Welcome to the first installment of a brand new feature here at Balladeer’s Blog. This segment will feature some forgotten early ventures into the form of story- telling that we now call science fiction. My fondness for the ancient Greeks prompts me to begin with Lucian, the Greek philosopher who lived in the 2nd century C.E. Lucian was noted not just for his philosophical observations but also for two works that defied definition by his contemporaries but would easily fall into the category of science fiction today. Both works are from roughly 150 C.E.
1. ICAROMENIPPUS – The title, obviously, was inspired by the myth about Icarus using wings crafted by his father Daedalus to fly too close to the sun, which hubristic act led to his death. In this work Lucian depicted his hero Menippus using one wing from an eagle and one from a vulture to fly to Mt Olympus, and from there to the moon. He discovered that the moon (on which he could breathe just like on Earth) was populated by the souls of the deceased (roughly twelve hundred years before Dante’s Paradiso). From the moon Menippus made the astonishing observation that the Earth was round and not flat, in a wry addition to the then-ongoing speculative debate about the subject. Impressed with his own successes so far, Menippus decided to fly to the sun, but since his wings were not held together by wax (like Icarus’ wings) there was no danger of them melting, so the gods were forced to intervene. They confiscated Menippus’ wings and sent him back to the Earth so he could no longer “tamper in God’s domain”. (Bad movie buffs will get it)
2. TRUE HISTORY – In this sarcastically- titled work Lucian told the tale of a ship exploring the Atlantic in search of new worlds. The ship was caught on top of an erupting waterspout which lifted it far up into the sky, from which point winds carried it to the moon. Unlike the moon Lucian gave us in Icaromenippus this lunar world was inhabited by moon people ruled by the Moon King. This monarch was engaged in an imperial war with the Sun King (no, not THAT one, French scholars) over which of them would get to expand their empire by colonizing the planet Jupiter. So right from the start science fiction premises were being used to offer political and social commentary disguised as whimsical fantasy. After encounters with lunar birds who had herbs for wings, archers flying on horse-sized fleas and people with artificially manufactured genitals (I swear!) the crew at last sailed safely back to Earth.