The Moon in the Greek and Roman Imagination: Myth, Literature, Science and Philosophy 9781108483032

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Table of contents :
Cover
Half-title
Series information
Title page
Copyright information
Dedication
Contents
Acknowledgements
List of
Abbreviations, Text References and Translations
Abbreviations
Note on Text References
DK, G and LM
Translations
Note on Text
Part I The Moon in the Mythic Imagination
Introduction: To the Moon! Journey into the Ancient Scientific Imagination
Chapter 1 The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic
The Moon and Time, Ritual, Religion
Selene and Endymion: Desire and the Female Gaze
Lunar Liquid: The Moon-Womb and Proto-philosophy
Moon-Illusions
Simaetha's Love-Spell: Magic, Lamps and the Moon
The 'Thessalian Trick': Magic, Mirrors and the Moon
The Marriage of Selene and Endymion
Conclusion
Part II The Moon in the Scientific Imagination
Chapter 2 Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science
What Is the Moon? The Lunar Artefact
The Lunar Laboratory: Change and Epistemology
Heliophotism and the Reflecting Eye
The Moon Becomes a World
Metaphysical Moon: The Old Academy and Pythagoreans
Xenocrates, Philip and the Moon in the Middle
The Moon in the Pythagorean Cosmos
Eschatological Moon
Conclusion
Chapter 3 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy
Pythagorean Moon-Creatures
The Woman Who Fell to Earth: Helen of Troy
The Nemean Lion and Other Lunar Creatures
Conclusion: The Question of Belief
Chapter 4 The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch's Great Lunar Dialogue De Facie
Plutarch's De Facie and the Duel of the Philosophies
Plutarch's Inter-disciplinary Moon
The Lunar Texture of De Facie
Theon, Lamprias and Life on the Moon
Sulla's Myth: The Moon as Metaphysical Junction
Literary Coordinates and a Map to the Moon
Conclusion: A Landmark in the Selenographical Tradition
Part III The Moon in the Fantastic Imagination
Chapter 5 The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys
The First Man to Go to the Moon? The Dream Hoax in Varro's Endymiones
From Thule to the Moon: Antonius Diogenes's Scientific Fiction
Astro-poetics: Icaromenippus, the Moon and Lucianic Mixis
Disintegration, Dissent and Creative Hybridity: Lucian's Moon as 'Third Space'
Lucian's Scientific Imagination: Cosmic War, Lunar Anatomy and a Proto-telescope
Conclusion: Scientific Fiction and the Moon
Chapter 6 Selenoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality
Lucian, Icaromenippus and the Ancient Telescopic Tradition
Modern Selenoskopic Tradition: The First Wave 1966-1972
The Second Wave: Pale Blue Dot and The Day the Earth Smiled
Conclusion: Between Entanglement and Detachment
Envoi: The Legacy of Ancient Selenography
Bibliography
Index
Index Locorum
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THE MOON IN THE GREEK AND ROMAN IMAGINATION

The Moon exerted a powerful influence on ancient intellectual history, as a playground for the scientific imagination. This book explores the history of the Moon in the Graeco-Roman imaginary from Homer to Lucian, with special focus on those accounts of the Moon, its attributes and its ‘inhabitants’ given by ancient philosophers, natural scientists and imaginative writers including Pythagoreans, Plato and the Old Academy, Varro, Plutarch and Lucian. Ní Mheallaigh shows how the Moon’s enigmatic presence made it a key site for thinking about the gaze (erotic, philosophical and scientific) and the relation between appearance and reality. It was also a site for hoax in antiquity as well as today. Central issues explored include the view from elsewhere (selēnoskopia), the relation of science and fiction, the interaction between the beginnings of science in the classical polis and the imperial period, and the limits of knowledge itself.  í  is Professor of Greek in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter. She is the author of Reading Fiction with Lucian: Fakes, Freaks and Hyperreality (Cambridge University Press, ).

     

Series Editors ś , University of Oxford  , University of Cambridge  ü, University of Oxford  , King’s College London Founding Editors  .  ś    The Greek culture of the Roman Empire offers a rich field of study. Extraordinary insights can be gained into processes of multicultural contact and exchange, political and ideological conflict, and the creativity of a changing, polyglot empire. During this period, many fundamental elements of Western society were being set in place: from the rise of Christianity, to an influential system of education, to long-lived artistic canons. This series is the first to focus on the response of Greek culture to its Roman imperial setting as a significant phenomenon in its own right. To this end, it will publish original and innovative research in the art, archaeology, epigraphy, history, philosophy, religion, and literature of the empire, with an emphasis on Greek material. Recent titles in the series The Resurrection of Homer in Imperial Greek Epic: Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica and the Poetics of Impersonation   Oppian’s Halieutica: Charting a Didactic Epic   Preposterous Poetics: The Politics and Aesthetics of Form in Late Antiquity   Greek Epigram and Byzantine Culture: Gender, Desire, and Denial in the Age of Justinian  . 

Painting, Ethics, and Aesthetics in Rome  .  Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Augustan Rome: Rhetoric, Criticism and Historiography       .   Author and Audience in Vitruvius’ De Architectura    Visual Style and Constructing Identity in the Hellenistic World: Nemrud Dağ and Commagene under Antiochos I    Greek Myths in Roman Art and Culture: Imagery, Values and Identity in Italy,  BC–AD   

THE MOON IN THE GREEK AND ROMAN IMAGINATION Myth, Literature, Science and Philosophy

KAREN NÍ MHEALLAIGH University of Exeter

University Printing House, Cambridge  , United Kingdom One Liberty Plaza, th Floor, New York,  , USA  Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne,  , Australia –, rd Floor, Plot , Splendor Forum, Jasola District Centre, New Delhi – , India  Anson Road, #–/, Singapore  Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence. www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/ : ./ © Karen ní Mheallaigh  This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published  A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data : Ní Mheallaigh, Karen, author. : The Moon in the Greek and Roman imagination : myth, literature, science and philosophy / Karen ní Mheallaigh.  : Greek culture in the Roman world. : Cambridge, United Kingdom : Cambridge University Press, . | : Greek culture in the Roman world | Includes bibliographical references and index. :   (print) |   (ebook) |   (hardback) |   (paperback) |   (epub) : : Moon–In literature. | Greek literature–History and criticism. | Literature and science–Greece–History–To . | Voyages, Imaginary. | Extraterrestrial beings in literature. | Greece–Civilization. :  .   (print) |  . (ebook) |  ./–dc LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/ LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/  ---- Hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

νυκτιφαὲς περὶ γαῖαν ἀλώμενον ἀλλότριον φῶς night-shining, wandering around Earth, alien light Parmenides, th century BCE

Contents

Acknowledgements List of Abbreviations, Text References and Translations

page x xii

       



Introduction: To the Moon! Journey into the Ancient Scientific Imagination







The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

       





Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science





Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy





The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s Great Lunar Dialogue De Facie



       





The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys





Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality



Envoi: The Legacy of Ancient Selenography



Bibliography Index Index Locorum

  

ix

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank all my colleagues in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter for their generous support. My particular thanks go to Barbara Borg, Gabriele Galluzzo, Maria Gerolemou, James Healy, Dan King, David Leith, Consuelo Manetta, Daniel Ogden, Martin Pitts, Richard Seaford, Liba Taub and Matthew Wright, with whom I have discussed many of the ideas in the book, and from whose erudition I have richly benefitted. I am very grateful to those who read portions of the book as it evolved, especially John M. Dillon, Gabriele Galluzzo, Maria Gerolemou, Sharon Marshall, Peter von Möllendorff, Judith Mossman, Daniel Ogden and Helena Schmedt. To John Dillon I am dearly indebted for initiating my acquaintance with the Presocratic philosophers at Trinity College Dublin years ago. My particular thanks to Consuelo Manetta for her expert guidance on visual sources in the book. I am also very grateful to the library staff at Exeter, who have been incredibly helpful always; to Aurélio Pérez Jiménez for generously sharing his research on the De facie with me; to the readers and editors at Cambridge University Press; to my most helpful copyeditor Dick Hill (of Variorum) and Project Manager Vinithan Sedumadhavan (of SPi Global), who both made this a better book; and to Michael Sharp for his tireless exertion on behalf of those writing for the press. To James Healy, σύμβουλῳ λόγου τοῦδε, I am more grateful than I can express. The book was written largely at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS) in Denmark, where I was the recipient of a Marie Curie Research Fellowship – for a project on the ancient scientific imagination. I am deeply grateful for this support. The resources at AIAS are unparalleled, and I warmly thank the support staff there. In addition to the generous hospitality of the Classicists and Ancient Historians at

x

Acknowledgements

xi

Aarhus University, I owe particular thanks to AU librarian Solveig Sandal Johnsen, Professor Kai Finster of the AU Stellar Astrophysics Centre and – most importantly – my fellow researchers at AIAS, who enriched my experience daily. Above all, I would like to acknowledge Consuelo Manetta, in whose warm and stimulating company I enjoyed many voyages to the Moon, stars and beyond.

Abbreviations, Text References and Translations

Abbreviations BNJ = CVA =

Brill’s New Jacoby (edited by I. Worthington, Brill Online) Adolf Greifenhagen, Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, Deutschland. . . Berlin. Antiquarium, Mu¨nchen . DG = Diels, H. (ed.) . Doxographi Graeci. Berlin. DK = Diels, H. and Kranz, W. (eds) –. Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. Dublin and Zu¨rich. EK = Edelstein, I. and Kidd, I.G. (edd.) . Posidonius. Vol. I: the fragments. Cambridge. FGrH = Jacoby, F. (ed.) –. Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker. Leiden. FGH = Mu¨ller, K. (ed.) –. Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum. Paris. G= Graham, D.W. (ed. and trans.) . The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics. Cambridge and New York. IP = Isnardi Parente, M. . Senocrate e Ermodoro: Testimonianze e Frammenti, Edizione Rivista e Aggiornata a Cura di Tiziano Dorandi. Naples. LIMC = Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae. LM = Laks, A. and Most, G.W. (edd.) . Early Greek Philosophy, vols. I–IX. Cambridge, MA. PGM = Preisendanz, K. and Henrichs, A. (edd.), Papyri Graecae Magicae, vol. . Stuttgart. PMG = Page, D.L. . Poetae Melici Graeci. Oxford. SH = Lloyd-Jones, H. and Parsons, P. (eds) . Supplementum Hellenisticum. Berlin. xii

List of Abbreviations, Text References and Translations SVF =

xiii

Arnim, H.F.A. (ed.) . Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, vol. . Stuttgart.

Note on Text References DK, G and LM Where I quote ancient philosophical texts and testimonies, the first reference I provide in the footnote indicates the edition I have used. Where possible, I have also supplied references to other editions, i.e. the classic Diels-Kranz (DK) reference, along with more recent editions and translations by Graham (G) and Laks and Most (LM). This is to help readers locate the text as easily as possible. Full concordances with DK are available in Part II of Graham , pp. –, and in vol. I of the Early Greek Philosophy Loeb series by Laks and Most (pp. –). DK uses numbers to identify the philosopher, e.g. DK  refers to Thales; DK  refers to Anaxagoras etc. There is no such identification by number in either Graham’s edition or that of Laks and Most. Rather than supply the philosopher’s name every time, all ‘G’ and ‘LM’ references should be understood to relate to whichever philosopher is under discussion at any given time. For example, in a discussion of Thales, ‘G’ directs the reader to the first Thales lemma in Graham ; if the discussion relates to Anaxagoras, however, ‘G’ in that context will direct the reader to the first Anaxagoras lemma in Graham  etc. The same holds true for Laks and Most, who organize their lemmata into the categories of ‘D’ (Doctrine), ‘P’ (Person) and ‘R’ (Reception).

Translations Translations are my own, unless otherwise stated.

Note on Text An earlier version of a section of Chapter  (‘Astro-poetics: Icaromenippus, the Moon and Lucianic mixis’) appeared as ní Mheallaigh, K. . ‘Lucien et l’Astropoétique: le Voyage à travers les Genres,’ (tr. A. Billault), in E. Marquis and A. Billault (eds), Mixis: Le Mélange des Genres Chez Lucien de Samosate. Paris, –. An earlier version of Chapter , ‘Selēnoskopia: The View from the Moon’, appears as ní Mheallaigh, K. . ‘Looking Back in Wonder:

xiv

List of Abbreviations, Text References and Translations

Contemplating Home from the Iliad to Pale Blue Dot’ in T. Biggs and J. Blum (eds) The Epic Journey in Greek and Roman Literature. Cambridge, –. In each case, the work has been revised for this book. I would like to express my gratitude to the editors and press in each case for permission to adapt this material.

 

The Moon in the Mythic Imagination

Introduction To the Moon! Journey into the Ancient Scientific Imagination

In the Apollo era, photographic images revealed the lunar landscape to us for the first time. Overnight, our mysterious opaline luminary – the fanciful home of insectoid Selenites, bat-men or benevolent lunar spirits – became a rock in space, a forlorn and uninhabited outpost of our world. But the ancient Greeks and Roman did not know this yet: they did not know what the Moon was made of (fire? ice? cloud?), or what caused it to change its shape each month, and they were fascinated by it – ‘haunted by its thereness’, to paraphrase John Updike, in a poem about the mysterious lunar presence. This book explores particularly the ancient Greeks’ probing and imaginative exploitation of the Moon’s ‘thereness’ in their literature, as well as the ideas about the Moon on which that literature was predicated. It is not a history of the Moon as such, for excellent studies of that nature already exist, which recount precisely what beliefs the ancient Greeks and Romans held about the Moon. Instead, I explore the Moon’s interactions with Greek literary and intellectual culture. The Moon that emerges from these pages is a distinctive conceptual space, characterized above all by liminality or in-betweenness. Ultimately, it connects the modern world with antiquity. From very ancient times, the Moon was understood to be enmeshed with natural and cultural phenomena of our world (e.g. dew, birth, menstruation, tides, the calendar), but over time it developed ontological, 





The insectoid Selenites came from the cinematic imagination of Georges Méliès, Le voyage dans la lune (); the lunar bat-men from Richard Adams Locke’s Moon Hoax (), while Cyrano de Bergerac envisaged the Moon inhabited by wise spirits in Les états et empires de la lune (). For a comprehensive history of accounts about lunar inhabitants, see Gómez . I discuss ancient ideas about lunar life in Chapter . John Updike, ‘Half moon, small cloud’, ll. –, from Updike (): ‘No star but in the zodiac of stars,/ a stranger there, too big, it begs for love/ (the man in it) and yet is diaphanous,/ its thereness as mysterious as ours.’ In particular, Préaux () and Lunais (). Roscher () is dated but still useful.





Introduction: Journey into Ancient Scientific Imagination

epistemological and topographical qualities all of its own. The first three chapters of the book trace the Moon’s early associations and its gradual fleshing out into a parallel world, fully realized and populated in the ancient imagination. Eventually – as we shall see in Chapter  – it would become a platform from which to contemplate the Earth and, at that point, a sensory impression of our world was constructed from the Moon. One way or another, the Moon is always entangled with the Earth: a separate, but related world distinct and yet recognizable, proximate yet detached. In the era before the telescope the Moon was, by necessity, constructed entirely out of the ancient mythical, philosophical, scientific and literary imagination. As these shifted, so too did ideas about the Moon. But more uncannily, as ancient Greek thinkers built and rebuilt the Moon, it exerted its influence back on them and began to shape their thought-world in turn. It is this dialogic relationship – a noetic version of the ubiquitous Earth– Moon entanglement – that I find fascinating. I will begin in Chapter  where Greek literature begins – with the poetry of Homer and Hesiod and with the choral poetry of the Archaic Sparta – traditions which mark the Moon’s chronometric presence very early in the Greek imagination, and which draw it into the world of ritual, song and dance, where new associations can crystallize around it. As a result, a rich tradition of ritual, folk-wisdom, song and dance was already woven around the Moon when the poet Sappho emerged in the seventh century BCE. The hinterland of choral and agricultural traditions represented by Homer, Hesiod and Alcman was undoubtedly a formative influence on Sappho, but this female poet from the island of Lesbos may, with some justification, be hailed as the first poet of the Moon, for it is clear – even through the fragmentary remains of her songs – that the Moon was a distinctive symbol in her work, and that she evolved lunar mythology (especially the myth of Selene and Endymion) in influential new directions. Now the semiotics of the Moon quickened and took on a new complexity, linked with themes of female desire, the reciprocities of the gaze, and to proto-philosophical ideas that associated the Moon with moisture, liquidity and the feminine. Chapter  explores how the Moon became the object of the earliest scientific query in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. Thinkers in the Ionian world were puzzled by the strange mutations that made it unique among the celestial bodies – ‘no star but in the zodiac of stars’ (to quote John Updike’s poem). These early theorists drew on their technological and artefactual imaginary to conceptualize the Moon as a fiery ring or a

Introduction: Journey into Ancient Scientific Imagination



great celestial bowl or a glowing cloud, but in the fifth century they hit on the idea that it is in fact an Earth-like, rocky world rather like our own. The story of how the Moon first became a world is germane to (all) later imaginative traditions about lunar journeys, lunar inhabitants and lunar visitors to our world. At the same time, questions about the Moon’s nature were entangled with deeper, broader questions about the nature of change and sense-perception. The Moon also became entwined with more metaphysical thrusts of thought, in which it served as the realm of incorporeal entities such as the soul and semi-divine beings called daemones. Chapter  traces the Moon’s shift from being the object of purely physical scrutiny to becoming involved with newly emerging doubts about the nature of reality and knowledge itself. In Chapters  and , the focus turns towards the implications of the theory that the Moon was an Earth-like space, and a parallel world in the sky. Although the Moon’s nature was never unequivocally fixed in antiquity, the Earthy Moon Theory (EMT) of the fifth century BCE kickstarted speculation on the possibility of lunar life, and thinkers in Plutarch’s great lunar dialogue, On the face of the Moon, pressed complex questions about the Moon’s purpose in the cosmos in both physical and metaphysical terms. Before the encroachments of telescopic lenses, the Moon was a place of both unverifiable reality and unfalsifiable possibility. When eventually writers took their readers on imaginative journeys there, as we will see in Chapters  and , it became an alternative world, an eternal other place suspended between truth and lies. From the lunar platform, the imaginary eye could survey with supreme detachment our world and humankind in its entirety, compressed into one convenient eyeshot. On the other hand, when viewed from Earth below, the Moon appeared to reflect the whole world back to us in a mirrory map. The Moon became, therefore, the ultimate mise en abyme: a fantasy archival space, which offered sensory command of the whole world and a catoptric précis of all our knowledge and existence. It became symbolic both of the limits of human knowledge and of the imperializing control of the world of knowledge. It became, too, a test-site for the philosophical eye, trained to zoom in and out in fantasies of telescopy and microscopy. And all the while, the old traditions of the Moon-goddess, ritual and time that were associated with the Moon continued to flourish. It was never the case that one way of imagining the Moon replaced another; instead, as traditions grew and 

See König and Whitmarsh (, ) and cf. pp. – below.



Introduction: Journey into Ancient Scientific Imagination

became entangled with one another, the Moon became an ever more richly complex presence in the ancient imagination. Some candour about the scope of the project is in order at this point. I have focussed mainly on what the Greeks and Romans wrote about the Moon in the literary record. To this heterogeneous body of poetry, philosophical literature, satire, science and fiction I attach the label ‘selenography’ (‘writing about the Moon’), which I have adapted from Johannes Hevelius’ landmark work of . The analysis in the book sweeps from the Archaic to the Imperial periods, with occasional forays into the lunar imaginary of the Byzantine Greeks (Demetrius Triclinius) and early modern writers (e.g. Cyrano de Bergerac, Kepler). Without doubt, however, the floruit of ancient selenography coincides with the Roman Empire, in the works of Plutarch and Lucian in the first and second centuries CE. These are the most substantial and richly detailed selenographical works from antiquity and, in Chapter , I shall argue that their precise congruence with the height of Roman expansionism is pointedly meaningful. Despite the book’s broad chronological sweep, however, its focus is still, inevitably, selective: I do not, for example, explore visual representations of the Moon-goddess, except sporadically and in passing, and the focus on Graeco-Roman material excludes other important cultures of the ancient Mediterranean, such as the Etruscans (with Tivr and Catha as potential candidates for lunar deities) and Phoenicians (Astarte). The reader will, however, be compensated somewhat, I hope, by the fact that this is the first study to bring together and analyse this diverse set of texts about the Moon from the Graeco-Roman world itself, and that this is the first sustained exploration of the Moon’s influence on the Graeco-Roman literary and scientific imagination. Moreover, some of the material examined here (e.g. Plutarch’s De facie, Varro’s Endymiones, the recondite lunar mythography of Hellenistic poets) may be unfamiliar even to the seasoned Classicist. Although the book has been written primarily with the Classical scholar in mind, I hope that the scholar of early modern thought will find material of interest here too, as well as the reader who is more generally intrigued by ideas about the Moon, crossovers between scientific and literary thought, or the pre-history of science fiction. The design is such that each chapter 



Hevelius used the term in a different sense: as the equivalent of ‘geography,’ to denote his scientific study of the Moon, along with his visual charting and naming of its physical features; see Hevelius (, –). For exploration of possible images of (and names for) the lunar deity in Etruscan art, see StibbeTwiest () and de Grummond () with further bibliography.

Introduction: Journey into Ancient Scientific Imagination



will contribute, gradually, its own motif so that, by the end, the reader will find him/herself immersed in the symphony of ancient lunar ideas. For organization purposes, I employ rather artificial distinctions between different ways of conceptualizing the Moon (‘mythic’, ‘scientific’ and so on), but I will constantly emphasize patterns of cross-fertilization among these categories, for one of my central arguments is that it is in the nature of the Moon to collapse boundaries. That, combined with its strange remoteness (so near, yet so far), made it a unique laboratory, out of which emerged thought-experiments that would powerfully shape the history of literature and ideas. Ultimately, the Moon that emerges from this book is an extraordinary imaginary space: the product and emblem of the ancient scientific imagination itself.

 

The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

The Moon and Time, Ritual, Religion Strands of ancient ritual tradition, scientific inquiry and imaginative fancy cluster thickly around the Moon. Its most ancient, probably prehistoric, role was as a celestial body whose phases measured out the months for the Greeks; indeed, Plato identified the Moon, Sun and planets with the creation of time itself, and attributed to the Moon, with its monthly cycle of phases, a formative epistemological effect by teaching us how to count. The earliest literary references to the Moon, in the poems of Homer and Hesiod in the eight and seventh centuries BCE, emphasize its connection with the agricultural seasons. In the Iliad, when the smith-god Hephaestus forges Achilles’ new shield and decorates it with a panorama of the cosmos, he carves on it the Sun, Moon and stars (Il..–): Ἐν μὲν γαῖαν ἔτευξ’, ἐν δ’ οὐρανόν, ἐν δὲ θάλασσαν, ἠέλιόν τ’ ἀκάμαντα σελήνην τε πλήθουσαν, ἐν δὲ τὰ τείρεα πάντα, τά τ’ οὐρανὸς ἐστεφάνωται, Πληϊάδας θ’ Ὑάδας τε τό τε σθένος Ὠρίωνος Ἄρκτόν θ’, ἣν καὶ Ἄμαξαν ἐπίκλησιν καλέουσιν, ἥ τ’ αὐτοῦ στρέφεται καί τ’ Ὠρίωνα δοκεύει, οἴη δ’ ἄμμορός ἐστι λοετρῶν Ὠκεανοῖο. On it he wrought Earth, on it heaven, on it sea; tireless Sun and Moon in full swell; on it all the constellations with which heaven is encircled: Pleiades, Hyades and mighty Orion, and The Bear, which they also call The Wain, which turns on its own axis and watches Orion, and is the only star not to share in the baths of Ocean.



Plato, Tim. b and [ps. Plato] Epinomis d–b.



The Moon and Time, Ritual, Religion



This celestial imagery is unique within the Iliad, for it is the only mention of constellations in the poem. Constellations – including the very ones represented here – are a regular feature of the Hesiodic sky as we shall see, but the poet of the Iliad and Odyssey generally favours lone stars. Moreover, the poet does not draw attention to the Moon and stars’ light on the shield, as is his custom everywhere else, but to their cyclical movement instead. This is expressed through the Bear constellation’s ‘turning’ (strephetai) on its own axis, and implied by the way in which the sky is ‘encircled’ (estephanōtai) by stars. The Moon is drawn into the kinetic fantasy: the participle plēthousa in l. , meaning ‘being/ becoming full,’ emphasizes its dynamic nature in contrast with the Sun’s stative quality in the same verse (akamas, ‘tireless’). This too is striking, given that all other references to the Moon in the Homeric poems emphasize, rather, its radiance, a quality that could easily have been evoked here too by reference to the shield’s metallic gleam. The Moon and stars, however, play a distinctive role on the shield as a chronometric engine generating an aeonic sense of cyclical time – the sort of deep time that the gods experience, in poignant contrast with mortals like Achilles, who will carry the shield to his death. Quite possibly, the poet envisaged that these images literally moved on the shield’s surface, animated by Hephaestus’ divine craftsmanship. That is certainly the belief attested by the premodern exegeses of the poem, and it is reinforced by the Tabulae Iliacae, extraordinary pictorializations of the Homeric poem in a series of miniature marble reliefs that date mostly between the late first century BCE and the early first century CE. Achilles’ shield is represented on the obverse of Tabula N. In his brilliant analysis, Michael Squire has shown that, in the effort to read the tiny text that is 

  

Lorimer (). Whereas Hesiod uses the stars to stake out what is habitual and cyclical, Homeric stars tend to mark fleeting, brilliant moments in the life of the individual: the radiance of Achilles’ shield is like that of the Moon, while his helmet shines like a star (Il. .  and –); Hector, as he rages on the battle-field, is like a star that dips in and out of the clouds (Il. .–), and when Achilles runs over the plain in his new armour, he glitters like Sirius (Il. .–); Achilles’ spear, brandished in Hector’s hands, is said to gleam like the evening star (Il. . –), while the comparison of his infant son Astyanax with a star (Il. .) hints at the glorious warrior status which the boy – tragically – will never achieve. The only other allusion to constellations in the Homeric poems is at Odyssey .–, which is identical to Il. .–. In this case, the poet describes Odysseus’ navigation by the stars after leaving Ogygia. This reinforces the Hesiodic connotations of constellations, since it is a theme in Works and Days (Op. –; –). There are seven lunar references in the Homeric epics (including this one): Il. .; .; .; . and Od. .; .; .; .. On the interplay of divine and mortal time in Archaic and Classical Greek thought generally, see Vidal-Naquet (, –); Hubbard (, –) discusses the interplay of the two on the shield. See Cullhed (), esp. .



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

inscribed around the shield’s rim, the viewer must turn the object in his or her hands, thereby initiating the self-same circular rotation of the Sun and Moon that is envisaged in the Homeric poem: ‘the very act of reading the anticlockwise inscription restores the clockwise spatial circuit of Helios and Selene. Turning the object in our hands, we literally spin the “tireless Sun” (ἠέλιόν τ᾽ ἀκάμαντα) and “Moon at her full” (σελήνην τε πλήθουσαν, v.) in their endless temporal orbits.’ In its attempt to recreate the motion of the celestial bodies, either imaginatively (in the poem’s description) or literally (in the case of the interactive Tabula), the shield must be considered the ancestor of all later planetaria. This dynamic night sky evokes the round of farming and civic life celebrated elsewhere on the shield with its harvest, vintage and weddings, a way of life that is only fleetingly glimpsed in the Iliad’s reduced and martial world, but absolutely characteristic of Hesiod’s Works and Days. In that poem, Hesiod attests to farmers’ careful observation of prominent constellations, including the very ones Hephaestus depicts on the shield, whose rising and setting marked key phases of the year such as the onset of spring, the time for ploughing, and the limits of the sailing season. In the final section of his poem, known as ‘the days’ (ll. –), the poet dispenses advice about which days of the month are appropriate for activities in daily life, and it is here that the activities of the Moon come under sharper scrutiny: ὀγδοάτη δ’ ἐνάτη τε δύω γε μὲν ἤματα μηνὸς ἔξοχ’ ἀεξομένοιο βροτήσια ἔργα πένεσθαι· ἑνδεκάτη δὲ δυωδεκάτη τ’ ἄμφω γε μὲν ἐσθλαὶ 



 

Squire (, –). On the pictorialization of the Iliadic shield specifically within the Tabulae, see Squire , esp. –. On the interplay between verbal and visual more generally in the Tabulae, see Squire . Some ancient readers believed that the shield was indeed a ‘representation of the cosmos’ (κόσμου μίμημα, schol. ad Arat. Phaen. ), construing the circular motifs in the shield-description as evidence of Homer’s intuition about the cosmos’ spherical form; cf. Heraclitus, Allegories . (on Il. .), who remarks that ‘Homer has given us a spherical cosmos’. On this line of ancient criticism, see Porter (, –) esp. n.; Burtin (, –). On cosmological interpretations of the shield in antiquity more generally, see Hardie (). See Hubbard (, –) on the evocation of contemporary poetic discourses on the shield, including the tradition of wisdom-poetry to which Hesiod’s Works and Days belongs. See e.g. ll. – (the rising and setting of the Pleiades); ll. – (Sirius); ll. – (Arcturus); ll. – (Orion, Sirius, Pleiades, Hyades) etc. Phillips () argues that Hephaestus in the Iliad depicts the heliacal risings and cosmical settings of the Pleiades, Hyades and Orion, indicating the period from May to November (approx.) when the major agricultural activities of ploughing, sowing and reaping that are depicted elsewhere on the shield would have taken place; see also Hannah (), who offers a refinement of Phillips’ argument. Barnes () has interpreted the animal groupings on the Halai skyphos, a real archaic artefact (as opposed to the imaginary shield), as astronomical signs with a similar seasonal significance.

The Moon and Time, Ritual, Religion



ἠμὲν ὄις πείκειν ἠδ’ εὔφρονα καρπὸν ἀμᾶσθαι· ἡ δὲ δυωδεκάτη τῆς ἑνδεκάτης μέγ’ ἀμείνων·. . . μηνὸς δ’ ἱσταμένου τρεισκαιδεκάτην ἀλέασθαι σπέρματος ἄρξασθαι· φυτὰ δ’ ἐνθρέψασθαι ἀρίστη. The eighth and ninth days of the waxing month are two days above all for working on mortal tasks. Both the eleventh and twelfth are good for shearing sheep and harvesting glad produce – but the twelfth is far better than the eleventh. . . . Avoid the thirteenth after the Moon gets started for starting sowing seed, but it is excellent for training plants. . .

