A True History

by Lucian

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

There are numerous characters in Lucian’s book ATrue History. For the most part, they are fictitious inhabitants of the worlds that the narrator (Lucian himself) and his crew visit as they sail into the Atlantic Ocean and are then transported into space. There are also real, legendary, or half-legendary persons that the travelers meet on their way.


First and foremost, the figure of the narrator, Lucian, looms large in this proto-science-fiction novel. He is a person of rich imagination, broad erudition, and great elocution. He depicts in great detail the mysterious nations, lands, customs, phenomena, and animals that the explorers encounter. He also engages with the current geographical, astronomical, biological, historical, and philosophical thought, maintaining a tone of tongue-in-cheek seriousness as he deals with popular opinion and superstition.

His goal is to satirize his contemporaries who write about the places they have never visited, presenting this as their personal experience, and describing fantastic or mythological events as something true. Lucian’s strategy, on the contrary, is to tell the readers from the very beginning that there is no truth in what he is going to say. In the preface, he calls himself a liar. He wants to entertain the readers but also to challenge the conventional wisdom they follow.

Endymion and the Moonites

Out of the many fantastic characters that the protagonist mentions, two groups stand out. These are the inhabitants of the Moon and of the Sun. The Moon’s king is Endymion. According to various myths, he is closely linked with the Moon and the lunar goddess Selene and is considered a personification of sleep. Selene has fallen in love with him and transferred him to the Moon. Lucian doubts the veracity of this mythological story. His satire is intensified by his portrayal of the life on the Moon. In his novel, Endymion is the king of the Moonites. The narrator describes the Moonites’ appearance, their way of life, and their food. They are bald and have no toenails, and they have only one toe on each foot. They are all tailed, and the tail is a large cabbage. There are no women among the Moonites, so men marry men on the Moon. They roast flying frogs and drink the air compressed in a cup.

There are numerous hybrid creatures living on the Moon as well. This is how the horse-vultures, for example, are pictured:

We were intending to continue our voyage, when we were discovered and detained by the Horse-vultures, as they are called. These are men mounted on huge vultures, which they ride like horses; the great birds have ordinarily three heads. It will give you some idea of their size if I state that each of their quill-feathers is longer and thicker than the mast of a large merchantman. This corps is charged with the duty of patrolling the land, and bringing any strangers it may find to the king.

Of the other lunar creatures, the narrator says,

The remaining 20,000 [were] mounted on Salad-wings. These latter are also enormous birds, fledged with various herbs, and with quill-feathers resembling lettuce leaves. Next these were the Millet-throwers and the Garlic-men. Endymion had also a contingent from the North of 30,000 Flea-archers and 50,000 Wind-coursers. The former have their name from the great fleas, each of the bulk of a dozen elephants, which they ride. The Wind-coursers are infantry, moving through the air without wings; they affect this by so girding their shirts, which reach to the ankle, that they hold the wind like a sail and propel their wearers’ ship-fashion.

Phaethon and the Sunites

The lunar...

(This entire section contains 882 words.)

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world is in opposition to the solar one, which is inhabited by residents who are no less preposterous. The Sun is ruled by another mythological figure, Phaethon. According to myth, he is the son of Helios, the god of the Sun. In one version of the myth, he dies because of his presumption, failing to steer his father’s horses. The narrator doubts the truthfulness of this legend as well, yet he retains Phaethon’s connection with the Sun. In describing Phaethon’s army fortified by allied forces, the narrator says the following about the Sunites:

On the enemy’s side, Phaethon occupied the left with his Horse-ants; they are great winged animals resembling our ants except in size . . . On their right was about an equal force of Sky-gnats—archers mounted on great gnats; and next them the Sky-pirouetters . . . they slung monstrous radishes at long range, a wound from which was almost immediately fatal, turning to gangrene at once; they were supposed to anoint their missiles with mallow juice. Next came the Stalk-fungi, 10,000 heavy-armed troops for close quarters; the explanation of their name is that their shields are mushrooms, and their spears asparagus stalks. Their neighbors were the Dog-acorns, Phaethon’s contingent from Sirius. These were 5,000 in number, dog-faced men fighting on winged acorns. It was reported that Phaethon too was disappointed of the slingers whom he had summoned from the Milky Way, and of the Cloud-centaurs.

The above-mentioned creatures are just a few among the countless characters of Lucian’s novel. Although each of them taken separately except the protagonist and narrator himself is relatively insignificant, together they all play an important part in the execution of the author’s purpose.