Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 331
The main characters of the poem are Endymion, a shepherd, and Cynthia, his beloved. Endymion is involved in the action during the entire four books, but Cynthia is often not present or appears in her alter ego form, the Indian Maiden. Endymion, as well as the reader, does not know at the end that they are the same person. Learning that information is the key to the fulfillment of his amorous and spiritual quest. The poem is John Keats’s version of a classical story, in which Cynthia is the goddess Diana.
While tending his flocks on Mount Latmos, Endymion experiences a vision of divine, perfect love. Not content with a life of herding sheep, he embraces the mission of finding this ideal woman. The young man is a dreamer, fond of moonlight, who embodies the spiritual rather than earthly matter—and, by extension, also embodies creativity. Resisting his inclination to feel melancholy, Endymion must undergo heroic trials, including sojourns underground and under the water.
Cynthia, the woman he loves, is an ideal rather than an actual woman. Although she has a tangible, highly sensual manifestation, her embodiment is fleeting. She is identified with hunting, the moon, and essential female nature. She appears as the Indian Maiden, a lovely and virtuous young woman whom Endymion initially rejects because of his spiritual attachment to Cynthia.
Glaucus is a mortal who lives beneath the sea, where he had been condemned to spend a millennium. He had erred by loving the maiden Scylla, who inhabits the water’s edge. Glaucus is responsible for pulling the bodies of drowned lovers out of the water. After Endymion arrives and fulfills a prophecy that a youth would help him, Glaucus is restored to life, youth, and love.
Peona is Endymion’s beloved sister. Confused by his visions and dissatisfaction with normal life, she constantly tries to bring her brother to his sense. She appears periodically to give him practical advice, believing that earthly concerns should satisfy him.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 745
Endymion (ehn-DIHM-ee-uhn), a shepherd on Mount Latmos who distances himself from the other shepherds (and, hence, earthly matters) because of a dream in which he meets his idealization of feminine perfection. He sets out on an epic journey to find the dreamlover, exploring dreamworld regions of mythology. The character is based on the character from Greek myth who was a beautiful youth in love with Diana (inEndymion, she is named Cynthia), the virgin goddess of the moon. Embodied in Endymion is the young poet—his imagination and heart vainly seeking that which can satisfy him. According to Greek legend, Endymion’s favorite time is spent in the moonlight, where the moon is the witness to his all-consuming melancholy and ardor. Endymion’s story, both in Greek myth and as retold by Keats, is one of poetic aspiration, the search for idealized love, and a life spent more in dreams than in reality. Endymion ends with the youth finding immortal love with his beloved, with whom he disappears into the realm of myth.
Cynthia, Endymion’s dreamlover, the idealization of feminine perfection, whom Endymion chases through his dreams and the dreamworld to find the best love of all—the love that brings immortality. John Keats based Cynthia on the Roman goddess Diana, who was later identified with the Greek Olympian gods and goddesses. Diana was the goddess of the moon and hunting, the protectress of women and their chastity, and—in her earliest incarnations—the great mother goddess of Nature. During Endymion’s quest for Cynthia, Keats incorporates other aspects of the myth of Diana into the character. For example, when Endymion encounters the two streams of Arethusa (AR-uh-THEW-zuh), and Alpheus (al-FEE-uhs), Keats demonstrates two lovers divided by Diana/Cynthia. Arethusa was a wood nymph with whom the river god, Alpheus, was madly in love. Alpheus pursued Arethusa until Diana changed her into a fountain; in this form, she fled to the lower parts of the earth and remained at Alpheus’ side. They were never able to merge because Diana kept them separate. Keats’s version of Diana is far from the chaste and cold moon goddess of Greek myth. Keats eroticizes her considerably, making Endymion’s encounters with her more physical than spiritual (again differing from original myth). Cynthia’s love for Endymion is far from platonic. When the lovers meet, they kiss, caress, sigh, pant, entwine, and faint; Cynthia even speaks of melting into Endymion. Cynthia’s earthly form in Keats’s poem is the Indian Maiden.
Glaucus (GLOH-kuhs), a mortal condemned by Circe (SUR-see) to spend one thousand years beneath the sea joining drowned lovers in a crystal mausoleum because he witnessed her enchanting and deforming other men. He is also a character from Greek mythology. According to the original myth, Glaucus began life as a fisherman who bid farewell to the earth and plunged into the waters, where the gods received him favorably. His appearance changed drastically—his hair became sea green, his shoulders broadened, and his lower torso assumed the form of a fish tail. Glaucus fell in love with the beautiful maiden Scylla (SIHL-uh), a favorite of the water nymphs, who was repelled by his appearance. He consulted with the enchantress Circe, who told him to pursue a more willing object of affection. Glaucus does not listen to Circe, and she turns her wrath on Scylla and casts a spell on her that roots her to a spot in a bay on the coast of Sicily. Circe’s temper grows, and she begins to take pleasure in devouring hapless mariners who come within her grasp. In Keats’s Endymion, Scylla is transformed but not drowned. Glaucus learns that his destiny is to collect the bodies of drowned lovers for one thousand years, after which a youth will appear and help him. Endymion fulfills this prophecy and aids Glaucus, restoring him to youth and Scylla to life, along with the other drowned lovers.
Peona (PEH-oh-nuh), Endymion’s sister, who represents the embodiment of the cautious, unbelieving mortals not gifted with the vision (or imagination) of the poet. Her approach to life is far more pragmatic than her brother’s. She cautions Endymion to give up on his dreamlover and, instead, seek a real woman who can satisfy his earthly desires. Such a woman would not satisfy Endymion’s spiritual needs. Once Endymion fades from Peona’s view with his dreamlover, Cynthia, Peona’s worldview is forever altered.