As the phrase ‘the waxing month’ (μηνὸς ἀεξομένοιο, l. ) suggests, Greek months were lunar. This meant that the days of the month were numbered in accordance with the lunar phases, so that the month typically began with the ‘new Moon’ (νουμηνία) and ended, on either the th or th day thereafter, on the ominous transitional day known as the ‘old and new Moon’ (ἕνη καὶ νέα) when only a meagre crescent remained illumined and the rest of the lunar disc shone dimly in the earthshine, a phase known colloquially in English as ‘the new Moon in the old Moon’s arms’. Local conventions could divide the month in different ways, but the ‘waxing month’ (μηνὸς ἀεξομένοιο) generally denoted the first ten days or so of the month; the ‘established month’ (ἱσταμένου μηνὸς) denoted the second decad, which contained the full Moon always around the th day, known as ‘split-month’ (διχομηνία); and the ‘waning month’ (φθίνοντος μηνός), denoted the third decad thereafter. To judge from Hesiod’s recommendations in these verses, the first half of the month, when the Moon was waxing to fullness, was considered auspicious for life-giving activities such as sowing seeds, while the waning half was considered inauspicious. This indicates a very old, underlying belief in a sympathetic principle between the Moon and Earth.  



Op. –. The suspicion that ‘the days’ were a later accretion to Hesiod’s poem is a modern one; its authorship was not doubted in antiquity: see West (, –). Since the Moon’s synodic cycle does not correspond to a round number of days (it takes approximately . days to complete its revolution around the Earth), Greek calendars, which reckoned on months of either twenty-nine or thirty days, repeatedly fell out of step with the Moon’s phases and required intercalation in order to correct discrepancies. (For further elucidation, see Hannah (); Samuel (, – and –); West (, – and –)). Today’s Western civil calendar is a tropical solar calendar, an innovation that can be traced back to Julius Caesar’s calendar reforms in  BCE (on which, see Feeney ()). In this system there is no longer any correlation between the days of the month and the Moon’s phases. See West (, –): ‘. . . it is noticeable that the good days are mostly concentrated in the first half of the month, when the waxing of the moon proclaims growth. The th is good for planting, the th (waning moon) is bad . . . To this extent we can discern a principle . . .’ Bremer



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

The practice of weather prognostication on the basis of the Moon’s appearance at different phases is widely attested in ancient literature. Over time, these theories gathered complexity. Later agricultural writers took cognizance not only of the phase of the Moon, as Hesiod and others had done, but also of its position relative to the horizon for determining important factors such as plant productivity. Beyond the literary record, two of the surviving cycle-tracking charts, known as parapēgmata, trace the phases of the Moon along with almanac-style weather prediction, while many others track the days of the Moon for simpler calendrical purposes. It was important to know the Moon’s phase for more specialist purposes as well: the Greek medico-magical text Kyranides repeatedly stresses the necessity of harvesting powerful herbs and plants, or performing spells, at particular phases. The Moon’s chronometric role is not forgotten, even as it is imagined anthropomorphically in the form of the goddess Selene. The word selēnē, which means ‘Moon’ in Greek, was believed in antiquity to have derived from the word selas, meaning ‘brightness’. For obvious reasons, this effulgence was the goddess’ defining feature. It floods the short Homeric

 







(, ) identifies the underlying as ‘sympathy between heaven and earth’. In the later Roman agricultural tradition, this sympathy is usually thought to be rooted in Stoic philosophy; see Sextus Empiricus Adv. Math. ., with Reinhardt (, –). For examples, see Aratus, Phaen. –; Virgil, Georg. . –; Pliny, NH . –. See, for example, the work of Diophanes, a Greek agricultural writer of the first century BCE, whose work survives in the Byzantine Geoponica (Geoponica .; cf. . and . for the related instructions of the pseudepigraphical Zoroaster, with Beck (, –)). On the Moon in Roman agriculture, see Lehoux (, –); Tavenner (). Only two surviving parapēgmata – both Latin – combine astrometeorology, which was a typical concern of Greek parapēgmata, with tracking the days of the Moon: the Puteoli parapēgma (Lehoux  and , –) and (briefly) in Pliny’s literary parapēgma in NH . (Lehoux , ). Our evidence suggests that the phases of the Moon did not play a prominent role in Greek parapēgmata, probably because Greek months were already synchronized with the lunar cycle. In contrast, months in the Roman Republican and Julian calendars were not lunar, which meant that devices were required in order to track the Moon’s phases. The days of the Moon therefore feature commonly in Roman astrological and astronomical parapēgmata, such as the magnificent Thermae Traiani parapēgma, which has been dated (speculatively) to the fourth century CE (Lehoux , –) and the Latium parapēgma (Lehoux , – and –). Tracking of the phases was also ascribed to the astronomical ephēmerides (Lehoux , –). See, for example: Kyranides . (bird heart to be consumed during waxing of the Moon); Kyr. . (bird-heart to be attached as amulet at waning Moon as cure for fevers); Kyr. . (ring and ointment to be prepared at waning of Moon); Kyr. . (preparation using scorpion to be prepared at waning of Moon); Kyr. . (spider-eggs to be collected at the waning of moon as a cure for fevers); Kyr. . (a cure for gout using live frog is to be prepared when neither the Sun nor Moon is visible). The Moon’s zodiacal position could also be important, e.g. Kyr. . (Moon’s zodiacal position is crucial for performance of sacrifice to help in epilepsy); cf. ps.-Thessalus On the virtues of plants . Prol. Plato, Cratylus a–c.

The Moon and Time, Ritual, Religion



hymn to Selene, a poem which captures the moment of moonrise when the goddess, dazzling after her bath in the waters of the Ocean, drives her chariot up into the night sky: . . . στίλβει δέ τ’ ἀλάμπετος ἀὴρ χρυσέου ἀπὸ στεφάνου, ἀκτῖνες δ’ ἐνδιάονται, εὖτ’ ἂν ἀπ’ Ὠκεανοῖο λοεσσαμένη χρόα καλὸν εἵματα ἑσσαμένη τηλαυγέα δῖα Σελήνη ζευξαμένη πώλους ἐριαύχενας αἰγλήεντας ἐσσυμένως προτέρωσ’ ἐλάσῃ καλλίτριχας ἵππους ἑσπερίη διχόμηνος· . . . The unlit air sparkles from her golden crown, and beams shine bright as day whenever, having bathed her fair skin in Ocean and donned her far-shining robes, the goddess Selene, yoking her radiant, proud-necked steeds drives in haste the fair-maned horses at evening, midway through the month.

The image of the celestial deities Helios and Selene traversing the sky either on horseback (usually Selene) or driving a horse-drawn chariot (usually Helios) was ubiquitous in ancient visual culture. Their mobility – they are always in transit – emphasized their inseparable connection with the passage of time. The most conspicuous of the images that survive, arguably, are Pheidias’ sculptures of the birth of Athena on the eastern pediment of the Parthenon in Athens (BC–BC), which showed Helios’ chariot springing up over the eastern horizon, while on the other side Selene’s tired horses sank over the west. This traditional imagery also infiltrated private spaces on cups and jars, objects whose circular shape and rotation could re-enact the motions of the celestial deities, as Squire has argued for Tabula N. Although never regarded as one of the major Greek gods, Selene was identified with other goddesses such as Artemis and Hecate and Aphrodite of the Heavens. She was also worshipped in 

 

Homeric Hymn to Selene, –. The hymn’s date is entirely uncertain. Allen et al. (, cix and –) argue for a Hellenistic date; Gezler () (unconvincingly, to my mind) for the third century CE; Hall (), expanding on the earlier arguments of Càssola (,  and ), argues for an Archaic/ Classical dating; cf. also Faulkner (, ): ‘a fifth-century date seems reasonable, but an earlier date cannot be ruled out entirely.’ See Kratzmu¨ller (), and for an example, see Chapter , p. , Fig. . Philochorus (FGrHist F ) tells us that when the Moon-goddess was identified with Aphrodite, she was worshipped as both male and female, and because of this, her worship was characterized by ritual transvestism: men made sacrifice to her dressed as women, and women dressed as men (cf. Laevius fr. , who identifies Venus with Noctiluca, an epithet of the Roman Moon-goddess Luna). A masculine lunar deity, Lunus (Sin), presided over the famous Temple of the Moon at Carrhae



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

more intimate, domestic settings, on which level her importance was probably pervasive. The Moon’s phases were critical markers for religious worship of many different sorts. Religious festivals tended to cluster around the full Moon, no doubt in order to avail of the light it offered for nocturnal celebrations; in the eighteenth century, similarly, the learned society of the ‘Lunar Men’ would hold their monthly meetings on the same evening in order to take advantage of precisely these conditions. It is for this reason that a Greek epigrammatist hails the Moon as ‘Selene, friend of all-night festivals’, and a fragment of Sappho’s poetry describes women gathering around an altar at full Moon (‘the Moon appeared full,/ and they stood around an altar. . .’). As we shall shortly see, this was likely to have been the occasion for the ritual that was celebrated in one of Alcman’s enigmatic Spartan songs as well. The new Moon was also important for a variety of purposes, e.g. the collection of debts, while both new and full Moon were considered propitious for weddings: in the case of the full Moon, probably because of the implications of fertility, while the new Moon was significant for marking the transition from an old cycle to the new. These





 

where the emperor Caracalla was murdered in  CE. The gender of this deity was a source of confusion in antiquity; see SHA, Caracalla .. and .–, with Hekster and Kaizer () on the temple’s significance in the story. For other attestations to the gender-fluidity of the lunar deity, see Orphic Hymn ., where the Moon-goddess is invoked as ‘both female and male’ (θῆλύς τε καὶ ἄρσην) and in Plato, Symp. b (see Chapter , pp. – below). On the gender-ambiguity of the Etruscan lunar deity, see de Grummond (, ). Although, in Aristophanes Peace –, Trygaeus depicts the worship of the Sun and Moon as a barbarian practice, in Plato’s Laws e, the Athenian stranger refers to an ancestral tradition of saluting and praying to the Sun and Moon as deities. The Sun-god Helios had a cult on Rhodes, the island that was sacred to him (cf. Pindar, Ol. ), but we know of no cult of Selene in the Greek world (Roscher’s survey (, –) is maximalist). That is distinct, however, from private worship of the Moon and from religious celebrations that clustered around particular lunar phases, on which see discussion below. Among the Phoenicians, according to Lucian (Dea Syria ), of all the gods only Helios and Selene lack statues, since they are visibly manifest in the sky. On the importance of the goddess Luna in Roman religion, see Rabinowitz (). Parker (), , and see sch. in Pind. Ol. , . On ancient full Moon festivals in Athens, see Tru¨mpy (). On the ancient festival year in general, see Parker (, –) (on Athens) and Davidson (, –), with a survey of Athenian monthly festival days in Mikalson (, –) and Nilsson (, –). On the Lunar Men, see Uglow (). Anth. Graec. .. : φιλοπάννυχε . . . Σελήνη; Sappho fr.  L-P: πλήρης μὲν ἐφαίνετ’ ἀ σελάννα αἰ δ’ ὠς περὶ βῶμον ἐστάθησαν. Gainsford (,  n. ) assembles evidence for the calculation of interest and the collection of debts at the New Moon; cf. p.  below with n. . On the New Moon’s importance for weddings, see Roscher ii,  ff. and Bieber . It was believed that most women conceived around the full Moon: see the Hippocratic treatise On the eighth-month delivery (Oct.  Littré), with discussion in Dean-Jones (, –). Pliny reports, however, that the full Moon was dangerous for pregnant women and infants (NH .). For bibliography on modern studies on the Moon’s effects on human female reproductive functions, see Aubert (, –).

The Moon and Time, Ritual, Religion



associations conspired to make the ‘old and new Moon’ in the Odyssey a particularly ominous time for the return of Odysseus to his household, bringing with him the exaction of debts, the transition from the old regime to the new and the reunion of husband and wife. The feast day of Apollo Noumēnios (‘Apollo of the New Moon’) specifically, the new Moon seems also to have been important for religious devotions of a more general nature. We can glean some information from our sources about the nature of Selene’s private worship. The historian Theopompus (fourth century BCE) reports that the most devout man known to the Delphic oracle scrupulously fulfilled obligations at the new Moon every month, which included polishing and garlanding the statues of Hermes and Hecate, and offering gifts of incense and cakes. Porphyry, who knows this story from Theopompus, adds the duties of visiting shrines and attending feasts. According to the scholiast on Sophocles’ tragedy, Oedipus at Colonus, the Athenians offered libations of water to Selene rather than wine, so-called νηφάλια ἱερὰ or sober rites. The historian Philochorus (fourth/third century BCE) reports that on the th day of the month, during the full Moon phase, special cakes called amphiphōntes were offered at shrines of Artemis and at crossroads which were associated with both Artemis and Hecate, goddesses who were linked to the Moon. The word amphiphōntes means ‘lit all round’, because these cakes were decorated with a circle of burning tapers to represent the day on which the sky itself was lit all round, i.e. when the Moon and the Sun were fully co-present in the sky, their setting and rising interlocked. The orator Lysias (also fourth century BCE) mentions an Athenian society called the ‘New-Mooners’ 



 

 

See Austin (, –); Gainsford (, ); and Seaford (, –). The crucial references are Od. .– and . –: τοῦδ’ αὐτοῦ λυκάβαντος ἐλεύσεται ἐνθάδ’ Ὀδυσσεύς,/ τοῦ μὲν φθίνοντος μηνός, τοῦ δ’ ἱσταμένοιο. ‘Within this very year Odysseus will arrive here/ with one Moon waning and the other waxing.’ Translation after Seaford (, –), who suggests that that the enigmatic term lykabas in the first verse indicates the day of the New Moon, since this is explained in the second verse. Cf. also Od. ., where the night that Odysseus spends in Eumaeus’ hut is a night of a ’dark moon’ (σκοτομήνιος). In the Odyssey, there are multiple allusions to a festival and hecatomb around the day (Od. . –, –; . ); see schol. ad Od. . , where it is explained that the New Moon, though particularly sacred to Apollo, was in fact a day of worship for all the gods.  F  FGrH. On the Moon’s associations with Hermes and Hecate, see Chapter , p.  with n. . Porphyry, Life of Plotinus . – ascribes this behaviour to a man called Amelius who had become ‘a lover of sacrifices’ (φιλοθύτου γεγονότος). Porphyry repeats Theopompus’ account of the most devout man in the world at De Abst. .. Schol. ad Soph. OK , according to which wineless offerings were also made to the Eumenides, Mnemosyne, the Muses, the dawn-goddess Eos, the Sun, nymphs and Celestial Aphrodite. Philochorus FGrHist  F a and b; cf. Mikalson (, ).



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

(noumēniastai), which seems to have involved feasting or revelry on this day each month, while Lucian (second century CE) mentions a type of bread called ‘New Moon loaves’ which are ‘left over from the festival.’ These allusions, sparse as they are, offer us glimpses into a world where the Moon’s movements were closely observed and entwined with everyday activities. In the Homeric hymn to Selene, the Moon’s chronometric function is seamlessly entwined with Selene’s epiphany, for ‘midway through the month’, the phase of the full Moon, is precisely when the goddess reveals herself fully (ll. –): . . . ὅ τε πλήθει μέγας ὄγμος, λαμπρόταταί τ’ αὐγαὶ τότ’ ἀεξομένης τελέθουσιν οὐρανόθεν· τέκμωρ δὲ βροτοῖς καὶ σῆμα τέτυκται . . . Her great cycle is fulfilled, and then her rays, as she waxes, become their brightest from heaven. And she is a mark and sign for mankind.

Significantly, this is the point where the hymnist recalls Selene’s union with Zeus, god of the sky, which brought forth a daughter Pandia (ll. –): τῇ ῥά ποτε Κρονίδης ἐμίγη φιλότητι καὶ εὐνῇ· ἡ δ’ ὑποκυσαμένη Πανδείην γείνατο κούρην ἐκπρεπὲς εἶδος ἔχουσαν ἐν ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι The son of Kronos once mingled with her in love and sex, and she conceived and bore a girl Pandeia, outstanding among immortal gods for the beauty of her face.

Here the waxing Moon is vividly suggestive of the goddess’ swelling womb after she became pregnant with Pandeia, who was probably a personification of the full Moon. Nor can it be an accident that Pandeia’s birth is announced precisely in line fifteen of the poem, mirroring the full Moon’s actual incidence on the fifteenth day of the Greek lunar month. By such clever architecture, the hymnist hints at the calendrical role that is interwoven with Selene’s anthropomorphic personality. These functions coalesce in the Moon’ widespread connection in ancient thought with the menstrual cycle and with female fertility 



Lysias, Or. , fr. .– Carey; Lucian, Lex. . Other social groups had meetings that were based around different days of the lunar month, e.g. the Tetradistai (‘those who meet on the fourth’) are mentioned twice in New Comedy (Alexis fr.  and Menander’s Kolax fr., see Athenaeus, Deipn.  d). Nilsson (, ) contains further references. For the belief that Moon’s waxing was the result of her impregnation by the Sun’s light, see Plutarch, De Isid. et Os.  c–d. The Moon played a crucial role in ancient uterine magic; see Aubert (), esp. – and pp. – below.

The Moon and Time, Ritual, Religion



generally. As it waxed and waned, vanished and reappeared each month, the Moon seemed to undergo an endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth. It was therefore identified with the goddesses Artemis and Eileithyia, who presided over key transitions in women’s lives: childbirth, menarche and death. On the strength of such associations, it is likely that the Moon played a key role in the performance of maiden-songs like the partheneia of the Spartan poet Alcman in the seventh century BCE. Though the context in which these songs were performed is much-debated – for the poems themselves are fragmentary and what survives is elusively self-referential – they seem to have accompanied rituals that celebrated the transition of Sparta’s aristocratic girls from maidenhood to nubile status, a moment that was crucial to the continued well-being of the city-state as a whole. Among the shards of song, we discover glimmers of alluring celestial imagery, in which the Moon, stars and the rising Sun appear to be analogues for the dancing girls. A radiantly beautiful girl called Agido is compared with the Sun, to whose rising she attests: ἐγὼν δ’ ἀείδω Ἀγιδῶς τὸ φῶς· ὁρῶ Ϝ’ ὥτ’ ἄλιον, ὅνπερ ἇμιν Ἀγιδὼ μαρτύρεται φαίνην· But I sing of Agido’s light. I see her like the Sun – the very Sun whose shining Agido attests for us.

In verses – the chorus-leader Hagesichora is described as having hair like pure gold and a face that shines like silver, which suggests, as Gloria Ferrari has argued, that she was assimilated to the Moon:  



Préaux (, –). ll. –. The exact position of the Sun in these verses is much-discussed: see Bowie (, ). In his other partially surviving partheneion (fr.  Page, ll. –), Alcman describes a girl called Astymeloisa – ‘darling of the city’ – as she holds a wreath ‘like a star shooting through sparkling heaven, or a golden shoot’: τὸ] ν πυλεῶν’ ἔχοισα/ [ὥ] τις αἰγλά[ε] ντος ἀστήρ/ ὠρανῶ διαιπετής/ ἢ χρύσιον ἔρνος. According to Athenaeus (.a), the puleōn that Asytmeloisa carries in l.  denotes a type of wreath which the Spartans offered to the goddess Hera. Line  of the same poem contains the adjective ἄργυριν ‘silvery,’ which is perhaps an allusion to a ‘silvery face’, like that of Hagesichora in the Louvre partheneion, though we cannot be sure. On the choreography of this partheneion and its drama of separation and integration, see Peponi . Ferrari (, –). According to Julian, Epist.  (To Hecebolius), Sappho described the Moon as ‘silvery’ (arguria) in the poem to which fr.  belongs. Bowra (, ) explains Hagesichora’s silvery face in terms of the time at which the ritual was taking place; her face shines silvery in the light of the Moon (Bowra), just before dawn; cf. Page (, ).



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic ἁ δὲ χαίτα τᾶς ἐμᾶς ἀνεψιᾶς Ἁγησιχόρας ἐπανθεῖ χρυσὸς [ὡ]ς ἀκήρατος· τό τ’ ἀργύριον πρόσωπον, διαφάδαν τί τοι λέγω; Ἁγησιχόρα μὲν αὕτα· But the mane of my cousin Hagesichora has a sheen like pure gold, and her silvery face – why should I describe it openly for you? Hagesichora is here!

And in some admittedly difficult and much-disputed verses, the chorusmembers appear to identify with the much fainter star-cluster of the Pleiades with whom they are (enigmatically) rivals: ταὶ Πεληάδες γὰρ ἇμιν Ὀρθρίαι φάƑος (or: φᾶρος) φεροίσαις νύκτα δι’ ἀμβροσίαν ἅτε σήριον ἄστρον ἀυηρομέναι μάχονται· For the Peleades fight us as we carry the torch (or robe) for Orthria, since they lift the star Sirius through the divine night.



ll. –. The Greek text is fraught with difficulties. Generally, I follow the text suggested by Griffiths (), but reading Orthriai as dative singular rather than nominative plural: ‘for the Early Morning Goddess’ (for discussion of the options, see Stehle (, –) and Ferrari (, )). For the interpretation of ἅτε . . . ἀυηρομέναι, see Gianotti (), –, who notes that the participle is also used transitively at Il. .–. For the very plausible possibility that the text in l.  reads φᾶρος meaning ‘robe’, see Priestley (); this does not affect the present interpretation of the imagery since, as Priestley points out, robes were frequently described as radiantly shining objects in Archaic poetry. The debate continues over whether the ‘Pelēades’ of l.  denote: . the Pleiades stars (e.g. Burnett ; Ferrari , –; Griffiths , ; ; Hutchinson , ; Stehle , –; West , ); . doves, in an allusion to Agido and Hagesichora (e.g. Calame  on the suggestion of scholiast; also Athanassakis () on the strength of modern comparative evidence); . a rival human chorus (e.g. Page , –). Scholarship has tended to reject the allusion to a rival girl chorus (Option ) in favour of some combination of astral–avian imagery (Options –). Monica Cyrino’s attractive interpretation of the poem in terms of a premarital ritual involving Aphrodite comfortably accommodates Peleades as either stars or doves (Cyrino , esp. –). More recently, however, Bowie (, esp. –)

The Moon and Time, Ritual, Religion



Though the reasons for this hostility or rivalry are unclear (and the details of the argument would take me well beyond my present scope), the Pleiades seem to be evoked here as a celestial chorus which mirrors the nubile young women of Alcman’s choir. The song’s celestial imagery points to the time of its performance. Hagesichora’s moonlit, silvery face, along with the allusions to the Pleiades and Sirius, point to a winter night, and therefore a winter-festival. We can deduce from Agido’s prayer to the Sun, as well as from the allusion later to the Dawn-goddess Aos (l. ), that the Sun is either rising or about to rise on the girls as they sing. Indeed, the Pleiades were often thought to herald the arrival of daybreak. Combined, this evidence suggests that the ritual coincided with the end of the night – probably the night of the full Moon, as was common in the ancient world. A fragment of choral song that has been ascribed to the later Boeotian poetess Corinna captures the same breathless moment of transition from darkness to light, this time along with the switch from winter to spring:





 



has vigorously refuted the astral metaphor, arguing instead that the Pelēades represent the Sirens of a local myth, in which they predate upon nubile girls. To my mind, however, the preponderance of light-imagery in these verses makes the star-connection difficult to erase (cf. also Segal , ) We may also note the close link between the stars Sirius and the Pleiades in the tense opening scene of Euripides’ IA –. Multiple resonances between the two, sympathetic and antithetical, have been proposed to explain the relationship between the Pleiades and the girls in their present precarious predicament on the brink of marriage; usually, recourse is made to the Pleiades’ mythology e.g.: Griffiths (, esp. –) (the Pleiades sisters as sympathetic nuptial models); Stehle (, –) (the Pleiades as a threat of sexual disorder); Ferrari (, –) (the Pleiades are analogues for the girl-chorus, who have adopted the dramatic persona of the Hyades). For the Pleiades and Hyades as choruses in Greek thought, see Csapo (,  and ), with Gibbon (, –) for comparable patterns of thought in other cultures. There may be an aetiological dimension to the link: according to a scholiast on Theocritus ., Callimachus (later in the third century BCE) claimed that the Pleiades (also known as Peleiades) were the first to instigate choral song and dance and night festivals. Ferrari (, –) argues for the late autumnal Spartan festival of the Karneia. For an antithetical view, see Burnett (), who argues that the song was timed to accompany the heliacal rising of the Pleiades, which heralded the arrival of summer. See Euripides, Rhesus – and Phaethon –. Fraenkel (, –) interprets the allusion to the Pleiades’ setting at Aescyhlus, Ag.  as indicative of’an advanced hour of the night. As Ferrari has argued: (, –) and (–). See contra Bowie (,  and ), who insists, on the basis that the Sun is already shining in ll. –, that the performance did not form part of a pannychis or a dawn ceremony. Corinna’s date (fifth to third century BCE) is indeterminate, but formidable arguments for a Hellenistic date have been marshalled by Lobel () and West (b and ), mainly on the grounds of language, orthography and metre, a view that is more tentatively supported by Segal (a) and Berman () on thematic, as well as linguistic, grounds. The question is not particularly important for my purposes here.



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic Ἄ]ας μὲν ὠκιανῶ λιπῶσα π̣[αγὰς] ἵαρὸν φάος σελάνας πάσα[τ᾿ ὠραν]ᾠ· Ὥρη δ᾿ ἐς Διὸς ἀμβρότυ̣ [νίονθ]η̣ Ϝέαρος ἐν ἄνθεσι, γέγα[θεν δὲ πόνυς πο]δ̣υ̣ χορὸς ἀν ἑπτάπουλον ̣ [πόλιν. (Eos), having left Ocean’s, (streams), drew (from the sky) the holy light of the Moon. The immortal Seasons (return) by Zeus’ will among flowers of spring, and the chorus rejoices (in the toil of its feet) throughout the (city) of seven gates.

This song, a ‘maiden-song’ or partheneion as well, was performed in celebration of the daphnēphoria or ‘festival of laurel-carrying’ at Thebes, in which the sacred marriage (hieros gamos) between Apollo and the nymph Melia was celebrated in order to promote ‘the unity and prosperity of Thebes and of Boeotia’. We know too of a third Alcmanic partheneion that contained references to the ‘day and Moon and third darkness (or possibly night)’, and to ‘twinklings’ – the latter word probably an allusion to the chorus-members and their nimble-footed dancing, and so hinting again at that affinity between the dancers and the stars that we found in fr.  as well. Our evidence is scanty, but it seems that the Sun, Moon and stars played more than a chronodeictic role in these songs; they were imagined participants in the ritual itself, and celestial analogues for the 



 

Orest. – (= fr. . – PMG.), suppl. West (b, ). Page (, ), reading a different text, suggests that Corinna’s poem begins with the rising of the Moon, citing as a parallel Pindar Pythian , another Ismenion song, which opens at nightfall (ἄκρᾳ σὺν ἑσπέρᾳ, l. ). West’s supplement of the text, however, suggests that the chorus envisages Sunrise and Moon-set. Campbell (, ) n.; cf. also Page (, ): ‘a festival at the Ismenion’; West (b, ) with n.. Proclus (either second or fifth century CE) attests to the persistence of celestial imagery at the daphnēphoria in later antiquity: see Photius, Bibl. cod. ,  b–, with Kurke (), esp. – on the kōpō. See Kurke (, –). Pindar also composed partheneia for this festival: see fr. b with Calame (, –). Alcman fr.  col ll. – (Page): ἆμάρ τε καὶ σελάνα καὶ τρίτον σκότος· τας μαρμαρυγας· The choreographical interpretation of τας μαρμαρυγας is by Most (, –), who makes a plausible case that the partheneion recounted the courtship and wedding of Peleus and Thetis, and suggests that this celestial imagery might have belonged to the description of the festivities on the weddingday itself. Penwill (, ) suggests tentatively that: ‘It is best taken here as a poetic representation of the stars.’

Selene and Endymion: Desire and the Female Gaze



girls on Earth. As the drama of the dancing chorus merges with the drama of the sky, the girls’ song and dance becomes one with the serene choreography of the heavens. This idea will infiltrate astronomical thought in the fifth century BCE, when philosophers would think of the orderly motions of the celestial bodies precisely in terms of a dance. In the choral context, this synchrony signals that all is right with the world: the performance entwines the ritual transition (whatever its precise nature) with the transitions of the cosmos as it passes from night to day, and from one season to the next.

Selene and Endymion: Desire and the Female Gaze In the crucible of choral performance, new connections were forged between the Moon and stars in the night sky, and the chorus-leader and girls here on Earth as they celebrated a ritual of transition, most probably in their own reproductive lives. This tradition was at least as old as the songs of the Spartan poet Alcman in the seventh century BCE. Around the same time, across the sea on the island of Lesbos, the poet Sappho adapted the Moon from this choral tradition and gave it sharper contours as a symbol of feminine beauty and desire. In one of Sappho’s songs (fr. ), the speaker expresses admiration for an outstandingly beautiful woman who has been separated from the rest of the group of girls and now resides far away in the East: νῦν δὲ Λύδαισιν ἐμπρέπεται γυναίκεσσιν ὤς ποτ’ ἀελίω δύντος ἀ βροδοδάκτυλος†μήνα πάντα περέχοισ’ ἄστρα· Now among the Lydian women she is pre-eminent, like the rosy-fingered Moon which, once the Sun has set, outshines all the stars.

We will have cause to return to these verses a little later, but for the moment we may note how Sappho appropriates imagery that is 





Cyrino (, ): ‘These astronomical heralds of seasonal change announcing the growth of springtime would suggest by analogy the transition of the chorus members from young adolescent girls into newly ripe adult women ready for marriage.’ For the dance of the stars, see [Plato] Epinomis e; Tim. c; Philolaus (DK  A) and Csapo (). For the connection between music and the cosmos, especially the Pythagorean notion of the harmony of the spheres, see Chapter , pp. –. fr. , –.



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

characteristic of choral song, not in order to describe actions that are going on in the present, but to awaken the audience’s memory of past shared experiences in the dance. The Moon and stars do double work here: evoking the woman’s earlier girlhood when she formed part of the chorus with her companions, and also marking her transition to the new status as a married woman, outshining the other girls. Such celestial imagery was also a regular feature in epithalamial (or ‘wedding’) poetry of the archaic period. Likely examples include Sappho fr. a (to the Evening Star, with an allusion to Dawn) and b (‘the most beautiful of all stars’). Another version of the Moon outshining the stars occurs in fr. , which may itself have been part of a wedding song; in this case, the verses are thought to celebrate the radiance of the bride: ἄστερες μὲν ἀμφὶ κάλαν σελάνναν ἂψ ἀπυκρύπτοισι φάεννον εἶδος, ὄπποτα πλήθοισα μάλιστα λάμπηι Stars around a beautiful Moon hide away their shining faces whenever she is full and shines brightest . . .

