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Selene, the Greek Moon Goddess: Facts & Overview

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  • 0:02 Selene, Goddess of the Moon
  • 1:32 A Goddess in Love
  • 3:52 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Meet Selene, the ancient Greek goddess of the moon. Discover the myths the ancient Greeks created to explain the movements of the moon and learn about the love between the lovely moon goddess and a handsome young shepherd boy.

Selene, Goddess of the Moon

According to the ancient Greeks, Selene was the goddess of the moon. She was the granddaughter of Gaia, or Mother Earth, and Uranus, or Father Sky. Selene was one of the Titans, the immortal children of Gaia and Uranus, the daughter of their son Hyperion. Selene and her brother, Helios, god of the sun, were responsible for controlling the movements of the sun and moon across the sky.

The ancient Greeks believed that Selene drove the white chariot of the moon across the sky each night. Her brother, Helios, did the same thing each morning in his golden sun chariot. Existing descriptions of Selene, the moon goddess, describe a beautiful woman with lovely, long, flowing hair. According to the descriptions, Selene often wore a crown with a crescent moon, as depicted in the carved bust of her in this photograph:

Some artists and poets added golden wings or small horns to their descriptions of the moon goddess. The Romans incorporated the goddess Selene into their pantheon, or group of gods. They called her Luna, and our word 'lunar' for things related to the moon, such as the lunar landers that explored its surface, come from the Roman name of the moon goddess. Selene's role as moon goddess would later be identified with other Greek goddesses, most notably Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, and Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft.

A Goddess in Love

One night as she moved across the night sky looking down on the Earth below, Selene saw a beautiful young man sleeping. The man was named Endymion, and according to most legends, he was a shepherd tending his sheep in the countryside. Entranced by the beautiful sleeper, Selene asked Zeus, the leader of the Greek gods, to give the youth eternal life and to make him sleep forever. Zeus, who loved Selene and was her lover by some accounts, agreed, and the young man remained young and asleep for all time.

In some stories, Zeus awakened the youth and asked him what type of life he would choose to lead. The young man, who had also fallen in love with the lovely moon goddess, asked that he might sleep forever beneath her soft light. Each night, he dreamed of a beautiful woman who came and made love to him. Selene gave birth to 50 daughters as a result of her visits to Endymion. Their daughters represented the 50 lunar months of the Olympiad, or period of four years marking the beginning of the Olympic Games in ancient Greece.

The love story of the sleeping young man and the beautiful moon goddess was a popular subject for artists. This statue from the Hermitage depicts Selene bending to kiss Endymion during one of their trysts:

This drawing by Emile Foubért shows Selene visiting Endymion while the youth is asleep:

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