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This article is about the Greek goddess. For other uses, see Selene (disambiguation).
Goddess of the Moon

Detail of Selene from a Roman sarcophagus

Detail of Selene from a Roman sarcophagus
Abode Sky
Symbol Crescent, raised cloak, bull, rooster, dog, and torch
Consort Endymion
Parents Hyperion and Theia
Siblings Helios and Eos
Children Fifty daughters to Endymion; Pandia and Ersa to Zeus
Roman equivalent Luna

In Greek mythology, Selene (/sˈlni/; Greek Σελήνη [selɛ̌ːnɛː] 'moon';) is the goddess of the moon. She is the daughter of the Titans Hyperion and Theia, and sister of the sun-god Helios, and Eos, goddess of the dawn. She drives her moon chariot across the heavens. Several lovers are attributed to her in various myths, including Zeus, Pan, and the mortal Endymion. In classical times, Selene was often identified with Artemis, much as her brother, Helios, was identified with Apollo.[1] Both Selene and Artemis were also associated with Hecate, and all three were regarded as lunar goddesses, although only Selene was regarded as the personification of the moon itself. Her Roman equivalent is Luna.[2]


The etymology of Selene is uncertain, but if the name is of Greek origin, it is likely connected to the word selas (σέλας), meaning "light".[3]

Just as Helios, from his identification with Apollo, is called Phoebus ("bright"), Selene, from her identification with Artemis, is also commonly referred to by the epithet Phoebe (feminine form).[4] The original Phoebe of Greek mythology is Selene's aunt, the Titaness mother of Leto and Asteria, and grandmother of Apollo, Artemis, and Hecate. Also from Artemis, Selene was sometimes called "Cynthia".[5]

Selene was also called Mene.[6] The word men (feminine mene), meant the moon, and the lunar month. It was also the name of the Phrygian moon-god Men.[7]


The usual account of Selene's origin is given by Hesiod. In the Theogony, the sun-god Hyperion espoused his sister Theia, who gave birth to "great Helios and clear Selene and Eos who shines upon all that are on earth and upon the deathless Gods who live in the wide heaven."[8] The Homeric Hymn to Helios follows this tradition: "Hyperion wedded glorious Euryphaëssa, his own sister, who bare him lovely children, rosy-armed Eos and rich-tressed Selene and tireless Helios."[9] Here Euryphaëssa ("wide-shining") is probably an epithet of Theia.[10]

Other accounts make Selene the daughter of Pallas, the son of Megamedes (possibly identified with Titan Pallas)[11] or of Helios.[12]

Lovers and offspring


Endymion and Selene, by Sebastiano Ricci (1713), Chiswick House, England

Selene is best known for her affair with the beautiful mortal Endymion.[13] The late 7th-century – early 6th-century BC poet Sappho apparently mentioned Selene and Endymion.[14] However, the first direct account comes from the third-century BC Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, which tells of Selene's "mad passion" and her visiting the "fair Endymion" in a cave on Mount Latmus:[15]

"And the Titanian goddess, the moon, rising from a far land, beheld her [Medea] as she fled distraught, and fiercely exulted over her, and thus spake to her own heart: 'Not I alone then stray to the Latmian cave, nor do I alone burn with love for fair Endymion; oft times with thoughts of love have I been driven away by thy crafty spells, in order that in the darkness of night thou mightest work thy sorcery at ease, even the deeds dear to thee. And now thou thyself too hast part in a like mad passion; and some god of affliction has given thee Jason to be thy grievous woe. Well, go on, and steel thy heart, wise though thou be, to take up thy burden of pain, fraught with many sighs.' "

Quintus Smyrnaeus' The Fall of Troy tells that, while Endymion slept in his cave beside his cattle, "Selene watched him from on high, and slid from heaven to earth; for passionate love drew down the immortal stainless Queen of Night."[16] The eternally sleeping Endymion was proverbial,[17] but exactly how this eternal sleep came about and what role, if any, Selene may have had in it is unclear. According to the Catalogue of Women, Endymion was the son of Aethlius (a son of Zeus), and Zeus granted him the right to choose when he would die.[18] A scholiast on Apollonius says that, according to Epimenides, Endymion, having fallen in love with Hera, asked Zeus to grant him eternal sleep.[19] However, Apollodorus says that because of Endymion's "surpassing beauty, the Moon fell in love with him, and Zeus allowed him to choose what he would, and he chose to sleep for ever, remaining deathless and ageless".[20] Cicero seems to make Selene responsible for Endymion's sleep, so that "she might kiss him while sleeping".[21]

