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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In popular cultures, life forms —especially intelligent life forms— that are of extraterrestrial origin, i.e. not coming from the Earth are referred to collectively as aliens.

This usage is anthropocentric; the term is used to refer to non-human civilizations even in the context of their own native habitats. This may be seen as a reversion to the classic meaning of "alien" (see foreigner) as referring to an "other".


Historical ideas

Kaguya-hime returning to the Moon in The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (10th century).

The fictionalization of extraterrestrial life occurred before the 20th century. The protagonist of the 10th-century Japanese narrative, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, was a hime (princess) from the Moon who is sent to Earth for safety during a celestial war, and is found and raised by a bamboo cutter in Japan. She is later taken back to the Moon by her real extraterrestrial family. A manuscript illustration depicts a round flying machine similar to a flying saucer.[1] At around the same time, "The Adventures of Bulukiya", a medieval Arabic tale from the One Thousand and One Nights, depicted a cosmos consisting of different worlds, some larger than Earth and each with their own inhabitants.[2]

The didactic poet Henry More took up the classical theme of Cosmic pluralism of the Greek Democritus in "Democritus Platonissans, or an Essay Upon the Infinity of Worlds" (1647).[3] With the new relative viewpoint that understood "our world's sunne / Becomes a starre elsewhere", More made the speculative leap to extrasolar planets,

the frigid spheres that 'bout them fare;
Which of themselves quite dead and barren are,
But by the wakening warmth of kindly dayes,
And the sweet dewie nights, in due course raise
Long hidden shapes and life, to their great Maker's praise.

The possibility of extraterrestrial life was a commonplace of educated discourse in the 17th century, though in Paradise Lost (1667)[4] John Milton cautiously employed the conditional when the angel suggests to Adam the possibility of life on the Moon:

Her spots thou seest
As clouds, and clouds may rain, and rain produce
Fruits in her softened soil, for some to eat
Allotted there; and other Suns, perhaps,
With their attendant Moons, thou wilt descry,
Communicating male and female light,
Which two great sexes animate the World,
Stored in each Orb perhaps with some that live

Fontanelle's "Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds" with its similar excursions on the possibility of extraterrestrial life, expanding rather than denying the creative sphere of a Maker, was translated into English in 1686.[5] In "The Excursion" (1728) David Mallet exclaimed, "Ten thousand worlds blaze forth; each with his train/Of peopled worlds."[6]

See also


Well-known fictional alien species


Other alien phenomena

Alien studies

Aliens in fiction


  1. ^ Richardson, Matthew (2001), The Halstead Treasury of Ancient Science Fiction, Rushcutters Bay, New South Wales: Halstead Press, ISBN 1875684646   (cf. "Once Upon a Time", Emerald City (85), September 2002,, retrieved 2008-09-17  )
  2. ^ Irwin, Robert (2003), The Arabian Nights: A Companion, Tauris Parke Paperbacks, p. 204 & 209, ISBN 1860649831  
  3. ^ Democritus (1647). Democritus Platonissans, or an Essay Upon the Infinity of Worlds.  
  4. ^ Milton, John (1667). Paradise Lost.  
  5. ^ Fontenelle, Bernard le Bovier de (1686). Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds.  
  6. ^ Mallet, David (1728). The Excursion.  

Further reading

  • Roth, Christopher F., "Ufology as Anthropology: Race, Extraterrestrials, and the Occult." In E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outerspaces, ed. by Debbora Battaglia. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005.
  • Sagan, Carl. 1996. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark: chapter 4: "Aliens"

External links


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