|Author||Lucian of Samosata|
|Country||Roman Empire (Syria)|
|Publication date||2nd century AD|
True History or True Story (Greek: Ἀληθῆ διηγήματα) is a fantastic travel tale by the Greek-speaking Syrian author Lucian of Samosata, the earliest known fiction about travelling to outer space, alien life-forms and interplanetary warfare. Written in the second century AD, the novel has been referred to as "the first known text that could be called science fiction". The work was intended by Lucian as a satire against contemporary and ancient sources, which quote fantastic and mythical events as truth.
In True History, Lucian and a company of adventuring heroes sailing westward through the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar) are blown off course by a strong wind, and after 79 days come to an island. This island is home to a river of wine filled with fish, and bears a marker indicating that Heracles and Dionysos have traveled to this point.
Shortly after leaving the island, they are lifted up by a giant waterspout and deposited on the Moon. There they find themselves embroiled in a full-scale war between the king of the Moon and the king of the Sun, involving armies which boast such exotica as stalk-and-mushroom men, acorn-dogs ("dog-faced men fighting on winged acorns"), and cloud-centaurs. Unusually, the Sun, Moon, stars and planets are portrayed as locales, each with its unique geographic details and inhabitants.
After returning to the Earth, the adventurers become trapped in a giant whale; inside the 200-mile-long animal, there live many groups of people whom they rout in war. They also reach a sea of milk, an island of cheese and the isle of the blessed. There, he meets the heroes of the Trojan War, other mythical men and animals, and even Homer. They find Herodotus being eternally punished for the "lies" he published in his Histories.
After leaving the Island of the Blessed, they deliver a letter to Calypso given to them by Odysseus explaining that he wishes he had stayed with her so he could have lived eternally. They then discover a chasm in the Ocean, but eventually sail around it, discover a far-off continent and decide to explore it. The book ends rather abruptly by Lucian saying that their adventure there will be the subject of following books.
Lucian's True History eludes a clear-cut literary classification. Its multilayered character has given rise to interpretations as diverse as science fiction, fantasy, satire or parody, depending on how much importance scholars attach to Lucian's explicit intention of telling a story of falsehoods. Generally speaking, authors concentrating on science fiction topoi are more willing to classify True History as part of the former genres, while those stressing Lucian's satirical motives are more inclined to view his work under the latter premises.
In the later view, Lucian intended his story to be a form of literary criticism, a satire against contemporary and ancient sources which quote fantastic and mythical events as truth. He mentions the tales of Ctesias, Iambulus, and Homer and states that "what did surprise me was their supposition that nobody would notice they were lying." Many characters and events are exaggerated to ridiculous ends to mock the original tellings. As noted by classicist B.P. Reardon, "above all, it is a parody of literary 'liars' like Homer and Herodotus". Consequently, Lucian goes on to state that the story recounted in True History is about "things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say."
Contrary to classicists, modern SF critics do not necessarily view the satirical streak of the story to conflict with modern notions of science fiction. The defining element of science can rather be found in Lucian's specific, but effective approach to identify false values and misidentifications in contemporary philosophy, which was very much the general term of science then. Additionally, they point out that True History was written in response to another work which also contained science fictional elements, that is Antonius Diogenes’ lost Of the Wonderful Things Beyond Thule, whose protagonist also reached the moon. The estrangening feel of the story as a defining SF element has also been noted:
...True History may properly be regarded as SF because Lucian often achieves that sense of "cognitive estrangement" which Darko Suvin has defined as the generic distinction of SF, that is, the depiction of an alternate world, radically unlike our own, but relatable to it in terms of significant knowledge.
According to Grewell, whose definition of science fiction focuses on the struggle between supposedly superior and inferior life forms, "part of the tale that qualifies it as science fiction, rather than as fantasy or imaginative fiction, involves Lucian and his seamen in a battle for territorial and colonization rights:
"The king of the inhabitants of the Sun, Phaethon," said Endymion king of the Moon, "has been at war with us for a long time now. Once upon a time I gathered together the poorest people in my kingdom and undertook to plant a colony on the Morning Star which was empty and uninhabited. Phaethon out of jealousy thwarted the colonization, meeting us halfway at the head of his dragoons. At that time we were beaten, for we were not a match for them in strength, and we retreated. Now, however, I desire to make war again and plant the colony."
In sum, typical science fiction themes and topoi appearing in True History are:
"I will merely remark that the sprightliness and sophistication of True History make it read like a joke at the expense of nearly all early-modern science fiction, that written between, say, 1910 and 1940."
Lucian of Samosata, the Greco-Syrian satirist of the second century A.D., appears today as an exemplar of the science-fiction artist. There is little, if any, need to argue that his mythopoeic Milesian Tales and his literary fantastic voyages and utopistic hyperbole comport with the genre of science fiction; ...
"...Lucian's Verae Historiae ("True Histories"), a fantastic journey narrative considered the earliest surviving example of Science Fiction in the Western tradition."