From Pausanias we hear that Selene was supposed to have had by Endymion fifty daughters, who possibly represented the fifty lunar months of the Olympiad.[22] Nonnus has Selene and Endymion as the parents of the beautiful Narcissus, but in other accounts, including Ovid's Metamorphoses, Narcissus was the son of Cephissus and Liriope.[23]


According to the Homeric Hymn to Selene, the goddess bore Zeus a daughter, Pandia ("all-brightness"),[24] "exceeding lovely amongst the deathless gods".[25] Alcman makes Ersa ("dew"), the daughter of Selene and Zeus.[26] Selene and Zeus were also supposed by some to be the parents of Nemea, the eponymous nymph of Nemea, where Heracles slew the Nemean Lion, and where the Nemean Games were held.[27] Some accounts also make Selene and Zeus the parents of Dionysus, but this may be the result of confusing Semele, the usual mother of Dionysus, with Selene because of the similarity of their names.[28]

Whereas for Hesiod, the Nemean Lion was born to Echidna and raised by Hera,[29] other accounts have Selene involved in some way in its birth or rearing. Aelian, On Animals 12.7, states: "They say that the Lion of Nemea fell from the moon", and quotes Epimenides as saying: "For I am sprung from fair-tressed Selene the Moon, who in a fearful shudder shook off the savage lion in Nemea, and brought him forth at the bidding of Queen Hera."[30]

Quintus Smyrnaeus makes Helios and Selene (the Sun and Moon) the parents of the Horae, goddesses of the seasons.[31] Smyrnaeus describes them as the four handmaidens of Hera, but in most accounts their number is three, and their parents are Zeus and Themis.

According to Virgil, Selene also had a tryst with the great god Pan, who seduced her with a "snowy bribe of wool".[32] Scholia on Virgil add that the god wrapped himself in a sheepskin.[33]

Selene was also said to be the mother of the legendary Greek poet Musaeus.[34]

The moon chariot

Detail of a sarcophagus depicting Endymion and Selene, shown with her characteristic attributes of lunate crown and billowing veil (velificatio) [35]

Like her brother Helios, the Sun god, who drives his chariot across the sky each day, Selene is also said to drive across the heavens.[36] The Hymn to Selene, provides a description:

The air, unlit before, glows with the light of her golden crown, and her rays beam clear, whensoever bright Selene having bathed her lovely body in the waters of Ocean, and donned her far-gleaming raiment, and yoked her strong-necked, shining team, drives on her long-maned horses at full speed, at eventime in the mid-month: then her great orbit is full and then her beams shine brightest as she increases. So she is a sure token and a sign to mortal men.[37]

The earliest known depiction of Selene driving a chariot is inside an early 5th century BC red-figure cup attributed to the Brygos Painter, showing Selene plunging her chariot, drawn by two winged horses, into the sea.[38] Though the moon chariot is often described as being silver,[39] for Pindar it was golden.[40] And while the sun chariot has four horses, Selene's usually has two,[41] described as "snow-white" by Ovid,[42] or was drawn by oxen or bulls.[43]


Surviving descriptions of Selene's physical appearance and character, apart from those which would apply to the moon itself, are scant. Three early sources mention Selene's hair. Both the Hymn to Helios and the Hymn to Selene use the word εὐπλόκαμος, variously translated as "rich", "bright", or "beautiful haired", and Epimenides uses the epithet "lovely-haired".[44] The Hymn to Selene describes the goddess as very beautiful, with long wings and a golden diadem, calling her "white-armed" and "benevolent".[45] Aeschylus calls Selene "the eye of night".[46] The Orphic Hymns give Selene horns and a torch, describing her as "all-seeing", "all-wise", a lover of horses and of vigilance, and a "foe of strife" who "giv'st to Nature's works their destin'd end".[47]


