A True History Summary
by Lucian

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A True History Summary


A True History was written by Lucian of Samosata in the second century AD. It is a work of satire commenting on the outlandish reality of ancient Greek mythology, and it is commonly known as the first work of science-fiction writing. The story is written from the perspective of a protagonist who is also named Lucian.

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Plot Summary

Lucian prefaces his book A True History with the following statement:

I now make the only true statement you are to expect—that I am a liar. This confession is, I consider, a full defence against all imputations. My subject is, then, what I have neither seen, experienced, nor been told, what neither exists nor could conceivably do so. I humbly solicit my readers' incredulity.

Lucian’s story begins with him recruiting a crew of volunteers to sail from the Pillars of Heracles across the ocean to the west. Moved by curiosity, the travelers land on an island full of fantastical features, such as a river of wine and beautiful women growing on vines. A kiss from one of these vine women makes a man drunk, and sex with the women is lethal.

After leaving the island, the crew’s ship is swept up three hundred and fifty miles above the Earth by a terrible storm. The ship continues to fly in the air, and within seven days, it finally approaches what they assume is Earth. As they land, the travelers meet guards mounted on huge vultures who bring them to their king. The crew discovers that these people’s king is Endymion, the king of the Moon, who was transferred there when he fell asleep on Earth. The travelers discover that they are on the Moon, not back on Earth.

Lucian describes the appearance of the Moonites, the residents of the Moon. There are no women among them, and the Moonites live a very different lifestyle from those on Earth.

There are wars being fought in heaven because there is a conflict between two powers—the Moon and the Sun—over a colony. The Moonites want to build a colony on Lucifer (Venus), but the Sunites (the inhabitants of the Sun), headed by Phaethon, interfere with it. The Moonites lose the first campaign, but are determined to seek revenge. Endymion suggests that the travelers should join his army, and they agree.

Lucian describes the two armies, each reinforced by their allies. The battle starts with asses on both sides braying in lieu of trumpeters. The Moonites resolutely defeat their enemy:

The rout became decisive, great numbers were taken and slain, and blood flowed in great quantities on to the clouds, staining them as red as we see them at sunset.

However, cloud-centaurs come to the rescue of the Sunites. They rout the Moonite army, forcing the survivors to retire. Lucian is taken captive. He says,

We were taken off to the Sun the same day, our hands tied behind with a piece of the cobweb.

The Sunites build a wall of clouds around the Moon, which causes a total eclipse of the Moon. Thus, Endymion is forced to enter peace negotiations, leading to peace between the two warring sides.

After the war, the travelers continue on their celestial journey. They pass by the Sun but fail to land because of the adverse wind.

Their journey is soon interrupted because an enormous whale swallows the ship. The crew spends almost two years inside the whale, finding an island with forests and water wells and waging victorious wars against strange nations inhabiting the whale’s entrails. Finally, they manage to kill the whale and escape.

The travelers visit a sea of milk with an island of cheese in it. Then they reach the Isle of the Blessed, where heroes of the Trojan War and other significant figures from the past live. They also visit the islands where the wicked are tormented in the afterlife, in addition to Calypso’s Isle and various other mythological locations.

At the end of book 2, the travelers suffer a shipwreck and land on an unknown shore. Lucian abruptly ends the narrative here, alluding to possible future sequels to the crew’s adventures.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Heading westward from the Pillars of...

(The entire section is 1,564 words.)