via: The Telegraph
Interstellar warfare, travel to distant planets and alien reproduction: all familiar elements of modern science fiction. But all of them also appear in a little-known text written in Ancient Greek, in the second century AD.
In a talk at last week’s Cambridge Festival of Ideas, senior lecturer Dr Justin Meggitt claimed that the first ever work of science fiction was in fact written by a Greek-speaking Syrian author, in Ancient Rome.
True History by Lucian of Samosata is ostensibly a parody of Ancient Roman travel writing. But with characters venturing to distant realms including the moon, the sun, and strange planets and islands, it has a surprising amount in common with modern sci-fi novels and films.
But some question whether it is really the first ever example of the genre. Last year, Margaret Atwood published a book of essays exploring her own theories on the origins of sci-fi, citing Plato’s Republic and even the Book of Revelation as possible contenders for the title.
Here are five early texts that, with time travel, space exploration, futuristic machines and imagined utopias, could all lay claim to being the first ever sci-fi novel.
True History – Lucian of Samosata, second century AD
A group of adventurers travel to explore lands beyond the known world. After being blown so far off course that they land on the moon, they become caught up in a space war between the lunar people and the armies of the sun. They eventually return to Earth, but their adventures are not over: they journey on through more mysterious islands and mythical realms.
The Ramayana – attributed to Valmiki, between the fifth and fourth centuries BC
This ancient Indian epic poem shares some of its themes with The Iliad (notably, a war fought over the capture of a beautiful woman), but it also includes a fantastical flying machine, the Pushpaka Vimana. The poem has recently been reworked by poet Daljit Nagra, whose version has been nominated for the TS Eliot Prize.
Urashima Tarō – Japanese legend dating from around the eighth century AD
This is the eighth-century story of a fisherman who rescues a turtle and, as a reward, delves under the sea to meet the dragon god. When he resurfaces, he finds that he has been transported 300 years into the future. There are no futuristic machines and no space travel, but this is one of the earliest stories to focus on time travel.
The Republic – Plato, around 380 BC
The seminal philosophical text sets out a vision for an ideal world, with imagined alternative governments. Margaret Atwood has said that she considers it one of the great-great-grandparents of modern utopian science fiction, having strongly influenced Thomas More’s Utopia, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and HG Wells’s The Time Machine.
Book of Revelation – John of Patmos, around 90 AD
Critics and Bible scholars disagree over whether the final book of the Bible is a premonition of the end of the world, a foretelling of the fall of the Roman Empire, or something else altogether. But it does contain vivid and disturbing visions that have allegorical relevance for the time in which it was written, a device that’s often used in sci-fi.