Statue of Luna

In antiquity, artistic representations of Selene included sculptural reliefs, vase paintings, coins, and gems.[48] In red-figure pottery before the early 5th century BC, she is depicted only as a bust, or in profile against a lunar disk.[49] In later art, like other celestial divinities, such as Helios, Eos, and Nyx ("night"), Selene rides across the heavens. She is usually portrayed either driving a chariot, or riding sidesaddle on horseback (or sometimes on an ox or bull, mule, or ram).[50]

Paired with her brother Helios, Selene adorned the east pediment of the Parthenon, where the two framed a scene depicting the birth of Athena, with Helios driving his chariot rising from the ocean on the left, and Selene and her chariot descending into the sea on the right.[51] From Pausanias, we learn that Selene and Helios also framed the birth of Aphrodite on the base of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia.[52] There are indications of a similar framing by Selene and Helios of the birth of Pandora on the base of the Athena Parthenos.[53] Selene also appears on horseback as part of the Gigantomachy frieze of the Pergamon Altar.[54]

Selene is commonly depicted with a crescent moon, often accompanied by stars; sometimes, instead of a crescent, a lunar disc is used.[55] Often a crescent moon rests on her brow, or the cusps of a crescent moon protrude, horn-like, from her head, or from behind her head or shoulders.[56] Selene's head is sometimes surrounded by a nimbus, and from the Hellenistic period onwards, she is sometimes pictured with a torch.[57]

In later second and third century AD Roman funerary art, the love of Selene for Endymion and his eternal sleep was a popular subject for artists.[58] As frequently depicted on Roman sarcophagi, Selene, holding a billowing veil forming a crescent over her head, descends from her chariot to join her lover, who slumbers at her feet.[59]

In post-Renaissance art, Selene is generally depicted as a beautiful woman with a pale face and long, lustrous black hair, driving a silver chariot pulled either by a yoke of oxen or a pair of horses.


Selene from an altar piece

Moon figures are found on Cretan rings and gems (perhaps indicating a Minoan moon cult), but apart from the role played by the moon itself in magic, folklore, and poetry, and despite the later worship of the Phrygian moon-god Men, there was relatively little worship of Selene.[60] An oracular sanctuary existed near Thalamai in Laconia; described by Pausanias, it contained statues of Pasiphaë and Helios. Here Pasiphaë is used as an epithet of Selene, instead of referring to the daughter of Helios and wife of Minos.[61] Pausanias also described seeing two stone images in the market-place of Elis, one of the sun and the other of the moon, from the heads of which projected the rays of the sun and the horns of the crescent moon.[62]

Originally Pandia may have been an epithet of Selene,[63] but by at least the time of the late Homeric Hymn, Pandia had become a daughter of Zeus and Selene. Pandia (or Pandia Selene) may have personified the full moon,[64] and an Athenian festival, called the Pandia, usually considered to be a festival for Zeus,[65] was perhaps celebrated on the full-moon and may have been associated with Selene.[66]

