The blonde Phoebe, more humane, graciously allows herself to be seen in her modest grace; she is gentle to the eye, not ambitious, and yet she sometimes eclipses her brother the radiant Apollo, without ever being eclipsed by him. The Mahommedans understood what gratitude they owed to this faithful friend of the earth, and they ruled their months at 29-1/2 days on her revolution.
The first people of the world dedicated particular worship to this chaste goddess. The Egyptians called her Isis, the Phoenicians Astarte, the Greeks Phoebe, daughter of Jupiter and Latona, and they explained her eclipses by the mysterious visits of Diana and the handsome Endymion. The mythological legend relates that the Nemean lion traversed the country of the moon before its apparition upon earth, and the poet Agesianax, quoted by Plutarch, celebrated in his sweet lines its soft eyes, charming nose, and admirable mouth, formed by the luminous parts of the adorable Selene.
But though the ancients understood the character, temperament, and, in a word, moral qualities of the moon from a mythological point of view, the most learned amongst them remained very ignorant of selenography.
Several astronomers, however, of ancient times discovered certain particulars now confirmed by science. Though the Arcadians pretended they had inhabited the earth at an epoch before the moon existed, though Simplicius believed her immovable and fastened to the crystal vault, though Tacitus looked upon her as a fragment broken off from the solar orbit, and Clearch, the disciple of Aristotle, made of her a polished mirror upon which were reflected the images of the ocean — though, in short, others only saw in her a mass of vapours exhaled by the earth, or a globe half fire and half ice that turned on itself, other savants, by means of wise observations and without optical instruments, suspected most of the laws that govern the Queen of Night.
Thus Thales of Miletus, B.C. 460, gave out the opinion that the moon was lighted up by the sun. Aristarchus of Samos gave the right explanation of her phases. Cleomenus taught that she shone by reflected light. Berose the Chaldean discovered that the duration of her movement of rotation was equal to that of her movement of revolution, and he thus explained why the moon always presented the same side. Lastly, Hipparchus, 200 years before the Christian era, discovered some inequalities in the apparent movements of the earth's satellite.
These different observations were afterwards confirmed, and other astronomers profited by them. Ptolemy in the second century, and the Arabian Aboul Wefa in the tenth, completed the remarks of Hipparchus on the inequalities that the moon undergoes whilst following the undulating line of its orbit under the action of the sun. Then Copernicus, in the fifteenth century, and Tycho Brahe, in the sixteenth, completely exposed the system of the world and the part that the moon plays amongst the celestial bodies.
At that epoch her movements were pretty well known, but very little of her physical constitution was known. It was then that Galileo explained the phenomena of light produced in certain phases by the existence of mountains, to which he gave an average height of 27,000 feet.
After him, Hevelius, an astronomer of Dantzig, lowered the highest altitudes to 15,000 feet; but his contemporary, Riccioli, brought them up again to 21,000 feet.
Herschel, at the end of the eighteenth century, armed with a powerful telescope, considerably reduced the preceding measurements. He gave a height of 11,400 feet to the highest mountains, and brought down the average of different heights to little more than 2,400 feet. But Herschel was mistaken too, and the observations of Schroeter, Louville, Halley, Nasmyth, Bianchini, Pastorff, Lohrman, Gruithuysen, and especially the patient studies of MM. Boeer and Moedler, were necessary to definitely resolve the question. Thanks to these savants, the elevation of the mountains of the moon is now perfectly known. Boeer and Moedler measured 1,905 different elevations, of which six exceed 15,000 feet and twenty-two exceed 14,400 feet. Their highest summit towers to a height of 22,606 feet above the surface of the lunar disc.
At the same time the survey of the moon was being completed; she appeared riddled with craters, and her essentially volcanic nature was affirmed by each observation. From the absence of refraction in the rays of the planets occulted by her it is concluded that she can have no atmosphere. This absence of air entails absence of water; it therefore became manifest that the Selenites, in order to live under such conditions, must have a special organisation, and differ singularly from the inhabitants of the earth.
Lastly, thanks to new methods, more perfected instruments searched the moon without intermission, leaving not a point of her surface unexplored, and yet her diameter measures 2,150 miles; her surface is one-thirteenth of the surface of the globe, and her volume one-forty-ninth of the volume of the terrestrial spheroid; but none of her secrets could escape the astronomers' eyes, and these clever savants carried their wonderful observations still further.
Thus they remarked that when the moon was at her full the disc appeared in certain places striped with white lines, and during her phases striped with black lines. By prosecuting the study of these with greater precision they succeeded in making out the exact nature of these lines. They are long and narrow furrows sunk between parallel ridges, bordering generally upon the edges of the craters; their length varied from ten to one hundred miles, and their width was about 1,600 yards. Astronomers called them furrows, and that was all they could do; they could not ascertain whether they were the dried-up beds of ancient rivers or not. The Americans hope, some day or other, to determine this geological question. They also undertake to reconnoitre the series of parallel ramparts discovered on the surface of the moon by Gruithuysen, a learned professor of Munich, who considered them to be a system of elevated fortifications raised by Selenite engineers. These two still obscure points, and doubtless many others, can only be definitely settled by direct communication with the moon.