When I visited Rome in 2006 (I think it was), I had not yet made the paradigm shift to Hellenismos. I was a fairly eclectic polytheist keeping a few shrines for a few different goddesses from different pantheons. I had had feelings for Athena that were not reciprocated, yet She was present in my life. Everywhere I went in Rome, I encountered Roma, the goddess of the city, and I remember being very frustrated because all the images I saw of Her looked to me like they were really of Athena or perhaps Minerva. I kick myself now for the gorgeous paintings, statues, and temple remains to Apollo that I must have missed, but I was very focused on Athena during that visit. It was only on my trip to the Capitoline Museum that my attention was torn away by another goddess. It was Selene. There was a painting of Her that I wish I remembered better, but I stood in front of it just staring at it for what seemed like a long time until my rather bored then girlfriend dragged me away. When I search the Internet now for that painting, I’m never sure if what I find is the right one as none have captivated me through my computer screen the same way that I was captivated by the original work hanging on the wall of that museum. I know that the painting was of Selene and Endymion and that it also featured a tree. I think the piece shown here by Pier Francesco Mola must have been what I saw, but I don’t feel the spark of recognition that I feel I should.
I didn’t think about Selene much again for quite a long time. Then in 2014, a friend took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. To date, it has still been my only trip there, and the few hours we spent there that morning were not nearly enough. As we walked through the hall of classical sculpture, I recalled the painting I had seen in Rome. I told my friend about it, and she showed me a frieze of Selene and Endymion on a sarcophagus. I seem to be caught and held by their story each time I encounter it in person.
I don’t honor Selene regularly. I find it difficult to know another god of the moon so well (Mani, the Norse god) and to also know Selene. Sometimes I imagine that They have some sort of club house up on the moon where Selene, Mani, Luna, Chang’e (嫦娥), and all of the others hang out together. Some of these gods are the actual celestial bodies themselves, and others, like Mani, carry the moon (generally pulled by a chariot) across the sky (except, you know…Mystery), and some of these gods (like Selene) both are the moon that we see and carry the moon. That notion can help parse the different personalities for the single body, but I also wonder if perhaps these different spirits (the spirits of these gods, not that they are spirits rather than gods) mingle together to form the moon.
If I knew some of these other gods better, including Selene, perhaps knowing how they are different from Mani would help me to see Them all. In my experience, Mani is extremely generous, loving, accepting, and almost child-like in his love of things that sparkle, shine, and make little tinkling noises. He is captivated by beauty, yet it is His beauty (and Selene’s) that captivates so many of us. What fills Selene’s heart with joy? What captivates Her?
We know that She was and is captivated by the beauty of the eternally sleeping Endymion. She visits him where he lays in his cave – a story of tragic romance to be sure. She loves him and has borne him 50 daughters over the years, yet he has slept through it all. There are a few different accounts of how he came to his immortal sleep, and in some it is through the passionate plea of Selene to Zeus, yet in others it was his own reward and he was actually in love with a goddess who would never return his feelings – Hera. In this latter scenario, Selene only found Endymion after he began his eternal repose, and he has never been aware of their ongoing relationship. Are Endymion and Selene both the tragic victims of unrequited love?
Selene does share an epithet with Apollon, and I wonder if there is a Selene devotee out there that would like to write about it? Could it be you? Selene is known as Phoebe (not to be confused with Apollon’s grandmother) just as Apollon is known as Phoibos. As the name means “bright,” it is no wonder why these gods of light and celestial bodies that emit or seem to emit light bear this epithet.