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Literature / True History

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"I write of matters of which I neither saw nor suffered, nor heard by reports from people I made up. Let no man therefore in any case believe these words."
—The novel's preface, the only part that breaks Kayfabe

True History, or A True Story, is a parodic adventure novel by Greek writer Lucian of Samosata. A group of adventurers sail from Greece to the Atlantic Ocean and get shot up to the moon by a giant water spout. When they arrive, they quickly get caught up in the war between the moon and the Sun over the colonization of Venus.

This satire is not the first Science Fiction in Human history (as it was written in response to an earlier, now lost, space-travel novel) but if it is SF, it is one of the earliest examples, and the single oldest surviving one, dating to the 2nd century AD. Lucian intended the work to be a satire of contemporary sources, who describe the most ridiculous myths as being true facts, so the work is packed with things even more exaggerated and absurd while describing itself as an entirely true story.


The book can be found online here or here.

True History provides examples of:

  • Aliens Speaking English: All the strange and far-off peoples the Greek adventurers meet speak Greek — even the people of the moon.
  • All Planets Are Earth-Like: The Moon, albeit filled with all sorts of wacky monsters, is otherwise earth-like, but it gets even weirder when it turns out there are also civilizations (and people, and trees) on the Sun and several stars. It's hard to tell whether this is a case of Science Marches On, or part of the parody. (It was pretty obvious even at the time that the Sun was something very hot and fire-like, an idea that plays a part in several myths)
  • Author Tract: The book's preface is the only part where the author drops the charade of this being a "True Story", and is primarily a sardonic tirade about how annoyed he is at the popularity and profitability of deceitful, Based on a Great Big Lie "travelogues"... before noting that he's not above cashing in on the trend — thus, this novel.
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  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Parodied. Despite the story being an utterly outrageous tall tale, with the preface outright admitting it's a lie, the narrator and the title itself contend that it is entirely true and actually, really happened.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Moon people. Among other traits, they sweat milk (and use it to make cheese), and can remove and replace their own eyeballs and genitals (which are made of gold for the nobles and wood for the poors) at will.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: Moon people are all "male" (what we'd probably call hermaphroditic). In addition to the removeable genitals, they reproduce with gay sex, apparently involving kneecaps, then store fetuses in their calves. They can also plant testicle trees that look like giant penises, and grow people on the branches.
  • Boldly Coming: Some of the narrator's traveling companions have sex with tree-women on a remote island, and end up stuck to them.
  • Giant Spider: Space invasions are accomplished by getting ginormous spiders to spin webs between the Moon and Sun, so the armies can walk across, while the Moon and Sun are sailing around the sky. Don't fall off!
  • Horse of a Different Color: The king and knights of the Moon rides on a vulture-horse. Other aliens ride a wide variety of animals like giant bugs and wingless birds.
  • It Runs on Nonsensoleum: The point of this book.
  • Level Ate: The sailors visit an island with rivers of wine, and an island made entirely out of cheese in a sea of milk. The cheese island is a pun on the Phoenician city of Tyre ("Tyros" in Greek), which is the same as the Greek word for cheese.
  • Mid-Season Twist: The explorers go to the moon.
  • Mister Seahorse: The lunar people are all men, so this trope naturally appears. The sons grow inside the calves of the men, like Zeus did with Dionysus. At the time, calf of the leg was a euphemism for a man's family jewels.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The vulture-horses of the moon.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Moon food is the same as human food — onions, cheese, milk, etc. — and edible for humans. The moon and sun are located within the Earth's atmosphere, as people believed at the time, so there's no atmospheric mismatch either.
  • One-Gender Race: The lunar people are all male.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Moon People have leaves for ears and tails, removable eyes and genitals, and only one toe per foot, but otherwise they basically look human.
  • Sarcastic Title: The story begins by stating that everything in it is an utter lie.
  • Standard Hero Reward: Possibly parodied and turned upside-down: Our heroes help the Moon People in their war against the Sun People and are defeated. Nevertheless, the Moon King still rewards the main character with goods and give him his son as a spouse.
  • Take That!: Against Herodotus and generally the Greek authorities.
  • Tall Tale: The book is a big Trope Maker for the literary tall tale and had a huge influence on later works in that genre.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: The earliest known example is the disclaimer at the beginning. Lucian wanted to be very clear that he did not want to actually contribute to the Based on a Great Big Lie nature of the typical Travelogue Show at the time.
  • To Be Continued: The ending. It seems that Lucian never actually wrote a continuation (and probably never intended to).
  • Travelogue Show: Written as a vicious lampooning of the genre as a whole at the time.
  • Ur-Example: The earliest surviving Science Fiction and, possibly, literary Tall Tale. As well as the earliest that acknowledges itself as such.
  • Womb Level: The belly of the whale.

Alternative Title(s): A True History