As Eva Stehle points out, this memorable image does not appear earlier than Sappho, and it may well be her innovation. The Moon is never compared with a person in the Iliad or Odyssey, but only with shining artefacts such as armour or raiment. Sappho’s image is often likened to a passage in Iliad , where the myriad Greek campfires on the plain are compared with ‘stars around a shining Moon’. However, Eustathius, the 



 



I will not enter here into the debate about the contexts for which Sappho composed and the nature of her actual audience. A significant number of scholars promote the view that Sappho’s poems were part of a feminine sub-culture and performed predominantly among a group of girls and women on Lesbos (e.g. Stehle ; West a; Winkler ). Parker () is a strongly dissenting voice, who emphasizes instead her poetry’s engagement with public matters (Parker ). What matters to me is that the implied audience of the poem – the one to whom the singer imagines she is appealing – is clearly one who can share these memories; in other words, the poet constructs an implied audience that consists of female companion(s). See Griffiths () for further references. A masculine version of the Moon-and-stars imagery was deployed by Hermocles in an ithyphallic hymn to celebrate the epiphanic arrival of Demetrius Poliorcetes at Athens in – BCE and his procession to Eleusis. In this hymn (FGrH  F, ll. –; cf. Powell , –), Demetrius, hailed as the consort of the Eleusinian goddess Demeter, is said to shine among his friends like the Sun among the stars; see Csapo (, –). fr. , –. This image recurs in fr. , in a context that probably evokes marriage; see McEvilley (, –). Stehle (a, ) n. . Stehle notes that in the Homeric hymn to Aphrodite –, the effect of a necklace on Aphrodite’s breast is compared with the Moon – which draws the Moon into the erotic and female sphere. Il. .–.

Selene and Endymion: Desire and the Female Gaze



twelfth-century commentator who preserves Sappho’s fragment, contrasts it with these verses: in the Iliad, he explains, Homer’s comparison emphasizes the stars’ brightness, whereas Sappho emphasizes the Moon’s instead. Underlying Sappho’s image is in fact a different Iliadic simile: that of the bull that is pre-eminent among the herd of cattle. Sappho has, once again, creatively appropriated animal and celestial imagery that is usually reserved in Homer for descriptions of warriors and their armour, and has transferred it to an outstandingly beautiful woman instead. A century or so later, the choral poet Bacchylides would recycle the Sapphic image to describe the male athlete Automedes, ‘pre-eminent in the pentathlon, as when a bright-shining Moon on a full-moon night outdoes the radiance of the stars’. In Sappho’s hands, however, the Moon was becoming a gendered symbol, used to evoke a world of female thought, memories and experiences that was elusive but distinct from the masculine realm of the epic battlefield, and of equal poetic prestige. The Moon’s feminine symbolism resurfaces in the myth of Selene and Endymion, the best-known version of which was probably invented by Sappho herself. In this version, the youth Endymion was sent to eternal sleep in a lonely cave on Mount Latmos in Caria, where Selene the Moongoddess could go periodically and in secret to gaze at his beauty. Sappho did not invent this myth ex nihilo, for Endymion’s name crops up in one of the fragments of Hesiod’s poetry, where he is described as ‘dear to the blessed gods’ (fr. a. Merkebach-West). This is perhaps related to another version of the myth, attributed to Epimenides (a shadowy figure associated with Crete in the seventh or sixth century BCE), in which Endymion resided with the gods and fell in love with the goddess Hera, whereupon Zeus punished him with eternal sleep. If Sappho knew this version, it is   







Eustathius Comm. on Il. ., vol. , p. .– van der Valk. Il. . –. Alcman (fr., –) provides an equine (and nuptial) version of this imagery, with his prize-winning horse among the cattle. Bacchylides (. –): Πενταέθλοισιν γὰρ ἐνέπρεπεν ὡς ἄστρων διακρίνει φάη νυκτὸς διχομήνιδο[ς] εὐφεγγὴς σελάνα· See Stehle (a, ): ‘Sappho . . . consciously wished to connect women with the mysterious rhythms of the moon as separate from the sharp, bright male world of sun and stars’. Cf. Stehle [Stigers] (),  for Moon in Sappho fr.  as representative of the intimate world of the female thiasos. We do not know for certain how Sappho treated the story, since this poem is lost. The scholiast on Apollonius’ Argonautica (Schol. in Apoll. Rhod. ., p.  Wendel) tells us that ‘Selene is said to go down into this cave to Endymion. Sappho and Nicander, in the second book of Europeia, recount the story of Selene’s love.’ On the location of the cave, see Strabo .. Pausanias ... For analysis of the Endymion myth, see now Wang . DK  B. See Stehle (b,  n.) on the ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ versions of the Endymion and Selene myth, arguing that Sappho developed her story out of the eastern version.



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

significant that she reshaped it in at least two ways: first, by switching the gender roles so that the goddess becomes the agent of sexual desire, and Endymion the passive object of her desiring gaze; and second, by selecting the Moon-goddess Selene to be the protagonist in her love-story. Her recasting of the story aligned it with other myths of desiring-goddesses, such as Eos and Tithonus, and Aphrodite and Adonis, both of which Sappho also treated in her work. But more significantly, Sappho had, for the first time, moved the Moon centre-stage in the optical power-games of Greek literature – a role that would soon resonate well beyond the realm of erotic myth. These female-abductor myths offered a foothold in the mythological tradition for women as desiring agents or, as Eva Stehle argues (albeit with reservations), they ‘opened space for fantasies of uncodified erotic relationships’. The lonely mountain cave in which Endymion is sequestered even provides, in Stehle’s words, ’an image of a separate emotional space where female desire might express itself’. At the same time, however, she cautions that these narratives ultimately close this space by reasserting the dominant cultural pattern of inequality between the sexes, although the audience’s identification with female subjectivity ‘remains as an imaginative possibility’. Selene, however, occupies a special place within this group because of her uniquely optical nature as the supreme gazed-at gazer, both universally visible and, in reverse, commanding a panoptic view of the Earth. Ocular metaphor is recurrent in ancient allusions to the Moon: not only is she hailed as the ‘eye of night’, but there is also her famous ‘face’ complete with great dark eyes gazing down at us from above. With etymological wizardry, Plutarch uses the metaphor to justify the Moon’s identification with the goddess Persephone, also known as ‘Maiden’, for the same Greek word korē denotes both ‘maiden’ or ‘little girl’ and the pupil of the eye where the figure of the viewer is reflected, doll-like, in miniature: ‘we use the name “korē” for the part of the eye in which the image of the viewer is reflected, just as the light of the Sun is seen in the Moon.’ The Moon’s  

  

See, for example, Sappho frr.  and a Lobel-Page (Tithonus and Aphrodite/Adonis respectively), with further references in Stehle (b, –). Stehle (b, ); cf. p. : ‘The collapse of cultural logic and the prohibition against condemnation of a divinity emerge as the enabling conditions for imagining women and men in other than their culturally prescribed sexual roles . . .’  Stehle (b, ). Stehle (b,  and –). On the Moon as the ‘eye of night’ (νυκτὸς ὀφθαλμός), see Aeschylus Sept.  and further references in Chapter , p. . De fac. d: ὅτι καὶ τοῦ ὄμματος, ἐν ᾧ τὸ εἴδωλον ἀντιλάμπει τοῦ βλέποντος, ὥσπερ τὸ ἡλίου φέγγος ἐνορᾶται τῇ σελήνῃ, κόρην προσαγορεύομεν. The etymology is first found in Plato, Alc.I  a–b, where the pupil is likened to a mirror.

Selene and Endymion: Desire and the Female Gaze



optical nature is complicated by the fact that it is also the object of our gaze; indeed, the Moon is (still largely, and in antiquity exclusively) accessible to us only through viewing. It is therefore deeply implicated in what has been called the ‘dialectics of seeing, which always implies a beingseen relationship’. The idea is nicely illustrated in an epigram whose imagined speaker is a mirror addressing its viewer in a reversal of the usual relationship between subject and reflection: If you look into me, I look at you. You look with eyes; and I without eyes, for I have none . . .

And in fact, the Moon was intensely associated throughout antiquity with reflections and mirrors as well as the eye: philosophical sources, as we shall see in Chapter , would think of the Moon as a great celestial mirror which reflects the Earth in its surface, and ancient magicians (as we shall see presently) used mirrors to ‘capture’ the Moon and ‘draw it down’ from the sky in an optical illusion. One of the magical hymns makes this dialectical relationship explicit, addressing the Moon as a goddess ‘who watches and is watched; I look at you and you at me . . .’ Because of the web of visual fantasy in which she is enmeshed, Selene’s myth is much more obviously a story about the reciprocities of viewing and the desirous gaze than the myths of her counterparts, Eos and Aphrodite. Selene’s commanding gaze at Endymion – while remaining unseen by him – reminds us of our own unequal relationship with the Moon, for though we see it, throughout antiquity it remained frustratingly inaccessible to the more searching encroachments of the human gaze; moreover, what it sees is a mystery to us. This fantasy of achieving the ‘Moon’s view’ would eventually be satisfied in later narratives about flights to the Moon, which I shall explore in Chapter . For the present, however, we may observe how this inequality assimilates the Moon to the more general status of women in Greek society, who were also elusive objects of the desiring gaze, and whose perspectives were equally inscrutable. The female mind was frequently associated with enclosed and inaccessible spaces such as the dark interiors of the house where women actually

  

The phrase borrowed from Gandelman (, ). For the philosophical dimensions of Lucian’s katoptric play on the Moon in True Stories, see ní Mheallaigh (, –).  Anth. Graeca .. See pp. –. Hymn  Bortolani (= fr.  Heitsch), ll. –: ἄκουσον ἡ θεωροῦσα καὶ θεωρουμένη· βλέπω σε καὶ βλέπεις με. . . Bortolani (, –) analyses the complex Graeco-Egyptian cultural context of the lunar goddess in the magical hymns.



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

presided – or the cave where Selene went to indulge her desires. Unlike women, however, whose mobility was restricted and whose sight was protectively veiled, Selene traverses the sky nightly and sees all. She therefore represents a (female?) fantasy of panoptic control: an all-seeing, penetrating and desiring eye which is impervious to scrutiny itself.

Lunar Liquid: The Moon-Womb and Proto-philosophy In phenomenological terms, Sappho’s myth of Selene and Endymion accounts allegorically for the Moon’s ‘disappearance’ at the new Moon each month: it is at these times that the Moon-goddess is in her cave far to the East. This is not an isolated example of exegetical thinking about the natural world. Alcman’s poetry shows a similar tendency to explain natural phenomena through inventive mythology. Fr. , for example, describes the institution of the four seasons of the year. In fr. , Alcman names Dew, personified as the goddess Ersa (Greek for ‘dew’), as the daughter of the Moon-goddess Selene and Zeus god of the sky, thus accounting for dew as a nocturnal form of precipitation. In the fragment, Ersa is evidently ‘nourishing’ (τράφει) something – possibly vegetation. Alcman’s genealogy forms part of a matrix of ancient thought that connected the Moon with life-giving moisture. Pherecydes of Syros – a mythico-philosophical thinker of the sixth century BCE – may have made the Moon home to a spring of ambrosial liquid that nourished the gods. Martin West has shown that this idea finds a remarkable parallel in ancient Indian thought, where the Moon was a vessel filled with soma, a divine liquid that gave the gods their immortality, similar to the Greek substance

 





 See Llewellyn-Jones (, –). Préaux (, –). According to Penwill (, ; see also ), this fragment ‘could quite easily be an excerpt from a cosmogony’. Discussion of Alcman’s cosmogonical interests is most heated around the interpretation of the controversial fr. . Most () has argued convincingly that the cosmogonical interpretation of fr.  derives from the ancient commentator, and does not reflect the original tenor of Alcman’s poem, but that does not negate Alcman’s evident interest in the natural world in other fragments (on which, see Penwill ). The suggestion that fr.  belonged to the same poem as fr.  was made by Hugh Lloyd-Jones ap. West (, ). οἷα Διὸς θυγάτηρ Ἔρσα τράφει καὶ Σελάνας. the sort of things nourished by Dew, daughter of Zeus and Selene. See Boedeker (, –) on the entwined divine and naturalistic meanings of the fragment. See Plutarch De facie b with West (), , though, pace West, it is not certain which idea Plutarch attributes to Pherecydes here: the location of the spring or, more generally, the gods’ consumption of ambrosia. On Pherecydes generally, see Schibli (). For the notion of lunar water, see Chapter , p. , n. .

Lunar Liquid: The Moon-Womb and Proto-philosophy



ambrosia. Throughout the second half of each month, the gods drink from the cup, and as they drain it, the Moon gradually wanes. Finally, it goes into the Sun to be replenished, and begins to be refilled during the first half of the month as the Moon waxes. As West demonstrates, this idea is connected with the Moon’s importance for the Indian theory of metempsychosis, in which the Moon is the ‘gateway to the heavenly world’, allowing some souls to pass through, and returning others to the Earth in the form of rain. This rain produces plants, which are consumed by animals and converted into semen, and so new animals. In ancient Indian thought as in Greek, therefore, the Moon played a key role in the cycle of the soul through the production of life-giving moisture. There are parallels for this as well in a later Greek text, Plutarch’s dialogue On the face of the Moon (first century CE). Here we find detailed exposition of a theory in which the Moon is both the boundary separating the earthly and celestial realms and the crossroads for souls, some of which are released up towards the Sun, while others are reabsorbed into the Moon, only to be reborn eventually and dispatched back down to Earth. A fuller picture of the Moon’s nutritive influence emerges from Sappho fr. , a poem about two women who have been separated, presumably through marriage. The most striking feature of the fragment is its arresting comparison of the beautiful, departed woman with the ‘rosyfingered’ Moon in the sky: νῦν δὲ Λύδαισιν ἐμπρέπεται γυναίκεσσιν ὤς ποτ’ ἀελίω δύντος ἀ βροδοδάκτυλος †μήνα πάντα περέχοισ’ ἄστρα· φάος δ’ ἐπίσχει θάλασσαν ἐπ’ ἀλμύραν ἴσως καὶ πολυανθέμοις ἀρούραις· ἀ δ’ έρσα κάλα κέχυται τεθάλαισι δὲ βρόδα κἄπαλ’ ἄνθρυσκα καὶ μελίλωτος ἀνθεμώδης Now among the Lydian women she is pre-eminent, like the rosy-fingered Moon which, once the Sun has set, outshines all the stars. And her radiance stretches over briny sea and flowery meadows equally.    

West (, –). West (, –), citing the Kaushītakī Upanishad, possibly sixth century BCE. See Chapter , pp. –. On the epithalamial context as the background for fr. , see Hague (); McEvilley ().



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic And the dew falls lovely, and roses bloom, soft chervil and flowery clover

We have already seen how this image of the Sun outshining all the stars evokes the woman’s new status as a bride. By juxtaposing the fall of moonlight over sea and meadow with the fall of dew on the flowers (ll. –), Sappho implies a connection between Moon and dew, suggesting that the Moon imparts this nourishing effluence onto the tender vegetation of the Earth. As Deborah Boedeker points out, the Moon’s distinctive floral quality – ‘rosy-fingered’ – reinforces its connection in Sappho’s landscape with the dewy roses and herbs below. Though the adjective is traditional (and usually associated with Eos, the goddess of the Dawn), its image of ‘fingers’ conjures a tactile as well as visual impression, so that the dew becomes the residue of the Moon’s touch. This combination of flowers, Moon and dew suggests ‘a landscape suitable for lovemaking’, drawn from the widespread connection between dew and life-giving liquids like semen in ancient thought. Sappho’s simile, Alcman’s genealogy and Pherecydes’ spring are mythical ancestors of theories that emerged later about the Moon’s cooling, moisturizing power and attraction to the Earth’s oceans. In addition to its connection with the generative moisture of dew, the Moon’s softening, liquefying power associated it with processes such as putrefaction and childbirth. The goddess Eileithyia and her Roman counterpart Juno Lucina, who had the ability to ease a baby’s passage into the world, were both associated with the Moon. Ancient magical practice suggests that the Moon may actually have been conceptualized as a celestial uterus, with its monthly swelling and shrinking, its life-giving moisture  

  



 See pp. –. See Boedeker (, –). For the Homeric tag ‘rosy-fingered Dawn’, see Il. .; . ; . and passim. On the haptic quality of light in ancient thought, see Squire (), – and Bielfeldt (,  n. ) (the Sun as an ‘exhaling luminary’). On synaesthesia in antiquity generally, see essays in Butler and Purves (). Hague (, ) points out similarities with the landscape in Il. .–, where the sprinkling of dew on flowers emphasizes the fertility of Zeus and Hera’s lovemaking. Boedeker (, –). Plutarch, De facie f–a; see Chapter , p. . In Lucian’s lunar fantasies, dew is a regular sustenance for those living on the Moon: see Icar.  and VH . (with Chapter , p. ); cf. also VH . (discussion in Chapter , pp. – with n. ). Préaux (, – and –). Cf. Plutarch, De fac. c (see Chapter , p. ). Timotheus describes the Moon as ‘speeding childbirth’ (διά τ’ ὠκυτόκοιο σελάνας, fr.  Page). Varro (De lingua Latina .) identifies Juno Lucina with the Moon: see further Rabinowitz (, –) and on Roman epithets for the lunar goddess more generally, Lunais (, –). On the Moon and putrefaction, see Plutarch, Quaest. conv. ., with Setaioli ().

Lunar Liquid: The Moon-Womb and Proto-philosophy



and occasional reddening to the colour of blood. In ancient medical texts, it was thought that women’s bodies shared this cool and moist quality, just as men’s bodies were thought to be hot and dry. Empedocles, Aristotle and the Hippocratic authors generally supported the belief that a sympathetic principle with the Moon caused women to menstruate in conjunction with the waning Moon. As Lesley Dean-Jones points out, the fact that such a theory could be upheld in defiance of the (surely overwhelming) evidence to the contrary demonstrates just how deeply rooted these beliefs were. It is likely that a combination of these beliefs underlies a very striking image of lunar magic found in two related texts from the first and second centuries CE. Early in Apuleius’ novel Metamorphoses, when a character wishes to discredit a tale of magic he has just heard, he refers scathingly to superstitious stories that he finds equally implausible, including a feat involving the Moon: “Ne” inquit “istud mendacium tam verum est quam siqui velit dicere magico susurramine amnes agiles reverti, mare pigrum conligari, ventos inanimes exspirare, solem inhiberi, lunam despumari, stellas evelli, diem tolli, noctem teneri.” ‘No, that lie of yours is no more true than if someone were to claim that, by a magical whisper, running rivers are turned back, the sluggish sea is bound fast, the winds breathe out their lifeless last, the Sun is halted, the Moon is drained away, the stars plucked out, the day ended, the night prolonged.’

These powers over the elements are standard in the ancient literary repertoire of magic. The image of the Moon being ‘drained away’ refers specifically to the magical practice of ‘drawing down the Moon’, known in antiquity as the ‘Thessalian trick’, which I will discuss presently. But I would like to linger first on the way that Apuleius describes this act, for it is unusual and eloquent. The Latin phrase lunam despumari (‘the Moon is drained away’) evokes the blood-curdling description of witches’ malevolent powers in the sixth 



 

See Aubert () on uterine magic, esp. – on the Moon’s role therein; Aubert stresses the Moon’s sympathetic relationship with the uterus, rather than its identification as a uterus, as I am suggesting here. On blood-red as a colour of the Moon during eclipse, see Plutarch, De fac. c–d; Ovid Am. ..; .. On the coolness of women’s bodies, see Aristotle, GA a–; for counter-theories in ancient medicine and philosophy, however, see King (, –). On the wetness of women’s bodies, see King (, – and ). For discussion and references to the medical texts, see Dean-Jones (, esp. –). Apuleius, Met. ..



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

book of Lucan’s epic poem The civil war. There, inter alia, Lucan attributed to witches the power to draw down the Moon and make it shed its moisture over herbs that could then be harvested for use in magic: . . . Illis et sidera primum praecipiti deducta polo, Phoebeque serena non aliter diris verborum obsessa venenis palluit et nigris terrenisque ignibus arsit, quam si fraterna prohiberet imagine tellus insereretque suas flammis caelestibus umbras, et patitur tantos cantu depressa labores donec suppositas propior despumet in herbas . . . By these (witches) first the stars were drawn down from the lofty sky, and the bright, clear Moon, besieged by the dire poison of their words, grew pale and burned with dark and earthy fires, just as if the Earth were cutting her off from her brother’s reflection and interposing her shadows among the celestial flames. And it (the Moon) suffers such troubles, brought low by incantation, until, closer now, it bleeds its dew (despumet) onto the herbs underneath.

The verb despumāre literally means ‘to de-foam’, and in both the Lucanian and Apuleian passages it seems to denote an act of deflating the Moon – making it disappear through the letting of its liquid contents. This is clear from comparative usages of the verb in Seneca, where it denotes the deflation of emotional swellings: either the relief of choleric tumescence through exercise (and the implied release of sweat?) or of grief through letting tears. The same verb was used as a technical term in veterinary medicine to denote blood-letting. So what liquid is compressed from the Moon through the witches’ dark arts? Dew, we may reasonably surmise, since that is the lunar precipitation par excellence, as we have seen. Alternatively, as the verb itself implies, it may be foam (spuma), another moist substance associated with the Moon, as we shall see. Both dew and foam were thought to have life-giving qualities. We have seen this already in the case of dew, but foam (aphros in Greek) plays a key role, for example, in the birth of Aphrodite, the

 



Lucan, Phars. .–. Seneca, De ira .. and Ep. . respectively. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses .– the tears of the dawn-goddess Aurora provide the aetiology for dew; a unique aetiology in antiquity, as Hansen points out (, ), though he thinks it unlikely that Ovid invented it. Vegetius, A.V. ...

Lunar Liquid: The Moon-Womb and Proto-philosophy



goddess of sex and regeneration, whose name was believed to be derived from the substance. According to Hesiod, the goddess sprang from the foam (i.e. the semen) that emanated from Ouranos’ severed penis after Kronos castrated him and hurled the member into the sea. The connection with the Moon emerges from a strange story reported in Plutarch that the Nemean lion of mythology – Heracles’ nemesis – had descended to Earth from the Moon (a tale to which we will return in detail in Chapter ). Another version of the myth is preserved in the pseudo-Plutarchan work On rivers. In this version, the Moon-goddess Selene, at Hera’s magical behest, filled a chest with foam, out of which the gigantic lion subsequently sprang. The myth is obviously a story about the Moon’s generative powers, represented here by Selene’s foam-filled box – a metaphor for the moist and fertile womb, as Kepler himself suggests in his commentary on the passage. Both foam and dew, then, are natural extensions of the Moon’s connection with birth. Whichever substance Lucan and Apuleius imagined the Moon shedding, in view of the Moon’s widespread uterine associations in ancient thought, I would like to suggest that what is evoked through the expression lunam despumāre is the release of menstrual blood, which was itself a deeply feared substance and a potent ingredient in magic. With this imagery, Lucan and Apuleius hint at the Moon’s moist nature, an idea which has a very ancient pedigree, as we have seen. But they also expose the liquidity of the Moon in a rather different sense: its susceptibility to deflation and liquefaction. In Chapter  we find the Moon connected with liquids and liquefactions of other sorts, for in his fantastical description of Moon in True Stories (a text roughly contemporary with Apuleius’ novel), the Greek writer Lucian emphasizes their liquid excretions and permeable bodily contours: the Moon is an oozy, malleable place in the ancient imagination. To return briefly to Sappho’s and Alcman’s phenomenological myths about the Moon. These may not be ‘philosophical’ in the sense of explaining phenomena in systematic and naturalistic terms. But they point to the fact that Greeks, already in the seventh century, were speculating about the nature of the Moon, especially its puzzling changes (the new Moon each month) and its relation to other phenomena in the natural world (e.g. dew).    

Hesiod describes Aphrodite’s birth in Theog. –; see – for the etymological connection with her name. On Aphrodite’s foam-womb, see Hansen (). This story is discussed in further detail in Chapter , pp. –.  Kepler, De facie p. . See Aubert (, –). My thanks to Daniela Mairhofer for drawing my attention to the Apuleian passage.



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

This was part of a more widespread poetical and proto-philosophical fascination with celestial events. Sappho, Alcman and Pherecydes are not isolated examples of this tendencies. The poet Archilochus, also in the seventh century, builds the solar eclipse that took place on  April  BCE into his fulminating claim that all faith in social contracts is now broken, and anything is to be expected. Pindar’s ninth paean, a choral song in honour of Apollo, opens with a striking salute to the Sun’s ray (Ἀκτὶς ἀελίου), and discusses the meaning of a recent eclipse. Mimnermus, Stesichorus and Cydias (in the seventh, sixth and fifth centuries respectively) are also known to have the treated the solar eclipse theme. There is a danger that the use of a term like ‘proto-philosophical’, by inviting us to interpret these poems in the shadow of the so-called Ionian intellectual revolution in the sixth century, gives us a myopic view of what these poets were doing on their own terms in their own cultural contexts. While Archaic poetry can flesh out for us the intellectual and cultural hinterland from which this ‘revolution’ took shape, we should certainly not overlook its distinctive contribution to its contemporary thought-world by collapsing it into intellectual developments that followed. In terms of this history of astronomy, these poets’ distinctive contribution was to make the behaviour of the celestial bodies a matter of public spectacle as well as speculation; to aestheticize the movements of the Sun, Moon and stars, and thereby establish a bedrock of beliefs about the beauty of the cosmic order; and to politicize the heavens by seeing the tensions and transitions of human life mirrored in them. Through their inquiring engagement with the sky, they implicitly raised questions about the way the Sun, Moon and stars behaved – and answered these in the idioms of the mythic imagination, according to which the mysterious machinations of the world were attributed to the activities of gods. Philosophers in the following century would ask and answer these questions in a different idiom, one that was rooted in the operations of the natural world.  



Fr.  West; see Schmitz (). On Pindar’s ninth paean and it active role in generating a communal response to the eclipse, see Most (); Stehle (, –). The poem alludes probably to the solar eclipse which occurred either in  or  BCE. Rutherford (, ) suggests that the earlier date –  February  BCE – is a possibility, though it was an annular eclipse, not total like the one which took place on  April . He adds that Pindar might have witnessed an eclipse on  April  BCE, but was unlikely to have been composing poetry that early. These poets are cited by Plutarch De fac. e. Rutherford (, ) speculates that Mimnermus described the solar eclipse of  May ; Stesichorus treated either the same eclipse of  or that of  June , or  April ; Cydias the eclipse of  March  (Gainsford ,  n.  suggests st September ). Od. .– is widely believed to allude to a solar eclipse; however, Gainsford () refutes this interpretation.

Moon-Illusions



Moon-Illusions In addition to Artemis and Eileithyia, Selene was frequently identified with the goddess Hecate, who was associated with the underworld. We will encounter this connection again in Chapter , where the Moon plays an important role in the eschatological landscape. However, Hecate also points us in another direction, which we have already tentatively explored: towards the Moon’s intimate connections with diverse magical practices in antiquity. I will examine here four literary representations of lunar magic, which are closely interwoven: • the erotic spell that is depicted in Theocritus, Idyll ; • the practice and representation of the so-called Thessalian trick of pulling down the Moon (the trick to which Apuleius and Lucan referred in the previous section); • the trick of lunar writing that was ascribed to Pythagoras; • the ‘sacred marriage’ (hieros gamos) between Selene and Endymion, staged by the religious charismatic Alexander of Abonouteichos in the second century CE. Entwined with the magic we will discover here many of the lunar associations that we have already encountered, and also some new developments, such as the Moon’s intriguing entanglement with optical trickery through lamps and mirrors. Simaetha’s Love-Spell: Magic, Lamps and the Moon The Moon’s role in magical ritual is attested in the third century BCE in Theocritus’s second Idyll, a poem which stages the performance of an erotic attraction spell by a woman called Simaetha, in an effort to bring back her faithless lover, Delphis. The poem opens with Simaetha instructing her maidservant to bring laurel leaves, potions and magical utensils for the ritual, followed by an address to Selene and Hecate (ll. –), and then the lengthy spell itself (ll. –). Once the spell is complete, however, Simaetha switches to narrative mode, recounting the story of how she fell   

Roscher (, –); Préaux (, –); Bu¨rchner, RE s.v. ‘Selene’, –. For a survey of references to the Moon’s role in magic, see Roscher (, –) and Préaux (, –). In his commentary on the poem, Gow () traces similarities between the details of Theocritus’ literary spell and documentary evidence for erotic magic. Lambert () rightly emphasizes the artifice of Theocritus’ representation instead, but goes too far with his claim that this is ‘a comic



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

in love with Delphis and how he betrayed her. Since she is all alone (μώνα ἐοῖσα, l. ), she addresses her woes to the Moon. The Moon is an obvious addressee for a lonely speaker in the night, especially in a case like this, as she was regarded as sympathetic to lovers because of her own experience with Endymion. Here, she is called upon as witness to Simaetha’s misfortune, as Simaetha punctuates her unhappy tale with a repeated incantatory appeal: ‘Note, lady Selene, whence came my love.’ In this way, her love-story is assimilated to the love-spell that preceded it, and becomes a kind of spell in its own right, as Simaetha draws on the magic of narrative to perform self-therapy. Through Simaetha’s innovative address to the Moon, Theocritus plays on deep connections in the ancient imagination between the Moon and the lamp. These connections are abundantly attested in the material record, as Ruth Bielfeldt has shown, as well as in the literary tradition of Greek epigram, which is liberally populated by lonely nocturnal lovers complaining to their lamps, or calling on them to witness either their own suffering or their lovers’ treachery. By making Simaetha address the Moon instead, Theocritus closes the gap between the literary and visual imaginaire, so that the Moon becomes a great celestial lamp. Indeed, it











parody of bungled ritual practice’ (p. ). On the more general question of how the documentary evidence matches literary representations of erotic magic, see Dickie (). E.g. Anth. Graeca . and .. (where Selene is addressed as ‘shining beautifully for lovers’); cf. also Lydia (Appendix Vergiliana), –. According to schol. ad Theoc. .b, it was characteristic in the choral performance of partheneia for women to pray to Selene in matters of love, and for men to appeal to Helios, the Sun-god. Compare Horace, Carmen Saeculare –, where Sol (Helios) is enjoined to listen to the boys, and Luna (Selene) to the girls. φράζεό μευ τὸν ἔρωθ’ ὅθεν ἵκετο, πότνα Σελάνα (ll. , , , , , ,  etc.), translation by Hopkinson (, ). Goldhill (, –) interprets this refrain as significant, at a deeper level, of Simaetha’s (failed) attempt, through magic and narrative, ‘to control, determine and explain the passage of desire’. (p. ). Griffiths (, –) notes a gradual loosening in the formality of Simaetha’s interaction with Selene as the poem advances: ‘the Moon, having been ceremoniously invoked at the start as a great deity (–), becomes a witness . . . then a confidante, addressed almost casually: φίλα . . . Σελάνα ()’. See Griffiths (); Parry (). The question of how ‘closed’ the ending of the poem is, and whether or not Simaetha attains peace there, is disputed, however; for discussion of different views, with insistence on continuing tensions at the end, see Goldhill (, –). See Bielfeldt (, – and a) for fascinating analysis of the lunar (and celestial) imagery on ancient lamps. ‘Lamptown’ (Lychnopolis) is located near the Moon in Lucian’s lunar fantasy, True Stories (VH .). On the lamp in erotic epigram, see Kanellou (). Cf. Apuleius, Met. .– on the sympathetic relationship between the lamp-flame and the celestial fire from which it is derived. Milo attributes Sibylline powers to the lamp on account of its lychnomancy, which further enhances its lunar connection, since the Sibyl of Delphi was associated with the Moon; see Chapter , pp. –.

