Selene

Hi all!

It’s Hannah here, today’s post is about the Moon, Selene, who is often referred to using many other names.

There is no one-set myth explaining who Selene is, nor one story which we can tell. Instead, we’ll have a brief overview of the many different stories associated with the personification of the moon herself.

Main Characters

Selene – Selene, in ancient Greek mythology is the goddess of the moon. Her Roman equivalent is the goddess, Luna.  

Selene is quite literally a personification of the moon itself. She was often depicted as a woman riding horseback or driving her moon-chariot across the heavens at night.

The chariot, occasionally described as white, silver, or “bright” was drawn by either two or four white horses. In some instances, Selene’s chariot is said to be drawn by oxen or bulls. Selene is most often described and depicted in ancient sources as a beautiful woman with long hair. Crowned upon her head was the lunar sphere (most commonly known as the crescent moon.)

She occasionally had golden wings too! (Not sure why she needs the wings if she has a flying chariot – but oh well!)  

The most commonly listed parentage for Selene is that she is the daughter of the Titans Hyperion (father) and Theia (mother).

In this version, by the early Greek poet, Hesiod in Theogony, (Probably writing sometime around 750-650 BCE) these Titans give birth to three siblings; Selene (moon), Helios (sun), and Eos (dawn). Check out our future posts to learn more about Selene’s siblings!

Selene & Her Lovers (Plural – You go, girl!)

Several potential lovers are associated with Selene in various myths and fragmentary mentions, including Zeus, Pan, and the mortal Endymion.

We’re going to focus on the affair with Endymion since it is the best-known story.

Endymion was a young man (sometimes described as a prince, shepherd, hunter, or king) loved by Selene and renowned for his youth, beauty, and his eternal sleep.

Endymion was granted (although in one instance cursed) with eternal youth and immortality by Zeus (yes, the big boss Zeus). However, this eternal beauty was in the form of endless slumber in a cave near the peak of Mount Latmos (in modern-day Turkey).

(Standard Zeus Behavior). His lunar-lover, Selene is said to have visited each night. According to the Greek writer Pausanias (writing around 2nd century CE), Selene and Endymion are supposed to have had fifty daughters together (50!?!?!?). Although it is likely these daughters represented the fifty lunar months of the Olympiad. The Olympiad refers to the four-year period associated with the ancient Greek Olympic games.

We can think about this myth, and what it means as a metaphorical and rather poetic story. Sleep is personified in Endymion.

Endymion, a king or prince, but also shepherd sleeps in the cool caves of Mount Latmos, literally the ‘mount of oblivion.’ To solidify the rather beautiful poetry in this story, consider the notion, that Endymion is kissed by the soft rays of Selene (the personified moon) each and every night as she drives her chariot across the heavens.

Explaining Natural Phenomenon

According to Nonnus, a Greek poet writing much later in the Imperial Roman era (5th Century CE), Selene was once attacked by the gigantic (and very famous) monster Typhon.

During Typhon’s siege against the heavens, he threw bulls at her, although she managed to stay her course and fought back against the giant. Selene was gravely injured during the battle and scars were left all over her body.

In this brief mention, we can see how myths can be used to explain natural phenomenon. Like how Persephone (goddess of springtime) went away to the underworld each year can be interpreted as reasons for the change of seasons.

This story recorded by Nonnus, seeks to explain why the moon’s mottled surface is full of dark patches.

Further Reading

William Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology has a great summary of ancient references to Selene. 

One of the best online resources for Selene and her many mentions in the ancient world is by the Theoi Project. The Theoi Project offers a comprehensive, free reference guide to gods, spirits, fabulous creatures, and heroes of ancient Greek mythology and religion in Classical literature and art.

The book Myth in the Ancient World, by Ian Plant, has a really great discussion in the first two chapters about the purpose, meaning, and interpretations of myths. 

We hope that you enjoy Beth’s wonderful artworks depicting Selene!

Our next post will be about Circe her niece, the daughter of her counterpart and brother, Helios!

The Arting the Ancients Team

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