In contemporary culture, the tragic story of two lovers, Princess Serenity of Lunaria (the Moon People) and Prince Endymion/Darien of Terran (the Earth Kingdom) is a part of the anime series "Sailor Moon.'' That modern myth recounts how Serenity defies a decree forbidding contact with the people of Terran and travels to Earth. There, she meets and immediately falls in love with Endymion. Their union enraged earth-dwellers and ultimately resulted in the death of both lovers. The story of Serenity and Endymion is not a recent invention. In fact, its origins are quite old and can be traced back to ancient Greece and the myths of Selene and Endymion.
Selene of Ancient Greece
Though Artemis is the Greek goddess traditionally associated with the moon, she is an Olympian. An older moon goddess, Selene -- part of the so-called “Titan” pantheon -- is identified by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod (725 B.C.-675 B.C.) in a work called the “Theogony.” There, however, she is described only as the result of the union between two Titans, Theia and Hyperion. Selene is identified as the moon while her brother Helios is connected to the sun and her sister Eos is the dawn. There is no connection in Hesiod's work between Selene and Endymion.
Becoming Mythic Lovers
Scattered allusions to the lovers occur in later works, such as Apollonius Rhodius' fourth century B.C. epic poem the “Argonautica,” which described the hero Jason’s voyage in search of the golden fleece. There, the story of Selene and Endymion appears, albeit in a relatively vague reference. In the “Argonautica,” Selene is a witness to the flight of Medea, Jason’s lover. There, however, the mythic connection to Endymion is fleeting, an aside wherein the goddess declares that she burns “with love for fair Endymion.”
Endymion's Story Grows More Elaborate
By the first century C.E., however, Greek mythographers had begun to spin more elaborate tales about Selene and Endymion. In “The Library,” a selection of myths collected by Apollodorus, the myth grows more detailed. Endymion is identified as the founder of the Greek city of Elis, his parents are named and he is described as being beautiful. It is this beauty, according to Apollodorus, that causes Selene to fall in love. Zeus, king of the gods, granted Endymion a wish. He chose eternal sleep to remain both ageless and beautiful forever.
Historians and Poets Renaissance, Romantic and Modern
Historians, Greek and Roman alike also speculated on the story of Selene and Endymion. In his “Natural History,” Roman historian Pliny the Elder (23-79) euhemerized (euhermerists interpreted mythical characters as historical ones) the couple, claiming that Endymion was not the lover of a goddess but instead an astronomer who gazed frequently at the moon. By the Renaissance, Selene had been transposed to a more familiar figure, Artemis, goddess of hunting, the moon and chastity. As the Selene-figure took on virginal associations, the notion of romantic love became taboo, for it contradicted Artemis's pledge to remain a virgin. The sense of forbidden love intensified in Romantic poet John Keats’ “Endymion,” an attitude that still colors the myth, even when it surfaces in anime.
Alana Shilling is a contributor to several publications including "The Brooklyn Rail," "Art in America" and the "Fortnightly Review." She writes on subjects ranging from archaeology and history to contemporary art. Shilling received a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton University and has been writing for audiences both general and academic since 2005.