NAVIS AERIA (1768) – By Bernardo Zamagna. Written in 1768 Navis Aeria (“Ship of the Air”) was the Italian Zamagna’s attempt to take concepts we of today would associate with science fiction and present them in the old, quaint format of Epic Poetry.
The verse story detailed a flight around the world in a flying machine which was basically a sailing ship with four huge balloons around the sails and connected to a main mast. Zamagna presciently observed that one day aircraft would constitute “other Argos to carry chosen heroes” on their adventures.
The entire First Canto (Or “Canto the First” as some of the more pompous translations put it) is a poetic glorification of science, mathematics and what we now call aeronautics. As poetry it’s as lame as poetry by the Wright Brothers might have been but as a very early work of science fiction that opening Canto is very moving and ground-breaking, especially the end which excitedly predicts vessels that will one day take human beings to the moon.
Beginning with the Second Canto the actual journey is depicted as the Navis Aeria flies into the sky over the Italian-speaking nations and from there over the German and French-speaking nations, then across the English Channel. The British Isles are given short-shrift, possibly owing to national chauvinism.
The Atlantic Ocean spreads out below Zamagna’s flying ship like a blue-green desert and when he and his crew reach the Americas they take an aerial detour over Canada and what is now the Continental United States. Next the circumnavigators enjoy flying over Mexico and Peru before following the Amazon River for a time.
The airship’s crew takes note of the hard lifestyle of the native inhabitants of the jungles of South America, speculating on how they will get along with the Europeans who continue to head westward by sea and by land.
The Pacific Ocean brings monotony similar to what the crew felt soaring over the Atlantic but eventually they reach Japan and China. From there the Navis Aeria‘s journey continues over Persia, India, and Egypt before the emotional finale.
That finale is an extended aerial tour of Greece and its countless islands, saluting that cradle of western civilization in terms so grand and adoring they make my gushing salutes to ancient Greek comedies look like Grecophobic propaganda from the Ottoman Sultans. At any rate the contrast is clear: the men riding in a modern (if fictional for the time) invention hovering over the land where so much intellectual inquiry began so long ago in the western world.
FOR TEN MORE EXAMPLES OF ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2014/03/03/ten-neglected-examples-of-ancient-science-fiction/
FOR WASHINGTON IRVING’S 1809 depiction of an invasion from the moon click here: https://glitternight.com/2014/05/05/ancient-science-fiction-the-men-of-the-moon-1809-by-washington-irving/
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