Department of History
University of California, Irvine
 Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker

Week 2.  The Copernican Revolution.

excerpts from
A True Story
by Lucian of Samosata (c.120 - c.180 C.E.)

Book I

I ... was eager to hand something down to posterity ... and as I had nothing true to tell, not having had any adventures of significance, I took to lying.  But my lying is ... honest ... for though I tell the truth in nothing else, I shall at least be truthful in saying that I am a liar.  I think I can escape the censure of the world by my own admission that I am not telling a word of truth.  Be it understood, then, that I am writing about things which I have neither seen nor had to do with nor learned from others -- which, in fact, do not exist at all and, in the nature of things, cannot exist.  Therefore my readers should on no account believe in them.

Once upon a time, setting out from the Pillars of Hercules [Strait of Gibraltar] and heading for the western ocean with a fair wind, I went a-voyaging.  The motive and purpose of my journey lay in my intellectual activity and desire for adventure, and in my wish to find out what the end of the ocean was, and who the people were that lived on the other side.  On this account I put aboard a good store of provisions, stowed water enough, enlisted in the venture fifty of my acquaintances who were like-minded with myself, got together also a great quantity of arms, shipped the best sailing-master to be had at a big inducement, and put my boat -- she was a pinnace -- in trim for a long and difficult voyage. 

Well, for a day and a night we sailed before the wind without making very much offing, as land was still dimly in sight; but at sunrise on the second day the wind freshened, the sea rose, darkness came on, and before we knew it we could no longer even get our canvas in.  Committing ourselves to the gale and giving up, we drove for seventy-nine days.  On the eightieth day, however, the Sun came out suddenly and at no great distance we saw a high, wooded island ringed about with sounding surf, which, however, was not rough, as already the worst of the storm was abating.

Putting in and going ashore, we lay on the ground for some time in consequence of our long misery, but finally we arose and told off thirty of our number to stay and guard the ship and twenty to go inland with me and look over the island. When we had gone forward through the wood about three furlongs from the sea, we saw a slab of bronze, inscribed with Greek letters, faint and obliterated, which said:  "To this point came Hercules and Dionysus."  There were also two footprints in the rock close by, one of which was a hundred feet long, the other less -- to my thinking, the smaller one was left by Dionysus, the other by Hercules.  [This is a reference to Herodotus' description of Scythia:  "The country has no marvels except its rivers, which are larger and more numerous than those of any other land.  These ... and one thing besides, which I am about to mention. They show a footmark of Hercules impressed on a rock, in shape like the print of a man's foot, but two cubits in length." (The History, Book IV, 82)

Chian grapes

We did obeisance and went on, but had not gone far when we came upon a river of wine, just as like as could be to Chian [the Greek island of Chios was famous for its wine].  The stream was large and full, so that in places it was actually navigable....

I resolved to find out where the river took its rise, and went up along the stream.  What I found was not a source, but a number of large grapevines, full of clusters; beside the root of each flowed a spring of clear wine, and the springs gave rise to the river.  There were many fish to be seen in it, very similar to wine in color and in taste.  In fact, on catching and eating some of them, we became drunk....


"Apollo and Daphne"
by Antonio del Pollaiolo (c.1431-1498)


Next, after crossing the river at a place where it was fordable, we found something wonderful in grapevines.  The part which came out of the ground, the trunk itself, was stout and well-grown, but the upper part was in each case a woman, entirely perfect from the waist up.  They were like our pictures of Daphne turning into a tree when Apollo is just catching her.  Out of their finger-tips grew the branches, and they were full of grapes.  Actually, the hair of their heads was tendrils and leaves and clusters!

When we came up, they welcomed and greeted us, some of them speaking Lydian, some Indian, but the most part Greek.  They even kissed us on the lips, and everyone that was kissed at once became reeling drunk.  They did not suffer us, however, to gather any of the fruit, but cried out in pain when it was plucked.  Some of them actually wanted us to embrace them, and two of my comrades complied, but could not get away again.  They were held fast by the part which had touched them, for it had grown in and struck root.  Already branches had grown from their fingers, tendrils entwined them, and they were on the point of bearing fruit like the others any minute. 