See also


  1. Hard, p. 46; Hammond, "SELENE", pp. 970971; Morford, pp. 64, 219220; Smith, "Selene".
  2. Smith, "Selene"; Kerenyi, pp. 196197; Hammond, "SELENE" pp. 970971; Hard, p. 46; Morford, pp. 64, 219221.
  3. Kerenyi, pp. 196197.
  4. Morford, p. 64; Smith, "Selene"
  5. Pannen, p. 96. For example see Ovid, Heroides 15.89 ff..
  6. Smith, "Selene".
  7. Kerenyi, pp. 196197; Hammond, "SELENE" pp. 970971.
  8. Hesiod, Theogony 371374. See also Apollodorus 1.2.2, Hyginus, Fabulae Preface.
  9. Hymn to Helios (31) 47.
  10. Morford, p. 61; West 2003, note 61 p. 215.
  11. Hard, p. 46; Vergados, p. 313; Hymn to Hermes (4), 99100.
  12. Euripides, The Phoenician Women 175 ff.; Nonnus, Dionysiaca 44.191.
  13. Catullus, Carmina 66.5; Hyginus, Fabulae 271; Strabo, 14.1.8; Propertius, Elegies 2.15; Ovid, Heroides 15.89 ff., 18.59 ff.; Seneca, Phaedra 309 ff., 422 ff., 786 ff.; Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 8.28 ff.; Lucian Aphrodite and Selene; Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2.325 ff., 4.195 ff., 4.213 ff., 5.516 ff., 7.237 ff., 13.553 ff., 41.379 ff., 42.266 ff., 48.582 ff., 48.667 ff..
  14. This is according to a scholiast on Apollonius of Rhodes 4.57, see Campbell, p. 197; Weigal, p. 281
  15. Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 4.54 ff..
  16. Quintus Smyrnaeus, 10.125 ff. pp. 428429.
  17. Frazer's note to Apollodorus, 1.7.5; Plato, Phaedo, 72c; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 10.8.7; Theocritus, 3.50; Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.38.92, p.50.
  18. Catalogue of Women, fragment 10, lines 5862, Most, p. 57.
  19. Gantz, p. 35. The same scholiast gives another story involving Endymion's love for Hera, this time attributed to the Great Ehoiai, saying that "Endymion was carried up by Zeus to heaven, but that he was seized by desire for Hera and was deceived by the phantom of a cloud, and that because of this desire he was thrown out and went down to Hades", see Most, fragment 198, p. 275.
  20. Apollodorus, 1.7.5.
  21. Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.38.92, p.50. See also Ovid, Amores, 1.13: "See how the moon does her Endymion keep / In night conceal'd, and drown'd in dewy sleep." Gantz, p. 34, discussing Selene's role, says that "no source claims that the sleep was her idea, and likely enough (given its role in some quarters as a punishment, and his love for Hera), she was not always a part of the story."
  22. Pausanias, 5.1.4; Mayerson p. 167; Davidson, pp. 204205; Seyffert, "Endymion" p. 213; Cashford, p. 137. There are other accounts of fifty daughters in Greek mythology, the Nereids were fifty sea nymphs born to Nereus and Doris (Hesiod, Theogony 240264), and Thespius had fifty daughters, each of whom bore a son to Heracles (Apollodorus, 2.4.10, 2.7.8).
  23. Nonnus, Dionysiaca 48.581 ff.; Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.342.
  24. Fairbanks, p. 162.
  25. Hymn to Selene (32) 1516; Allen, [15] "ΠανδείηΝ", says that Pandia was "elsewhere unknown as a daughter of Selene", but see Hyginus, Fabulae Preface, Philodemus, De pietate P.Herc. 243 Fragment 6 (Obbink, p. 353). West 2003, p. 19 describes Pandia as an "obscure figure [who] featured in an Attic genealogy: she was the wife of Antiochos, the eponymous hero of the Antiochid phylē." Cook p. 732 says that it seems probable that, instead of being her daughter, "Pandia was originally an epithet of Selene". Either Selene or her daughter may have been connected to the Athenian festival Pandia.
  26. Alcman, fragments 48, 49 (Edmonds, pp. 8485); Cook p. 732. Hard, p. 46: "this is really no more than an allegorical fancy referring to the heavy dew-fall associated with clear moonlit nights".
  27. Cook, p. 456; Smith, "Selene"; Graves, 123 c., Vol. 2, pp. 104105; Pausanias, 2.15.3 has Asopus as the father of Nemea.
  28. Cook, p. 457 note. 5. Cook p. 733, calls the confusion "frequent".
  29. Hesiod, Theogony 327
