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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: October 2020

Chapter 4 - The Moon of Many Faces

from Part II - The Moon in the Scientific Imagination


Plutarch’s dialogue On the face of the Moon, known more conveniently by its abbreviated Latin title De facie, is the only work dedicated exclusively to the Moon to have survived from antiquity. It therefore marks a landmark in the history of selenography: a nodal point in ancient thinking about the Moon as well as (as I shall argue) between ancient and modern lunar thought. The dialogue is rooted in curiosity about the dark blotches on the lunar surface. Cultures across the world have long discerned human or animal features in the appearance of the lunar disc. Common lunar pareidolia include: a trio of a man, tree and dragon or individual figures such as a rabbit. Demetrius Triclinius, the author of a Byzantine treatise on the Moon, who certainly knew Plutarch’s De facie, provides a detailed description of the figure of a lunar man, as we shall see. But the characters of Plutarch’s dialogue saw a human face in the Moon, in a tradition that links the ancient world with the modern.

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