Trips to the Moon
By Lucian of Samosata (c. 125-c. 180 CE)
Translated by Thomas Franklin (1721-1784)
Published by Librivox
Read by Ralph Snelson
Lucian of Samosata was a Second Century satirist who was an ethnic Assyria and wrote in Greek. Living so far from Rome may well have contributed to the length of his life although in this work, at least I do not detect anything that might have greatly offended one of the Caesars, although I suppose one never knows, depending on who was emperor at the moment. In any case, I cannot find out much for certain about his life save that he says he was born in Samosata (in the eastern parts of modern day Turkey) and that he lived until at least 180 CE and probably died in Athens. There are 70 surviving works that have been attributed to him although there is much debate as to whether he actually wrote all of them, but he seems to have written comic dialogues, rhetorical essays and fiction. After listening to this book I think it is also safe to declare him an early pioneer into Surrealism.
Indeed Lucian was one of the earliest of novelists and parts of this book can be included among his novels. Trips to the Moon starts out with a two-part work on how to properly write a history in which he criticizes many of the historians of his time for their tendency to improve on the tales of the exploits of their countrymen and to add in fantastic wonders that obviously never existed. He then goes on to do the very same in the next two sections, presenting a pack of “ingenuous lies” in a work called, “The True History,” (or in some editions, “A True Story,” which I admit I like better.
The True History is thought to have been the inspiration for Cyrano de Bergerac’s Voyages to the Moon and possibly for Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. It is an obvious nod and smirk at Homer’s Odyssey, with Lucian claiming to go from one fantastic realm to another; getting shot to the Moon on a plume of water, traveling inside a giant whale. I thought it a bit gross when they tried to dig their way out of the whale, but eventually they just poison it and sail out between its teeth and end up in a sea made of milk and where the islands are just giant chunks of cheese. Incidentally. this is where all the heroes of Greek legend live. I’ll leave the “Cheesy” jokes to your imagination.
The True History is then followed by Icaro Menippus (or The Sky Man) which involves another trip to the Moon (did I mention that in The True History he claims to have traveled to the moon? No? oops… ) when Menippus straps on a pair of wings (one from an eagle and the other from a vulture – I think this may be a commentary on the Roman practice of augury) and flies up to meet the gods and learns that Zeus (Jupiter in this translation) has decided to destroy all philosophers because they are useless. Perhaps after philosophers he might work on politicians next?
Icaro Menippus is presented in the traditional dialogue format with Menippus talking to a colleague in much the same way Commander McBragg relates his exploits in cartoon form, albeit in even more fantastic situations.
This edition was translated by Thomas Franklin, an 18th Century scholar who is reputed to have accomplished the best translation of this work of his day. I think it is a good translation, quite readable in any case, though I am not at all fluent in Greek, save to be able to order a good meal, so perhaps I am not entirely qualified to make an evaluation. I do note, however, that more recent translations use the Greek names of characters from Greco-Roman mythology and not Roman ones and I do not know for certain whether Lucian called Zeus,\ by the Roman names, Jupiter and Jove, or if he used Zeus. Similarly, I suspect he would have called Ulysses Odysseus, Mercury Hermes, and so forth. Whether Franklin used the Roman names because I’m wrong and Lucian used them, in spite of writing in Greek or if it was more fashionable in the 18th Century to use the Roman equivalents or because Lucian lived during the Second Century when the Roman Empire was at its height or he just felt like it, I don’t know.
The introduction to this book mentions, the humor in many of Lucian’s works is sometimes lost on a modern audience as the stories he parodies have been lost. Still, without his parodies, we might not even have known they existed in the first place. However, I think the humor is real and still funny in this small collection and while best appreciated by someone with a classical education, the blatant silliness of the situations should be amusing to most any reader.
Ralph Snelson may not have been the very best reader for this audiobook. He starts out in a very sleepy-toned manner that nearly put me to sleep as well (not a good thing when you realize I listen to these things when driving). However, as the book progresses into The True History, he seems to wake up. I don’t know if someone was coaching him to put a bit of life into the recording or he just became increasingly interested in the piece he was reading, but the performance evolved from “phoned in” to “adequate” to “better than average.” Faint praise? Well, maybe, but if you can get past the first track, the rest of it should keep you listening.
My only big complaint is that in the dialogue, Mister Snelson resorted to funny voices when speaking for the Moon and for Jupiter. Jupiter’s voice was very deep and booming and not only hard to listen to, but hard to understand as well. However, in all, it could have been much worse.
So, I highly recommend reading Lucian of Samosata’s satirical works – quite amusing and while Ralph Snelson’s reading has some flaws, it is a free recording and does have many good points mixed with the bad making it an adequate reading.