Leaving them in the lurch, we made off to the boat, and on getting there, told the men we had left behind about everything, including the affair of our comrades with the vines.  Then, taking jars, we furnished ourselves not only with water but with wine from the river, encamped for the night on the beach close by, and at daybreak put to sea with a moderate breeze.

"a whirlwind suddenly arose..."

About noon, when the island was no longer in sight, a whirlwind suddenly arose, spun the boat about, raised her into the air about three hundred furlongs and did not let her down into the sea again; but while she was hung up aloft a wind struck her sails and drove her ahead with bellying canvas. 

For seven days and seven nights we sailed the air, and on the eighth day we saw a great country in it, resembling an island, bright and round and shining with a great light.  Running in there and anchoring, we went ashore, and on investigating found that the land was inhabited and cultivated.  By day nothing was in sight from the place, but as night came on we began to see many other islands hard by, some larger, some smaller, and they were like fire in color.  We also saw another country below, with cities in it and rivers and seas and forests and mountains.  This we inferred to be our own world.

We determined to go still further inland, but we met what they call the Vulture Dragoons, and were arrested.  These are men riding on large vultures and using the birds for horses.  The vultures are large and for the most part have three heads:  you can judge of their size from the fact that the mast of a large merchantman is not so long or so thick as the smallest of the quills they have.  The Vulture Dragoons are commissioned to fly about the country and bring before the king any stranger they may find, so of course they arrested us and brought us before him. 

When he had looked us over and drawn his conclusions from our clothes, he said:  "Then you are Greeks, are you, strangers?" and when we assented, "Well, how did you get here, with so much air to cross?" 

We told him all, and he began and told us about himself:  that he too was a human being, Endymion by name, who had once been ravished from our country in his sleep, and on coming there had been made king of the land.  He said that his country was the Moon that shines down on us.  He urged us to take heart, however, and suspect no danger, for we should have everything that we required.  "And if I succeed," said he, "in the war which I am now making on the people of the Sun, you shall lead the happiest of lives with me." 

We asked who the enemy were, and what the quarrel was about.  "Phaethon," said he, "the king of the inhabitants of the Sun -- for it is inhabited, you know, as well as the Moon -- has been at war with us for a long time now.  It began in this way.  Once upon a time I gathered together the poorest people in my kingdom and undertook to plant a colony on the Morning Star [Venus], which was empty and uninhabited.  Phaethon out of jealousy thwarted the colonization, meeting us half-way at the head of his Ant Dragoons.  At that time we were beaten, for we were not a match for them in strength, and we retreated:  now, however, I desire to make war again and plant the colony.  If you wish, then, you may take part with me in the expedition and I will give each of you one of my royal vultures and a complete outfit.  We shall take the field to-morrow."

"Very well," said I, "since you think it best."

That night we stopped there as his guests, but at daybreak we arose and took our posts, for the scouts signalled that the enemy was near.  The number of our army was a hundred thousand, apart from the porters, the engineers, the infantry and the foreign allies; of this total, eighty thousand were Vulture Dragoons and twenty thousand Grassplume-riders.  The Grassplume is also a very large bird, which instead of plumage is all shaggy with grass and has wings very like lettuce-leaves.  Next to these the Millet-shooters and the Garlic-fighters were posted. 

Endymion also had allies who came from the Great Bear [Ursa Major] -- thirty thousand Flea-archers and fifty thousand Volplaneurs.  The Flea-archers ride on great fleas, from which they get their name; the fleas are as large as twelve elephants.  The Volplaneurs are infantry, to be sure, but they fly in the air without wings.  As to the manner of their flight, they pull their long tunics up through their girdles, let the baggy folds fill with wind as if they were sails, and are carried along like boats.  For the most part they serve as light infantry in battle.  It was said, too, that the stars over Cappadocia would send seventy thousand Sparrowcorns and five thousand Crane Dragoons.  I did not get a look at them, as they did not come, so I have not ventured to write about their characteristics, for the stories about them were wonderful and incredible.

These were the forces of Endymion.  They all had the same equipment -- helmets of beans (their beans are large and tough); scale-corselets of lupines (they sew together the skins of lupines to make the corselets, and in that country the skin of the lupine is unbreakable, like horn); shields and swords of the Greek pattern. 

