A Voyage to the Moon: Science Fiction in Ancient Greece

Lucian is a second century AD Syrian writer. His True Histories is generally viewed as the first science fiction novel, and its bizarre, playful narrative can be viewed as a precursor to writers such as Douglas Adams. Setting out on a voyage, the narrator is caught up in a storm that propels him through the sky, and his ship ends up landing on the moon.

Lucian builds on the Greek idea that the moon is a mirror world to our own. Pythagorean philosophers had a lot of interesting theories about the moon. They thought of it as a sort of reverse parallel of the earth, populated by earth-like beings of great beauty. These creatures do not have messy bodily functions, they lay eggs and do not produce excrement. They are therefore purer and ‘cleaner’ than humans, detached from our worldly selves. One theory held that Helen of Troy, who according to myth was born from an egg, was a moon-woman. Many believed that the moon reflected the sun’s light, and Anaxagoras, a fifth century BC philosopher, called the moon a ‘star of false light’.

And so the moon was associated with lies and distorted realities. This created scope to explore the relationship between truth and fiction, and how the artificial reality of stories can appear to truthfully reflect our own world.

Lucian playfully describes his observations of the Moon-men. In a ridiculous and bawdy passage he describes the strange sexual practices of the Moon-men:

In the interval, while I was living on the moon, I observed some strange and wonderful things that I wish to speak of. In the first place there is the fact that they are not born of women but of men: they marry men and do not even know the word woman at all! Up to the age of twenty-five each is a wife, and thereafter a husband. They carry their children in the calf of the leg instead of the belly. When conception takes place the calf begins to swell. In course of time they cut it open and deliver the child dead, and then they bring it to life by putting it in the wind with its mouth open.

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