Moon-Illusions



is in its capacity as a visual aid that Simaetha first invokes the Moon in the poem: ‘But cast a fair light, Selene!’ Centuries later, these roles would converge again in the fantastical prose of Lucian of Samosata, where the Moon, as eye-in-the-sky, reprises the lamp’s role as the illicit voyeur par excellence of nightly misdeeds. The combination of a monologue to the Moon, erotic magic and unhappy love draws Simaetha close to Medea in the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, Theocritus’ contemporary. In fact, in l. of the Idyll she wishes that her magic should be no less potent than that of the archetypal enchantresses Circe and Medea. In the Argonautica, when Medea falls victim to an ill-fated passion for Jason, the Moon observes her suffering and exults over the girl: “Οὐκ ἄρ’ ἐγὼ μούνη μετὰ Λάτμιον ἄντρον ἀλύσκω, οὐδ’ οἴη καλῷ περὶ δαίομαι Ἐνδυμίωνι. ἦ θαμὰ δὴ καὶ σεῖο κύθον δολίῃσιν ἀοιδαῖς μνησαμένη φιλότητος, ἵνα σκοτίῃ ἐνὶ νυκτί φαρμάσσῃς εὔκηλος, ἅ τοι φίλα ἔργα τέτυκται· νῦν δὲ καὶ αὐτὴ δῆθεν ὁμοίης ἔμμορες ἄτης, δῶκε δ’ ἀνιηρόν τοι Ἰήσονα πῆμα γενέσθαι δαίμων ἀλγινόεις. ἀλλ’ ἔρχεο, τέτλαθι δ’ ἔμπης, καὶ πινυτή περ ἐοῦσα, πολύστονον ἄλγος ἀείρειν.” “So, I am not alone as I wander restlessly after the Latmian cave, nor isolated in my burning passion for fair Endymion! How often did I hide, reminded by your wily spells of my own love, so that, in the dark night without fear you might perform your magic, the work that is dear to you? But now at last you yourself are experiencing a similar madness: a baleful god has ordained that Jason should be a painful calamity for you. But come, and submit even so, for all your cleverness, to take up your burden of grievous pain.”





Id. , –: ἀλλά, Σελάνα, φαῖνε καλόν· (translation after Hopkinson ). Both the Moon and lamp (as well as other celestial lights) play an important role in the love story of Hero and Leander (e.g. Ovid, Her. .– and – (Moon); .–, –, –,  and .–, – (Hero’s lamp). For discussion of the light-imagery in the story, see Montiglio (, –). The story is attested for Greek literature of the early imperial period as well: a papyrus which will be published in / (P.Mich. inv.  verso, edited by Nikos Litinas and Traianos Gagos), and which forms a join with P.Ryl. III , presents a version of the story in a Greek hexameter poem, in which Hero addresses the lamp and (possibly) the Moon. The handwriting on P. Mich inv.  verso provides a terminus ante quem for the poem of the second half of the first century CE. I would like to thank Ewen Bowie for drawing my attention to this papyrus, and Nikos Litinas for generously allowing me to read it in advance of publication.  Lucian, Icar. ; the Moon’s view is discussed in Chapter . Apollonius, Argo. .–.



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

Here the situation in Theocritus’ poem is reversed: it is the Moon who speaks a monologue in the night as she watches Medea wander distractedly below; it is the Moon who recalls her own love for Endymion (μνησαμένη φιλότητος, l.), and finally bids Medea to endure her suffering, in a way that is similar to the resignation that Simaetha claims to reach at the end of Theocritus’ Idyll. Simaetha’s literary–magical appeal to Selene finds parallel in the documentary evidence of the Greek Magical Papyri. A group of magical hymns in this collection also attest to the practice of invoking Selene as a powerful nocturnal agent. In this case too, the magician threatens Selene with force if she will not comply: νεῦσον μάκαιρα, πρὶν στυγνήν σε καταλάβω. . . τὸ δεῖνα ποιήσεις, κἂν θέλῃς κἂν μὴ θέλῃς, ὅτι οἶδά σου τὰ φῶτα πρὸ στιγμῆς μέτρον καὶ τῶν καλῶν σου μυσταγωγὸς πραγμάτων ὑπουρ εἰμι καὶ συνίστωρ, παρθένε. τὸ δεῖ γενέσθαι, τοῦτ’ οὐκ ἔξεστι φυγεῖν· τὸ δεῖνα ποισεις, κἂν θέλῃς κἂν μὴ θέλῃς. Nod your assent, blessed one, or I will bring you down all sullen . . . You will do whatever I ask, whether you are willing or unwilling, because I know your light, down to the smallest detail, and I am a priest of your noble rites, and a servant and accomplice, oh maiden. What must happen, it is not possible to evade; you will do whatever I ask, whether you are willing or unwilling.

The spell also draws on the resources of scientific knowledge as the sorcerer – who performs the ritual on the night of the ‘old and new Moon’ (‘throughout this powerful night, on which your light makes its final departure’, ll. –) – asserts his knowledge about the nature of the Moon’s light: ἔγειρε σεαυτήν, ἡλιωτίδος τροφοῦ χρῄζουσα Μήνη{ν}, νερτέρων ἐπίσκοπε, ἐνεύχομαί σοι, ξείνη τ’ αὐγή, παρθένε 



The order of priority between Apollonius and Theocritus is disputed, and it is unclear which poet might be alluding to the other. Cameron (, –) is unequivocal that Theocritus is prior, while Hunter (, –) cautiously argues the opposite view. Hymn  Bortolani (= fr.  Heitsch; PGM, vol. , p. , Hymn ), ll.  and –. The magical hymns addressed to the lunar goddess can be found in Bortolani (, –) (Hymns –), and in the following older collections: Heitsch (, –) (frr. ,  and  a and b) and PGM, – (Hymns –).

Moon-Illusions



Wake yourself, Moon that needs Sun-born nourishment, warden of the dead, I pray to you, alien beam, maiden . . .

These verses are a poetical description of the phenomenon of ‘heliophotism’, the process by which the Moon derives its light from the Sun. Though the text is troubled, the image in l.  of the Moon as an ‘alien beam’ (ξέινη αὐγή) evokes the Classical philosophers Parmenides and Empedocles, key figures in lunar science who discovered the true source of the Moon’s radiance in the fifth century BCE and described the Moon memorably as an ‘alien light’ (ἀλλότριον φῶς). Here, this knowledge enhances the magician’s power over Selene as part of his coercive procedure. As we shall presently see, our sources suggest that some wily practitioners of lunar magic actually observed the Moon’s phases and eclipses in order to enhanced their practice, in a fascinating intertwining of astronomical and magical practice. The ‘Thessalian Trick’: Magic, Mirrors and the Moon The hymnist’s threat to ‘bring down the Moon’ if she does not comply with his commands alludes to the notorious trick of pulling the Moon down from the sky, for which Thessalian witches, in particular, were famous in antiquity. It is in this light that the scholiast interprets the very passage of Apollonius’ Argonautica as well. The Moon’s avowed complicity with Medea – when she was forced, by Medea’s spells, to ‘remember her love’ and sneak away to visit Endymion, leaving unbroken darkness to conceal Medea’s magic – is (the scholiast claims) an allusion to Medea’s ability to draw down the Moon. At some level, this idea represents the reception and exploitation, in magical thought, of the phenomenon of lunar eclipse. In the same comment, the scholiast mentions a Thessalian woman called Aglaonice, daughter of Hegemon, who was experienced in ‘astrology’ (meaning here observation of the celestial 

 



ll. –. In l. , the Moon is evoked again as ‘fire of a Sun-born shaft’ (πῦρ ἡλιωτίδος βολῆς). On the Moon’s role as ‘warden of the dead’, see also the metaphysical myth of Plutarch’s De facie, discussed below in Chapter , pp. –. Parmenides (DK  B = G); Empedocles (DK  B = G). The evidence is amassed and evaluated in Hill (). Bicknell () and Strothers () argue (pro and con respectively) about whether this practice could be connected with the astronomical phenomenon of dark lunar eclipses. However, the literary nature of these ancient reports means they do not stand up to such literal scrutiny. See schol. ad Apoll. .– (pp. – Wendel); cf. schol. ad . (pp. – Wendel), with Hill ().



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

bodies) and knew when an eclipse was going to take place, thus enabling her to coordinate her feat of ‘drawing down the Moon’ precisely with the natural occurrence, with sensational results. The fourth century BCE mythographer Asclepiades of Tragilus makes the more generalized assertion that Thessalian women who performed this trick studied the movements (kinēseis) of the Moon in order to predict when plausibly to perform the spell. Plutarch, writing in the late first century CE, mentions this Aglaonice twice, emphasizing her exploitation of the astronomical event. In his essay Advice to bride and groom, he cites Aglaonice’s work specifically as an example of the type of superstition against which a philosophical education will inure one’s wife, who might otherwise be susceptible to belief in such fraud. The scholiast on another passage in Apollonius corroborates this view, adding that ‘in olden times’ many people believed that witches could draw down the Moon (and the Sun), and that people believed this was the cause of eclipses ‘until the time of Democritus.’ As we shall see in Chapter , Democritus was one of several scientific thinkers in the fifth century BCE who espoused the doctrine that the Moon was a solid, physical object, and that eclipses were the result of naturally occurring interactions between the celestial bodies, and therefore had nothing to do with magic or superstitions about divine displeasure. As Hill points out, however, the ‘Thessalian trick’ cannot always have coincided with lunar eclipse in practice, for our evidence suggests that witches claimed to perform the trick far more frequently than lunar eclipses occurred. Evidently, there were other, more commonplace conditions – perhaps no more than cloudy nights – that could accommodate the illusion as well. In his scathing attack against magicians, Hippolytus, a bishop of the third century CE, reveals the trickery that made the Moon appear with the use of lamps, mirrors or (if outdoors) a translucent 



  

Bicknell (, ) reasonably reckons on a date for Aglaonice between  BCE (the foundation of the Seleucid empire, which was the vital channel for astrology into the Greek world) and ca.  AD (when Plutarch – who also mentions Aglaonice – was writing); the conclusions which Bicknell himself draws from this dating are not credible, however. Asclepiades’ claim is recorded by the scholiast on Zenobius’ Epitome . (second century CE), the text of which can be found in Leutsch and Schneidewin (, p. ), cited also (with translation) by Hill (, ). It is not certain who this Asclepiades is. There are four authors by that name known to us, and this comment is not (currently) attributed to any one of them. Since the scholiast is referring to Thessalian witches, my guess is that his source was Asclepiades of Tragilus, author of the Tragōidoumena (Subjects of Tragedy), because this work treated, inter alia, the legend of the Thessalian hero Jason, and presumably involved some of Medea’s magic. Plutarch, Conj. praec. c–d; cf. De def. orac. f–a. Schol. ad Apoll. .b (p.  Wendel): τὸ παλαιὸν ᾤοντο τὰς φαρμακίδας τὴν σελήνην καὶ τὸν ἥλιον καθαιρεῖν. διὸ καὶ μέχρι τῶν Δημοκρίτου χρόνων πολλοὶ τὰς ἐκλείψεις καθαιρέσεις ἐκάλουν. Hill (, –).

Moon-Illusions



drum; how it made ‘stars’ appear; and how the magicians drew the Moon down to Earth using a lamp and a crane: () To make the Moon appear indoors: a mirror is affixed to the middlesection of the ceiling, and a bowl filled with water is positioned in the middle of the floor beneath. A lamp is suspended above the bowl of water. Its light bounces off the surface of the water, and is reflected in the ceiling-mirror. The circular shape of the bowl makes a circular, Moon-like image appear on the ceiling. () To make the Moon appear outdoors (eta: presumably on an otherwise moonless night): a drum is positioned upright on a height in the distance. The magician’s accomplice swathes the drum in cloth, so that it will remain invisible until the appointed time. He positions a lamp behind the drum and then, at the magician’s signal, he pulls away the fabric, so that – for the viewers in the distance – a glowing circle of light now appears floating in the air, as the light of the lamp shines through the drum’s translucent skin. The skin can also be smeared with a paste of cinnabar and gum to lend a reddish hue to the ‘Moon’s’ surface. () To create stars appearing indoors: fish-scales are fixed to the ceiling at irregular intervals, using a glue of water and gum. When light is shone up on them, it produces the illusion of a star-spangled sky. () The more elaborate ‘Thessalian trick’ is accomplished through the use of a jar or flagon and a lamp. If using a flagon, its neck is broken off, leaving a circular aperture at the top of the vessel’s belly. A lamp is placed inside, and the aperture is covered over. The accomplice secretly places this on a crane in an elevated position, and uncovers the jar, so that a circular ‘Moon-like’ light appears to hover in the dark. On the magician’s signal, the crane is lowered, giving the appearance that the ‘Moon’ is being drawn down to the Earth. () The Thessalian trick can also be accomplished using pots. Many lamps are lit all around. A pot containing a light is positioned behind an altar, where it is hidden from view. When the magician invokes the Moon, he orders all the lamps – except this one – to be extinguished. Everything goes dark, except for the circle of light cast by this hidden lamp on the ceiling, which gives the appearance of the Moon. By covering the aperture of the pot incrementally, the illusion of a crescent ‘Moon’ can also be created.



Hippolytus, Ref. .–, paraphrased.



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

Fig.  Engraving of image from a vase in Sir William Hamilton’s collection. The inscription is usually published as: [ΚΛΥ]ΘΙ ΠΟΤΝΙΑ ΣΕ[Λ]ΑΝΝ[Α]; ‘LISTEN, LADY MOON’, but this is uncertain. An alternative (and to my mind preferable) reading is: ΘΕΑ ΠΟΤΝΙΑ ΣΕΛΑ[ΝΝΑ?] and ΚΑΛΗ; ‘GODDESS LADY MOON!’ (uttered by the speaker on the left) and ΚΑΛΗ; ‘BEAUTIFUL!’ (uttered by the speaker on the right). Image credit: http://arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/buchseite/

The veracity of Hippolytus’ account is reinforced by an intriguing vasepainting that depicts two women apparently performing the trick (Fig. ). The vase, found in southern Italy and part of Sir William Hamilton’s collection, is now lost, but the image survives in an engraving made by Tischbein, which was published in . In it, the women have cast a rope around the Moon, which appears trapped in a mirror. The women brandish a sword and a stick, heightening the atmosphere of coercion, and the inscription ‘Listen, Lady Moon!’ hovers overhead. As Hill observes, the evidence indicates very literal expectations on the audience’s part. Although the scholiast is too simplistic in his assertion that scientific explanation (via Democritus) replaced such magical thinking about the Moon, his comment highlights the cultural impact which these new scientific ideas had when they emerged in the fifth century BCE. These disruptive and comical tensions are dramatized in the interaction between the curmudgeonly old Strepsiades and the slick intellectual Socrates in Aristophanes’ play Clouds, which is dated to the late fifth century. It is 

 

In particular, the spacing of the letters adjacent to the mouth of the figure on the left is suspect; this alternative reading was suggested to me by Richard Stoneman (pers. comm.). My thanks also to Elizabeth Moignard, John Boardman and Thomas Mannack for their expert advice on the inscription and engraving. Image reproduced from Hamilton and Tischbein (, –, Pl. ). Hill (, ). Our text of Clouds is a revised version of the original which was performed in  BCE, when it was assigned third place. The revised version was never performed, but composed some years after: ca.  according to the usual consensus; – according to Kopff (); shortly after

Moon-Illusions



in this context that we find our earliest reference to the ‘Thessalian trick’. In his desperation to find a way to avoid his debtors, Strepsiades tells Socrates that he will hire a Thessalian witch to bring down the Moon (ll. –): Στ. γυναῖκα φαρμακίδ’ εἰ πριάμενος Θετταλὴν καθέλοιμι νύκτωρ τὴν σελήνην, εἶτα δὴ αὐτὴν καθείρξαιμ’ εἰς λοφεῖον στρογγύλον, ὥσπερ κάτροπτον, κᾆτα τηροίην ἔχων— Σω. τί δῆτα τοῦτ’ ἂν ὠφελήσειέν σ’; Στ. ὅ τι; εἰ μηκέτ’ ἀνατέλλοι σελήνη μηδαμοῦ, οὐκ ἂν ἀποδοίην τοὺς τόκους. Σω. ὁτιὴ τί δή; Στ. ὁτιὴ κατὰ μῆνα τἀργύριον δανείζεται. St: If I were to hire a Thessalian witch-woman and draw down the Moon in the night, then lock it up in a circular case, like a mirror, and then keep guard over it – Soc: How on Earth would that help you? St: How? If the Moon were never to rise anymore, I would not pay interest. Soc: How’s that? St: Because money is loaned by the month!

As a farmer, Stepsiades associates the Moon with the calendar, connections which are attested in our oldest texts of Greek literature, as we have seen. He believes witches have the power to draw the Moon down from the sky, and is naive enough to think that – if he could arrange this – the calendar would come to a stop, thus freezing the monthly interest on his debt. His reference to locking the Moon away in a box ‘like a mirror’ could allude to the apparatus actually used by witches to perform this feat, as on the Hamilton vase. Equally, it could represent Strepsiades’ garbling of the contemporary philosophical theory that the Moon itself was a

 



 according to Storey (). On the conflict of thought-worlds in the play, especially its theme of anti-intellectualism, see Green (); Hubbard (, –); Woodbury (). Hill (, ). For the calculation of interest and collection of debts at the New Moon, see Gainsford (,  with n. ). Hill (, ) speculates that the trick might have come to Greece from India, citing Elwin (, –), who records several Indian myths in which the Sun or Moon are said to be held as sureties for debt, ’so that it may not be coincidental that our earliest classical reference to the Thessalian trick (Aristophanes Clouds –) is also associated with debt while our last classical reference (Nonnus Dionisiaca . –) attributes the trick to brahmins’. Woodbury (, –).



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

mirror – in yet another demonstration of his difficulties with conceptual thinking. It is, at any rate, as ludicrous a ‘resolution’ to his financial problems as his other bungled applications of science and reason in the same passage: his proposal to use glass to concentrate the powers of the Sun in order to melt the wax record of his debt and thereby eradicate the debt itself (ll. –), and ultimately, his plan to kill himself to avoid the lawcourts (ll. –). By using the Thessalian trick to expose Strepsiades’ naivete in Clouds, Aristophanes kickstarted a long tradition. Hippolytus, some seven centuries later, is still part of this continuum, even with his searing exposure of ‘how it was done’. In between these two, the trick balances precariously between the poles of scepticism and belief. The Latin elegiac poets doubted these witches’ power, but they also fear it: Propertius challenges them that if they can use their magic to make his mistress pliant, then he will believe their power to lure down the Moon. In Philopseudes Lucian confronts us with confirmed believers in this magical ability and radical mockers of it. In Apuleius’ novel Metamorphoses also in the second century CE, the trick becomes a byword for outright lies, as we have seen. The scholiast on Aristophanes Clouds tells us that the ‘Thessalian trick’ was related through the use of mirrors, with another magical feat: the ‘Pythagorean’ trick (paignion) of lunar writing. This ruse involved two people, a writer and a reader, who is in fact a secret accomplice, as the scholaist explains: ὁ γὰρ τῆς σελήνης κύκλος στρογγυλοειδής, καθάπερ καὶ τὰ ἔσοπτρα. καί φασι τοὺς περὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα δεινοὺς οὕτω κατάγειν τὴν θεόν. ἔστι δὲ καὶ Πυθαγόρου παίγνιον διὰ κατόπτρου τοιοῦτον. πληροσελήνου τῆς 



 

On the Moon’s ‘mirror-like body’ in Pythagorean thought, see Chapter , p. . Taillardat (, ) cites the philosopher Empedocles instead (DK  B). Dover dismissed this idea (, ): ‘Strepsiades’ desire to keep the moon in a mirror-box simply shows that he is aware that bright surfaces need to be protected from abrasion, and has no necessary connection with Empedocles’. But such scepticism is no longer sustainable in light of the research which has uncovered the sophistication of Aristophanes’ philosophical games in Clouds, e.g. Laks and Cottone (). Green (, ) interprets this passage as a ‘parody of archaic thought-processes and of sympathetic magic’. Propertius ..–, with O’Neil (, –). For the Moon’s further significance in Propertius’ Monobiblos, see Habinek (), who argues that the Moon is (inter alia) a comparand for the fickle and beautiful Cynthia, and a distinctive shaping principle of the book’s architecture (its  couplets matching the number of days in the lunar year). On the Thessalian trick in Latin poetry generally, see Lunais (, –). Lucian, Philopseudes – (where the feat is attributed to a Hyperborean wizard), with Odgen (, –). Met. ., discussed on p. .

Moon-Illusions



σελήνης οὔσης εἴ τις ἔσοπτρον ἐπιγράψειεν αἵματι ὅσα βούλεται, καὶ προειπὼν ἑτέρῳ σταίη κατόπιν αὐτοῦ δεικνὺς πρὸς τὴν σελήνην τὰ γράμματα, κἀκεῖνος ἀτενίσας πλησίον εἰς τὸν τῆς σελήνης κύκλον ἀναγνοίη πάντα τὰ ἐν τῷ κατόπτρῳ γεγραμμένα ὡς τῇ σελήνῃ γεγραμμένα. For the circle of the Moon is curved, as mirrors are. And they say that those who are skilled in such matters draw down the goddess by this method. There is also a Pythagorean trick involving a mirror, as follows. At the full Moon, if someone writes whatever he likes in blood on a mirror and, after revealing it to another person in advance, stands behind that person and shows the writing to the Moon, then the other person, peering closely at the Moon’s disc, reads everything that is written on the mirror as if it is written on the Moon.

Clearly, this trick is predicated on the assumption of an affinity between the full Moon and the mirror: as the scholiast points out, both are curved in shape. Ancient mirrors were indeed often circular, with a slightly convex surface. Doubtless this affinity gained heft from the literal practice of using mirrors to ‘capture’ the Moon in the Thessalian trick, so that the mirror appeared to become the Moon. The same affinity finds expression in the philosophical theory that may have captured Strepsiades’ imagination: the theory that the Moon was a mirror, hovering above the Earth and reflecting the Earth’s oceans in its surface. Moreover, there is evidence for the use of mirrors in antiquity as a scientific tool to aid understanding of the Moon, particularly by illustrating its phases. This is a topic I mean to explore more fully elsewhere, but suffice to say that this practice would only have reinforced the Moon’s identification with mirrors, in an example of the principle that has been called ‘analogical drift’. Like lamps, then, ancient mirrors had celestial associations that connected them dialectically with the Moon. The implications of these artefactual identifications emerge more fully in Chapter . 

  

 

Schol. in Ar. Nubes . On the history of the trick, see Baltrusaitis , –. Von Möllendorff (, ) connects this trick with the presence of a mirror on the Moon in Lucian’s True Stories; see Chapter , p. . For a brief survey of ancient mirror-types, see Taylor (, –) with further references. For the cartographic ramifications of the mirror-Moon; see Chapter , pp. –. See, for example, Plutarch, De fac. b–c; Achilles Tatius, Isag. p. , – Maass. The Byzantine writer Demetrius Triclinius attests to the continued practice in the thirteenth century in his work On the black figure that is seen in the Moon (Περὶ τοῦ ἐντὸς τῆς σελήνης ὁρωμένου μέλανος) – and – Wassertstein. See p. . Libby () explores the epistemological ramifications of this lunar connection in Apuleius’ novel Metamorphoses. On Lucian’s Moon in True Stories as a mirror-world, see ní Mheallaigh (,



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic The Marriage of Selene and Endymion

We have seen already that Sappho was instrumental in shaping the myth that joined the goddess Selene in erotic union with Endymion. In the second century CE, if we can believe the vivid and biased account written by Lucian, this mythological event was realized in a religious drama orchestrated by the charismatic figure Alexander of Abonouteichos. Alexander presented himself as a neo-Pythagorean holy-man who had the ability to commune with the healing-god Asclepius and to predict fortunes. We know from numismatic and other material evidence that the cult of the snake-god Glycon that he enjoyed widespread success in the Roman empire – but Lucian represents Alexander in acidic tones as a fraud who preyed ruthlessly on people’s hopes and fears. According to Lucian, Alexander built his reputation initially through a series of sensational tricks, which included: planting a forged text that ‘predicted’ the arrival of Asclepius with his prophet; planting a baby snake, concealed inside an egg, so that he could stage the ‘epiphany’ of the god in his new temple; and chewing soapwort to make himself foam in the mouth in spectacular fashion, as if under divine possession. Last, but not least, Alexander deployed a giant snake, to which he attached a snake puppet-head and a ventriloquistic device, in order to fake ‘autophone’ oracles in which the god seemed to speak directly through the snake’s mouth – for customers who were willing to pay a high fee. In Alex. – Lucian describes the mysteries which Alexander established in the snake-god Glycon’s honour. This annual celebration, which was modelled after the Eleusinian mysteries, took place over the course of three days. On the first day, they staged the birth of Apollo, followed by his mythological union with Coronis and the birth of Asclepius. The second day re-enacted the birth of Glycon, and the third – which was known as the ‘Day of Torches’ – replayed the conception and birth of Alexander himself, who was mythologized as the son of Podalirius and therefore a direct descendant of Asclepius and Apollo. The Day of Torches

  

–) and cf. further discussion of the lunar mirror in Chapter , pp. –. On lamps and the Moon, see pp. –. Alex. . On the copious and widespread attestations to the Glycon-cult in the ancient material record (with images), see Petsalis-Diomidis (, –). Alex. –. On the puppet-head, see Alex. ; on the giant snake, see Alex. –; on the ventriloquistic tubes, see Alex. . Ní Mheallaigh () explores how Lucian deconstructs some of the metaphors of Orakelkritik and, by entwining his own poetics with Alexander’s magic, exposes his own fraudulence and artistry as a literary wizard.

Moon-Illusions



culminated in a re-enactment of Alexander’s marital union with the Moon-goddess Selene and the birth of their daughter, who had been given in marriage to the Roman Senator Rutilianus, one of Alexander’s most influential sponsors. According to Lucian, Selene’s part was acted by a pretty woman called Rutilia who, in a bizarre reprisal of the myth of Selene and Endymion, climbed down from the roof into Alexander’s arms. It is Lucian as narrator who connects the marriage of Alexander and ‘Selene’ with the myth of Selene and Endymion; we do not know if Alexander himself exploited this connection – although given the widespread fame of the myth and its connections with Asia Minor in particular, that is an obvious – even unavoidable – inference to make. As Dickie observes, Lucian’s account suggests that Alexander was reasonably well educated, for he was literate, could evidently compose hexameters, and innovated mythology by installing himself in the genealogy of Asclepius. He may therefore have been resourceful enough to exploit the Moon’s mythology and perhaps even, as a neo-Pythagorean, its eschatological connections as well. In staging his own hieros gamos with Selene during the mysteries of Glycon, it is likely that Alexander combined mythology with the sorts of Moon-illusions which, to judge from Hippolytus’ account (as well as frequent allusions in other sources) were a standard part of the magician’s repertoire. The prominence of torches on this particular day might therefore have played a more active part in the magical dramaturgy than has previously been suspected, enhancing (we may imagine) the illusion of Selene’s ‘epiphany’ and perhaps even representing the stars as they burned around the celestial lovers. In his mythical adaptation of the Thessalian illusion, Alexander proves himself to be a creative innovator of the ordinary bag of tricks. He also places the Moon centre-stage in a complex drama of religious belief and scepticism that Lucian polarizes in his essay along a  

   

On this union, see Alex. . As Jones (, ) points out, this woman’s name suggests a client of the family of Rutilianus. Simon Magus’ consort, similarly, was a woman identified either as Helena or Luna (a calque on the Helene/Selene homophones in Greek; cf. Chapter , p.  with n. ); see Ps. Clement, Hom. .–. My thanks to Daniel Ogden for alerting me to the parallel. Dickie (, ). Caster (, ); on the Moon and the afterlife, see Dowden () and Chapter , pp. –. See ní Mheallaigh () for more extensive discussion. According to Cleomedes ..–, the use of torches at festivals of the lunar goddess Artemis was an expression of the fact that the Moon’s light was borrowed from the Sun. The Isiac procession in Apuleius’ Met. . features torches in a starry tribute to the lunar goddess; see Libby (, ) who emphasizes, with Apuleius (facticium lumen), the artificial nature of the light in both cases).



The Moon in Ritual, Myth and Magic

stark spatial axis: between the gullible ‘idiots’ who belong ‘over there’ in far-flung, cultural wastelands like Paphlagonia and Pontus, and the sophisticated readers who are identified with the normative centre, the city of Rome. These polarities are too simplistic to hold, as Lucian was no doubt aware. He himself is far from unimplicated in the charges that he lays at Alexander’s door, for like Alexander, he too is a mobile performer from the East, an ‘arriviste’ as Robin Lane Fox describes him, and a master of deception who, as we shall see, also used the Moon in a slippery drama of fiction and lies.

Conclusion Sappho inherited a Moon that was embedded in the world of girls’ choral song and dance, which was linked to key transitions in those girls’ lives. Through the myth of Selene and Endymion, she developed the Moon into a desiring personality and a gaze that illumined some of the more elusive aspects of this female world. In Endymion’s cave we find both a secret place for the workings of female desire, and an explanation for the Moon’s disappearance each month. The Moon evoked the bride, resplendent on her wedding-day, and in other poems, became a symbol for enduring interpersonal connections that, through memories of shared experience, transcended the divisions of time and space. Sappho’s Selene tempts us to contemplate the strange ways in which the Moon observes us, but guards its own secrets well. Lunar magic, in its literary representations, responded to the Moon’s traditional associations with the calendar (Strepsiades’ desire to ‘stop’ the calendar by bringing down the Moon), and also played out dimensions of the Moon that are implicit in Sappho’s myth, such as female desire (Medea and Simaetha’s erotic spells) and the Moon’s implication in paradoxical optical exchanges (developed here in magic through the use of mirrors). These associations will resurface in the philosophical and scientific discourse that I will explore in the next chapter, where the Moon becomes involved in theories about the mechanics of vision and the nature of perception and knowledge itself. The practice of the ‘Thessalian trick’ – or more precisely, ancient beliefs surrounding that practice – supply us with  

Petsalis-Diomidis (), – analyses the polarities in terms of conflicting models of elite and popular religion. Lane Fox (, ) describes Lucian’s satire as ‘the work of one arriviste deeply despising another’. On Lucian’s self-implication in Alexander’s fraud, see ní Mheallaigh ().