When the time came, they took position thus; on the right wing, the Vulture Dragoons and the king, with the bravest about him (we were among them); on the left, the Grassplumes; in the center, the allies, in whatever formation they liked.  The infantry came to about sixty million, and was deployed as follows.  Spiders in that country are numerous and large, all of them far larger than the Cyclades islands.  They were commissioned by the king to span the air between the Moon and the Morning Star with a web, and as soon as they had finished and had made a plain, he deployed his infantry on it.  Their leaders were Owlett son of Fairweather, and two others.

As to the enemy, on the left were the Ant Dragoons, with whom was Phaethon.  They are very large beasts with wings, like the ants that we have, except in size:  the largest one was two hundred feet long.  They themselves fought, as well as their riders, and made especially good use of their feelers.  They were said to number about fifty thousand.  On their right were posted the Sky-mosquitoes, numbering also about fifty thousand, all archers riding on large mosquitoes.  Next to them were the Sky-dancers, a sort of light infantry, formidable however, like all the rest, for they slung radishes at long range, and any man that they hit could not hold out a moment, but died, and his wound was malodorous.  They were said to anoint their missiles with mallow poison. 

Beside them were posted the Stalk-mushrooms, heavy infantry employed at close quarters, ten thousand in number.  They had the name Stalk-mushrooms because they used mushrooms for shields and stalks of asparagus for spears.  Near them stood the Puppycorns, who were sent him by the inhabitants of the Dog-star [Sirius], five thousand dog-faced men who fight on the back of winged acorns.  It was said that there were tardy allies in Phaethon's case, too -- the slingers whom he had summoned from the Milky Way, and the Cloud-centaurs.  The latter to be sure, arrived just after the battle was over (if only they had not!); but the slingers did not put in an appearance at all.  On account of this, they say, Phaethon was furious with them and afterwards ravaged their country with fire.

This, then, was the array with which Phaethon came on.  Joining battle when the flags had been flown and the donkeys on both sides had brayed (for they had donkeys for trumpeters), they fought.  The left wing of the Sunites fled at once, without even receiving the charge of the Vulture Horse, and we pursued, cutting them down.  But their right wing got the better of the left on our side, and the Sky-mosquitoes advanced in pursuit right up to the infantry.  Then, when the infantry came to the rescue, they broke and fled, especially as they saw that the forces on their left had been defeated.  It was a glorious victory, in which many were taken alive and many were slain; so much blood flowed on the clouds that they were dyed and looked red, as they do in our country when the Sun is setting, and so much also dripped down on the earth that I wonder whether something of the sort did not take place in the sky long ago, when Homer supposed that Zeus had sent a rain of blood on account of the death of Sarpedon.  [During the Trojan war, Zeus was looking on as his beloved son Sarpedon, a Trojan warrior, became embroiled in a fight to the death with Greek prince, Patroclus.  Zeus longed to lift Sarpedon out of harm's way and carry him home to safety, but Hera cautioned him that showing such favoritism would only stir up resentment among others whose sons could not be spared.  Zeus knew that Hera was right and did not intervene.  In his sadness, he "shed a rain of blood upon the earth in honor of his son whom Patroclus was about to kill on the rich plain of Troy far from his home."  Iliad, Book XVI, 458)]

Cloud-centaurs ... were advancing on us....

When we had returned from the pursuit we set up two trophies, one on the spider-webs for the infantry battle and the other, for the sky battle, on the clouds.  We were just doing this when the scouts reported that the Cloud-centaurs, who should have come to Phaethon's aid before the battle, were advancing on us.  Before we knew it, they were coming on in plain sight, a most unparalleled spectacle, being a combination of winged horses and men.  In size the men were as large as the Colossus of Rhodes from the waist up, and the horses were as large as a great merchantman.  Their number, however, I leave unrecorded for fear that someone may think it incredible, it was so great.  Their leader was the Archer [Sagittarius] from the Zodiac.  When they saw that their friends had been defeated, they sent word to Phaethon to advance again, and then, on their own account, in regular formation fell on the disordered Moonites, who had broken ranks and scattered to pursue and to plunder.  They put them all to flight, pursued the king himself to the city and killed most of his birds; they plucked up the trophies and overran the whole plain woven by the spiders, and they captured me with two of my comrades.  By this time Phaethon too was present, and other trophies were being set up by their side.