  30. Cook, pp. 456457; Burkert 1972, p. 346 n. 48; Gantz, p. 25; West 1983, pp. 4748; Hard, p. 256. Compare with Pseudo-Plutarch, On Rivers 18.4 (PDF), which has the Nemean Lion created from a chest filled with foam, see also Anaxagoras, fragment A77 (Scholium on Apollonius of Rhodes 1.498) pp. 111112; Hyginus, Fabulae 30; Seneca, Hercules Furens 83 ff.
  31. Hammond, "SELENE", pp. 970–971; Quintus Smyrnaeus, 10.336 ff. pp. 442443.
  32. Virgil, Georgics 3.3.39193,
  33. Gantz, p. 36; Kerenyi, p. 175, 196; Grimal, "Selene", p. 415.
  34. Plato, Republic 2.364e; Obbink, p. 353; Burkert 1972, p. 346 n. 48.
  35. Stefania Sorrenti, "Les représentations figurées de Jupiter Dolichénien à Rome," in La terra sigillata tardo-italica decorata del Museo nazionale romano, «L'Erma» di Bretschneider, 1999), p. 370.
  36. Pindar, Olympian 3.1920; Euripides, The Suppliant Women, 990991; Theocritus, Idyll 2.163 ff.; Ovid, Fasti 4.373374, 3.109110, Metamorphoses 2. 208 ff; Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 5.408 ff.; Statius, Thebaid 1. 336 ff.
  37. Hymn to Selene (32) 514.
  38. Cohen, pp. 156157, 177179. For Selene driving another pair of winged horses see Zschietzschmann, p. XII, p. 23.
  39. Grimal, "Selene" p. 415; Nonnus, Dionysiaca 44.191.
  40. Pindar, Olympian 3.1920. For the use of "golden" in reference to the moon, see: Allen, [6] "χρυσέου".
  41. Kerenyi, p. 196; Morford, p. 63. For an example of Selene driving the less usual four horses see Morford, p. 353.
  42. Ovid, Fasti 4.373374.
  43. Hammond, "SELENE", pp. 970971; Nonnus, Dionysiaca 7.244, 11.185 ff., 1.214 ff., 2.405 ff.. For an image of Selene driving cattle, see LIMC Selene, Luna 61.
  44. Evelyn-White, Hymn to Helios (31) 6, Hymn to Selene, (32) 18; Rudin, pp. 9495; Morford, p. 64; Aelian, On Animals, 12.7.
  45. "Winged": Hymn to Selene, (32) 1 (a winged Selene seems to be unique to this Hymn, see Allen, [1] "τανυσίπτερον"); "White-armed": Hymn to Selene, (32) 17; "Benevolent": Allen, [18] "Πρόφρον".
  46. Aeschylus, Seven against Thebes 390.
  47. Orphic Hymns 8.
  48. For an example of Selene depicted on a coin see British Museum, R.7248; for an example of a gem see the British Museum 1923,0401.199.
  49. Cohen, p. 157.
  50. Savignoni, p. 271; Walters, p. 79; Hard, p. 46; Murray (1892) p. 272, (1903) p. 47; Hammond, "SELENE", pp. 970971, Pausanias, 5.11.8; Hansen, p. 221.
  51. Neils, pp. 236237; Palagia, p. 22. This is the usual interpretation, but some have suggested that instead of Selene, the goddess on the right could be Nyx or Eos, e.g. see Robertson, Martin 1981, p. 96. The same pair also appear on the North Metopes of the Parthenon, with Selene this time entering the sea on horseback, see Hurwit, p. 170.
  52. Robertson, Martin 1981, p. 96, Pausanias, 5.11.8.
  53. Morris, p. 87. For another example of the framing of a scene, in this case the Judgement of Paris, see Robertson, Martin 1992, p. 255.
  54. Thomas, p.17; Mitchell, p. 92.
  55. Savignoni, pp. 270271; Cohen, pp. 178179; LIMC Selene, Luna 35; Zschietzschmann, p. 23.
  56. British Museum 1923,0401.199; LIMC Selene, Luna 21; LIMC Selene, Luna 4; LIMC Mithras 113; LIMC Selene, Luna 15; LIMC Selene, Luna 34; LIMC Selene, Luna 2; LIMC Selene, Luna 7; LIMC Selene, Luna 9; LIMC Selene, Luna 10; LIMC Selene, Luna 19. For the close association between the crescent moon and horns see Cashford.
  57. Parisinou, p. 34.
  58. Sorabella, p. 70; Morford, p. 65.
  59. Examples, among many others, include sarcophagi in the Capitoline Museum in Rome (c. 135 AD ), two in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (c. 160 AD and c. 220 AD), and one in Palazzo Doria Pamphilj Rome (c. 310 AD), for images see Sorabella, figs. 1-7, 12.
  60. Hammond, "SELENE" pp. 970971; Burkert 1991, p. 176
  61. Plutarch, Agis 9; Pausanias, 3.26.1.
  62. Pausanias, 6.24.6.
  63. Willetts, p. 178; Cook, p. 732; Roscher, p. 100; Scholiast on Demosthenes, 21.39a.
  64. Cox, p. 138; Casford p. 174.
  65. Parker 2005, p. 447.
  66. Robertson, Noel 1996, p. 75 note 109; Willets, pp. 178179; Cook, 732; Harpers, "Selene"; Smith, "Pandia"; Lexica Segueriana s.v. Πάνδια (Bekker, p. 292); Photius, Lexicon s.v. Πάνδια.


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