Conclusion



important evidence for conflicting cultural responses to the Moon throughout antiquity, as we can see in the works of (inter alios) Aristophanes, Apuleius, Lucian and Hippolytus. Some saw the Moon’s apparent disappearance as the result of the natural workings of the heavens; others saw the intervention of witches. Some believed the witches themselves exploited scientific knowledge of the Moon’s changes, in a conflation of science and magic. Alexander of Abonouteichos saw an opportunity to stage the myth of Selene and Endymion as reality, with the Moon, represented by a real woman, stepping down from the sky into the arms of her husband below. At the confluence of these traditions, the Moon was entangled in superstition and rationalism, religious belief and scepticism; soon, it would be entangled with the ambiguous nature of fiction itself. In the next chapter, as we make our transition out of the mythic imagination and into the scientific, the Moon mutates from a goddess into a world of in its own right. But even here, as we shall see, it remains an object of mixed and indeterminate nature.

 

The Moon in the Scientific Imagination

 

Making Sense of the Moon Philosophy and Science

As we saw in the previous chapter, there is abundant evidence from the Archaic period onwards for the belief that the Moon was physically entangled with terrestrial phenomena such as dew and vegetation, as well as with women’s reproductive lives. In this chapter, I make a case for the Moon’s increasing entanglement in a less concrete sense: in the Greeks’ intellectual history. This aim of the chapter is threefold. First, its purpose is to unfold the story of the radical changes that the Moon underwent in the course of a remarkable century or so (sixth to fifth century BCE) when ancient philosophers first began to ponder it as a physical object following natural patterns of behaviour, rather than as a divine entity of inscrutable motivation. Questions that arose in the attempt to understand this new Moon included: What stuff is it made of? What causes it to change its shape each month? Why does it sometimes fade from the sky entirely? We will need to understand the answers that the earliest Greek scientific thinkers evolved to address these questions if we are to understand the selenographical works written by Plutarch and Lucian some five or six hundred years later, which assume an easy familiarity with historical and ongoing debates about the nature of the Moon. In that sense, this chapter forms the bedrock to all subsequent chapters in the book. The chapter’s second goal is more complex. We have grown accustomed to thinking of the Moon as a spherical, rocky, lifeless world, but that was not always self-evident. The earliest scientific models of the Moon postulated a very alien object indeed. Eventually, over the course of a century or so, the Moon in the fifth century BCE became a world in its own right. As it underwent these conceptual changes in the ancient scientific imagination, it changed the Greek thought-world in turn. Tracing that story – the history of the Moon’s epistemological influence on the ancient Greeks – is also my aim here: to reveal how the Moon was not just an inert object of philosophical and scientific scrutiny, but an active shaper of intellectual 



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

developments as well. Uncovering that dialectic is a particularly rich part of the historiography of the Moon’s relationship with our world. In particular, I will show how speculation about the Moon compelled ancient philosophers to confront, for the first time, disruptive new questions about the reliability of our senses and even the nature of reality itself. Third, the chapter shows how, out of the revolutionary lunar physics of the fifth century BCE, a new a story evolved of lunar metaphysics, which richly complicated the Moon’s role in the ancient thought-world. No longer just a light in the sky, the Moon now became the vital, central junction in the universe, the abode of intermediate beings called daemones and the souls of the dead. Moreover, by the end of the chapter, it will have developed into a fully parallel world, ready to be populated, not just by incorporeal entities like these, but by hypothetical lunar creatures adapted specifically to the Moon’s distinctive environment. The topics discussed in the following pages therefore lay the foundations for the earliest astrobiological speculation in European history, as well as for the earliest fantasies of lunar travel.

What Is the Moon? The Lunar Artefact The mythical tradition, as we have seen both in visual culture and in the poetry of Alcman, Sappho and the Homeric hymns in particular, conceived of the Moon and Sun as gods, crowned and clad in radiant robes, who raced through the sky on horseback or in a flying chariot. In a sharp break with this tradition, in the sixth century BCE Anaximander of Miletus abandoned the chariot-driver in favour of the vehicle’s most distinctive and vital technological component: the wheel itself. He conceptualized the Sun and Moon as inanimate fiery matter enclosed in cloud rings that wheeled around the Earth. According to Anaximander, Earth was a flat cylinder, like a column drum that was three times broader than it was deep. At the birth of the universe, there had been an explosion of cosmic matter, out of which a sphere of flame grew in the air that surrounded the Earth, like bark on a tree. When this fiery sphere exploded and separated out into rings, the Sun and the Moon and the stars came to be: φησὶ δὲ τὸ ἐκ τοῦ ἀιδίου γόνιμον θερμοῦ τε καὶ ψυχροῦ κατὰ τὴν γένεσιν τοῦδε τοῦ κόσμου ἀποκριθῆναι καί τινα ἐκ τούτου φλογὸς σφαῖραν περιφυῆναι τῶι περὶ τὴν γῆν ἀέρι ὡς τῶι δένδρωι φλοιόν· ἧστινος ἀπορραγείσης καὶ εἴς τινας ἀποκλεισθείσης κύκλους ὑποστῆαι τὸν ἥλιον καὶ τὴν σελήνην καὶ τοὺς ἀστέρας.

What Is the Moon? The Lunar Artefact



He says that the seed of the warm and the cold, coming from the eternal, was detached at the birth of this world and that a certain sphere of fire coming from this grew around the air surrounding the Earth like the bark around a tree. When this was torn away and enclosed within certain circles, the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars were formed.

We can see from this report that the rings inside a tree-trunk suggested themselves to Anaximander as an analogy for the configuration of the Earth and the other celestial bodies that were nested around it. Possibly there was a connection with the great cosmic tree hypothesized by Anaximander’s contemporary, Pherecydes of Syros, whose cosmology straddled mythic and philosophical traditions. But Anaximander also drew on the world-making technologies of his contemporary society: the massive projects in stone architecture that were flourishing throughout the sixth century, where columns stood as ersatz trees in temple-structures that were believed to embody the cosmos itself; and the blacksmith’s forge, a world of fire, wind and manufacture. He likened each celestial fire-ring to a ‘chariot-wheel’ (ὅμοιον ἁρματείωι τροχῶι). For the most part, the rings were dark and invisible, as the densely compressed air that gave them their shape also concealed the flame inside. However, he envisaged circular apertures in the wheels’ rims, through which the inner fire escaped constantly, blowing forth ‘like a stream of lightning’ (οἷον πρηστῆρος αὐλος). What we see as the Sun, Moon and stars is in fact the streaming forth of fire through these vents (ekpnoai) in the celestial rings: Ἀναξίμανδρος κύκλον εἶναι ἐννεακαιδεκαπλάσιον τῆς γῆς, ὅμοιον ἁρματείῳ , κοίλην ἔχοντα τὴν ἁψῖδα καὶ πυρὸς πλήρη, καθάπερ τὸν τοῦ ἡλίου, ὡς κἀκεῖνον, ἔχοντα μίαν ἐκπνοήν, οἷον πρηστῆρος αὐλόν· ἐκλείπειν δὲ κατὰ τὰς τροπὰς τοῦ τροχοῦ. Anaximander says that [the Moon] is a circle nineteen times larger than the Earth, like a chariot-wheel, with a felloe that is hollow and full of fire, just 

 



DK  A  (G ; LM D), translation by Laks and Most. For lucid introductions to Anaximander’s cosmology, with helpful illustrations, see Couprie (, –); Graham (, –); Rovelli (). On Pherecydes’ cosmology, see Schibli (, –); for links with Anaximander, see Hahn (, –). Hahn ( and ) explores the influence on Anaximander’s cosmology of the contemporary developments in Greek architecture. On the cosmic symbolism of the temple structure and the column, see Hahn (, –). On Anaximander’s ‘technical analogy’, see Sambursky (, ). On the translation of this disputed phrase οἷον πρηστῆρος αὐλόν, see Couprie () and (, –). I believe Couprie is right that the expression evokes a meteorological phenomenon, not a technological artefact (a jet or stream of lightning rather than the nozzle of a bellows), and I have adopted his translation.



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science like the circle of the Sun . . . and like that one, it has one vent, like a jet of lightning. And eclipses happen with the turnings of the wheel.

Anaximander’s Moon therefore generated its own light, and changes in its appearance were attributed to cloudy obfuscations of the wheel’s aperture. This theory, with wonderful economy, explained why the celestial bodies were luminous, why they remained in place, why they moved (apparently) in a circle, and why the Moon changed shape. By writing in prose, Anaximander signalled a radical break with earlier poetic traditions. Prose was not a mnemonic preservation of tradition and cultural memory, but a futuristic vehicle for revolutionary thought. It was therefore the ideal vehicle for expressing Anaximander’s break with the mythic thought-world through positing a new cosmos that was an ordered place, consisting entirely of physical substances and structures. Through Anaximander’s prose, the Moon was imagined – for the first time – as an artefact in the heavens. Anaximander’s pupil Anaximenes probably also wrote in prose. In what may also have been an extension of Pherekydes’ cosmic tree, he hypothesized the Moon as a flat, ‘leaf-like’ structure that consisted of fiery, incandescent air, and was blown about the sky by the winds: Τὴν δὲ γῆν πλατεῖαν εἶναι, ἐπ’ ἀέρος ὀχουμένην· ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ἥλιον καὶ σελήνην καὶ τὰ ἄλλα ἄστρα πάντα [γὰρ] πύρινα ὄντα ἐποχεῖσθαι τῷ ἀέρι διὰ πλάτος. γεγονέναι δὲ τὰ ἄστρα ἐκ γῆς διὰ τὸ τὴν ἰκμάδα ἐκ ταύτης ἀνίστασθαι· ἧς ἀραιουμένης τὸ πῦρ γίνεσθαι, ἐκ δὲ τοῦ πυρὸς μετεωριζομένου τοὺς ἀστέρας συνίστασθαι. But the Earth is flat and rides upon the air. In a similar way, the Sun, Moon and all the rest of the heavenly bodies, which are fiery in substance, ride  





Aëtius .., DG p.  (DK  A; G ; LM D). Hippolytus Refutation ..- (DK  A; G ) and Aëtius .. (see FN ). For Anaximander’s explanation of lunar eclipse as the result of blocking (epiphraxis) of the aperture, see Aëtius .., DG p.  (DK  A; G ; LM D). For his description of the sun in similar terms, see Aëtius .., DG p.  (DK  A; G ; LM D). For analysis of Anaximander’s choice within the context of the emergence of prose writing in the sixth century, see Hahn (, –). Themistius (Or. .c = DK  A; G; LM D) tells us that this was the first known prose treatise on nature. Although Anaximander’s work itself does not survive, we know that the title On nature was used generically in the classical period for works which dealt with the natural world and the nature and origin of the cosmos (see Schmalzriedt , esp. –). According to Diogenes Laertius (. = DK  A; G; LM D), Anaximander’s book was a bulletin of his principal ideas: τῶν δὲ ἀρεσκόντων αὐτῷ πεποίηται κεφαλαιώδη τὴν ἔκθεσιν. For an attempt to reconstruct the contents and structure of Anaximander’s treatise, see Rovelli (, –). In using the term ‘artefact’, I am mindful of Berryman (, –), who cautions that Anaximander’s theory proposes artefact-analogues, not mechanisms.

What Is the Moon? The Lunar Artefact



upon the air on account of their flatness. The heavenly bodies are derived from earth, through the elevation of moisture from earth. As this moisture is rarefied, the fire is generated, and out of the fire as it is borne aloft the stars are composed.

Underlying this rather naive idea seems to have been an attempt to distinguish the more dynamic celestial bodies (the Sun, Moon and planets) from the fixed stars which, in contrast, follow unvarying paths across the night sky and (according to Anaximenes) were ‘fixed in the manner of nails to the ice-like [firmament], like pictures’. This firmament was domeshaped, as the celestial bodies went around the Earth’s hemisphere horizontally, ‘like a felt cap’ (pilion) twisting around its wearer’s head. When the Sun or Moon disappeared from view at the interchange of night or day, he explained that they had simply been obscured behind high mountains on the Earth’s surface. Foundational to his cosmology was the principle that air was the basic generative material out of which the universe was built. Air, Anaximenes argued, was a mutable substance which, when rarefied, transmuted into fire, and when condensed, became thicker and cloudier, eventually condensing into water and coagulating even further to produce earth and rock. The influential idea that the Sun and Moon drew from the Earth its airy exhalations as nourishment for their celestial







 



DK  A (G; LM D); cf. DK  A (G ; LM D). For Anaximenes’ fiery moon, see also Theodoretus . (DG ; G ). For his theory of a fiery, flat like a leaf’, see DK  A and  (= G and ; LM D and  respectively). For the wind-blown rotation of the sun and moon around the earth, see DK  A ; G ; LM D. Aëtius ..–, DG p.  (DK  A ; G; LM D): Ἀναξιμένης ἥλων δίκην καταπεπηγέναι τὰ ἄστρα τῶι κρυσταλλοειδεῖ ὥσπερ ζωγραφήματα. The adjectival noun to krystalloeides ‘the icelike’ probably represents a contamination with Empedocles’ later cosmology; see Longrigg (). For discussion of this difficult report, see Bicknell (). Hippolytus Refutation .. (DK  A; G. ; LM D): οὐ κινεῖσθαι δὲ ὑπὸ γῆν τὰ ἄστρα λέγει, καθὼς ἕτεροι ὑπειλήφασιν, ἀλλὰ περὶ γῆν, ὡσπερεὶ περὶ τὴν ἡμετέραν κεφαλὴν στρέφεται τὸ πιλίον. ‘He says that the heavenly bodies do not move beneath the earth, as others have assumed, but, rather, around the earth, just like if a felt cap is twisted around our head.’ Cf. Diogenes Laertius . (DK  A; G ). Bicknell () interprets pilion as a ribbon of felt, but the grounds on which he rejects the ‘cap’ analogy are, to my mind, tendentious. Aristotle Meteorology  a– (DK  A; G ; LM D). Graham ( and , –) refines the traditional view of Anaximenes as a ‘material monist’, in favour of seeing him as the originator of the more complex ‘generative substance theory,’ which emphasized the physical processes of generation (through rarefaction and condensation), rather than simply a substance of generation (air). Anaximenes’ cosmology is summarized in Hippolytus, Refutation ..– (DK  A; G ; LM D). For discussion, see Graham (, –). See Simplicius Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics .– (DK  A; G ; LM D). Stokes (, esp. –) connects the sequence in Anaximenes’ theory of change with Hesiod’s cosmogony. Graham ( and , – ad loc.) points out that this theory also underlies Plato Tim. b– c (G ), giving us an important pre-Aristotelian testimony to the influence of Anaximenes’ views.



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

fires may originate with Anaximenes too. We have little firm evidence to suggest that Anaximenes shared his predecessor Anaximander’s interest in explaining lunar phenomena such as the phases of the Moon and eclipses, although an unattributed theory, which explains solar eclipses in terms of a thickening (puknōma) of clouds over the Sun’s disc, may have belonged to him. As Bicknell notes, this simple process could have been used to explain lunar eclipses as well. The Milesians Anaximander and Anaximenes were revolutionary inasmuch as they transformed the Moon into a natural object that could be subjected to rational inquiry. Their hypotheses that eclipses, for example, could be explained in naturalistic terms without recourse to the activities of gods, were crucial to the development of astronomy. But the story of the Moon was about to become more complex. The Milesians’ theories were designed, fundamentally, to make sense of observable phenomena: they trusted that what they saw in the night sky represented what was happening in a relatively uncomplicated way. As a result, if the Moon appeared to change shape each month, they reckoned that it must literally be changing its shape – becoming fatter and thinner – and devised ways to make that happen. Within a generation, however, philosophers were beginning to question this relationship between observable phenomena and astronomical reality, and suspicions arose that what one saw from the Earth might not reflect how things actually are. In the wake of the prose-writing Milesians – and quite possibly as a reaction against them – there was a return to the traditions of verse. Xenophanes and Parmenides (followed by Empedocles) expressed their astronomical theories in works of poetry, and even Heraclitus – albeit writing in prose – cultivated a cryptic, aphoristic style that demanded interpretation. There are many possible reasons for this. After all, verse was the more ancient, traditional medium for Muse-inspired wisdompoetry as well as for oracular pronouncements, so it might have been a strategy to enhance the authority of their doctrine, as well as to enhance the philosopher’s vatic persona. This makes sense for Parmenides, who framed his philosophical doctrine in terms of a divine revelation. As a more cryptic and allusive medium, verse was a better vehicle for theorizing    

DK  A and A; G  and ; LM D and  Aëtius .. (DG p. ; G. ), with Bicknell (). Aristotle (Rhet. b –) comments on the obscurity of Heraclitus’ syntax. On the poetics of early Greek philosophy, see Most ( esp. pp. – on Heraclitus’ style). See Parmenides fr.  (DK  B; G ; LM D). Mourelatos (, –) emphasizes the literary rather than religious quality of this narrative framework.

What Is the Moon? The Lunar Artefact



more complex relationships between appearances and reality. The Moon would play a key role in this changing equation, as we shall see. Xenophanes from Colophon, a city in Ionia to the north of Miletus, envisaged a cosmos that was both weirdly alien in itself – inasmuch as it did not conform to what we see from our terrestrial viewpoint – and radically different from his Milesian predecessors. He broke entirely away from the circularity which had dominated previous models. Instead, his cosmos consisted, with terrifying economy, of two horizontal layers: the heavens above and the Earth beneath, both layers stretching out into infinity on both horizontal and vertical axes. Consequently, there was nothing ‘beneath’ the Earth – no space where the Moon and Sun could disappear from our view. He also rejected the notion that a single Sun (or Moon) rotates around the Earth, explaining that this was merely an optical illusion, the result of our perspective, which was limited to one spot on the Earth’s infinite surface. Instead, he claimed that ‘there are many suns and moons according to the regions, sections and zones of the earth.’ Appearance and reality were beginning to diverge. Xenophanes’ account of the heavenly bodies was based on his ‘cloud astrophysics’. His moons were constituted of an ‘incandescent felted cloud’. These lunar clouds were derived from the Earth’s oceans, whose waters were gradually rarefied into vapours, then condensed into clouds. His vivid textile metaphor of ‘compression’ or ‘felting’ (pilēsis) to describe the condensation of oceanic vapours into clouds seems to echo Anaximenes, who had argued that the heavenly bodies twisted around the Earth like a ‘felt cap’ (pilion) on its wearer’s head. Like the Milesians, Xenophanes’ moons generated their own light, the result of continuous internal compression and friction within the lunar clouds, which caused them to

 

 



Graham (, ); see Mourelatos (, esp. –); contra Popper (, –). Mourelatos (, ) refers to the ‘single-boundary geometry of the Xenophanean cosmos’. DK  Aa (G; LM D ): ὁ δ’ αὐτὸς τὸν ἥλιον εἰς ἄπειρον μὲν προϊέναι, δοκεῖν δὲ κυκλεῖσθαι διὰ τὴν ἀπόστασιν. ‘The same source [Xenophanes] asserts that the Sun advances forward into infinity, but that it appears to go in a circle because of the distance’. DK  A (G; LM D): ἀπείρους ἡλίους εἶναι καὶ σελήνας. Xenophanes’ views are summarised in Hippolytus Refutation ..–. For discussion, see Graham (, –). νέφος πεπυρωμένον πεπιλημένον; see DK  A and  (G and ; LM Dc and b respectively). The relevant doxographica are collated in Mourelatos (, –). Mourelatos (, ) interprets Xenophanes’ nephos pepilēmenon more generally as a reference to a distinctive type of opaque cloud-formation: ‘cumulus’ or ‘heap clouds’. For analysis and resolution of the textual difficulties in the doxography, see Runia (), with important qualifications by Mourelatos (, –). For the idea that this was a shared image, see Runia (,  n. ).



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

become inflamed and glow. Xenophanes explained changes in the appearance of the heavenly bodies (such as when they disappeared by day and night alternately) as the result of regular patterns of agitation of the incandescent cloudy substance, like coals in a brazier which glow brightly when stirred, but when left alone, grow dim again (anaptesthai and sbennusthai respectively). It is not clear what caused this regular cloud-agitation each night and each morning, but the same process was held to account for the phases of the Moon as well; at least, Xenophanes understood the new Moon phase to be a result of ‘quenching’ (sbesis) of the lunar cloud. Eclipses occurred as the result of a sudden drop in the supply of evaporative fuel from the Earth when the Sun or Moon passed over a desert zone from which little moisture emanated. Heraclitus, from the city of Ephesus, considered fire to be the basic constitutive material of the cosmos, believing that the processes of rarefaction and condensation could transform it into other elements such as air and water. Though the extent of Heraclitus’ physical interests has been questioned, he is credited by later sources with the idea that the Sun and Moon were great bowls (σκάφαι) filled with fire and turned upside-down towards the Earth. The fire in these bowls was sustained by vapours from 









As Mourelatos (, ) points out, lightning was, according to Ionian meteorology, an instantaneous result of violent winds ripping up clouds; Xenophanes’ theory was probably an extension of this idea, with the ongoing internal turbulence and compression within the lunar cloud generating sustained luminescence. This is the interpretation supplied by Achilles Tatius ad Arat. : Ξενοφάνης δὲ λέγει τοὺς ἀστέρας ἐκ νεφῶν συνεστάναι ἐμπύρων καὶ σβέννυσθαι καὶ ἀνάπτεσθαι ὡσανεὶ ἄνθρακας, καί, ὅτε μὲν ἅπτονται, φαντασίαν ἡμᾶς ἔχειν ἀνατολῆς, ὅτε δὲ σβέννυνται, δύσεως. ‘Xenophanes says that the stars consist of fiery clouds and that they are dimmed and lit just like coals; and when they are lit, it appears to us as if they are rising, and when they are dimmed, as if they are setting’. For discussion of the precise mechanics of this process, see Mourelatos (), who rejects the model of on/off ignition and quenching of the cloud-material, in favour of a continuous ebb and flow of incandescence as a result of agitation. G; LM Dc: Ξενοφάνης καὶ τὴν μηνιαίαν ἀπόκρυψιν κατὰ σβέσιν. The same terminology (exapsis and sbesis) is used to describe Xenophanes’ theory of the nightly agitation and dimming of the stars (DK  A; G LM D). For Xenophanes’ theory of solar eclipse, see DK  Aa; G; LM D, with Bicknell (): Ξενοφάνης πολλοὺς εἶναι ἡλίους καὶ σελήνας κατὰ τὰ κλίματα τῆς γῆς καὶ ἀποτομὰς καὶ ζώνας. Κατὰ δέ τινα καιρὸν ἐκπίπτειν τὸν δίσκον εἴς τινα ἀποτομὴν τῆς γῆς οὐκ οἰκουμένην ὑφ’ ἡμῶν καὶ οὕτως ὡσπερεὶ κενεμβατοῦντα ἔκλειψιν ὑποφαίνειν· According to Xenophanes, there are many suns and moons according to the regions, sectors and zones of the earth. At a particular time the [sun’s] disc enters a sector of the earth which is uninhabited by us, and in this way, as if it were stepping into a void, it produces an eclipse. Heraclitus’ cosmology is summarised in Diogenes Laertius .– (DK  A; G; LM R); see Graham (, –). For the celestial ‘bowls’, see also DK  A (G  and ). For scepticism about the extent of Heraclitus’ physical interests, see Piccone (). Some interpreters raise the question as to whether the fire can also be a metaphor for Heraclitus’ metaphysical idea of the unityof-opposites/ unity-in-change or of the cosmos as process (see Hussey , –; Warren ,

What Is the Moon? The Lunar Artefact



the Earth, just as Xenophanes argued. Usually, the solar and lunar bowls hung with their concave interiors exposed to our line of vision, so that their fiery contents were in full view. Eclipses occurred when the celestial bowl rotated, withdrawing its contents from our view and turning instead its unlit, convex exterior towards the Earth. Heraclitus seems to have explained the phases of the Moon as the result of a more gradual and regular process of rotation of the lunar bowl each month. If this idea is genuinely Heraclitean (and we have only the doxography to rely on), we can detect here, once again, an intriguing mixture of cosmology and the artefactual imagination that is typical of the Archaic philosophers, for these celestial bowls emerge from a complex hinterland of mythology and metaphor. In addition to the solar bowl, Heraclitus is also accredited with the belief that the Sun dipped nightly into the western ocean, whereupon its fire was extinguished; it then travelled under the Earth from west to east, where it rose and was rekindled once more. As is often noted, there is an obvious mythological parallel with the golden cup of Helios, in which the Sun was imagined to sail from west to east each night, and which the hero Heracles also used to sail across Ocean. Martin West suggested that Heraclitus had in mind, more specifically, the fire-altars of the Magi – objects that took the shape of circular basins containing fire. But the vivid image also taps a deep well of Greek thought in which quotidian concave vessels, such as cups, bowls, jars and lamps were treated as metaphors for the cosmos itself or the luminary bodies within it. As Ruth Bielfeldt and Renaud Gagné have both demonstrated – the one through analysis of material utensils, the other through exploration of Greek words for ‘cups’ – such objects were strongly visual in the ancient imaginary; in the material evidence, we can see this reinforced by the decoration of cups with eyes or



  



–). But the ‘also’ is important, as fire seems to play a physical role as well, in line with traditional cosmologies. I am very grateful to Gabriele Galluzzo for this point. This process is explained in detail in a scholium on Plato Republic a: οὗτος τὸ τοῦ ἡλίου ἔλεγεν εἶναι σχῆμα σκαφοειδὲς καὶ ὑπόκυρτον, καὶ τὴν ἔκλειψιν αὐτοῦ συβαίνειν κατὰ τὴν τοῦ σκαφοειδοῦς στροφήν, ὥστε τὸ μὲν κοῖλον ἄνω γίγνεσθαι, τὸ δὲ κυρτὸν κάτω πρὸς τὴν ἡμετέραν ὄψιν. ‘This man [Heraclitus] used to say that the Sun had a bowl-like, convex shape and that solar eclipse occurred with the turning of the bowl-shaped body, so that its concave side was turned uppermost and its convex side downwards towards our line of vision’. As Graham (, ) points out, the hemispherical shape of the bowl would not produce the crescent shape of some of the lunar phases, however. LM D b. For the Sun’s nightly voyage in its cup – which is often linked with the Sun’s boat in Egpytian thought – see Stesichorus fr.  (= PMGF) and Mimnermus fr.  West (golden, winged bed wrought by Hephaestus). For Heracles crossing Oceanus in the cup of Helios, see: Pherecydes FGrHist  F a; Pisander fr. ; Panyassis fr. . West (, –).



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

Fig.  Lid of Attic red-figure pyxis, showing Helios, Selene (or Nyx?) and Eos, ca.  BCE. © bpk-Bildagentur / Antikensammlung, SMB: inv. F / Johannes Laurentius

with motifs, such as the Gorgon head, that reference their visuality, and the decoration of celestial imagery on lamps. Moreover, the shape of these objects fitted them elegantly as metaphors for the hemispherical heavens, investing them with a cosmological symbolism that was sometimes incorporated into their decorative motifs as well: at Fig. , for example, we see a red-figure pyxis whose circular lid features the Sun-god Helios and the Moon-goddess Selene careering around on their circular celestial paths. 

On such ‘looking objects’ as cups, bowls and lamps, see; Bielfeldt (, –); Bielfeldt (a); Bielfeldt (). On cosmic vessels in the Greek sympotic imagination, see Gagné (, esp. –). Aristophanes parodies such notions with Strepsiades’ evocation of the domed ceramic oven (pnigeus) as a metaphor for the heavens (Clouds –).

What Is the Moon? The Lunar Artefact



Considered within this matrix, it cannot be accidental that our earliest surviving Greek astronomical graffito from Pithekoussai ca.  BCE – a scratched image identified tentatively as the constellation Boötes – is found on a massive kratēr, a vessel used for mixing wine. Nor is this an isolated example: other images that have been interpreted as astral are also found on the surface of Archaic drinking-vessels. A similar theory about the Moon (though in this case, significantly, not the Sun) is attributed to the early fifth-century philosopher Alcmaeon who, we are told, explained lunar eclipses, like Heraclitus, as occurring ‘by virtue of the rotation of the bowlshaped body and its inclinations’ (κατὰ τὴν τοῦ σκαφοειδοῦς στροφὴν καὶ τὰς περικλίσεις). If Alcmaeon drew his inspiration from Heraclitus’ bowls, he refined the model, for Alcmaeon’s Sun, in contrast with Heraclitus’, was flat. Evidently, Alcmaeon felt that the bowl-shape was necessary for explaining the Moon’s more dynamic shape-changing, but could be dispensed with for the comparatively unchanging Sun. The Moon, then, plays a prominent role in the new models for explaining the world that began to emerge in the sixth century. The early physical philosophers share in common the strikingly novel theory that the Moon is both a natural object and a luminous, light-emitting body. In most cases, moreover, there seems to have been a degree of assimilation to, or evocation of, a technological artefact or process in order to describe it: so we find vivid images of a fiery chariot-wheel in motion around the Earth, with intense blow-holes of flame pouring from it; or it is a fiery, leaf-like structure moved by terrestrial winds around heavens that sit atop the Earth like a felted hat; it is an infinite succession of incandescent, felted clouds that are illuminated by processes of combustion; or it is a great rotating bowl of fire in the sky. This strikingly vivid use of analogy to render abstract and novel theories concrete and intelligible has justly been described as ‘poetic’. But the exploitation of technological images in particular points to a more profound cognitive shift, which emphasizes     

On the graffito, see Coldstream and Huxley (). More generally, on kratēr as a cosmological metaphor, see Gagné (, esp. –). For example, the frieze of animals on the Halai skyphos (Lamia Archaeological Museum H–), which dates to ca.  BCE; see Barnes (). DK  A = LM D, trans. by Laks and Most. DK  A = LM D: Ἀλκμαίων πλατὺν εἶναι τὸν ἥλιον. Most (, ): ‘. . . part of the effectiveness of the analogy derives from the surprise with which the most mundane and familiar of phenomena are suddenly revealed to have important and hitherto unimagined similarities with the most distant and puzzling ones. Such thinkers most likely learned this technique from Homer - in any case, its application provides a vividness and concreteness to their discourse that we may well wish to call poetic.’



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

the new, naturalistic way of explaining the cosmos: technology is becoming a ‘heuristic device’ and beginning to shape scientific theory. There is also another growing concern discernible in the evidence: an incipient doubt about the reliability of our senses, which finds particularly acute expression in the suspicion that the Moon’s appearance from our perspective on Earth may not necessarily match its real nature. This is explicitly clear in Xenophanes’ theory about infinite moons tracking their horizontal trajectory across an infinite sky. Explaining the dynamic shape-shifting of the Moon, moreover, required contemplation of the nature of change itself. In the following centuries, as this mistrust in sense-perception deepened, the Moon would become a virtual laboratory in which the gap between appearance and reality was tested. Much later – as we shall see in Chapter  – the Moon would become a test-site for the limits of knowledge itself.

