Marble sarcophagus with the myth of Selene and Endymion

Period: Severan

Date: early 3rd century A.D.

Culture: Roman

Medium: Marble

Dimensions: H. 28 1/2 in. (72.39 cm)

Classification: Stone Sculpture

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1947

Accession Number: 47.100.4a, b


An inscription at the center of the lid informs us that this trough-shaped sarcophagus was dedicated to a woman named Arria, who lived fifty years and ten months, by her daughter Aninia Hilara. Arria’s portrait is carved just to the right of the inscription. The story of Endymion is shown in strongly undercut relief on the front of the sarcophagus. In the center, Selene, the moon goddess, alights from her chariot to visit her beloved, the shepherd Endymion, who reclines at the right. Endymion, most beautiful of men, has been granted eternal youth and eternal sleep. A female figure stands over him, pouring out the magic potion of immortality and holding a bunch of sleep-inducing poppies. The scene is flanked on the left end of the sarcophagus by a rising Helios, the sun god, and on the right by a descending Selene, each in a chariot. On the back, a bucolic scene with herdsmen among grazing bulls and unyoked horses is cut in low relief. Allusions to the changeless cycle of nature are combined with a myth of fulfillment through unending sleep.