As for us, we were taken off to the Sun that day, our hands tied behind our backs with a section of spider-web.  The enemy decided not to lay siege to the city, but on their way back they built a wall through the air, so that the rays of the Sun should no longer reach the Moon.  The wall was double, made of cloud, so that a genuine eclipse of the Moon took place, and she was completely enshrouded in unbroken night.  Hard pressed by this, Endymion sent and begged them to pull down the construction and not let them lead their lives in darkness.  He promised to pay tribute, to be an ally and not to make war again, and volunteered to give hostages for all this.  Phaethon and his people held two assemblies; on the first day they did not lay aside a particle of their anger, but on the second day they softened, and the peace was made on these terms:

On the following conditions the Sunites and their allies make peace with the Moonites and their allies, to wit:

That the Sunites tear down the dividing-wall and do not invade the Moon again, and that they make over the prisoners of war, each at a set ransom;

That the Moonites permit the stars to be autonomous, and do not make war on the Sunites;

That each country aid the other if it be attacked;

That in yearly tribute the King of the Moonites pay the King of the Sunites ten thousand gallons of dew, and that he give ten thousand of his people as hostages;

That the colony on the Morning Star be planted in common, and that anyone else who so desires may take part in it;

That the treaty be inscribed on a slab of electrum and set up in mid-air, on the common confines.  Attested under hand and seal.


(For the Sunites)

(For the Moonites)









On those terms peace was made, and then the wall was torn down at once and we prisoners were restored.  When we reached the Moon we were met and tearfully welcomed by our comrades and by Endymion himself.  He wanted me to stay with him and join the colony, promising to give me his own son in marriage -- there are no women in their country.  But I was not to be persuaded; I asked him to let me go down to the sea. When he perceived that he could not prevail on me, he let us go after entertaining us for seven days.

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.  It seems to me that the term "belly of the leg" [calf of the leg] came to us Greeks from there, since the leg performs the function of a belly with them. 

But I will tell you something else, still more wonderful.  They have a kind of men whom they call the Arboreals, who are brought into the world as follows:  Exsecting a man's right genital gland, they plant it in the ground.  From it grows a very large tree of flesh, resembling the emblem of Priapus [Priapus was a fertility god often represented by a male figure with an erect penis]:  it has branches and leaves, and its fruit is acorns a cubit thick.  When these ripen, they harvest them and shell out the men.  Another thing, they have artificial parts that are sometimes of ivory and sometimes, with the poor, of wood, and make use of them in their intercourse. 

...they have quantities of frogs, that fly about in the air....

When a man grows old, he does not die, but is dissolved like smoke and turns into air.  They all eat the same food; they light a fire and cook frogs on the coals -- they have quantities of frogs, that fly about in the air -- and while they are cooking, they sit about them as if at table, snuff up the rising smoke and gorge themselves.  This is the food they eat, and their drink is air, which is squeezed into a cup and yields a liquid like dew.  They are not subject to calls of nature, which, in fact, they have no means of answering.  Another important function, too, is not provided for as one would expect, but in the hollow of the knee.

A man is thought beautiful in that country if he is bald and hairless, and they quite detest longhaired people. It is different on the comets, where they think long-haired people beautiful -- there were visitors in the Moon who told us about them.  Another point-they have beards that grow a little above the knee, and they have no toe-nails, but are all single-toed.  Over each man's rump grows a long cabbage-leaf, like a tail, which is always green and does not break if he falls on his back.  Their noses run honey of great pungency, and when they work or take exercise, they sweat milk all over their bodies, of such quality that cheese can actually be made from it by dripping in a little of the honey.  They make oil from onions, and it is very clear and sweet-smelling, like myrrh.  They have many water-vines, the grapes of which are like hailstones, and to my thinking, the hail that falls down on us is due to the bursting of the bunches when a wind strikes and shakes those vines.  They use their bellies for pockets, putting into them anything they have use for, as they can open and shut them.  These parts do not seem to have any intestines in them or anything else, except that they are all shaggy and hairy inside, so that the children enter them when it is cold.