The Lunar Laboratory: Change and Epistemology For Heraclitus, change was a permanent feature of the world, along with unity (paradoxical as that sounds). The celestial bodies embodied this rheontological principle. He claimed that ‘the Sun is new every day’ (ὁ ἥλιος . . . νέος ἐφ’ ἡμέρῃ ἐστίν). The Moon, too, was governed by a regular pattern of change each lunation or monthly cycle. Its distinctive, combination of stability and mutability seems to have struck a chord with Heraclitus, for he tracked the lunar phases closely enough that – according to an ancient commentary on Homer – he was able to calculate irregularities in its monthly cycle. Glossing the reference to the new Moon at Od. ., the commentator provides supplementary explanation about conjunctions between the Sun and Moon, citing Heraclitus, probably (and significantly) via Aristarchus of Samos, the mathematical astronomer of the third century BCE. Given that the Greek is Ionic, the information attributed to Heraclitus is likely to be a direct quotation: συνιόντων τῶν μηνῶν ἡμέρας ἐξ ὅτου φαίνεται προτέρην νουμηνίην δευτέρην ἄλλοτ’ ἐλάσσονας μεταβάλλεται, ἄλλοτε πλεῦνας.

    

See Berryman (); Kranz (); Schiefsky (); Webster (). The Moon is one – significant – flashpoint in a growing epistemological crisis at this period; for the broader story, see Lesher (). On Heraclitus and the principle of flux, see Warren (, – and FN ). DK  B (G; LM Da), with Piccone (). For the text, see Haslam (): P.Oxy. LIII  ii (b) – and iii – (Ga and b; LM D a and b). Haslam (,  ad  ff ) tentatively attributes the quotation to Aristarchus.

The Lunar Laboratory: Change and Epistemology



At the joining of the months, from the time it (i.e. the Moon) makes its appearance over the first new Moon day (or) the second, sometimes it changes over fewer days, sometimes more. μεὶς τρ[ιταῖος] φαινόμενος ἑκκαιδ[ε]κάτηι πασσέληνος φαίνεται ἐν ἡμέρ[ηισι] τεσσαρεσκαίδεκαˑ ἀπολιμπάνει τὸ[ν] ὑπόμετρον ἐν ἡρέρηισι ιγ´. When the Moon appears on the third day, it appears as a full Moon on the th within fourteen days; it leaves the rest (to change) in thirteen days.

Although Heraclitus’ striking numerical interest in the lunar phases here is difficult to reconcile with his broader interests, Burkert is probably right that Heraclitus saw the Moon as a natural embodiment – much like the river – of his principle of the constancy of change. Already in the sixth century BCE – the Moon was becoming entangled in larger, metaphysical questions about the stable principles that underlie apparently mutable phenomena. Variations on this idea emerge in the following century. The Pythagoreans are said to have identified the Moon with the material principle of the cosmos, the Dyad, on account of its changeful nature, and they identified the Dyad, in turn, with the goddess Rhea, whose very name denotes flux (Ῥέαν ἀπὸ τῆς ῥύσεως). For Anaxagoras, the Moon was a repository for old light as well as a receptable of the new: Νέον δέ που καὶ ἕνον ἀεί ἐστι περὶ τὴν σελήνην τοῦτο τὸ φῶς, εἴπερ ἀληθῆ οἱ Ἀναξαγόρειοι λέγουσιν· κύκλῳ γάρ που ἀεὶ αὐτὴν περιιὼν νέον ἀεὶ ἐπιβάλλει, ἕνον δὲ ὑπάρχει τὸ τοῦ προτέρου μηνός. Now the light is always new and old always new and old about the Moon, if the Anaxagoreans are right; for they say the Sun, in its continuous course about the moon, always sheds new light upon it, and the light of the previous month persists.

In the literary imagination, similarly, the Moon became a symbol of the predictable precariousness of human fortune. It is in this sense that the 







Lines – and – respectively; translation after Burkert () with some modification, based on Martin West’s text (West ). The Greek is difficult and the precise meaning is uncertain, though the overall sense is clear enough; see West () and Burkert (, ) for explanatory notes. For Heraclitus’ analogy of the river to illustrate the constant changefulness of the universe (the cosmos as ‘process’), see Plato Crat. a– (cf. Tht. d–e; Aristotle Topics b– and De caelo b–), with Hussey (, ). This is according to Nicomachus of Gerasa, a Neopythagorean mathematician of the first century CE; see [Iamblichus] Theology of Arithmetic : (p. . - de Falco). My thanks to my anonymous reader for drawing this passage to my attention. Plato, Cratylus b, translation by H. North Fowler. On the ‘new Moon in the old Moon’s arms’, see Chapter , p. .



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

character Menelaus evokes the Moon in a fragment from a lost Sophoclean play, which is quoted in turn by Plutarch to evoke the instability of the statesman Demetrius’ fortunes. In fact, Plutarch tells us that Romans of his day – in the first century CE – wore a lunar-shaped trinket on their shoes as a reminder that the fortunes of humankind are as mutable as the Moon. Evidently, there was a long tradition of popular wisdom that saw the Moon as a symbol of predictable – indeed inevitable – change. For the poet-philosopher Parmenides in the fifth century BCE, however, the Moon may well have been the catalyst to a great paradigm-shift in the opposite direction, leading him to hypothesize (paradoxical as it may seem) the absence of all change. Understanding the Moon constituted one of the pillars of Parmenides’ philosophy. As the goddess assures him in her revelation to him: ‘you shall learn the revolving works of the round-eyed Moon and her nature’ (ἔργα τε κύκλωπος πεύσηι περίφοιτα σελήνης/ καὶ φύσιν). Like his predecessors, Parmenides speculated about the Moon’s composition. He argued that it consisted of a mixture of fire and air: Παρμενίδης τὸν ἥλιον καὶ τὴν σελήνην ὲκ τοῦ γαλαξίου κύκλου ἀποκριθῆναι, τὸν μὲν ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀραιοτέρου μίγματος, ὃ δὴ θερμόν, τὴν δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ πυκνοτέρου, ὅπερ ψυχρόν. Parmenides [says] that the Sun and the Moon separated off from the Milky Way, and that the Sun consisted of the more rarefied mixture which is hot, whereas the Moon consisted of the denser mixture which is cold.

In other respects, however, Parmenides broke entirely with traditional thinking. In two hexameter verses of haunting beauty he describes the Moon as ‘night-shining, wandering around Earth, borrowed light’ (νυκτιφαὲς περὶ γαῖαν ἀλώμενον ἀλλότριον φῶς), and ‘ever peering at    



Sophocles fr.  Radt; Plutarch, Life of Demetrius .–. Plut. Quaest. Rom.  a–b. It might also, he says, serve as a reminder to look obediently to one’s leaders as the Moon looks to the Sun; for additional meanings see pp. – below. DK  B (G ; LM D), trans. Graham (). DK  A (G; LM D); cf. DK  A (= G; LM D): συμμιγῆ δ’ ἐξ ἀμφοῖν εἶναι τὴν σελήνην, τοῦ τ’ ἀέρος καὶ τοῦ πυρός. ‘[Parmenides said that] the Moon is a mixture of both elements, air and fire.’ DK  B (G; LM D). The adjective nuktiphaes (literally ‘night-shining’) is an emendation whose precise meaning is disputed. Coxon (, –) suggests the translation ‘shining like the night/ shining darkly’ in lieu of the more banal ‘shining in the night’, to convey a sense of the Moon’s dimmer luminescence. Mourelatos () supports the original reading nukti phaos (‘the light of day by night’), though the presence of a neuter adjective in the same position in Empedocles’ homage to this verse (DK  B (G; LM D ) inclines me to think that nuktiphaes is right. On Parmenides’ significance as a cosmological theorist, see Graham ( and , –).

The Lunar Laboratory: Change and Epistemology



sunrays’ (αἰεὶ παπταίνουσα πρὸς αὐγὰς ἠελίοιο). Daniel Graham has made a convincing case that these verses express the revolutionary new theory known as ‘heliophotism’, which argued that the Moon shone primarily with light that it borrowed from the Sun. In Parmenides’ Greek, the Moon hovers enigmatically between inanimate, wandering ‘light’ (phōs, a neuter noun) and a feminine entity who ‘gazes at’ (paptainousa, feminine participle) the Sun, much as the goddess Selene had gazed at Endymion in Sappho’s poetry. Suspended between the traditions of myth and physical science, this Moon is both anthropomorphic and elemental. Parmenides’ second explosive idea was the theory – once again correct that the Earth is a sphere, not flat as his predecessors had supposed. He evidently extrapolated this from his theory of heliophotism and by observing the way the Moon appears to change shape throughout its phases, for the only way to account for the specific pattern of shapes is to assume that the Moon is a spherical body. Possibly, once Parmenides inferred this, the notion that all the heavenly bodies were spherical, including the Earth, seemed a reasonable hypothesis. These twin discoveries placed the Moon at a watershed in the history of philosophy, known as the ‘Parmenidean revolution’. Karl Popper has argued that they transformed ideas about the nature of knowledge and reality itself, for Parmenides’ theories must have led him to realize that









 

DK  B (G ; LM D ). The doxographical tradition paraphrases Parmenides’ theory more prosaically: Παρμενίδης ἴσην τῶι ἡλίωι· καὶ γὰρ ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ φωτίζεται. ‘Parmenides says that [the Moon is] equal to the Sun, and in fact it draws its light from it. (Aëtius .., DG p.  (DK  A; G; LM D ), trans. after Graham ). Parmenides’ pioneer status has been disputed by some: see Mourelatos (,  with nn.  and  for references). As Wöhrle () and Graham () show, however, doxographical attributions of this discovery to earlier philosophers such as Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes are unsustainable in light of what we know of these philosophers’ doctrines. For reconciliation of the theory of heliophotism with Parmenides’ belief that the fiery Moon also emitted its own light (DK  A and  = G,  and ; LM D ,  and ), see Wöhrle (, ) and Graham (, ). This is further complicated by Parmenides’ pun on the Homeric expression ἀλλότριος φώς ‘an alien man, stranger’, where phōs is the masculine noun denoting ‘man’; see Il. .; Od. . and .. For discussion of the ambiguities of this verse, see Mourelatos (, –). The precise arrangement of Parmenides’ cosmic spheres is much-debated; Finkelberg () provides a lucid explanation and a persuasive model, which seeks to reconcile Parmenides’ theories with empirical evidence. Pellikan-Engel () finds many similarities between Hesiod’s and Parmenides’ cosmologies. Aristotle certainly extrapolated thus: On the heavens b–. Popper (, –). Parmenides’ ideas about reality are contained in a long fragment of his poetry, DK  B (= G; LM D).



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

the phases of the Moon are a change in the Moon’s appearance only, not an alteration in its actual shape or form, as all previous thinkers had assumed. In fact, the Moon does not change at all, but remains spherical constantly, and only appears to change because of the changing angle of the Sun’s light across its spherical surface. The changes are not real, but the result of a deceptive interplay of light and shadow. According to Popper, it was this astronomical discovery which prompted Parmenides to question the reliability of our senses more radically, to dismiss all apparent change as illusory only, and to hypothesize the changelessness of reality. In a dialectical process, as developments in thought were shaping the Moon, developments in lunar theory were transforming thought in turn, as Parmenides’ lunar research led him straight into the heart of epistemology. Popper also realized that this newly discovered principle of heliophotism is interwoven with one of Plato’s most famous analogies for the nature of reality itself, the allegory of the Cave (Republic , a–c). In Socrates’ well-known analogy, we are all like prisoners in a cave, watching shadows that are projected onto the cave-wall in front of us. Since we know no better, these shadows constitute reality in our minds. But then one day, a prisoner breaks free and escapes into the sun-drenched world outside the cave. Blinded by the true light, he realizes for the first time that the cave’s shadows are a dim reflection of the real world outside. With this shocking discovery comes the revelation about the true nature of reality itself, which reduces the prisoner’s former beliefs to the status of fictions. He now knows that the shadows on the wall inside the cave are not real; they are just the deceptive interplay of firelight and shadow that passes for reality as long as one knows no better. The true reality is revealed to him by the Sun. Socrates’ early studies in astronomy – especially on the work of Anaxagoras – ensured that he would have been familiar with Parmenides’ ideas, since Anaxagoras himself expanded Parmenides’ astronomical theories. That Parmenides’ astronomy might actually have influenced the caveallegory is suggested by the way in which astronomical observation is built into Plato’s imagery: Συνηθείας δὴ οἶμαι δέοιτ’ ἄν, εἰ μέλλοι τὰ ἄνω ὄψεσθαι. καὶ πρῶτον μὲν τὰς σκιὰς ἂν ῥᾷστα καθορῷ, καὶ μετὰ τοῦτο ἐν τοῖς ὕδασι τά τε τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ τὰ τῶν ἄλλων εἴδωλα, ὕστερον δὲ αὐτά· ἐκ δὲ τούτων τὰ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ καὶ αὐτὸν τὸν οὐρανὸν νύκτωρ ἂν ῥᾷον θεάσαιτο,  

Graham (, ) argues that Parmenides should have been inspired to become more aware of the complex interactions between bodies, rather than to dismiss change as illusory. For Socrates’ studies of Anaxagoras’ work, see Plato Phd. b–b.

The Lunar Laboratory: Change and Epistemology



προσβλέπων τὸ τῶν ἄστρων τε καὶ σελήνης φῶς, ἢ μεθ’ ἡμέραν τὸν ἥλιόν τε καὶ τὸ τοῦ ἡλίου. . . Τελευταῖον δὴ οἶμαι τὸν ἥλιον, οὐκ ἐν ὕδασιν οὐδ’ ἐν ἀλλοτρίᾳ ἕδρᾳ φαντάσματα αὐτοῦ, ἀλλ’ αὐτὸν καθ’ αὑτὸν ἐν τῇ αὑτοῦ χώρᾳ δύναιτ’ ἂν κατιδεῖν καὶ θεάσασθαι οἷός ἐστιν. He [the prisoner] would need time to grow used to the light, if he were to see the things that are above. First, he would discern the shadows with the greatest ease; after this, reflections in water of people and other objects, then later the objects themselves. From this point, looking at the light of the stars and Moon, he would more easily observe objects in the sky and the sky itself by night, than the Sun and the Sun’s light by day . . . Finally, I believe, he would be able to discern and observe what the Sun is like: not reflections of it in water or in another medium, but the Sun in and of itself, in its own station.

In this passage, the Moon, stars and scrutiny of the night sky appear en route to the ultimate vision of the Sun, not only because they are midway on the scale of luminescence in Socrates’ allegory, but because Plato elsewhere presents the study of the stars, which he believed to be divine beings, as vital for the education of the citizens of his ideal state. The allusion to examining reflections of the Sun ‘in water or in another medium’ entwines actual astronomical practice into Socrates’ allegory: in Phaedo, for example, Plato describes the practice of observing a solar eclipse in water in order to avoid damaging the eyes, while Seneca describes the use of olive oil for the same purposes. In this way, Plato implicates astronomy with the quest to discover the true nature of reality in the allegory of the cave. Parmenides’ discovery was itself a story of shadows, sunlight and the shift from pseudo-reality to reality itself, albeit the components in his story are literal rather than figurative; as in Plato’s allegory, however, his revelation of the Sun’s true role in things brought with it the realization, ultimately, that one’s former ‘reality’ is but a shadow. Read intertextually, Socrates’ cave-allegory can be said to dramatize the experience of the paradigm-shift that occurred as a result of Parmenides’ discovery about the Moon.

 



Rep. a–b. See Laws .e and e–c; cf. [Plato], Epinomis a–b. As Libby (, ) notes: ‘Images in shadows, mirror-reflections in water, and the light reflected in the moon are helpful for a philosopher’s step-by-step progression toward viewing the naked sun, i.e., the Forms, but they can also be traps for those who are not wise enough to seek beyond to the next step’. Reflections in water etc. also play a role in the simile of the Divided Line (Rep. d–a). Plato, Phaedo d; Seneca Quaest. Nat. . .–. (in a bowl or basin of oil or pitch). Couprie (, ) thinks Aristotle, Probl. . (b) implies knowledge of the camera obscura technique.



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

Heliophotism and the Reflecting Eye In the previous section I argued that the Moon was germane to increasingly sophisticated thinking about change and the nature of knowledge itself in the fifth century BCE. Broadening this picture, I will explore here how the discovery of heliophotism implicated the Moon with the new theories of vision that were burgeoning at precisely the same time. Discussions of theories of vision in the fifth century BCE have not taken stock of the Moon’s involvement with the history of the eye. By focussing exclusively on the Moon here, I risk presenting a somewhat myopic view of its importance in that history, for the subject – even when delimited, as here, to the Classical period – is broad, and cognizance of all its dimensions is well beyond my present scope. To counterbalance the risk, I refer the reader to the scholarship that I have found most helpful for navigating the topic. Astronomy jostled alongside other sciences in evolving theories of vision, e.g. medicine and physiology, philosophy of the senses, the art of scenedrawing and perspective, optics. More specifically, there were many stimuli in the worlds of nature and manufacture that had a role to play in prompting the Greeks to think about vision in terms of reflection, e.g. pools of water or oil, or reflective artefacts such as mirrors, and it must be conceded that these – and not the Moon – are the analogues explicitly invoked by the optical theorists themselves among the fragments or reports of their ideas that have survived. This does not mean that there was no link between the Moon and these new optical theories; it is indicative, rather, of the directionality of influence, for historically, as I shall argue, it was the reflective eye 



For a broad anthropological survey of associations between the eye and the celestial luminaries – especially the Sun – see Deonna (, –). More incisively, Rizzini (, –) argues that the Sun becomes a heuristic tool for thinking about the working of the eye. On ancient theories of vision, I have learned much from Beare (); Webster (, –) (on how technology shaped Presocratic theories of vision) and from the collected essays in Squire () (esp. essays by Nightingale and Rudolph on theories of vision in Presocratic and Classical philosophy respectively; and by Grethlein and Bielfeldt on theorization of sight in visual art and artefacts respectively). The following are particularly helpful on ancient optics: Darrigol (, esp. –); Lindberg (, –); Netz and Squire (); Smith ( and , esp. –). For a survey, see Deonna , –. Rudolph (, ) argues that ‘the correspondence between observation of reflections in nature and in the eyes of another presumably spurred the first thoughts about how vision occurs.’ But Rudolph’s excellent account does not mention the Moon. Webster () provides a brilliant account of the role of technology in shaping scientific theories; for the analogic extension of the mirror to the eye, see Webster (, ): ‘The similarity in shape between ancient mirrors and the pupil must have strengthened the already compelling idea that reflection was the eye’s active mechanism’. The same argument could be extended to the similarity of shape between the Moon and the eye – indeed, a sympathetic bond was thought to exist between the Moon and the pupil in particular see Chapter , p. .

Heliophotism and the Reflecting Eye



that nudged the Greeks towards the reflective Moon, not the other way round (though that influence is soon reversed, as we shall see). This congruence between Moon and eye in the fifth century, which has not been explored before, would have important implications for both science and fiction in the medium and long term: for the entwining of optics and mathematical astronomy from the fourth century BCE onwards, and for scientific fantasies about the Moon in the early imperial period. That the Moon might in principle have been a test-site for thinking about the workings of the eye is hardly a radical suggestion; as Ruth Bielfeldt has pointed out, ‘sight is an activity that can be unconnected, even detached, from subjectivity: it can be understood in relation to anything endowed with fire or reflective of light.’ Ilaria Rizzini has shown how the Sun and eye were thought to share physical and operational similarities in antiquity, since the emission of fire was associated with the ability to see. In the same way, in the thinking of all philosophers before Parmenides, the Moon was associated, one way or another, with the element of fire; moreover, it too was traditionally endowed with vision and conceptualized as an eye in the night sky. We saw in Chapter  how this idea was expressed in the myth of Selene the Moon-goddess who gazes desirously at the sleeping Endymion, and how metaphorically (like the Sun) the Moon shared an affinity with light-emitting objects like lamps. But with the discovery of heliophotism in the mid fifth century BCE, the story of the Moon’s light suddenly became more involved. The Moon switched to a reflective object rather than an innately luminous one, and as it did so, it became identified in Greek thought with more elusive and complex optical artefacts and surfaces such as mirrors (the Pythagoreans), glass and ice (Ion of Chios and Empedocles respectively). In a parallel trajectory with lunar theory, theorists of vision in the fifth century broke away from traditional and poetic ideas about the fiery eye that was akin to the Sun, and moved instead toward a more complex model of vision that was built around reflection. Like the Moon, the eye now became more a receptacle rather than an emitter of light, and both  

 

 Bielfeldt (, ), with my italics. Rizzini (, –), with Bielfeldt (, ). Bielfeldt (, ): ‘Already in Homeric poetry, the sun (Helios) could be addressed as a universal organ whose gaze nothing escapes. Other luminifera, such as the moon (Selene) and the stars, are likewise thought to be endowed with perception due to their emission of rays (aktines)’. See Chapter , pp. –. See Rudolph (, ): ‘the reflection theory of vision is a definitive break from the fiery rays emitted from the eyes in Greek poetry . . . the eye loses its agency and begins to take on the role of a receptacle’. As Rudolph herself is aware, the eye does wholly lose its agency; in the intromissionist



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

theories are believed to have contributed to the growing mistrust in the senses. The first radical new theorist of vision, early in the fifth century, was Alcmaeon of Croton, who was associated with the Pythagoreans; he was soon followed by Anaxagoras and Empedocles, and towards the end of the century by Democritus of Abdera. All four argued either that the eye reflected light (Alcmaeon, Anaxagoras) or otherwise interacted with visual emissions from the outside world (Empedocles, Democritus), and according to Theophrastus, the reflective theory basically became the dominant model of vision. Alcmaeon explained vision as a process of reflection in the water that surrounds the eye: ὀφθαλμοὺς δὲ ὁρᾶν διὰ τοῦ πέριξ ὕδατος· ὅτι δ’ ἔχει πῦρ δῆλον εἶναι, ληγέντος γὰρ ἐκλάμπειν. ὁρᾶν δὲ τῷ στίλβοντι καὶ τῷ διαφανεῖ, ὅταν ἀντιφαίνῃ, καὶ ὅσῳ ἂν καθαρώτερον ᾖ μᾶλλον. [Alcmaeon says that] eyes see by means of the water that surrounds them; that it is evident, from the fact that it sparks when it is struck, that the eye contains fire, but that it sees with its gleaming and transparent substance whenever reflection occurs - and the clearer that substance is, the better the vision.

Alcmaeon seems to offer a transitional model that tries to reconcile his new idea about reflection with the traditional assumption that the eye contained fire. Ocular moisture imparted a catoptric surface to Alcmaeon’s eye (στίλβω is characteristically used of bright, polished surfaces such as water, oil and metal), and it is emphatically this reflective action that is the source of vision. For Anaxagoras, likewise, vision was a reflective process, but involving, more specifically, the interplay of bright colours against the dark background of the pupil: Ἀναξαγόρας δὲ γίνεσθαι μὲν τοῖς ἐναντίοις· τὸ γὰρ ὅμοιον ἀπαθὲς ὑπὸ τοῦ ὁμοίου. . . ὁρᾶν μὲν γὰρ τῇ ἐμφάσει τῆς κόρης, οὐκ ἐμφαίνεσθαι δὲ εἰς τὸ

 

 

theories of Empedocles and Democritus, the eye itself participates actively in the process of vision – but its receptive role is new. On the connection between the more passive eye and mistrust of the senses, see Rudolph (, –). As noted by Rudolph (, ); see Theophrastus, De sens. .–: σχεδὸν γὰρ οἱ πολλοὶ τὸ ὁρᾶν οὕτως ὑπολαμβάνουσι διὰ τὴν γινομένην ἐν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἔμφασιν. ‘The majority of people, almost, assume that vision occurs in this way, through the reflection that takes place in the eyes.’ DK  A (LM D); Rudolph (, –). See Rudolph (, ): ‘it is clear that Alcmaeon is describing the mirror- like qualities of the eye, since the ancient Greek term stilbos is used regularly to describe highly reflective surfaces like those of water, oil or metal . . .’ (emphasis mine).

Heliophotism and the Reflecting Eye



ὁμόχρων, ἀλλ’ εἰς τὸ διάφορον. καὶ τοῖς μὲν πολλοῖς μεθ’ ἡμέραν, ἐνίοις δὲ νύκτωρ εἶναι τὸ ἀλλόχρων, διὸ ὀξυωπεῖν τότε. ἁπλῶς δὲ τὴν νύκτα μᾶλλον ὁμόχρων εἶναι τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς. ἐμφαίνεσθαι δὲ μεθ’ ἡμέραν, ὅτι τὸ φῶς συναίτιον τῆς ἐμφάσεως· τὴν δὲ χρόαν τὴν κρατοῦσαν μᾶλλον εἰς τὴν ἑτέραν ἐμφαίνεσθαι. According to Anaxagoras, [vision] occurs as a result of opposites. For like is unaffected by like . . . And so vision occurs as a result of the reflection of the pupil: but reflection takes place, not in a surface that shares the same colour but in one of contrast. For the majority of people, the contrast in colour occurs by day (for some by night), and for that reason that’s when their vision is sharp. Quite simply, the night is more similar in colour to the eyes, but things are reflected by day because the light aids the reflection, and the colour that is stronger is better reflected in the other.

If Alcmaeon appealed rather straightforwardly to the reflective properties of water, Anaxagoras thought about reflection in terms of contrasting colours. This seems to be based on the physical properties of ancient bronze mirrors, as Colin Webster has argued. This is an example of a general tendency that Webster calls ‘analogical drift’ – the slippage between the literal tools which theorists use, and the ways in which they conceptualize the object of their scrutiny: where theorists use ‘literal tools as cognitive tools, employing them as heuristics to interpret and explain natural phenomena’. As a result, once the eye has been likened to a mirror, it tends to be endowed with the qualities of the mirror. The models of Empedocles and Democritus were rather more complex, but still clearly intromissionist. In their different ways, both proposed that vision was the result of interactions between light and effluences from the external world that impinged upon the eye. For Empedocles (not unlike Alcmaeon), the eye possessed its own internal fire. He likened it, famously, to a lamp: 





Theophrastus, De sens.  = DK  A (G ; LM D). Cf. De sens. .–: φησὶ δὲ καὶ αὐτὸς ἐμφαίνεσθαι μὲν εἰς ἄλληλα χρώματα, μᾶλλον δὲ τὸ ἰσχυρὸν εἰς τὸ ἀσθενές· ὥστε ἑκάτερον μὲν ἐχρῆν ὁρᾶν, μᾶλλον δὲ μέλαν καὶ ὅλως ἀσθενέστερον. διὸ καὶ τὴν ὄψιν ὁμόχρων ποιεῖ τῇ νυκτὶ καὶ τὸ φῶς αἴτιον τῆς ἐμφάσεως. ‘He himself says that colours generate reflections in each other, the strong more effectively in the weak. While both, therefore, ought to facilitate vision, the colour black, albeit entirely the weaker, does so more effectively. For this reason he makes the visual organ the same colour as night, and the light the cause of reflection.’ For discussion, see Rudolph (, –). Webster (, ): ‘the assumption that reflection qua reflection takes place by virtue of contrast is rooted in the use of bronze mirrors in antiquity, even if it aligns with a wider philosophical framework of perception by opposites’. Webster (, ), followed by discussion of how optical theorists incorporated material features of ancient mirrors into their explanations of vision in pp. –.



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις πρόοδον νοέων ὡπλίσσατο λύχνον χειμερίην διὰ νύκτα πυρὸς σέλας αἰθομένοιο, ἅψας παντοίων ἀνέμων λαμπτῆρας ἀμοργούς, οἵ τ’ ἀνέμων μὲν πνεῦμα διασκιδνᾶσιν ἀέντων, φῶς δ’ ἔξω διαθρῷσκον, ὅσον ταναώτερον ἦεν, λάμπεσκεν κατὰ βηλὸν ἀτειρέσιν ἀκτίνεσσιν· ὣς δὲ τότ’ ἐν μήνιγξιν ἐεργμένον ὠγύγιον πῦρ λεπτῇσίν ὀθόνῃσι λοχάζετο κύκλοπα κούρην, αἳ δ’ ὕδατος μὲν βένθος ἀπέστεγον ἀμφιναέντος, πῦρ δ’ ἔξω διίεσκεν, ὅσον ταναώτερον ἦεν. Just as when, thinking of setting forth, someone prepares a lamp for himself, a gleam of blazing fire through stormy night, fastening lanterns that protect against all kinds of winds and scatter the breath of the blowing winds while the light, leaping outward as far as possible, shines beyond the threshold with its unyielding rays – in the same way, the primal fire, confined in membranes and delicate linens, would surround the circular pupil, and these would stave off the depth of water flowing around, while the fire gushed through outward as far as possible.

Empedocles envisaged the eye’s outer, diaphanous membranes protecting its internal fire just as the canvas of the lantern’s exo-structure protects its flame while still allowing its light to beam forth and illuminate the night. Internal membranes articulate the eye’s inner structure as well by keeping its individual components (pupil, water and fire) discrete. Prima facie, the attribution of innate luminosity to the eye through this analogy appears to be in conflict with the analogy of heliophotism (since the Moon, in contrast, possesses no internal light of its own, as Empedocles himself was aware), but in fact, Empedocles’ theory still relies on the mechanism of reflection. The role of the ocular fire was merely to provide the light required to facilitate vision, while the actual seeing process took place in the reflective moisture on the eye’s surface. Democritus’ intromissionist theory, finally, incorporated an additional process which took place before the external image even reached the visual organ. For this atomist, material objects are continually sloughing off particles or images (eidōla) into the air. These effluent particles form an   

Empedocles LM D , trans. after Laks and Most (= DK  B; G ). For this careful reconstruction of Empedocles’ complex theory, see Sedley (), followed by Rudolph (, –). For Democritus on vision, see Theophrastus, De sens. - (DK  A; G; LM D; also DK  A ; G; LM D ), with Rudolph (, –); Taylor (, –).

