mantle, a little fearful as he picked it up. It was still somewhat wet. Stunned, he saw a little silver light fall out of a fold and disappear just where he had wiped the feet of the goddess. Then Endymion believed.
Walking back with his mantle, Endymion became more and more reflective. The rest of the day passed numbly with him hardly listening or replying to the jibes of his fellows. He hardly tasted his food and sat by himself.
“Real sociable, isn’t he, fellows?” the shepherds agreed.
Endymion did not care. He was waiting for nightfall. He went to bed early that night, waiting at the same rocky outcrop as the night before. He watched for the moon to rise and was flooded with joy and anticipation when the sky began to lighten around the spot just a little later than the previous night. He could not help but stretch out his arms to the moon when she rose over the hill and her light met him. Endymion closed his eyes again to the most welcoming sleep. She stood over him and looked down gently at the sweet smiling youth as sleep quieted his breathing.
“I returned as I promised, Endymion,” the moon spoke and his whole being rejoiced.
They again walked through the night conversing of nature and life and in all things Artemis the Moon Goddess found the youth teachable and humble and not the least bit vain. So handsome, even though he cared nothing about it. When the night was sadly over and she parted again, this time the moon goddess was trembling as she gave him a light embrace that filled her with a strange longing and him with a joy few humans would ever understand. The next few nights and days passed in similar fashion, except that now Endymion and Artemis lingered and sat in places. The waning moon shone less brightly outside his dream in the night because she was so filled with happiness inside the dream, reserving all her light for inside his eyes. Then as the nights passed, the most unheard of love happened to both of them. Artemis was overwhelmed by desire and the moon goddess lay with a now dream-trembling Endymion. Their lovemaking made them both cry with joy as she ravished him and he returned her treasury of love. He had found his lover. Endymion was the only male the divine Artemis ever loved, and she retained her chastity by only ravishing him in his dreams.
The other shepherds became curious why Endymion became increasingly more solitary. While he used to take the late watch over the sheep, now he always went to sleep early. One moonless night, they waited for him to fall asleep and crept over in the dark, barely whispering.
“Hush, do not wake him yet. We’ll surprise and scare him.” Their shadowless forms surrounded the sleeping shepherd.
“Shhh. What’s this? Look he’s smiling.”
One shepherd, envious of the dreamer’s smile, roughly shook Endymion. But the young shepherd didn’t even stir nor did his smile lessen at all. Another shepherd, even more rough, took his dirty hand, stuck it in the handsome sleeping face and peeled back an eyelid. What they saw made them all shout and run away frightened. Even that didn’t wake Endymion. He didn’t wake up in the morning either. In fact, Endymion never did awake. He may still be sleeping away in some cave to this day, carried there by his lover the moon. What the grizzled old shepherd who had tried to open Endymion’s eye claimed to his dying day was this.
“Yep, like I said. When I pulled open his eye, I saw the full moon reflected in there, shining out at me. Very spooky. Because there was no moon that night.”