Tuesday, July 05, 2005

First Trip to the Moon

I've been fond of Lucian of Samosata for a long time. He wrote delightful and funny satire that seem as funny now as they must have been 1,800 years ago. In addition, Lucian wrote the first science fiction story about going to the moon: Trips to the Moon .

I think what isn't stressed enough is we inherited perception of ancient Rome from the Romans themselves. The view that they were a decadent, weak, cruel,and corrupt society more concerned with spectacle and handouts than ideas and justice, derives from how the Romans saw themselves through their native literary form, the satire.

For me, trying to study the Roman satires was futile because once a classics professor gets hold of Juvenal or Marital the discussion rapidly departs from bread and circuses and who guards guardians and instead turns into a very long and one sided discussion on hexameter verses and how the Menippean form evolved during the Silver age. Snore. I mean these guys can take the fun out of Catullus. If one reads the satires for the same reason as one reads "Mad" magazine or the "National Lampoon," that is for humor going after society's jugular vein, then those old works start coming back to life.

The last time I looked, the academic consensus was that Lucian wasn't a native Roman and was an outsider looking in. If you think about it, isn't that where the best satire sometimes comes from? Think Mark Twain writing about the German language. Incidentally, Lucian ripped into the academics of his day, and his piece about fishing for philosophers off the Acropolis by dangling a coin on a line is still hilarious.

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