Heliophotism and the Reflecting Eye



imprint on the air, which then enters the eye where it forms a ‘reflection’ (emphasis) or ‘representation’ (deikelon). Democritus employed what Webster calls a ‘layered heuristics’, appealing to both the model of the wax imprint and (once again) the action of the mirror. He seems also to have ascribed to the eye an active role in the process, with effluent rays emerging conically from the organ in order to aid the compression of the visual image in the air. This theory may seem more remote from the catoptric interactions of heliophotism, but given that Democritus conceptualized mirror-reflection itself not in terms of reflection of light-rays as we do, but precisely in terms of images accumulating and imprinting themselves on the mirror’s surface, the analogy between Moon and eye would still have been closer for him than it appears, prima facie, to us. As Rudolph points out, ‘the most important component in Democritus’ account is the eye’s capacity to admit, retain and transmit the entering image.’ There is still a palpable resonance with the Moon, that celestial eye that both receives and emits (reflected) light, which is both illuminating and illuminated, both seeing and seen. These four theorists, who spanned the fifth century, conceptualized vision in a radically new way, in terms of reflection of images or the absorption of external effluences rather than the emission of same. Basically, they fitted the eye with a new receptive function. Now, in addition to optical theory, all four also had demonstrable interests in the Moon. In itself, this might be an unexceptional claim, since the pre-Socratic’ interests generally tended to embrace a broad range of fields. But three of the four (we lack sufficient evidence for Alcmaeon who, in any case, predates Parmenides), as well as having lunar interests generally, share a more specific commitment to Parmenides’ principle of heliophotism; that is to say, they believed that the Moon interacted in a complex way with the Sun, reflecting the Sun’s light. Can the two theories have run entirely independent courses? The answer, to my mind, is no: the sheer multiplicity of bridges connecting the Moon, the mirror and the eye in Greek

  



For Democritus’ use of this term, see DK  B (G; LM D ). For the images, see Theophrastus, De sens. – (wax-imprint) and DK  A; LM D  (mirror-images), with Webster (, –). See Theophrastus, De sens.  and Vitruvius, On Architecture  praef. .–, with Rudolph (, –). If Vitruvius is right, Democritus’ optical theory pre-empted Euclids’ visual cone (but as Rudolph points out, material evidence in fact suggests that many of Euclid’s theories were well-known to artists before his time). Vitruvius attributes the same idea to Anaxagoras in this passage as well – which is significant, as I shall presently argue.  See Webster (, ). Rudolph (, ).



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

thought puts it beyond reasonable doubt that congruence would have been intuitive as well as precisely topical. Allusions to the Moon are rich in ocular metaphor. It is frequently assimilated to eyes, a face, or to strongly visual artefacts such as lamps and mirrors, as we have seen. The lunar disc itself – in antiquity as well as today – was imagined as a face peering down at us from the night sky, or else, more specifically, as an eye, for example the ‘eye of night’ (νυκτὸς ὀφθαλμός) or ‘the eye of evening’ (ἑσπέρας ὀφθαλμὸν), or the ‘grey-eyed Moon’ (γλαυκώπιδος . . . μήνης). Evocations of the Moon-goddess allude to her ‘taurine eye’ (ὄμμα . . . ταυρωπόν), or describe her as ‘darkeyed lady’ (κυανώπιδα πό[τναν) and ‘ox-eyed Selene’ (βοώπιδος . . . σελήνης). The bright, circular Moon visually resembles an eyeball in the sky, with bluish patches in its centre where the iris and pupil would be. Alternatively, it resembles a face with two dark eyes set in its brow. Furthermore, the Moon’s light also renders the nocturnal world visible. This is precisely one of the reasons for the Moon’s complaint in Aristophanes’ Clouds: her illuminating presence liberates the Athenians from the need to use torches, thereby enabling them to economize on the cost of oil – and yet they pay her no respect. Essentially, the Moon is our great celestial lamp. The assimilation of the Sun to the eye or the lamp is ubiquitous as well in Greek thought. But there are significant differences between these two cosmic eyes or lamps. As experience teaches, it is foolish to stare at the Sun: if one does, one is dazzled by its searing brightness, and sees nothing clearly at all. The result (paradoxically) is blindness, at least temporarily. In contrast, we can comfortably gaze at and contemplate the gentler luminary of the night. The Moon, uniquely, is the great cosmic eye that yields, obligingly, to the encroachment of our vision and reveals itself to us. It is for this reason that the goddess Selene in myth is the supreme gazed-at gazer, and for this reason too that the Moon could become a paradigmatic eye whose work can be observed – and consequently (like the mirror) an exosomatic test-site for the mechanics of vision itself. We have evidence that the triangulation between Moon, mirror and eye was current in ancient scientific thought as well as in the wider traditions 

 

Aeschylus Sept. ; Pindar, Ol. .; Empedocles DK  B (= G; LM D ). For the affinity between the eyes of the star-gazer and the stars themselves, see Manilius, Astron. . –: ad sidera mittit / sidereos oculos; ‘to the stars he directs his starry eyes’. The three references are: Hymn  Bortolani (=H.Mag. fr.  Heitsch), l. ; Pamprepius of Panopolis, fr. . Heitsch; fr.  Heitsch. Clouds –.

Heliophotism and the Reflecting Eye



of myth, magic and poetry. The most compelling evidence of all is from Parmenides himself who, in his formulation of the theory of heliophotism, evoked the Moon as a visual agent ‘ever-gazing at the rays of the Sun.’ Parmenides’ compatriot and admirer Empedocles hints at this connection when, in his assimilation of the eye to a lamp (in the passage quoted earlier), he alludes to the ‘circular pupil’ (κύκλοπα κούρην) that is protected by membranes from the surrounding ocular fluid. The expression is an unmistakeable allusion to Parmenides, who had described the Moon itself using the same distinctive adjective ‘round-eyed’ in a verse that evoked the lunar phases: ‘and you shall learn the revolving works of the round-eyed Moon and her nature’ (ἔργα τε κύκλωπος πεύσηι περίφοιτα σελήνης/ καὶ φύσιν). A subtle gesture maybe, but it seems that Empedocles had not only the lamp in mind as an analogy for the eye, but the Moon as well. His use of the noun κούρη (Attic κόρη) is of interest too. The word means ‘maiden’, ‘little girl’ or ‘doll’ and also ‘pupil of the eye’, since this is where the figure of the viewer is reflected, doll-like, in miniature. This etymology is first found in the Platonic dialogue Alcibiades I, where Socrates likens the pupil to a mirror: Ἐννενόηκας οὖν ὅτι τοῦ ἐμβλέποντος εἰς τὸν ὀφθαλμὸν τὸ πρόσωπον ἐμφαίνεται ἐν τῇ τοῦ καταντικρὺ ὄψει ὥσπερ ἐν κατόπτρῳ, ὃ δὴ καὶ κόρην καλοῦμεν, εἴδωλον ὄν τι τοῦ ἐμβλέποντος; I’m sure you’ve noticed that when a man looks into an eye his face appears in it, like in a mirror. We call this the ‘pupil’, for it’s a sort of miniature of the man who’s looking.

In this light, we can see that Empedocles’ expression ‘circular pupil’ (κύκλοπα κούρην) insinuates a concatenation of associations into his analogy. Far from a banal reference to the circular shape of the pupil, this richly poetical expression links the eye, the lamp, the mirror and the Moon in the reader’s mind. The connection between the Moon and the pupil of the eye rises to the surface of scientific discourse once again in the astronomical poem Phaenomena of Hegesianax of Alexandria Troas (late third/early second century

  

DK  B (G ; LM D ); see pp. –. DK  B (G ; LM D ), trans. Graham (). Alc. I  a–b, trans. Hutchinson; the eye of the person beheld therefore serves as a mirror for the viewer’s self (see Bartsch , –). The dialogue is probably not by Plato himself, but by a member of the Academy ca.  BCE. For a review of the arguments, confirming the negative conclusion (on the basis, inter alia, of doctrinal conflicts), see Smith ().



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

BCE). In the following verses, the poet likens the Moon vividly to a girl’s face: πᾶσα μὲν ἥδε πέριξ πυρὶ λάμπεται, ἐν δ’ ἄρα μέσσῃ γλαυκότερον κυάνοιο φαείνεται ἠΰτε κούρης ὄμμα καὶ ὑγρὰ μέτωπα· τὰ δὲ ῥέθει ἄντα ἔοικεν. Rimmed all round with fire it gleams, but in the middle it appears bluer than lapis – like a girl’s eye and supple brow; its features are like a face before one’ eyes.

The fragment evokes the Moon’s distinctive mottled surface: the bluish shadows set in its central areas that form the lunar ‘eyes’, surmounted by smooth, bright ‘forehead’. The expression ‘like the eye of a girl’ (ἠΰτε κούρης ὄμμα) puns on the ocular associations of the noun κούρη (girl/ pupil) in Greek. The whole confronts the viewer (ἄντα ἔοικεν) like a face – this final idea evoking the strange reciprocal sense of looking at the Moon looking back. In a similar vein, in a pair of rather more cryptic verses from the same poem, Hegesianax assimilates the lunar disc to another visual object – this time a great mirror that shines with fearful radiance: ἢ πόντου μέγα κῦμα καταντία κυμαίνοντος δείκελον ἰνδάλλοιτο πυριφλεγέθοντος ἐσόπτρου. Or great wave of ocean surging forward appears as a reflection of a mirror that blazes like fire.

Here the poet seems to envisage the wavy shadows crossing the Moon’s surface as a mirror-reflection of the mighty undulations of Earth’s ocean below – an idea that had been advanced by the Pythagoreans to explain the blotches on the lunar ‘face’. Once again, there is a vivid sense of visual confrontation, as the mirror-image swells ominously towards the viewer (καταντία κυμαίνοντος) who contemplates the Moon’s surface from below. The noun δείκελον – used alongside the image of the mirror in the second verse – evokes the optical theory of Democritus, who held that effluences formed a ‘representation’ (δείκελον) in the eye like a mirror. The ocular metaphor also occurs in Plutarch’s dialogue on the Moon, De facie (late first century CE). The speaker explains that the Moon can be

  

Fr.  SH, quoted by Plutarch in De fac. e. Fr.  SH, quoted by Plutarch in De fac. b. Ch. , p. , n. : See pp. –.



Aëtius .. (DG p. ); see p. .

Heliophotism and the Reflecting Eye



called Korē (Κόρη) both because it is identified with Persephone, the goddess of the underworld who was commonly known as Κόρη (‘Maiden’) and because the Moon functions like the pupil (κόρη) of the eye, reflecting the Sun in its catoptric surface: . . . καὶ τοῦ ὄμματος, ἐν ᾧ τὸ εἴδωλον ἀντιλάμπει τοῦ βλέποντος, ὥσπερ τὸ ἡλίου φέγγος ἐνορᾶται τῇ σελήνῃ, κόρην προσαγορεύομεν. . . . and we use the name ‘korē’ for the part of the eye in which the image of the viewer is reflected, just as the light of the Sun is seen in the Moon.

The proliferation of eye-votives that have been found in sanctuaries devoted to Demeter and Perspephone-Korē seem to lend this etymology some interesting material heft. In this dazzle of visual language (eye, image, reflection, viewer, light, vision), Plutarch’s Moon becomes – through the mechanism of heliophotism – both eye and mirror, both seeing organ and a repository of alien phantasms and light. In a congruence of optical and astronomical theory, the Moon becomes an object that instantiates the mechanics of vision itself. The image of the mirror, then, connects the reflective eye and the reflective Moon. In his analysis of how ancient technology shaped scientific theory, Webster asks why the tendency to compare the eye to a mirror was so common in Greek thought. The answer, he proposes, is twofold. It must arise from the fact that the mirror was the ‘optical technology par excellence’ for the Greeks (as was the lamp, which, we have seen, Empedocles adapted as the model for his eye). It must arise also from the fact that the eye produces a tiny reflection in its pupil: ‘When you look into someone else’s eyes, you can see a small image of yourself looking back.’ As we have just seen, this phenomenon captivated the Greek imagination, naming the pupil κόρη after the tiny reflected image. Moreover, if the eye could be a mirror, then the corollary must also be true: the mirror could be a portable, exosomatic eye. This uncanny possibility is the basis for the poetical conceit that attributes ocular powers to the utensil, most famously in the oft-quoted epigram ‘On a mirror’: Ἄν μ’ ἐσίδῃς, καὶ ἐγὼ σέ. σὺ μὲν βλεφάροισι δέδορκας, ἀλλ’ ἐγὼ οὐ βλεφάροις· οὐ γὰρ ἔχω βλέφαρα. ἂν δ’ ἐθέλῃς, λαλέω φωνῆς δίχα· σοὶ γὰρ ὑπάρχει φωνή, ἐμοὶ δὲ μάτην χείλε’ ἀνοιγόμενα. 



De fac. d: ὅτι καὶ τοῦ ὄμματος, ἐν ᾧ τὸ εἴδωλον ἀντιλάμπει τοῦ βλέποντος, ὥσπερ τὸ ἡλίου φέγγος ἐνορᾶται τῇ σελήνῃ, κόρην προσαγορεύομεν. On the intensity of Plutarch’s visual language in this passage, see Pérez Jiménez (,  with n. ).  On the eye-votives, see Petridou (). Webster (, ).



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science If you look at me, I look at you too. You look with eyes, but I without, for I have none. And if you like, I speak without voice, for you have a voice, but I only have lips opening in vain.

But there is another ingredient in the mixture that has been overlooked. As Webster points out, ‘noticing this effect [i.e. the similarity to the mirror] and considering it the key component of the eye’s operational mechanism are two different things. The pupil also dilates and contracts (albeit less conspicuously), and reflection-theory has nothing to say about this.’ Indeed it does not: in fact, Webster has identified – without realizing it – an ocular feature for which only the Moon can provide an answer. The Moon’s most conspicuous characteristic – its habitual waxing and waning each month – provides the perfect analogy for the dilation and contraction of the pupil, that tiny lunar microcosm within the eye. It is this very idea that underlies paradoxographical reports of the pupils of cat’s eyes, which were said to wax and wane in sympathy with the Moon, or with the remarkable eyes of Astraeus, the mysterious ‘star-man’ and (hardly a coincidence) Pythagorean sage of Antonius Diogenes’ novel The Wonders beyond Thule, whose plot included lunar travels. Lucian, making a joke out of this matrix of lunar-optical theories in the second century CE, would equip his Moonmen with detachable, exosomatic eyes, and his Moon with a giant catoptric oculus through which to view the entire Earth below. This fantasy that the whole Earth can be condensed into a single eyeshot on the Moon is an extension of the tussle between micro- and macro-cosm that characterizes the relationship between the viewer and the pupil of the eye: in the pupil of the lunar eye, the whole Earth is reflected in miniature. This scientific connection between optics and heliophotism is explicitly demonstrable in the fourth century. As Colin Webster has shown, Euclid’s geometrical cone was adapted from an astronomical context to an optical one: from Aristarchus of Samos’ diagram, which demonstrates how the Earth’s conical shadow (ΓΚΕ) envelops the Moon in a lunar eclipse (Fig. ) – to Euclid’s definition of the field of vision as a cone (ΚΕΓ) with its apex at the eye.

  

Pal. Anth. Epigram .; see the brilliant analysis in Squire (a).   Webster (, ). See Chapter , p. . See Chapter , pp. –. On Euclid’s visual cone, see [Eucl.] Opt. def. , B: Ὑποκείσθω . . . τὸ [μὲν] ὑπὸ τῶν ὄψεων περιεχόμενον σχῆμα εἶναι κῶνον τὴν κορυφὴν μὲν ἔχοντα ἐν τῷ ὄμματι τὴν δὲ βάσιν πρὸς τοῖς πέρασι τῶν ὁρωμένων. Let it be established that field of vision (lit: the shape incorporated by the visual rays) is a cone with its apex in the eye and its base at the limits of what is visible.

Heliophotism and the Reflecting Eye

Fig. 



Aristarchus, Sizes and Distances, prop. .

Republished with permission of Walter de Gruyter and Company, from ‘Euclid’s Optics and geometrical astronomy,’ by Colin Webster, Apeiron . (), at p. , fig. ; permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc

As Webster explains, the cone in this diagram is readable in two opposite ways: ‘in celestial illumination, the Sun casts a cone of shadow with the interposition of the moon, while optics transforms this shape into an area of visual perception. Despite the fact that these two shapes represent almost opposite physical circumstances (invisible/visible), their manifestation in a diagram is identical . . . the diagram provided the site where both processes were conceptualized and conflated.’ Webster concludes that this not only demonstrates ancient optical authors’ reliance on the diagram ‘as a material tool with which to conceptualize vision’, but that ‘using the diagram to conceptualize vision allowed optical theorists to repurpose the earth’s conical shadow as a useful way to formulate sight.’ In the fourth century therefore, we can clearly see how interactions between the Earth, Moon and Sun became a model for optical theory, specifically through the medium of geometrical representation. It must have been the connection between optical and lunar theory that was already in place from the century previous that primed ancient theorists to read the diagrammatic cone in both ways. Indeed, we may well ask if such a transfer of ideas might have been possible earlier in the wake of the discovery of heliophotism itself? One way to approach this question is to ask when geometrical diagrams were first used to illustrate celestial phenomena such as eclipse. It is difficult to 

Webster (, ), with my italics.



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

know when precisely geometrical astronomy first appeared in the Greek world. Reviel Netz argues that mathematics, as a recognizable scientific activity among the Greeks, exploded into existence (the ‘catastrophic’ model) around the mid-century, ca.  BCE. Webster, however, presses for the possibility that some geometrical astronomy was being practised earlier than this, pointing to Anaxagoras (significantly) in the earlier half of the fifth century. Certainly, Anaxagoras is an attractive candidate, given that the types of astronomical question that interested him (involving shadows, rays, eclipse, the sizes of the Earth, Moon and Sun) lent themselves to geometrical explanation – though we have no evidence to prove that Anaxagoras himself approached these subjects in this way. Nevertheless, it may be significant that, according to the doxographical tradition, Anaxagoras was the first Greek to include a diagram (συγγραφή) in his book. Admittedly, the ambiguity of Greek terms like γραφή – which can indicate both ‘drawing’ and ‘text’ – makes certainty about this impossible, and even if we assume he deployed a diagram, we do not know what it illustrated. According to the Roman architectural writer Vitruvius (first century BCE), both Anaxagoras and Democritus (significantly), influenced by the scenographical work of one Agatharchus, wrote about how visual rays dispersed outwards in a cone from a single central point. If Anaxagoras was writing about visual cones and rays, it is likely he illustrated his theory with a diagram. Alternatively, the emphasis which our sources place on the extraordinary clarity with which he explained the new theory of heliophotism and the mechanics of lunar eclipse could indicate that he employed some unusual exegetical strategy such as visual demonstration for elucidating precisely this idea. One way or another, it is conceivable that Anaxagoras – the champion of  

   

Netz (, –), identifying Hippocrates of Chios (ca. –ca.  BCE) as the earliest mathematical author. The dates of Anaxagoras’ Athenian residency and trial are notoriously difficult to pinpoint (see Graham (, –) with further references). Although no consensus has been reached, the fact that Socrates is never portrayed as conversing with him – though he knows his works – suggests that Anaxagoras had left Athens by the time Socrates was a young man, i.e. ca.  BCE. This puts his theories earlier than Netz’s terminus post quem of , though probably not by much. See Webster (a,  with n. ); Netz (, –), however, is sceptical about the evidence for Anaxagoras’ mathematics activities. Diogenes Laertius . (DK  A; LM D b); clearer testimony in Clement, Strom. ..  (DK  A). Vitruvius’ reference to Anaxagoras and Democritus’ optical works is in On Architecture  praef. . See Plutarch Nicias .: ὁ γὰρ πρῶτος σαφέστατόν τε πάντων καὶ θαρραλεώτατον περὶ σελήνης καταυγασμῶν καὶ σκιᾶς λόγον εἰς γραφὴν καταθέμενος Ἀναξαγόρας . . . ‘The first to establish an account of the illuminations and shadow of the moon in an image, most clearly and boldly of all, was Anaxagoras . . .’ (tr. Webster ,  n.). That Anaxagoras was particularly associated

Heliophotism and the Reflecting Eye



heliophotism and one of the theorists of the reflective eye – was deploying geometrical images that might also have aided a transfer of ideas between eye and Moon. If it requires the eye of faith to discern Anaxagoras the geometer among these sparse wisps of evidence, we are on much surer footing with Democritus, who belongs to the latter half of the fifth century and so securely after Netz’s terminus post quem. Democritus closely followed Anaxagoras’ theories about heliophotism, eclipse and an earthy, inhabited Moon. He also worked with the same theory of the reflective, mirror-like eye as Anaxagoras had. And he was certainly practising geometry, for he discovered that the volume of a cone is equal to one third of the volume of a cylinder, a discovery that may be connected with his astronomical interest in luminous rays and celestial shadows, and which must, in practice, have required illustration using diagrams. ‘Thus,’ argues Webster, ‘while it is difficult to discern what geometrical astronomy looked like in the late fifth century BCE, it seems likely that diagrams of some sort were circulating in astronomical texts by this time – even if they did not yet take the axiomatic-deductive form characteristic of later proofs.’ If a cross-over between astronomical and optical theory – Aristarchus to Euclid – took place in the fourth/third century, this does not prove that similar deductions took place a century earlier. Nevertheless, it provides us with a hypothetical channel for such transfers, particularly among individual philosophers like Anaxagoras and Democritus who were interested in both astronomy and optics and who may have been using diagrams, perhaps even to illustrate lunar eclipse itself. The question of the directionality of influence raises its head at last: if there was a dialogue between optical theory and heliophotism (as I hope to have demonstrated), then was it the discovery of heliophotism that prompted ideas about the reflective eye – or the other way round? Chronologically, the optical theory came first (Alcmaeon). The fact that

 



with the theory of heliophotism is shown by Plutarch, De fac. b, where it is referred to as ‘that Anaxagorean principle’ (τοῦτο τὸ Ἀναξαγόρειον). See p. . Aristotle links the two philosophers closely at Meteor.  a (DK  A; LM D ). For Democritus’ discovery of the volume of the cone, see DK  B. Of the many lost works attributed to Democritus in antiquity, one called ἀκτινογραφίη (‘A text on rays’) may have taken optics as its theme; see Rudolph (, –), who suggests that the text was a source for Euclid. Webster (,  n. ), more sceptical, thinks this treatise is more likely to have been concerned with celestial illumination. Could the Democritean work on visual rays mentioned by Vitruvius (On Architecture  praef. ) refer to the lost Aktinographiē? If so, it would align Democritus’ interests more closely with those of Euclid who came after him. Webster (a, –).



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

the Moon tends not to be evoked by fifth-century sources to illustrate theories of the reflective eye – while the eye (and mirror) are foundational to conceptualizations of the reflective Moon, also provides strong confirmation of the priority of the optical theory. This conclusion is consistent, moreover, with the general tendency among ancient theorists to think in an embodied way, theorizing from the body outwards. A century or so later, that directionality would be reversed: through the medium of geometrical diagram, as Webster has shown, the Moon would begin to shape the development of geometrical optics. This mutual implication of the Moon and eye in early scientific thought – in an oscillating relationship of macro- to micro-cosm – in turn provides a scientific basis for the Moon’s later status as a site for optical scientific-fantasy and strange ocular reversals, as we shall see in Chapters  and .

The Moon Becomes a World Two philosophers in Parmenides’ wake extrapolated from that philosopher’s discoveries to solve the mystery of lunar eclipse. These were Anaxagoras from Clazomenae in the Greek east, and his slightly younger contemporary Empedocles from Acragas in Sicily. Anaxagoras seems to have been a cosmopolitan traveller from the Ionian world, and a worldly man of politics and business. He spent thirty years living in Athens, probably from about  to  BCE. There his ideas quickly infiltrated the Athenian Zeitgeist, and he became a celebrity figure among the city intelligentsia, enjoying the patronage of the premier statesman Pericles, though he was ultimately exiled in a high-profile legal case. In contrast, Empedocles was a self-styled mystic and holy-man. In writing 





See Squire (a, –). On the life of Anaxagoras, see Diogenes Laertius .– (DK  A = G). The dates of his Athenian residence are disputed. Mansfeld - argues for a period of residence between – and – BCE (though others argue that an earlier period, from about –, is more consistent with both the literary record and other evidence; see Graham (, –); Taylor (); Woodbury ()). In his youth, Socrates studied natural philosophy from Anaxagoras’ writings, though he subsequently rejected his ideas (Plato, Phaedo a–c; cf. Apology d–e). Euripides, who was reputedly a student of Anaxagoras, imported his doctrines into his play Phaethon with the claim that the Sun was ‘a golden clod’, and into his Orestes too (see Euripides Orestes, ll.– and –, with Scodel ). According to Seneca (Nat. Quest. a.. = G), ‘all of antiquity’ shared Anaxagoras’ naturalistic explanation for the Nile floods, the trace of which can be seen in the work of all three Athenian tragedians: Aeschylus (fr.  Radt = G), Sophocles (fr.  Radt) and Euripides (Helen – and fr. .–), as well as Herodotus (.; see Graham a). Empedocles was accredited in antiquity with the ability to predict the weather, cure plagues and raise the dead. He professed a doctrine of reincarnation, which he reputedly tested with a

The Moon Becomes a World



style, too, they contrasted in a predictable way: Anaxagoras was a vigorous writer of prose, whose books were popular and widely available in Athens, where they could be bought ‘for no more than a drachma from the Orchestra’. Empedocles, on the other hand, followed in the footsteps of Parmenides, his predecessor in the Magna Graecia, with his poem On nature. Both accepted Parmenides’ theory of heliophotism. Anaxagoras, opting for maximum accessibility, asserted in plain prose that ‘the Sun instils in the Moon its brightness’ (ἥλιος ἐντίθησι τῆι σελήνηι τὸ λαμπρόν). The lucidity of this expression may go some way towards explaining why Anaxagoras was more widely associated with the discovery of heliophotism in antiquity than Parmenides, its true discoverer. In contrast, Empedocles described heliophotism in more cryptic verses that echo Parmenides. He describes how the Moon ‘gazes on the bright circle of her lord opposite her’ (ἀθρεῖ μὲν γὰρ ἄνακτος ἐναντίον ἀγέα κύκλον) and ‘rolls around the Earth, a circular, borrowed light’ (κυκλοτερὲς περὶ γαῖαν ἑλίσσεται ἀλλότριον φῶς) – a verse that is possibly echoed in the Homeric Hymn to Selene (l. ). In another verse, he evokes the ‘ray, having struck the Moon’s broad circle’ (ὣς αὐγὴ τύψασα σεληναίης κύκλον εὐρύν). Both Anaxagoras and Empedocles extrapolated from Parmenides’ theory of heliophotism to hypothesize about the nature of the Moon: if it was reflecting the Sun’s light, it was not innately luminous, and it must be made of solid stuff. But as to the precise nature of that stuff, their opinions diverged. Empedocles proposed that the Moon consisted of densely compressed air which was either ‘like hail’ (khalazōdē) or ‘like cloud’ (nephoeidē) – the former possibly referring to its solid consistency, and the latter to its milky-white appearance (eidos). Anaxagoras ascribed to it its own much dimmer ‘coal-like’ glow (phōs anthrakōdes), which was usually invisible, since it tends to be overpowered by the Sun’s radiance, but became visible during eclipse when the Moon was otherwise deprived

    

sensational suicidal leap into the caldera of the volcano Etna: see Diogenes Laertius , –, esp. –, – and . Plato, Apology d–e (DK  A; G; LM R ). On the nature of Anaxagoras’ text, see Brumbaugh (). DK  B; G; LM D. DK  B (G; LM D ) and DK  B (G; LM D ) respectively; on the possible intertextuality between the hymn and Empedocles, see Hall (). DK  B (G ; LM D ). DK  A (G ; LM D ); cf. DK  and A (G ; LM D a): Ἐμπεδοκλῆς ἀέρα συνεστραμμένον νεφοειδῆ, πεπηγότα ὑπὸ πυρός, ὥστε σύμμικτον. Empedocles: it [i.e. the moon] is congealed air, cloud-like, solidified by fire, so that it is a mixture. (Translation by Laks and Most).



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

of Sun’s light. In fact, this phenomenon, which is known as ‘earthshine’, is a result of reflected radiance from the Earth itself, and it also explains why, during the partial phases of the Moon, the unilluminated parts of the orb are often faintly visible as well, as ‘the old Moon in the new Moon’s arms’. Anaxagoras may have derived this idea from Parmenides, if we construe Parmenides’ ‘dark-shining (nyktiphaes)’ Moon as an allusion to the same phenomenon. But Anaxagoras’ most important inference from Parmenides’ theory was that the Moon is an earthy, opaque body, not one that consisted purely of air or fire as had previously been supposed. In fact, we are told that he (along with the later atomist philosopher, Democritus) described the lunar landscape as consisting of plains, mountains, ravines and caves. As we shall see in the next chapter, it is likely that this attribution of a recognizably terrestrial terrain to the Moon opened up the possibility for speculating that it was, like the Earth, inhabited as well. For the first time in the history of Greek thought, the Moon had become a solid world. The idea was a catalyst for a rapid succession of consequences. If the Moon and our world were heavy, Earth-like bodies, then Anaxagoras conjectured that the Sun too was ‘a fiery mass of molten rock’ (mudros diapuros). As Earth-like, solid bodies, the Moon and Sun must also be permanent and stable, in contrast with Xenophanes’ and Heraclitus’

  



Olympiodorus, Commentary on Aristotle’s Meteorology .– (G). For the Anaxagorean theory about the Moon’s mixture of ‘new and old light’, see p. .  Graham , . See p.  with n. . Hippolytus, Ref. .. (DK  A.; G .; LM D .): ἔφη δὲ γηίνην εἶναι τὴν σελήνην ἔχειν τε ἐν αὑτῇ πεδία καὶ φάραγγας. ‘He said that the Moon is earthy and contains plains and mountains and ravines.’ See also Aëtius .. (DG p. , DK  A; LM D ): Ἀναξαγόρας καὶ Δημόκριτος στερέωμα διάπυρον ἔχον ἐν ἑαυτῷ πεδία καὶ ὄρη καὶ φάραγγας. ‘According to Anaxagoras and Democritus, it is a solid, scorching world which contains plains and mountains and ravines.’Aëtius .. (DG p. , DK  A; LM D ): Ἀναξαγόρας ἀνωμαλότητα συγκρίματος διὰ τὸ ψυχρομιγὲς ἅμα καὶ γεῶδες, τὰ μὲν ἐχούσης ὑψηλὰ τὰ δὲ ταπεινὰ τὰ δὲ κοῖλα. ‘Anaxagoras said that the unevenness of its structure – which is elevated in some areas, but low-lying and hollow in others - was due to its earthy nature mixed with cold’. Cf. Aëtius .. (DG p. ; DK  A; G; LM D): Δημόκριτος ἀποσκίασμά τι τῶν ὑψηλῶν ἐν αὐτῇ μερῶν· ἄγκη γὰρ αὐτὴν ἔχειν καὶ νάπας. ‘Democritus said that there was a shadow on it from its elevated parts, for the Moon has hollows and valleys’. Diogenes Laertius . (DK  A; G; LM P ). Anaxagoras’ theories conflicted with more traditional attitudes to the mysterious phenomena of the skies, e.g. eclipses (Plutarch, Nicias .– and Pericles .) Ultimately, he was expelled from Athens on the charge of fomenting ‘irreligious thought’ (asebeia), based on his doctrine that the Sun was a lump of molten rock, though it is generally thought that the charge was a veiled political attack against Pericles: see Plut., Per.  (DK  A; G ; LM P , a). For discussion of various popular attitudes to solar eclipses throughout antiquity, see the collected essays in Köhler, Görgemanns and Baumbach (); Martins de Jesus ().

