Gulliver says that although he was not ill-treated on Laputa, nonetheless he wished to leave the island, since he was bored there and generally ignored by the people, who were disagreeable companions. A great lord at court, generally regarded as ignorant and stupid on account of his preference for practicality over abstraction, befriends him and intercedes with the king to allow him to leave the island. Having gained permission, Gulliver descends to Balnibarbi in the same manner as he was drawn up to Laputa and goes to stay with a lord named Munodi, to whom he has a letter of introduction, in Lagado.
Lagado is about half the size of London, but it is a wretched city, with poorly built houses and people in rags. The countryside around it is unproductive, though it has excellent soil. Only Lord Munodi’s house is magnificent and well-ordered, and he, like the lord who befriended Gulliver on Laputa, is generally regarded as a fool.
Lord Munodi takes Gulliver to his country house, which is surrounded by rich, beautiful farmland and vineyards. The house itself is similarly impressive. However, Munodi tells Gulliver that he will probably have to destroy both his town and country houses and rebuild them in keeping with the prevailing style; otherwise he risks incurring general censure and perhaps the displeasure of the king himself. He tells Gulliver that about forty years ago, some people from Balnibarbi went up to Laputa and spent five months there, returning with various scientific and mathematical theories which they wanted to put into practice. They founded the grand academy in Lagado, where the professors are always coming up with new rules for architecture, agriculture, and many other disciplines. Their theories promise fantastic results, but never seem to work in practice, so the people in fact lack such necessities as decent housing, food, and clothes. Lord Munodi recommends that Gulliver see the Grand Academy of Lagado but does not accompany him, as he is not popular there.
Gulliver visits and describes the Grand Academy of Lagado. It is not a single building, but a row of houses on both sides of a street. Gulliver goes there for many days and sees at least five hundred rooms, in which experiments and “projections” are being conducted.
The first man he sees is engaged in a project to extract sunbeams from cucumbers. These sunbeams can then be stored in vials and used to warm the air when the weather is inclement. Like other professors at the academy, he begs money from Gulliver for his research, complaining of the price of cucumbers. The second scientist is engaged in a far filthier experiment, to separate human excrement into the original foods from which it came. There is a man who has a plan to build houses from the roof downwards, and another who wants to plough fields using pigs, by burying acorns and other foods they particularly relish, then releasing hundreds of pigs into the field to root them up. There is a doctor who aims to cure colic by using a pair of bellows to draw air out of the anus or pump it in.
The other side of the academy is given over to various experiments in “speculative learning.” These include turning air into a solid and softening marble. There is also an automatic writing machine, which generates gibberish, and various plans for linguistic reform, one of which is to abolish words altogether and simply carry around the objects to which they refer, thereby creating a language which can be understood universally.
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visits “the school of political projectors” at the academy. The professors there have schemes for ensuring that government ministers are well-qualified for their tasks and act according to the public good, ideas which seem ludicrous to Gulliver. However, one of them seems more reasonable to him when he proposes to cure the ills of the body politic with exactly the same medicines that would be used in the case of the human body, giving members of the government the remedy in question. This doctor also recommends that violent factions could be reconciled by sawing off the top of each party’s head and mixing their brains together.
There are also debates about taxation, one idea being to tax people on the attributes in which they take most pride and to let them determine the amount of the tax themselves. With another, Gulliver discusses ways of discovering plots against the government, including examining the excrement of suspected conspirators and hunting for anagrams in their letters.
Gulliver determines to return to England and leaves Lagado for the port of Maldonada. He intends to sail to the island of Luggnagg, and thence to Japan, but is told that there will be no ships bound for Luggnagg for at least a month, so he fills in the time with a brief excursion to the small island of Glubbdubdrib.
Glubbdubdrib is an island of magicians, governed by a powerful sorcerer and necromancer. After a few days there, Gulliver grows so accustomed to seeing the spirits of the dead that they no longer frighten him. The governor offers to call up the spirits of whatever dead people Gulliver would like to meet, assuring him that they will always tell the truth, “for lying was a talent of no use in the lower world.” Gulliver has the governor summon up Alexander the Great, who assures him that he was not poisoned, but died of a fever brought on by excessive drinking. He sees Hannibal, Caesar, Pompey, and the Roman senate, a far nobler assembly than any modern parliament. He is particularly impressed by Brutus, with whom he talks at length.
Gulliver has the governor summon up Homer and Aristotle, together with their commentators, of whom there are hundreds. The two great men are not acquainted with any of those who wrote about them and, as Gulliver avers, misrepresented their meaning. He spends five days calling up other philosophers and rulers, including many Roman emperors. He is struck with the superiority of ancient history and ancient rulers to anything that the modern age can provide and decides that modern historians have misrepresented their subjects to make them appear less contemptible. He even finds that modern people are physically inferior specimens when compared with their ancestors, time and the pox having “shortened the size of bodies, unbraced the nerves, relaxed the sinews and muscles, introduced a sallow complexion, and rendered the flesh loose and rancid.”