Friday, 5 July 2013

Star Gayzing - Fly Me To The Moon

Rather than gaze at the stars today, let’s gaze at the Moon.

I’ve always been fascinated by legends and stories of fantastic travels, whether it’s the Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy, or Gulliver’s Travels. One story which I think should become more well-known is one by Lucian of Samosata, a 2nd-century Greek writer from Syria, called “True History”.

Even though it is fantasy literature rather than history, “True History” gives us an interesting example of early, if not the first, science fiction. What makes it relevant to this blog is Lucian’s description of two all-male communities living on the Moon’s surface and how they reproduce without women.

When I first read “True History” I was amazed how imaginative it was compared to ancient Greek stories like the Odyssey. It was more akin to reading Gulliver’s Travels. It exaggerates some of the ideas found in Greek myths and satirises warfare.

Only part of “True History” deals with the Men on the Moon, or Selenites. Lucian describes how he was sailing across the Atlantic when a huge waterspout carried his ship up to the Moon. There he and the crew are welcomed by the King of the Moon, Endymion. He enlists the help of Lucian and his fellow adventurers in his was against Phaeton, King of the Sun, over the occupation of the Morning Star, or the planet Venus as we now call it. The war ends in a truce and a treaty allows joint colonisation of the Morning Star.

It is after describing the war, with its many strange combatants – including the hippomyrmices (horse-ants) and lachonopteri (giant birds with lettuce leaves for wings) – that Lucian describes the Selenites themselves and their culture.

It’s what happens next that makes it topical, with recent laws regarding same-sex marriage being approved in various countries. After the victory banquet King Endymion is so grateful for the help of the adventurers that he offers his son in marriage to Lucian. There are no women on the Moon so he can’t offer a daughter. Which begs the question, where do baby Selenites come from?

Lucian writes that the Selenites have no knowledge of women, they don’t even have the word in their language for woman. Though King Endymion was, according the Greek myth, once a human mortal and knew all about them. A Greek myth says that the goddess of the moon, Selene, saw Endymion sleeping one night and fell in love. She asked Zeus to keep him in a state of eternal sleep and beauty so that she could see him every night. Zeus complied and Endymion became immortal. Though in a state of perpetual sleep he somehow managed to father 50 daughters by Selene, which is ironic considering Lucian places him on the Moon surrounded by men with no knowledge of women.

When the Selenites want to marry they marry another male. This is where the Ancient Greek idea of same-sex attraction is most clearly encountered on the Moon. The young men, those under the age of 25, become the “wives” in the marriages. After 25 they take a new younger spouse and take the husband’s role. There’s no mention of divorce or separation before this second marriage so I assume there’s more than two people in the marriage. Fortunately the Selenites aren’t immortal, otherwise there’d be an infinite succession of increasingly older husbands in one marriage. No, when a Selenite dies he just disappears in a puff of smoke!

When children are born, all boys of course, they do not develop in the female belly but in the calf of the man’s leg. When the baby is born the calf is cut open and the lifeless baby is held up in the air with its mouth open. In this way the wind blows into the baby’s mouth and he begins to breathe.

Lucian also mentions another all-male community on the Moon called the Arboreals who have an even weirder method of reproduction. As their name suggests these men have some kind of connection to trees. This is why. After sex Arboreals remove their right testicle and plant it into the ground like a seed. This “seed” slowly grows into a tree made of human flesh, the trunk of which is shaped like a huge erect penis. From the branches grow big acorns. When the acorns are ripe they are harvested and split open. From each acorn springs a young Arboreal. Presumably the Arboreals can only be a parent once, because Lucian doesn’t mention their right testicles growing back again.

There are several other parts of the trip to the Moon in “True History” which struck me immediately when I first read it. Firstly it mentions the Selenites having a large mirror in which you could see people far away on the Earth as if they were next to you – did Lucian invent the reflecting telescope? Secondly, the Selenites have a pouch lined with fur in their bellies into which their young could crawl for warmth – has Lucian predicted the discovery of marsupials from Australia 1,500 years in advance? Lastly, and of more personal interest to me, it says that bald men are considered the most beautiful people of all – how I wish the Selenites were real, I could happily live among them!

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