What is the Man in the Moon?

Diana Bocco

The Man in the Moon is the supposed image of a man's face that some cultures believe to be visible on the surface of the moon. Most people agree that the face is only apparent when the moon is full. The image is said to be formed by a series of dark areas imitating two eyes, a nose, and an open mouth. These areas are actually some of the Moon's seas, such as the Mare Imbrium and Serenitatis, which with people associate the man's eyes.

Shakespeare refers to the man in the moon in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Shakespeare refers to the man in the moon in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Legend has it that the Man in the Moon is an actual man. The oldest traditions claim the face to be that of Cain, who was sentenced to circle the Earth and watch forever what he could not have because of his betrayal. Other legends say it is an old man hauling a bunch of sticks. Shakespeare mentions him in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and refers to his lantern, thornbush, and dog. Even in ancient Rome and Egypt there were already legends explaining the face on the moon.

Some cultures believe a man's face can be seen on the moon.
Some cultures believe a man's face can be seen on the moon.

While most of the legends do not attribute a specific origin to the Man in the Moon, some societies have an esoteric explanation for the face. For example, the Inuits believe that he keeps safe the souls of men and animals who have passed away. In a similar fashion, the Nepalese believe it is actually the face of somebody who has passed away, as people who die go to the moon.

The Man in the Moon is not always seen as a man's — or even a human — face. In some cultures, it is a woman or an animal, and the most common figures include that of a rabbit or hare, a frog, or a buffalo. In modern times, people have identified plenty of images when looking at a full moon, depending on their belief system and environment. Unusual sightings include pirates, a man with glasses, a young girl, and a frog.

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Discussion Comments


This one always bugged me. I could never see the man. Was I blind? What couldn't I see? But one day it was clear as day. It wasn't a face with a straight on view, but is actually a profile. Now every time I see the moon the man is in plain sight. It is similar to the image of George Washington on a quarter but with more hair.


Sometimes I still go outside at night and look for the man in the moon. There's just something comforting about knowing that everyone in the world grew up seeing the same thing I did.


I remember when I was a kid, I felt like I was the only one who couldn't see the "man in the moon". My mom would take me out to the backyard on full moon nights and try to point out the eyes and nose and mouth, but I just couldn't make it into a face. I think I was seeing all of those jagged ridges and dark patches as something else entirely.

I did get excited when Apollo 11 landed in 1969 and I could honestly say there was a man ON the moon.

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