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19 December, 2009

The True History of Man in Space

Can Lucian’s True History Explain Missing Warriors?

by Steve Ahlquist, Illustrated by Lee Harvey Roswell

A preview from PARANOIA: The Conspiracy Reader, Vol. 1 (new book format) due out in April 2010.

The history of mankind has been one of continual warfare. As a species we have mastered many arts, magics and sciences, and turned them all towards the destruction of each other. We are so warlike that many authors have imagined that the purpose of the world is to breed warriors like ourselves. Perhaps powerful aliens with great minds but puny stature occasionally harvest our greatest warriors to fight distant wars on strange planets and in other dimensions.

It would certainly explain the disappearance of soldiers and battalions gone missing in action. These men and women might vanish from the killing fields of Earth only to reappear on board a starship or in the trenches of some alien world, armed with unthinkably advanced weaponry. According to this concept, throughout the galaxies the race of man is feared as the fiercest, most powerful warrior, the perfect mix of strength and mind, and adaptable to any circumstance.

Sometimes whole crops of warriors may be harvested. Consider the disappearance of the Amazons, warrior women lost to history. Consider Atlantis, or the mound builders of ancient North America. Did mankind truly exterminate the Neanderthal, or have our human-like cousins simply been harvested and shipped off to war in some hellish conflict?

If a soldier taken from Earth were to survive his distant service, how could he hope to be treated by his alien masters? Would they return him to Earth, where he would live out his days being considered a man driven insane by his experiences in war? Today we would say such a person has post-traumatic stress syndrome, and discount his story. Perhaps the soldier would be disposed of in the same way we might ship a racehorse past its prime to a glue factory.

Is it possible that a soldier, or a group of them, might return to Earth either through escape or through the benevolence of their captors? Perhaps a clever human could master enough of the alien science and technology to return to Earth. Weapons do have a tendency to be turned against those who wield them. Humanity, armed with advanced weaponry, far away on a distant world, might be more than our creators can handle.

This brings us to Lucian’s True History the oldest surviving account of a man voyaging to the moon. As the opening quote amply demonstrates, Lucian prefaced his work with his admonition that nothing he writes should be taken the least bit credulously. In fact, the quotes above represent only a tiny sampling of his pages of denials as to the veracity of his tales, but are denials enough to completely dismiss his assertions? As Shakespeare might say, he “doth protest too much.”

We might be inclined to believe Lucian, and take him as the liar he claims to be, but there are details in his history, details that would make no sense to his contemporaries and translators until relatively recently. Before we get too deeply into that, however, let’s backup and give some background about Lucian and his True History.

Lucian lived from approximately 125 AD to 180 AD. He was an Assyrian Greek who has had over eighty works ascribed to him, but most modern experts agree he did not write all of them. He worked as a rhetorician, which is sort of like our modern lawyer, and traveled widely, collecting considerable fame and wealth as a storyteller. He was a self-described “barbarian.”

True History, admits the author in his roundabout style, was written as a travelogue to parody the stories of Homer and Herodotus. He wanted to pile one outlandish tale upon another, adding as much exaggeration as possible. Modern commentators, taken with its story of space travel and interstellar war, are sometimes interested in approaching the story as proto-science fiction.

The story starts with Lucian having outfitted a ship with fifty crew and setting out past the Straits of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic Ocean. After many days of travel the boat arrives at an island where they find a tablet written in Greek that says, “Thus far traveled Hercules and Bacchus.” On this island Lucian discovers rivers of wine and seductive tree women. Two of his crew attempt to copulate with these nymphs, but unfortunately, “were knit fast together at their nether parts, from whence they grew together and took root together.”

This part of the story is no more or less strange than anything in Homer’s Odyssey. It is because of the many fantastic elements present in the works of Homer that it was so long viewed as mythology. It was only when the Iliad was viewed as history by Heinrich Schliemann that the ancient city of Troy was rediscovered and the works of Homer were verified as historical. The works of Herodotus, the so-called “father of history,” are filled with similarly weird events; yet, vast parts of Herodotus have been verified as factual. Lucian’s description of an island inhabited by strange creatures should in no way be taken as an indication that the whole of the work is untrue.

Leaving the island and two of his crew behind, Lucian re-provisioned his ship and set off once again towards lands unknown. “…but about noon, when we had lost sight of the island, upon a sudden a whirlwind caught us, which turned our ship round about, and lifted us up some three thousand furlongs (375 miles) into the air…” Lucian and his crew became suspended, their sails filled with air, and they sailed for seven days and nights.

Notwithstanding the similarities between Lucian’s means of travel and that of Dorothy’s from The Wizard of Oz, the description of a whirlwind that transports someone through space bears some resemblance to the modern physics concept of the wormhole. According to Wikipedia, “In physics, a wormhole is a hypothetical topological feature of spacetime that is fundamentally a 'shortcut' through space and time. Spacetime can be viewed as a 2D surface, and when 'folded' over, a wormhole bridge can be formed. A wormhole has at least two mouths that are connected to a single throat or tube. If the wormhole is traversable, matter can 'travel' from one mouth to the other by passing through the throat.”

Theoretically, a wormhole could be created by a very advanced race of aliens, and it may be the only possible means by which to travel the vast distances of space in anything like a human lifetime. Wormholes can connect distant points in space, bridge one universe to another, or even allow for the possibility of time travel. Were a boatload of Greek explorers suddenly swept up into “whirlwind,” suspended in the air, and then transported interstellar distances from the Earth, they might be forgiven for not realizing that they actually crossed an Einstein-Rosen Bridge.

The detail of the sails being suddenly filled with air is also telling. From our position, here in Lucian’s distant future, we know that there is no air in space, and that all aboard the wooden Greek sailing ship would have instantly perished in the extremes of space. But the sails filling with air indicates that whatever alien race snatched our Greek sailors also supplied them with air (and presumably warmth) for their journey. According to Lucian, “…on the eighth day we came in view of a great island, of a round proportion, gloriously glittering with light, and approaching to it, we there arrived, and took land…”

Once landed, our travelers found the land to be inhabited. When night came, Lucian could see other “islands,” one of which he took to be the Earth due to his ability to see the cities and seas. Of course, we know this to be impossible. The only manmade structure visible from near Earth orbit would have been the Great Wall of China, a structure Lucian would not have been familiar with. Also, after seven days travel through a wormhole, the crew could be thousands of light-years from near-Earth orbit.
It is much more likely that Lucian and his crew was brought aboard a large spaceship or starship. From here they could observe moons, stars and planets, and in their naïveté come to believe that one of the planets spied was the earth. Here the band of Greeks meet their first aliens, the Hippogypians, men riding on three-headed “horse-vultures.” These horse-vultures are described as gigantic, with every feather longer than the mast of a ship. This kind of exaggeration is typical of Lucian. He describes men riding mounts similar in size and form to King Ghidorah, enemy of Godzilla. The actual creatures would have been slightly larger than horses, at best.

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