Man in the Moon

Possible interpretations of the Man in the Moon
Near full moon over Berlin, Germany, approximately 30 minutes after moonrise
Common interpretation of the Man in the Moon as seen from the Northern Hemisphere
Modeled appearance for same longitude 30 minutes after moonrise
The Man in the Moon is struck by a spacecraft in the 1902 fantasy film Le Voyage dans la Lune. This frame from the film is an example of a conventionalized image bearing no relation to actual lunar features.

The Man in the Moon refers to any of several pareidolic images of a human face, head or body that certain traditions recognise in the disc of the full moon. The images are actually composed of the dark areas of the lunar maria, or "seas" and the lighter highlands of the lunar surface.

Examples and occurrence globally

One older European tradition sees a figure of a man carrying a wide burden on his back. He is sometimes seen as accompanied by a small dog. Various cultures recognise other examples of lunar pareidolia, such as the Moon rabbit.

In the Northern Hemisphere, a common Western perception of the face has it that the figure's eyes are Mare Imbrium and Mare Serenitatis, its nose is Sinus Aestuum, and its open mouth is Mare Nubium and Mare Cognitum. This particular human face can also be seen in tropical regions on both sides of the equator. However, the moon orientation associated with the face is observed less frequently—and eventually not at all—as one moves towards the South Pole.

Conventionalized illustrations of the Man in the Moon seen in Western art often show a very simple face in the full moon, or a human profile in the crescent moon, corresponding to no actual markings.

"The Man in the Moon" can also refer to a mythological character said to live on or in the moon, but who is not necessarily represented by the markings on the face of the moon. An example is Yue-Laou, from Chinese tradition.

Origin stories

There are various explanations for how the Man in the Moon came to be.

A longstanding European tradition holds that the man was banished to the moon for some crime. Christian lore commonly held that he is the man caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath and sentenced by God to death by stoning in the book of Numbers XV.32-36.[1] Some Germanic cultures thought he was a man caught stealing from a neighbor's hedgerow to repair his own. There is a Roman legend that he is a sheep-thief.

One medieval Christian tradition claims him as Cain, the Wanderer, forever doomed to circle the Earth. Dante's Inferno[2] alludes to this:

For now doth Cain with fork of thorns confine
On either hemisphere, touching the wave
Beneath the towers of Seville. Yesternight
The moon was round.

This is mentioned again in his Paradise:[3]

But tell, I pray thee, whence the gloomy spots
Upon this body, which below on earth
Give rise to talk of Cain in fabling quaint?

There is also a Talmudic tradition that the image of Jacob is engraved on the moon,[4] although no such mention appears in the Torah.[5][6]

John Lyly says in the prologue to his Endymion (1591), "There liveth none under the sunne, that knows what to make of the man in the moone."

In Norse mythology, Máni is the male personification of the moon who crosses the sky in a horse-drawn carriage. He is continually pursued by the Great Wolf Hati who catches him at Ragnarök. The name Máni simply means "Moon".

In Chinese mythology, the goddess Chang'e is stranded upon the moon after foolishly consuming a double dose of an immortality potion.[7] She is accompanied by a small group of moon rabbits.

In Haida mythology, the figure represents a boy gathering sticks. The boy's father had told him the moon's light would brighten the night, allowing the chore to be completed. Not wanting to gather sticks, the boy complained and ridiculed the moon. As punishment for his disrespect, the boy was taken from earth and trapped on the moon.[8]


There is a traditional belief that the Man in the Moon enjoyed drinking, especially claret. An old ballad runs (original spelling):

Our man in the moon drinks clarret,
With powder-beef, turnep, and carret.
If he doth so, why should not you
Drink until the sky looks blew?[1]

  1. ^ The Man in the Moon drinks Claret, as it was sung at the Court in Holy-well. Bagford Ballads, Folio Collection in the British Museum, vol. ii. No. 119.

In the English Middle Ages and renaissance, the moon was held to be the god of drunkards, and at least three London taverns were named "The Man in the Moone".[9] The man in the moon is named in an early dated English nursery rhyme:

The man in the moon came tumbling down
And asked his way to Norwich;
He went by the south and burnt his mouth
With supping cold pease porridge.

Scientific explanation

The Man in the Moon is made up of various lunar maria (which ones depends on the pareidolic image seen). These vast, flat spots on the moon are called "maria" or "seas" because, for a long time, astronomers believed they were large bodies of water. They are actually large areas formed by lava that covered up old craters and then cooled, becoming smooth, basalt rock.[10]

The near side of the moon, containing these maria that make up the man, is always facing earth. This is due to a tidal locking or synchronous orbit. Thought to have occurred because of the unique gravitational forces partially caused by the moon's oblong shape, its rotation has slowed to the point where it rotates exactly once on each trip around the earth. This causes the near side of the moon to always turn its face toward earth.[11]


  1. Harley, the Rev. Timothy, FRAS (1885). Moon Lore, London; Swan Sonnenschein, Le Bas & Lowry. p.21. Archived at Internet Sacred Text Archive. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  2. Dante, The Divine Comedy, Inferno, canto 20, line 126 and 127. The Dante Dartmouth Project contains the original text and centuries of commentary.
  3. Dante, The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, canto 2, line 51.
  4. Wolfson, Elliot R. "The Face of Jacob in the Moon" in The Seductiveness of Jewish Myth: Challenge or Response? edited by S. Daniel Breslauer, Albany NY; SUNY Press, 1997
  5. Harley, the Rev. Timothy, FRAS (1885). Moon Lore, London; Swan Sonnenschein, Le Bas & Lowry. P.21
  6. Harley, Timothy (1885). "II. THE MAN IN THE MOON." Internet Sacred Text Archive. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  7. Houyi#Chang'e's ascent to the Moon
  8. The Hydah mission, Queen Charlotte's Islands Charles Harrison, Church Missionary Society c. 1884
  9. Poole, William (2009), "Introduction", in Poole, William, The Man in the Moone, Broadview, pp. 13–62, ISBN 978-1-55111-896-3
  10. Harrington, Philip S., and Edward Pascuzzi (1994). Astronomy for All Ages: Discovering the Universe through Activities for Children and Adults. Old Saybrook, CT: Globe Pequot.
  11. "Looking at the Man in the Moon". Retrieved July 31, 2014. External link in |publisher= (help)
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