The clothing of the rich is malleable glass and that of the poor, spun bronze; for that region is rich in bronze, which they work like wool by wetting it with water.  I am reluctant to tell you what sort of eyes they have, for fear that you may think me lying on account of the incredibility of the story, but I will tell you, notwithstanding.  The eyes that they have are removable, and whenever they wish they take them out and put them away until they want to see:  then they put them in and look.  Many, on losing their own, borrow other people's to see with, and the rich folk keep a quantity stored up.  For ears they have plane-leaves, except only the acorn-men, who have wooden ones. 

In the royal purlieus [outlying parts of a forest] I saw another marvel.  A large looking-glass is fixed above a well, which is not very deep.  If a man goes down into the well, he hears everything that is said among us on earth, and if he looks into the looking-glass he sees every city and every country just as if he were standing over it.  When I tried it I saw my family and my whole native land, but I cannot go further and say for certain whether they also saw me.  Anyone who does not believe this is so will find, if ever he gets there himself, that I am telling the truth.

To go back to my story, we embraced the king and his friends, went aboard, and put off.  Endymion even gave me presents -- two of the glass tunics, five of bronze, and a suit of lupine armor....  He also sent a thousand Vulture Dragoons with us to escort us for sixty miles.  On our way we passed many countries and put in at the Morning Star, which was just being colonized.  We landed there and procured water. Going aboard and making for the zodiac, we passed the Sun to port, hugging the shore.  We did not land, though many of my comrades wanted to; for the wind was unfavorable.  But we saw that the country was green and fertile and well-watered, and full of untold good things.  On seeing us, the Cloud-centaurs, who had entered the service of Phaethon, flew up to the ship and then went away again when they found out that the treaty protected us.  The Vulture Dragoons had already left us.

Sailing the next night and day we reached Lamp-town toward evening, already being on our downward way.  This city lies in the air midway between the Pleiades and the Hyades, though much lower than the Zodiac.  On landing, we did not find any men at all, but a lot of lamps running about and loitering in the public square and at the harbor.  Some of them were small and poor, so to speak:  a few, being great and powerful, were very splendid and conspicuous.  Each of them has his own house, or sconce [wall fixture for holding a light source], they have names like men, and we heard them talking.  They offered us no harm, but invited us to be their guests.  We were afraid, however, and none of us ventured to eat a mouthful or close an eye.  They have a public building in the center of the city, where their magistrate sits all night and calls each of them by name, and whoever does not answer is sentenced to death for deserting.  They are executed by being put out. We were at court, saw what went on, and heard the lamps defend themselves and tell why they came late.  There I recognized our own lamp:  I spoke to him and enquired how things were at home, and he told me all about them.

That night we stopped there, but on the next day we set sail and continued our voyage.  By this time we were near the clouds.  There we saw the city of Cloudcuckootown, [the capital of Birdland in Aristophanes' play, The Birds] and wondered at it, but did not visit it, as the wind did not permit. The king, however, was said to be Crow Dawson.  It made me think of Aristophanes the poet, a wise and truthful man whose writings are distrusted without reason.  On the next day but one, the ocean was already in plain sight, but no land anywhere except the countries in the air, and they began to appear fiery and bright.  Toward noon on the fourth day the wind fell gently and gave out, and we were set down on the sea.  When we touched the water we were marvellously pleased and happy, made as merry as we could in every way, and went over the side for a swim, for by good luck it was calm and the sea was smooth....

Go to:
  • Astronomia Magna (1537), by Paracelsus (1493-1541)
  • The pryncyples of astronamye the whiche diligently perscrutyd is in maners pronosticacyon to the worldes end (1542?), by Andrew Boorde (1490?-1549)
  • The Discovery of a World in the Moone (1638), by John Wilkins (1614-1672)
  • The Man in the Moone:  or, A Discourse Of A Voyage Thither (1638), by Domingo Gonsales [Francis Godwin  (1562-1633)]
Weekly Readings
Lecture Notes