A True History

by Lucian
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Last Updated on September 17, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 540

Rather than being a “true history,” as the title indicates, Lucian’s work is an elaborate satire that draws on stories and characters from mythology. Although in many ways the events and people correspond to the expectations of Romans of his time, he has crafted a unique story by including his own plots and pulling in elements from other literary works, such as Homer’s Odyssey.

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The narrator, called Lucian, tells of his strange adventures on an amazing journey that he survived by a combination of wit and luck.

The apparent utopia where Lucian and his fellow travelers arrive is quickly shown to have a large number of defects. The sailors are delighted to find hundreds of beautiful, perfectly proportioned women who are literally growing from vines. These plant-women, whom he compares to the classical story of Daphne, are obviously not human. Instead of limbs, they have vines. They suffer terrible agony when the men try to pull off their fruit. Female beauty suddenly proves a trap. Their kisses leave the men “as if drunk.” Worse yet, sexual relations prove fatal. The men who engage in “copulation with the vines” cannot be pried apart from the women, but instead they get stuck and turn into vine-men.

Some of them desired to have carnal mixture with us, and two of our company were so bold as to entertain their offer, and could never afterwards be loosed from them, but were knit fast together at their nether parts, from whence they grew together and took root together, and their fingers began to spring out with branches and crooked wires as if they were ready to bring out fruit: whereupon we forsook them and fled to our ships, and told the company at our coming what had betide unto us, how our fellows were entangled, and of their copulation with the vines.

After fleeing that island, they sail to the moon, where military adventures await. The men are recruited into a long and complicated war between Endymion, the king of the Moon, and Phaeton, the king of the Sun, who objected to Endymion’s plan to send colonists to the Morning Star. Phaeton sends an array of troops who have fantastic properties themselves—they come riding tremendous and comical beasts. Rather than fierce animals with armor made of strong, intimidating materials, Lucian favors domestic animals and vegetables. Two example are the Lachanopters, with lettuce-leaf wings, and the Caulomycetes, with mushroom armor and asparagus spears.

[T]he Lachanopters . . . [are] a mighty great fowl, and instead of feathers covered thick over with wort leaves; but their wing feathers were much like the leaves of lettuces. . . . [T]hey are called Caulomycetes because their shields were made of mushrooms and their spears of the stalks of the herb asparagus.

The huge size of some of the beasts pulled into service presents real obstacles, as they can quickly create interference for Endymion’s troops. Some of the more memorable beasts are the giant spiders.

[T]here are many spiders in those parts of mighty bigness, every one in quantity exceeding one of the Islands Cyclades: these were appointed to spin a web in the air between the Moon and the Morning Star, which was done in an instant.

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