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The Moon
Greek Goddess to Green Cheese

The Moon
  • Stories from Greek Mythology (by )
  • Egyptian Myth and Legend (by )
  • Japanese Fairy Tales (by )
  • Orlando Furioso (by )
  • Man in the Moone, The (by )
  • A Journey to the World in the Moon (by )
  • The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the ... (by )
  • From the Earth to the Moon (by )
  • The First Men in the Moon (by )
  • All Around the Moon (by )
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Some of Western civilization’s earliest literary references to the moon arise from Greek mythology and its pantheon of bickering, lusty, greedy gods. Phoebe, Selene, Artemis, and Hecate all embodied the mystery of the moon, with Selene being the orb’s personification. The ancient Romans had Luna, from which our English word lunar is derived. The Chinese assigned goddess Chang’e to the moon.

Ancient peoples quickly associated the monthly lunar cycle with the female menstrual cycle, thereby attributing feminine qualities to the moon and assigning the moon’s qualities to women. Specifically embodying that assumed relationship, most of the deities representing the moon were goddesses.

Other cultures beyond the pre-Christian Greeks and and Romans also worshipped the moon and departed from the lunar association to femininity. Ancient Mesopotamians had Sin, the Germanic tribes had Mani (which means “moon” in Old Norse), the Japanese had Tsukuyomi, and the Egyptians had Set. Cultures with moon gods generally offset them with sun goddesses. Who doesn’t like symmetry?

Myths and fables from all seven continents and the thousands of island cultures all include stories of the moon; however, none of them actually equated the moon to green cheese. That particular story arose from a fable recounting a simpleton or a wolf who sees the moon’s reflection in a pool of water and believes it to be a round of cheese. Green in this case was likely synonymous with young, not with the moon’s color, as aged cheese turns yellow and young cheese is white.
In fiction, the moon receives frequent and consistent reference. The “Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” from Japan relates the story of the Moon Princess, who is raised by a bamboo cutter and his wife before returning to her people on the moon. The epic Italian poem Orlando Furioso (1516) by Ludovico Ariosto has been hailed as one of Western Europe’s earliest fictional lunar flights. Well known classical authors Francis Godwin and Daniel Defoe also wrote lunar adventures, The Man in the Moone (1638) and Journey to the World in the Moon (1705), respectively. In 1835, New York newspaper The Sun published a series of six fictional articles purporting the discovery of life and civilization on the moon. The Sun attributed the articles to famous astronomer Sir John Herschel, who did not write them. In 1928, Hugh Lofting wrote Doctor Dolittle in the Moon, in which the famous fictional veterinarian made his lunar journey on the back of a giant moth. Lofting’s signature character found immorality in film in 1967, with a wise-cracking remake starring Eddie Murphy in 1998.
Not surprisingly, the moon found a comfortable home in the annals of science fiction and fantasy. Jules Verne wrote From the Earth to the Moon in 1865, and its sequel Around the Moon in 1870. In 1887, French author Jean François Paschal Grousset writing under the pseudonym of André Laurie—one of several pen names he used—published Les Exilés de la Terre (Exiled from Earth). Of course, H. G. Wells wasn’t about to be outdone. In 1901, he published The First Men in the Moon, among many other early science fiction classics. Two years later, Polish author Jerzy Żuławski published Na Srebrnym Globie (The Silver Globe). The trend didn’t stop there. Science fiction greats such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke jumped on the bandwagon and the genre never looked back.

By Karen M. Smith
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