Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lucian: The ancient Greek Steven Spielberg

A Syrian-Greek writer responsible for the first fictional accounts of extraterrestrial life. Lucian, whose parents had hoped he might become a sculptor, made a fortune by traveling around Asia Minor, Greece, Italy and other lands giving entertaining speeches, before settling down in Athens to study philosophy. This was a time – the second centuryAD – when faith in the old gods had all but evaporated, Greek culture and thought was in decay, and the great literature of Greece at its height had given way to shallow novels of adventure or romance. All this was grist to Lucian's satirical mill and in his two extraterrestrial stories – precursors of science fiction – he parodies the kind of feeble fantasy that had become popular.

 The concluding sentence of the preface to his True History reads: "I give my readers warning, therefore, not to believe me." And with that he launches into a tale of a group of adventurers who, while sailing through the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar), are lifted up by a giant waterspout and deposited on the Moon. There they find themselves embroiled in a full-scale interplanetary war between the king of the Moon and the king of the Sun over colonization rights to Jupiter, involving armies which boast such exotica as stalk-and-mushroom men, acorn-dogs, and cloud-centaurs. 

«...τυφὼν ἐπιγενόμενος καὶ περιδινήσας τὴν ναῦν καὶ μετεωρίσας ὅσον ἐπὶ σταδίους τριακοσίους οὐκέτι καθῆκεν εἰς τὸ πέλαγος, ἀλλ᾿ ἄνω μετέωρον» 
 A watersprout typhoon made the ship ascend to the skies  300 stadiums high without afterwards falling down to the sea, it remained on the air.
A passage from Lucian's(Lucianos in Greek) Αληθής Ιστορία(Alithis Istoria)=True story. 

Before you read below and acquire the wrong impression about Lucian. I recommend you to read his biography in wikipedia in order to understand what kind of a person he was.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucian

Lucian of Samosata. A Syrian sophist/author who was writting in Greek.

Jules Verne wrote his science fiction works and foresaw the creation of submarine in the 19th century. In the 60's the U.S.A achieved to send humans on the moon.However before all this in 160 A.D Lucian wrote about a journey to the moon using an air-ship  and about a moon base called Lychnopolis. With an imagination that even Steven Spielberg and George Lucas would envy Lucian an author of the late antiquity with an excellent potential on written discourse takes us to to worlds to which even now many centuries later we can only travel  with our imagination.

In his book he says that he decided to make this trip because of curiosity and to learn what nations are living on the other side of the  Great Ocean. After 80 days of travelling across the unknown ocean they reached a strange island.There they found an inscription written in Greek an mentioned that Hercules and Dionysus had been there.(Stories about voyages of Hercules beyond the Atlantic and campaigns of Dionysus as far as India were very common in the ancient Greek world) 
When they landed on the island they saw a big river but instead of water there was wine coming from the roots of the vineyards. There were also some strange fish around there and once you ate them you would get drunk.

They left the island behind and when they went in the middle of the Ocean suddenly a tornado made their ship to fly above the water but didn't let it to fall down. For 7 days they were travelling on the skies and in the 8th day they saw in front of them a new earth on the air which seemed like a shining island in a shape of a circle. They achieved to land on it and when they took a look around they found out that the land was inhabited and fertile.

Lucianos mentions that this new earth was inhabited by monstrous looking beings.One of those beings arrested them and took them in front of their king who was called Endymion. The king realised that they were Greeks from their outfit and asked them how did they achieve to fly through the skies until his land. He also explained to them that they were on the moon which they are able to see every night from their

Moreover he revealed that there were also many other kingdoms. Lucianos mentions the Selenites and Heliotes who had a common colony in Eosphoros and a peace treaty. Here there's a really impressive show of Lucianos' imagination. He mentions that the treaty was written on an electric column and they left it in the middle of the air standing between the borders of the two kingdoms.

Lucianos mentions many other paradoxical habits and facts about the "moon-people" . One of them was that men were giving birth to children and that there were no women. Men were marrying men. Except the sexual paradox Lucian says that when that moon people get old they don't die but they just vanish like  smoke.

The really extraordinary mind of Lucian has many other oddities to narrate.He says that the moon-people were coming into contact with the people on earth by using a large mirror which was over a big hole on the ground. If somebody entered that hole, he could hear everything that the people of earth were saying. Lucian mentions that he used it himself and that he was able to see his home. He also added that if somebody doesn't believe that this exists he should travel to the moon to see by himself!!!!

After staying on the moon Lucian travelled between the star clusters of Pleiades and the Hyades to a place called Lychnopolis. It was called like that because there were only lamps there(lychnos=lamp polis=city)

This was the space travel of Lucian in his work called "The true story". Later he mentions how he returned to earth and was eaten by a sea monster in which he lived until it died.

No Lucian was not a crazy person. The true story was a parody of some fantasy stories by contemporary or ancient sources that were considered true by the majority of the people.However there is also an alternative opinion that it was purely a science fiction work containing the following elements that prove it

  • travel to outer space
  • encounter with alien life-forms, including the experience of a first encounter event
  • interplanetary warfare and imperialism
  • colonization of planets
  • artificial atmosphere
  • liquid air
  • reflecting telescope
  • motif of giganticism
  • creatures as products of human technology (robot theme)
  • worlds working by a set of alternate 'physical' laws
  • explicit desire of the protagonist for exploration and adventure

sources:http://www.echedoros-a.gr/2009/05/to.html(in Greek), translation made by me

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