Selene, Greek Goddess of the Moon

Selene and Endymion
Selene and Endymion.

Johann Carl Loth/Wikimedia Commons/CC0

Selene is one of the lesser-known (at least in the modern era) goddesses of Greece. She is unique among Greek moon goddesses, since she is the only one portrayed as the moon incarnate by early classical poets.

Born on the Greek isle of Rhodes, Selene is a beautiful young woman, often depicted with a crescent moon-shaped headdress. She is symbolized by the moon in its crescent form and is described as driving a horse-drawn chariot across the night sky. 

Origin Story

Her parentage is somewhat murky, but according to the Greek poet Hesiod, her father was Hyperion and her mother was his sister Euryphessa, also known as Theia. Both Hyperion and Theia were Titans, and Hesiod called their offspring the "lovely children: rosy-armed Eos and rich-tressed Selene and tireless Helios."

Her brother Helios was the Greek sun god, and her sister Eos was the goddess of the dawn. Selene was also worshiped as Phoebe, the Huntress. Like many Greek goddesses, she had a number of different aspects. Selene is believed to be an earlier moon goddess than Artemis, who in some ways replaced her. Among the Romans, Selene was known as Luna.

Selene has the power to give sleep and to light the night. She has control over time, and like the moon itself, she is ever-changing. It's interesting then, that one of the most enduring parts of Selene's myth has to do with keeping her beloved Endymion in an unchanged state for eternity.

Selene and Endymion

Selene falls in love with the mortal shepherd Endymion and unites with him, bearing him fifty daughters. The story goes that she visits him every night—the moon coming down from the sky—and she loves him so much she can't bear the thought of his death. She casts a spell putting him into a deep sleep forever so she may see him, unchanging, for all eternity.

Some versions of the myth aren't entirely clear on how Endymion ended up in eternal slumber, attributing the spell to Zeus, and it's not spelled out how the pair produced 50 children if he was sleeping. Nevertheless, Selene and Endymion's 50 daughters came to represent the 50 months of the Greek Olympiad. Selene kept Endymion in a cave on Mount Latmus in Caria.

Trysts and Other Offspring

Selene was seduced by the god Pan, who gave her the gift of a white horse or, alternately, a pair of white oxen. She also bore several daughters with Zeus, including Naxos, Ersa, the goddess of youth Pandeia (don't confuse her with Pandora), and Nemaia. Some say Pan was the father of Pandeia.

Temple Sites

Unlike most major Greek goddesses, Selene did not have temple sites of her own. As a moon goddess, she could be seen from almost everywhere. 

Selene and Selenium

Selene gives her name to the trace element selenium, which is used in xerography to copy documents and in the photographic toner. Selenium is used the glass industry to make red-colored glasses and enamels and to decolorize glass. It is also used in photocells and light meters.

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Regula, deTraci. "Selene, Greek Goddess of the Moon." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Regula, deTraci. (2021, December 6). Selene, Greek Goddess of the Moon. Retrieved from Regula, deTraci. "Selene, Greek Goddess of the Moon." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).