Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Sea. This work’s voyage takes place over a boundless ocean, which lies beyond the Strait of Gibraltar. The sea is the realm of the unknown beyond the Mediterranean, a realm where fantastic creatures dwell in all sorts of imagined locations. Drawing on the tradition of Homer’s Odyssey (c. 800 b.c.e.), Lucian uses the sea as a symbol of the unpredictability of human fortune and of sudden, unexpected turns of events. The sea also represents the literary text, as the sailors in the ship become analogous to the readers, striving to make sense of what they encounter in this fantastic narrative.


*Moon. The first full episode of the story occurs on the Moon, when the ship is whisked up to the heavens in a whirlwind. After a battle between the Sun and the Moon, in which both entities clearly stand for warring nations down on Earth, Endymion, the king of the Moon, takes the narrator and his crew on a tour of the lunar landscape, which is populated by bizarre life-forms. This appears to be Lucian’s parody of Greek ideas about the dead, which included the notion that souls of departed humans spent time on the Moon. Thus the Moon is both a strange, yet oddly familiar, otherworld—much in the mode of modern science fiction—and an abode of the dead.


Whale. Upon their return to the sea, and the land of the living, the voyagers are promptly swallowed by a huge whale, inside which whole communities of beings live. The travelers spend several months in the company of an old man and his son, who have cultivated a farm in the whale’s stomach. The whale...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Baldwin, Barry. Studies in Lucian. Toronto: Hakkert, 1973. An evaluation of Lucian and his works by an expert scholar. Chapter 5 includes comments on Lucian’s view of the writing of history. Also includes a useful bibliography.

Fredericks, S. C. “Lucian’s True History as SF.” Science Fiction Studies 3 (March, 1976): 49-60. Suggests that A True History is an early instance of science fiction writing. The landscape of Lucian’s journey can be seen as an “alternative world” through which the author explores the features and problems of the real world.

Jones, C. P. Culture and Society in Lucian. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986. A good general study of Lucian’s many works. Locates them in the social and intellectual conditions of his time, the Greco-Roman imperial age. Chapters 5 and 6 discuss A True History in connection with Lucian’s views on truth and lies.

Robinson, Christopher. Lucian and His Influence in Europe. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979. A thorough account of Lucian’s influence on such later European writers as Henry Fielding. Offers a historical account and critical evaluation.