The moon, like the sun, was an object of wonder in the days of old, and was worshiped almost everywhere in some form or other, but it does not play quite so important a part in story as the sun. Since the moon is paler than the sun and its light soft and gentle, it was often regarded as being a chariot driven by a woman, but the course of the moon-goddess across the sky was similar to that of the sun-god.
Diana, the moon-goddess of the Greeks and Romans, known also as Cynthia, Phoebe, and Arterms, was the twin-sister of Apollo, and drove a golden chariot drawn by milk-white horses. Diana and Apollo were children of Jupiter, and were born in the Island of Delos, where a temple to Apollo was afterwards built. Another of the Seven Wonders of the World was the temple to Diana at Ephesus, on the west coast of Asia Minor. The worship of Diana at Ephesus is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles: "And when the town clerk had quieted the multitude, he saith, 'Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there who knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is temple-keeper of the great Diana and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?'" The temple was destroyed in the year A.D. 263, but remains of it may still be seen.
Diana was also the Goddess of Hunting; she was a skilled archer, and spent the day in huuting, as we have seen in the story of Orion.
The most famous story of Diana is that of her love for Endymion, a young shepherd--a story which has been told by the poets many times. One evening as the moon-goddess was driving silently across the sky, she saw sleeping on a hillside a handsome youth, his resting flock scattered over the gentle slope. Attracted by his beauty, Diana stepped from her chariot and gazed long at his face; then softly stooping, she kissed him lightly on the lips. Endymion, half wakened by her touch, caught a fleeting vision of the fair goddess as she hastened to her chariot. Filled with wonder at the sight, he rose quickly and rubbed his eyes, but all he saw was the bright moon floating across the dark sky, and he thought that he had been dreaming. The next night the goddess came to him again, and again he saw her with his half closed eyes. Each night when the bright rays of the moon fell on his upturned face he dreamed this wonderful dream, but he was always sleeping when the goddess came, and nevr saw her in her full and dazzling beauty. The days now seemed long and dreary to Endymion, and he waited anxiously for the night that he might see again the glorious vision.
Diana was filled with dread at the thought that the beautiful youth would lose his beauty as the years went by, and at last she cast a spell over him while he slept, so that he should never wake again, and carried him away to a cave in a mountain-side known only to herself. There the loving Diana paused each night in her journey across the sky, and gazed on the face of the fair Endymion.
Diana, when hunting in the forest, was attended by a band of wood-nymphs who were her faithful followers. One of these nymphs, Arethusa, was one day cooling herself after the chase on the banks of the River Alpheus, when suddenly the God of the River appeared. The startled nymph ran quickly into the woods, but the god Alpheus pursued her, telling her that he loved her and that she need fear no harm. Arethusa was too frightened to listen to the god, and ran on, till at last, worn out, she prayed to Diana for help. The moon-goddess was ever ready to help her faithful nymphs, and in answer to the prayer transformed the girl into a fountain, which she hid in a thick mist. Alpheus, suddenly losing sight of the nymph, wandered sorrowfully about, calling out her name in his distress. Arethusa now thought that she was safe, but the wind-god, Zephyrus, blew aside the mist, and Alpheus saw a fountain where there had not been one before, and guessed what had happened. He quickly changed himself into a river and rushed towards the fountain, but Arethusa sprang from the rocks and hastened away over the stones and grass. Diana now saw her fresh danger, and made an opening in the ground, through which Arethusa slipped, to find herself in the kingdom of Pluto, the God of the Underworld. Here she wandered until she found another opening, by which she escaped once again into the sunshine on the plain of Sicily. Alpheus, however, at last made his way across the sea to Sicily, where he found Arethusa and won her love. The Greeks believed that flowers cast into the River Alpheus in Greece were carried by the river as gifts to his lover, and appeared later in the fountain of Arethusa in Sicily!
Among the Egyptians the moon was regarded as a god, who was named Thoth (The Measurer). He was also the God of Wisdom, Invention, Writing, and Magic. He was one of the earliest of the Egyptian gods, having come into being at the same time as Ra, the sun-god, and it was he who was said to have created the world. The Romans compared him with Mercury because, like Mercury, he invented writing. As the God of the Moon, he was represented as wearing a crescent moon on his head, and holding in his hand a stylus, a pointed instrument used by the Egyptians for writing on their wax tablets.
The Babylonian moon-god was Sin, the Lord of Wisdom. He was the father of the sun-god, and was one of the greatest of the gods, owing to the fact that the Babylonians regulated their calendar by the moon.
The Angles and Saxons believed that the moon was driven across the sky by Mani, the son of a giant, in a golden chariot drawn by a horse named the All Swift. As in the case of the sun, our ancestors had no distinct goddess of the moon; but we shall read of Mani again in a later chapter.
Hymn to Diana
Queen and huntress, chaste and fair,
Now the sun is laid to sleep,
Seated in thy silver chair,
State in wonted manner keep:
Hesperus entreats thy light,
Goddess excellently bright.
Earth, let not thy envious shade
Dare itself to interpose;
Cynthia's shining orb was made
Heaven to clear when day did close;
Bless us then with wished sight,
Goddess excellently bright.
Lay thy bow of pearl apart,
And thy crystal shining quiver;
Give unto the flying hart
Space to breathe, how short soever,
Thou that mak'st a day of night,
Goddess excellently bright.
BEN JONSON--Cynthia's Revels.