L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Endymion and Diana... or Selene... or just the moon

Francesco Solimena, 1705-10. (Detail.)

Thumbing through Classical mythology, when we get to Endymion, the story gets a little muddled. Depending on whose version you read, he was a handsome Aeolian shepherd or hunter said to reside on Mount Latmus in Caria, on the west coast of Asia Minor. Or he was a king who lived and ruled at Olympia in Elis. In some stories he's the son - or grandson - of Zeus. Pliny the Elder says that Endymion was the first human to observe the movements of the moon, which would account for Endymion's narrative connection to that celestial orb. At any rate his story is always tied to the very female moon.

Francesco Solimena, 1705-10. (Detail.)

First, he was teamed up with Selene, the Titan goddess of the moon who, falling in love with his extremely beautiful sleeping figure, arranged - one way or another - for him to be granted eternal youth and equally eternal sleep. What he thought about sleeping away eternity isn't recorded, but he somehow still managed while unconscious to have fifty - fifty - daughters with Selene. (It seems he also fathered some sons as well - by a nymph or just a regular human, depending on the narrator - who went on to cause trouble in the Ancient Greek neighborhood. Since no more was said of him, I'm just going to assume that Endymion was also asleep during this round of begetting and the subsequent filial shenanigans.) Then, during the Renaissance, when there was a renewed interest in Greek and Roman mythology, the identity of Endymion's inamorata was transferred to Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt and the moon. Thereafter, artists portraying the story usually identified the moony - and moon-y - goddess hovering over a handsome and rarely overdressed Endymion as Diana. But whether they called her Selene or Diana, it was always the enamored moon.

Francesco Solimena, 1705-10.
Stefano Torelli, circa 1765.
Benedetto Gennari, circa 1672-74.
John Wood, 1832.
Johann Michael Rottmayr, circa 1690-95.
"Diana and Endymion Surprised by The Satyr", Karl Bryullov, 1849.
Same as above - a preliminary sketch?
Domingo Alvarez Enciso, 1780.
Sebastiano Ricci, circa late 1600s-early 1700s.
Pierre Subleyras, 1740.
George Frederic Watts, 1869-72.
Luca Giordano, circa 1675-1680.
Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée, 1776.
Nicolas Poussin, circa 1628-30.
Jérôme-Martin Langlois, circa 1822.

Of course, sometimes artists didn't even bother with the lady and her moon; the "Sleeping Endymion", drowsing and undraped was, for centuries, a favorite conceit for the portrayal of a sensuous - sometimes downright sexual - male nude.

Pietro Liberi, circa 1660s.



  1. Well, I love the stretch of this story, Substantiates the mystery and allure of the moon. I so enjoyed all the different renderings and saw an interesting consistency between the dogs when present - none seemed too thrilled with the tryst at hand - so funny how many are looking away - too modest for such licentiousness. Great posting - thank you and happy respite from fb.

    1. Thanks, Lisa! And I see what you mean about the censorious dogs. ; )