The Moon Becomes a World



ephemeral suns and moons. This meant the Moon and Sun did not vanish whenever we cannot see them by day or night respectively; they must still exist, but be occluded for some reason. To explain this, Anaxagoras drew on Parmenides’ theory of the spherical Earth, considering for the first time the possibility that orbits took the Sun and Moon under the Earth’s sphere. Now a new theory was required to explain how such heavy celestial bodies did not fall down from the sky – indeed, why the Earth itself did not fall. Both Anaxagoras and Empedocles postulated the existence of a cosmic vortex which supported the heavenly bodies through centrifugal force, and at the same time conveniently explained their apparent rotational movement around the earth. If the Moon was opaque, eclipses could now be explained in terms of a blocking process known as antiphraxis. Both Anaxagoras and Empedocles seem to have hit on the idea that solar eclipses were the result of the opaque Moon’s intervention between the Sun and the Earth, a blocking action known as antiphraxis. There are persuasive arguments to suggest that Anaxagoras hit upon the idea first, for two reasons. First, he had the better opportunity for observing a solar eclipse in action, whereas in contrast, no solar eclipse was observable from Sicily during Empedocles’ entire lifetime; and secondly, because Anaxagoras made further extrapolations that confirm his grasp of this new knowledge. Anaxagoras probably hit upon the theory during the solar eclipse of  BCE, when he would have been about twenty-two years of age. He then exploited this new understanding to estimate the dimensions of the Moon, based on his realization that the darkness which fell on the Earth during a solar eclipse must in fact represent the Moon’s shadow, which was measurable. The eclipse in  evidently gave him the opportunity to test this, for  

 

Anaxagorean vortex: DK  B (G; LM D ); Empedoclean vortex, see DK  A (G; LM D ). For Anaxagoras’ grasp of the principle of antiphraxis in both lunar and solar eclipse, see DK  A (G.; LM D .); DK  A (LM D ) and Plutarch, De facie a (G) with Graham (, –). For Empedocles on solar eclipse, see DK  B (G; LM D ). Empedocles also asserted that the Moon is closer to the Earth than the Sun (literally ‘twice as far from the Sun as from the Earth’, DK  A (G; LM D ), which is a precondition for antiphraxis in solar eclipse. To my mind, the case for Empedocles understanding the role of antiphraxis in lunar eclipses as well is beyond reasonable doubt based on Plutarch De facie b (DK  B; the full passage not in G or LM); see also O’Brien (, ), albeit more tentatively. For detailed argument of this order of priority, see O’Brien  and Graham (, –). See Graham (, ), who points out that an annular eclipse of the sun was observable from central Greece and Ionia in , which meant Anaxagoras could have observed it, whether he was residing in Athens or his native Clazomenae at the time. For further discussion of the eclipse of  BCE, see Graham and Hintz (); Panchenko (,  n. ); Panchenko (,  n.).



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

Anaxagoras claimed confidently that the Moon is ‘as large as Peloponnesus’ and the Sun is ‘larger than the Peloponnesus’. Sure enough, in  the Peloponnesus did indeed fall within the corridor of the eclipse’s umbra. As well as being brilliantly intelligent in his powers of deduction and his ability to communicate his ideas with clarity, Anaxagoras was undeniably lucky. As Daniel Graham emphasizes, his career in Athens coincided with two sensational astronomical events which corroborated his theories: not only the solar eclipse of  but also, eleven years later, the fall of a meteorite which landed at Aegospotami in , providing tangible, sensational proof that his hypothesis about the solid nature of the heavenly bodies was correct. From now on, when the Sun disappeared in eclipse, it was no longer understood to be the result of a loss of solar fuel (as Xenophanes had supposed), the obfuscation of dense clouds (as Anaximander and Anaximenes had, in their different ways, suggested), or the upturning of a bowl (Heraclitus), but as the result of the alignment of the Sun, Moon and Earth, which were all solid bodies. With just a minor adjustment, and wonderful economy, antiphraxis provided the explanation for lunar eclipses as well: these happened when the Earth blocked the Sun’s light to the Moon and caused the Earth’s shadow to darken the lunar surface. And the beauty of it all, as Graham emphasizes, was that the Moon itself provided empirical confirmation of the theory by virtue of the well-known fact that solar eclipses only ever occurred during the phase of the new moon, when the Moon is aligned directly between the Earth and the Sun.

 





On the size of the Moon, see Plutarch De fac. a (G). On the size of the Sun, see Hippolytus Ref. .. (DK  A; G.; LM D .) and Diogenes Laertius . (DK  A; G). Graham (, –) thinks that Anaxagoras’ information about the extent of the shadow could have been elicited through the process of Ionian inquiry (historiē), especially among travellers around the busy Athenian port of the Piraeus. West (,  n.) and Sider () also reason that Anaxagoras derived his Peloponnesus-measurements from empirical observations of a solar eclipse, though they argue for different eclipses which occurred in  BCE and  respectively. Graham (, –). This event is recorded in the Marmor Parium, ep.  = DK  A; G); see also Diogenes Laertius . (DK  A; G.); Pliny NH . (= DK  A; G ; LM P ) and Plut. Lysander .– (= DK  A; G ; LM P ). Some of our sources claim that Anaxagoras predicted the fall of the meteorite, which is not possible. Graham, however, explains this as a generic prediction, based on Anaxagoras’ theory that there were rocky bodies in the heavens which could fall to earth. As he also points out, this ex post facto confirmation of Anaxagoras’ theory must mean that his ideas were widely known before the fall of the meteorite in . Graham (, –). Recognition of the connection between the new moon phase and solar eclipse was attributed in antiquity to Thales, probably falsely (Graham , – and Graham ).

The Moon Becomes a World



These were influential ideas. Diogenes of Apollonia, also in the fifth century BCE, argued that the heavenly bodies, including the Moon, were like fiery pumice stones, in what looks like an attempt to explain how they could be at once solid in composition, yet paradoxically still light enough to be suspended in space. The atomists shared Anaxagoras’ belief about an earthy Moon that had mountains and valleys, a Sun that was a fiery molten rock, and a cosmic vortex that kept the heavenly bodies aloft through centrifugal force. As far as we can tell, Democritus also accepted the theory of heliophotism as well as Anaxagoras’ principle of antiphraxis to explain eclipses. The earthy-Moon theory also infiltrated some quarters of the PlatonicPythagorean nexus, to which we shall turn in the next section. We know little about the cosmological ideas of the founder-figure Pythagoras himself, for as a matter of principle he did not commit his doctrines to writing. A number of astronomical discoveries were ascribed to him in antiquity, but these are now thought to be the work of Philolaus of Croton, a Pythagorean of the late fifth century who had a demonstrable interest in astronomical matters and whose work left a substantial imprint on the doxographical tradition. Philolaus departed from the generally prevailing view that the cosmos was geocentric and proposed instead a ‘hestiocentric’ one, where all the heavenly bodies, including the Sun, revolved around a central cosmic fire or ‘hearth’ (hestia). Philolaus’ Sun was a  







DK  A– (G–; LM D –), with Graham (, –). On the Atomists’ earthy Moon: DK  A (G; LM D ). On the Atomists’ Sun: DK  A (G; LM D ). On the cosmic vortex, see DK  A and  (G and ; LM D  and  respectively) and G. Diogenes Laertius . (DK  A. = G.; LM D –) reports that for Leucippus, founder of atomism, the Sun’s orbit was outermost, and the Moon’s nearest to the Earth, a condition that is a necessary prerequisite for producing eclipses through antiphraxis. The fact that Diogenes mentions Leucippus’ doctrine on eclipses immediately after this fact suggests that Leucippus himself had made this connection; unfortunately, however, a lacuna at the vital point in Diogenes’ text leaves us in suspense. The doxography is more confused for Democritus on antiphraxis: see Plutarch De fac. c (DK  Aa; G; LM D ), a passage whose meaning is debated (Görgemanns ,  n. ), but it at least makes it clear that Democritus believed the Moon derived its light from the Sun, its ‘illuminator’. For texts and translation with commentary, see Huffman (, –), contra Burkert (, –), who disparages Philolaus’ astronomy as ‘ancient lore, transmitted ἐν μύθου σχήματι . . . newly formulated in the terms of contemporary natural philososophy’ (p. ). For Philolaus’ hestiocentric cosmos, see Aristotle, De caelo  a-b (G); Alexander of Aphrodisias, Comm. in Arist. Met. .–; Aëtius ..–, DG p.  (DK  A; G; LM D ); and cf. Aëtius .., DG p.  (DK  A; G; LM D ), with Huffman (, –) (who argues that the theory was based on a priori assumptions about the generative primacy of fire, and not motivated by astronomical reasoning); Graham (–). Philolaus was not isolated: Heraclides of Pontus and the astronomer Aristarchus of Samos in the fourth century BCE postulated heliocentric universes: see Heath () (who disputes, however, the



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

glassy body, but instead of heating the cosmos with its own energy, it functioned like a lens to concentrate light and heat from the central cosmic hearth onto the Earth. There is some similarity here with Ion of Chios, who advanced a theory that the Moon had a mottled, glassy composition – translucent in places, but dark in others – which filtered the Sun’s light, instead of reflecting it. There is conflicting evidence about the nature of the Pythagorean Moon. Some Pythagoreans may have thought that it was fiery and generated its own light. Other sources, however, point to a refinement of the Anaxagorean model: Aëtius attributes to ‘Pythagoras’ the belief that the Moon was opaque and reflective, a ‘mirror-like body’ (katoptroeides sōma) that reflected images of the Earth’s oceans as blotches in its ‘face’. Like Anaxagoras, the Pythagoreans also explained lunar eclipses through antiphraxis, but with the modification that the light of the central cosmic hearth could be obstructed by both the Earth and the Counter-Earth, which accounted for the greater frequency of lunar eclipses than solar. The phases of the Moon were understood in terms of the repeated kindling and quenching of a fire which spread over the mirror-like lunar surface, a theory which is obviously related to the principle of heliophotism. In the neighbouring Platonic tradition, Heraclides of Pontus, a prominent member of the Old Academy who had Pythagorean sympathies, hypothesized the Moon to be ‘an earth enveloped in mist’ (γῆν ὁμίχλῃ περιεχομένην), a theory which draws him into the orbit of some of the fifthcentury Pythagoreans – including Philolaus – who speculated that the Moon was a parallel, Earth-like world, and inhabited all over. We shall return to these ideas in the Chapter .

  





attribution of the theory to Heraclides). On the Pythagorean Counter-Earth, see Huffman (, –). Aëtius .., DG p.  (DK  A; G; LM D ).  DK  A: σῶμα τῇ μὲν ὑελοειδὲς διαυγές, τῇ δ’ ἀφεγγές. DK  B; LM D . Aëtius .. (DG p. ); cf. ps.-Plut. de Plac. phil. c. The early Hellenistic writer, Hegesianax of Alexandria Troas (usually dated to the late third/early second century BCE) also likened the Moon to shining glass and a fiery mirror in his astronomical poem Phaenomena: see SH frr.  and , and Plut. De fac. e and b. For more on the Moon as a mirror, see Plut. De fac. f–b and d–c. On Philolaus’ theory of lunar eclipse and phases, see Aëtius .., DG p.  (DK  B; LM D ), with Graham (, –). Pythagoras’ name is included in Aëtius’ list (.., DG p. ) of the philosophers who subscribed to the theory of heliophotism. Philolaus is not mentioned in this list, but as Graham (, ) points out, we should probably read Philolaus for ‘Pythagoras’ here. Fr. a–c Wehrli / a–d Schu¨trumpf. The theory is also ascribed to the later Pythagorean writer Ocellus by Aëtius .., DG p.  (fr. a Wehrli/ b Schu¨trumpf ). For the Pythagorean speculation about an earth-like, inhabited Moon, see DK  A, discussed in Chapter .

Metaphysical Moon: The Old Academy and Pythagoreans



Despite the extraordinary affirmation of Anaxagoras’ ideas and their successful immediate diffusion, they did not prevail. The titanic impact of Aristotle’s theory of elements presented a very serious challenge for anyone who wished to argue that heavy, earthy bodies moved in the upper reaches of the cosmos. According to Aristotle, earth was the heaviest element and therefore our Earth occupied the lowest position in the cosmos (as well as its centre). As one ascends above the Earth, one encounters ever lighter elements: air, fire, then aether, which is the lightest element of all. This meant that the celestial bodies – which were evidently higher up in the heavens than the Earth – must consist of elements lighter than earth – and within this framework, it was impossible to conceive of a solid, earthy Moon. To resolve the difficulty, the Stoics (from the third century BCE and into the Roman Empire) hypothesized that the Moon was a murky but diaphanous body, composed of smoky, rippling air; its light was a mixture of its own luminosity combined with the light of the Sun, which was conducted through the Moon instead of being reflected off its surface. Older Milesian ideas seemed to resurface in the theories of Berossus of Babylon (third century BCE), for whom the Moon was halfconstituted of fire and therefore an innately luminous body. In his work On the heavens, the Stoic astronomer Cleomedes (ca.  CE) demolished Berossus’ theories, but with a vigour that suggests that he viewed him as a serious competitor, all the same. But Plutarch, in his extraordinary dialogue On the face of the Moon, which is the subject of Chapter , would make a bold argument to revive the earthy-Moon hypothesis in the face of Aristotelian and Stoic physics, and very soon thereafter, the Moon became a destination for Greek literature’s most imaginative adventurers.

Metaphysical Moon: The Old Academy and Pythagoreans The story of the Moon might have foundered on the question of its physical substance, were it not for the intervention of two interrelated traditions that shifted the inquiry into the realm of the metaphysical:  



Chapter , p. . At ..– Cleomedes refutes the theory of heliophotism. On Berossus’ lunar theory, see Vitruvius, On architecture .. and Lucretius . –, with reconstruction by Toulmin (). There is some debate about Berossus’ identity, and whether he was the same person as the author of a historical work on Babylon, or whether we are dealing with two separate Berossi, one a historian, the other an astronomer. For a summary of the argument, see Verbrugghe and Wickersham (, –), who conclude that everything attributed to Berossus is the output of one individual. Cleomedes ..–. A translation and commentary on Cleomedes’ work, which is widely known by its Latin title Caelestia, can be found in Bowen and Todd ().



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

Platonists of the Old Academy and the Pythagoreans. With the Platonists – especially Xenocrates and Philip of Opus – the Moon acquired uniquely important status as a boundary and junction in the cosmos, as a landmark on the soul’s journey, and as the realm of intermediate beings known as daemones. Many of these ideas emerge in Pythagorean thought of the fifth century as well. The Moon-lore of the Pythagoreans appears to have been extraordinarily rich. Their belief that the Moon is a parallel world reinforced Anaxagoras’ hypothesis that it was inhabited like our Earth. But whereas Anaxagoras seems to have speculated only about vague lunar ‘dwellings’, the Pythagoreans give us our very first detailed descriptions of the putative creatures that live on the Moon, which we shall examine in Chapter . Equally importantly and influentially, the Pythagoreans transplanted the realm of the dead from the imaginary subterranean regions of the Earth to the Moon and its environs. Perhaps this death/Moon connection had been implicit already in the myth of Endymion, the Moon’s lover in his everlasting sleep; in later centuries, certainly, the myth was interpreted as an allegory for death, as is amply attested by its evocation on sarcophagi in the Roman period. But with the Pythagoreans, the Moon became embedded in eschatological doctrine for the first time, and the idea would be taken up in turn by Platonists of later periods and Stoics as well. We shall return to these ideas also with our exploration of Plutarch’s great lunar dialogue in Chapter . Xenocrates, Philip and the Moon in the Middle Xenocrates of Chalcedon and Philip of Opus were prominent members of the Old Academy in the fourth century BCE. Both had keen interests in astronomy, and both were instrumental in systematizing Platonic doctrines after Plato’s death. It is now generally accepted that Philip edited Plato’s Laws, which had been left unfinished (ἐν κηρῷ), and that he was author of the appendix to the work known as the Epinomis, in which he extolled the value of astronomy for those in pursuit of knowledge of the Platonic 

For associations of Endymion’s sleep with death, see Cic. Tusc. .  and De fin. .; Servius points to mystical interpretations of the myth as an allegory (Servius in Georg. III. ThiloHagen): Endymion amare dicitur lunam . . . Cuius rei mystici uolunt quamdam secretam esse rationem. ‘Endymion is said to love the Moon . . . Mystics propose there is some secret meaning underlying this story’. For the funerary symbolism of the Moon generally, see Cumont (, –) (pp. – on the Selene and Endymion myth specifically). For depictions of Endymion and Selene on sarcophagi, see Sichtermann and Koch (, – and –). On Endymion’s ancient iconography more generally, see LIMC III., – and III., – with Wang (, esp. Ch. ).

Metaphysical Moon: The Old Academy and Pythagoreans



Forms. Xenocrates’ works are lost and his theories known to us now only obliquely, but he was an important figure in the establishment of the Platonic tradition, who also introduced significant innovations to the master’s doctrine, especially in the fields of cosmology and daemonology. Xenocrates is a key figure in the history of selenology in this book, since his doctrinal innovations carved out for the Moon a new, uniquely privileged and (as we shall see) profoundly influential role. In Xenocrates’ and Philip’s hands, the Moon acquired special status as the nodal point that held the universe together, and a place of unique ontological and epistemological significance. To understand this, we need to come to grips with Xenocrates’ cosmology. As the passage below shows, he posited a triadic structure for the universe and a triadic epistemological scheme to conform to it. His innovation here was to postulate the heavens as the crucial intermediate layer, the glue that holds the poles of the universe together and the conduit between those poles. Lowest in the tripartite Xenocratean cosmos is the sublunary region ‘below heaven’ where we dwell: this is populated by physical entities, which we apprehend through sense-perception (aisthēsis). At the opposite extreme is the supercelestial region that lies ‘outside the heavens’: this is the realm of the Platonic Forms, noetic entities that are not a part of the perceptible universe and which are intelligible only through scientific knowledge (epistēmē). In between (as highlighted in bold in the text below) lies the entire celestial region, the realm of the Sun, Moon, stars and planets, which we apprehend though a combined effort of sense-perception (sight) and mathematical scrutiny (astronomy). Knowledge of the heavens is a mixture of the other two forms of cognition: Xenocrates calls this doxa, ‘opinion’: Ξενοκράτης δὲ τρεῖς φησιν οὐσίας εἶναι, τὴν μὲν αἰσθητὴν τὴν δὲ νοητὴν τὴν δὲ σύν- θετον καὶ δοξαστήν, ὧν αἰσθητὴν μὲν εἶναι τὴν ἐντὸς οὐρανοῦ, νοητὴν δὲ πάντων τῶν ἐκτὸς οὐρανοῦ, δοξαστὴν δὲ καὶ σύνθετον τὴν αὐτοῦ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ· ὁρατὴ μὲν γάρ ἐστι τῇ αἰσθήσει, νοητὴ δὲ δι’ ἀστρολογίας. τούτων μέντοι τοῦτον ἐχόντων τὸν τρόπον, τῆς μὲν ἐκτὸς οὐρανοῦ καὶ νοητῆς οὐσίας κριτήριον ἀπεφαίνετο τὴν ἐπιστήμην, τῆς δὲ ἐντὸς οὐρανοῦ καὶ αἰσθητῆς αἴσθησιν, τῆς δὲ μικτῆς τὴν δόξαν· καὶ τούτων κοινῶς τὸ μὲν διὰ τοῦ ἐπιστημονικοῦ λόγου κριτήριον βέβαιόν τε ὑπάρχειν καὶ ἀληθές, τὸ δὲ διὰ τῆς αἰσθήσεως ἀληθὲς μέν, οὐχ οὕτω δὲ ὡς τὸ διὰ τοῦ ἐπιστημονικοῦ λόγου, τὸ δὲ σύνθετον κοινὸν ἀληθοῦς τε καὶ ψευδοῦς ὑπάρχειν· τῆς γὰρ δόξης τὴν μέν τινα ἀληθῆ εἶναι τὴν δὲ  

Diogenes Laertius .. On Philip, see Dillon (, –); Tarán (). Dillon (, –) provides an excellent critical overview of Xenocrates’ life and doctrines.



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science ψευδῆ. ὅθεν καὶ τρεῖς Μοίρας παραδεδόσθαι, Ἄτροπον μὲν τὴν τῶν νοητῶν, ἀμετάθετον οὖσαν, Κλωθὼ δὲ τὴν τῶν αἰσθητῶν, Λάχεσιν δὲ τὴν τῶν δοξαστῶν. Xenocrates says that there are three forms of existence (ousia), the sensible (aisthētē), the intelligible (noētē), and that which is composite [sc. of these two] and opinable (doxastē); and of these the sensible is that which exists below the heaven, the intelligible is that which belongs to all things outside the heaven, and the opinable and composite is that of the heaven itself; for it is visible by sense-perception, but intelligible by means of astronomy. This, then, being the situation, he declared that the criterion of the existence which is outside the heaven and intelligible is scientific knowledge (epistēmē), that of what is below the heaven and sensible is sense-perception (aisthēsis), and the criterion of the mixed existence is opinion (doxa). And of these generally he said that the criterion that is based on scientific knowledge is firm and true, and that which is based on sense-perception is true, albeit not to the same extent as the former, while the composite criterion consists of both truth and falsehood, for opinion is sometimes true and sometimes false. And on this basis, he assigned three Fates: Atropos to preside over the things that are intelligible, since she is immutable; Clotho to preside over the things that are sensible, and Lachesis over those that are opinable.

While this theory is recognizably Platonic in outline, Xenocrates has introduced significant refinements. For one thing, his epistemological scheme appears to be a clearer and more optimistic version of Plato’s. Where Plato in the Republic interpolated doxa between the more starkly polarized extremes of ‘knowledge’ and outright ‘ignorance,’ Xenocrates deals here in a more gently shaded spectrum of truth: from the absolute and immutable truth of the intelligible realm, via the equivocal realm of the opinable, which offers both truth and falsehood, to the sensible realm, which seems (less problematically?) to proffer simply a more diluted form of truth than the intelligible. Doxa also appears to have been upgraded from its status in the Timaeus, where it was described as an irrational mode of cognition brought about by persuasion rather than by instruction, and proper to the physical realm – therefore equivalent to Xenocrates’ ‘senseperception’ here. Xenocrates’ major innovation, however, is ‘to borrow 



Sextus Empiricus Adv. Math. .– (tr. after Dillon , , expanded). The theory surfaces more raggedly in Theophrastus Metaphysics (b–), who ascribes to Xenocrates the same basic triadic division of reality – between things that are ‘sensible’ (aisthēta), things that are ‘intelligible’ (noēta), and things ‘mathematical’ (mathematika) – albeit with a fourth category of ‘divine things’ (ta theia) ‘rather tacked on’, as Dillon (, ) notes. Dillon (, –). The relevant passages from Plato are: Rep. .d–d and Tim. d– b respectively.

Metaphysical Moon: The Old Academy and Pythagoreans



the Platonic concept of ‘opinion’ (doxa) for the apprehension of the intermediate, heavenly realm.’ The underlying message is clear: study of the heavens – specifically, the scientific astronomy outlined by Plato in Republic e–c – is the route to the highest knowledge of the Forms and therefore central to the philosopher’s goals. This conforms to what we find suggested elsewhere about the importance that Xenocrates attached to the study of geometry and astronomy, and it is consistent too with Philp’s recommendation of astronomy in the Epinomis. The Moon hoves into view within Xenocrates’ tripartite division of the perceptible world. As the passage above suggests, the perceptible world excludes what is merely intelligible (lying outside the heavens), and consists instead of the celestial regions and sublunary regions combined. According to Plutarch (from whose essay De facie the following testimonium is excerpted), Xenocrates singled out the Moon within his scheme of the perceptible realm by attributing to it a unique constitution: ὁ δὲ Ξενοκράτης τὰ μὲν ἄστρα καὶ τὸν ἥλιον ἐκ πυρός φησι καὶ τοῦ πρώτου πυκνοῦ συγκεῖσθαι, τὴν δὲ σελήνην ἐκ τοῦ δευτέρου πυκνοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἰδίου ἀέρος, τὴν δὲ γῆν ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πυρὸς καὶ τοῦ τρίτου τῶν πυκνῶν· But Xenocrates says that the stars and the Sun are composed of fire and the first degree of density, the Moon of the second density and the air that is proper to it, and the Earth of water and the third kind of density. . .

Xenocrates’ Moon, then, stands alone in his cosmos as an airy body in the middle of the perceptible universe. This airy Moon was (as Plutarch notes in the rest of the passage) a departure from Platonic doctrine, for Plato had opined that the celestial bodies generally were a mixture of fire and earth (and though he left no information about the substance of the Moon specifically, the later doxographical tradition ascribed to him the thesis that the Moon was a fiery body). According to Dillon, Xenocrates’ Moon evokes two distinct pre-Socratic concepts: Anaximenes’ theory of  

 

Dillon (, ). See Test. – IP, with discussion in Dillon (, –). As Theophrastus points out: ‘. . . neither Speusippus and his associates nor anyone of the others paid attention any more to the heavens and the remaining things in the universe – except for Xenocrates. He did somehow assign everything its place in the universe, alike objects of sense, objects of intellection, mathematical objects, and divine things as well’. τοῦ δ’ οὐρανοῦ πέρι καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν οὐδεμίαν ἔτι ποιοῦνται μνείαν· ὡσαύτως δ’ οἱ περὶ Σπεύσιππον, οὐδὲ τῶν ἄλλων οὐθεὶς πλὴν Ξενοκράτης· οὗτος γὰρ ἅπαντά πως περιτίθησιν περὶ τὸν κόσμον, ὁμοίως αἰσθητὰ καὶ νοητὰ καὶ μαθηματικὰ καὶ ἔτι δὴ τὰ θεῖα.. (Met. b –, translation after Dillon (, )) Fr.  IP, from Plutarch De fac. a. Aëtius .. (DG p. ) and .. (DG p. ).



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

rarefaction and densification of air (the so-called generative substance theory), and Pythagorean musical theory – for ‘density’ (pyknon) is a technical term that denotes a particular combination of intervals in the tetrachord. If this is right – and it is plausibly consistent with Xenocrates’ demonstrable Pythagorean interests elsewhere – then this new lunar model is not only a hybrid of properties, but a theoretical hybrid as well. The same triadic configuration underlay Xenocrates’ cosmology. By squaring a badly garbled doxographicum in Aëtius with a report in Varro’s Antiquities, John Dillon has managed to reconstruct a theory in which there are three first principles: the Monad (the intelligent principle, nous, identified with ‘Zeus the highest’), the Dyad (the material principle, identified with Rhea), and thirdly the World-Soul, which emerges – in a pattern that is by now predictable – as the product of the first two and acts as a conduit between them. Varro – whose ideas can be traced back to the Old Academy via the influence of his teacher Antiochus of Ascalon – expressed this in terms of a mythological allegory, which featured Jupiter (Zeus) as the creator god or Monad, Juno (Hera) as matter or the Dyad, and Minerva (Athena) as the World-Soul, representing the ‘ideas’ or Forms sprung from the head of Zeus. The World-Soul was therefore a mixed and mediating principle, which received the Forms from the intelligent Monad and projected them onto the material plane below. Although there is nothing explicitly said about the Moon in this scheme, the connection is implicit, for the World-Soul shares with the Moon its mirror-like agency and its identification with the goddess Athena.



 

 

Dillon (, ). On πυκνώματα (‘condensed intervals’, tr. Emlyn-Jones and Preddy) as a preoccupation of those who study harmonics, see Plato, Rep. . a–. It seems that Xenocrates envisaged the perceptible universe as a mighty tetrachord that comprised the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) plus three ‘densities’ (pykna), the intervals between these four. The pykna guaranteed the order of the whole both by binding the separate elements into a harmonious unity, and ensuring – at the same time - that they maintained their proportionate distances from each other. On Anaximenes’ air-theory, see pp. –. Dillon (, –; –; ; ; –; ). We can discern here, I think, affinities with Pythagorean thought: according to the Neopythagorean Nicomachus of Gerasa, the Pythagoreans identified the Dyad with Rhea, mother of Zeus. In fr.  IP, Xenocrates identifies the material principle (hylē) with to aenaon ‘the ever-flowing’, a term that has Pythagorean overtones, and which is possibly also a pun on the name Rhea (see Dillon ,  with n. ; –). The texts are fr.  IP (= Aëtius, I , , p.  Diels) and Varro Antiquities ap. Aug. CD .. See Dillon (, –). For the identification of the Moon with Athena, see Plutarch, De fac. a (with Cherniss  ad loc.); b.

Metaphysical Moon: The Old Academy and Pythagoreans



There is a further link between the Moon and the World-Soul. From the same doxographicum we learn that, just as the material Dyad is permeated by earth and water (and the Monad, implicitly, by the creative element of fire), the World-Soul is permeated by air: θεὸν δ’ εἶναι καὶ τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τοὺς ἀστέρας πυρώδεις ὀλυμπίους θεούς, καὶ ἑτέρους ὑποσελήνους δαίμονας ἀοράτους. ἀρέσκει δὲ καὶ αὐτῷ καὶ ἐνδιήκειν τοῖς ὑλικοῖς στοιχείοις. τούτων δὲ τὴν μὲν ἀειδῆ προσαγορεύει, τὴν δὲ διὰ τοῦ ὑγροῦ Ποσειδῶνα, τὴν δὲ διὰ τῆς γῆς φυτοσπόρον Δήμητρα. ταῦτα δὲ χορηγήσας τοῖς Στωικοῖς τὰ πρότερα παρὰ τοῦ Πλάτωνος μεταπέφρακεν. He regards the heaven also as a god, and the stars as fiery Olympian gods, and he believes also in other beings, invisible sublunary daemons. He also holds the view that penetrate the material elements as well. Of these, he terms , as being invisible (aeidēs), that which occupies the water Poseidon, and that which occupies the earth Demeter the Seed-Sower. All these identifications he adapted from Plato, and passed on to the Stoics.

This passage suggests that Xenocrates connected the World-Soul with the intermediate layer of his perceptible universe, the airy region where, as we know from other reports, the Moon specifically presided. The connection is intuitive enough: mediating World-Soul meets mediating lunar zone. But Aëtius tells us more: that Xenocrates, entwining theology with his elemental structure, also identified the air of the World-Soul with Hades. Although he was clearly punning on the invisibility (aeidēs) of air, his choice of deity also hints at a significant new dimension of the lunar region’s importance, one that is connected with the invisible ‘sublunary daemons’ (ὑποσελήνοι δαίμονες) that inhabit the same region. Hades was traditionally associated with the underworld and the realm of the dead. His presence here points to the eschatological associations of the airy lunar region in Xenocrates’ scheme, a result of the shift (in popular religious thought as well as Pythagorean doctrine) in the imagined location of the realm of the dead from the subterranean regions of the Earth to the celestial regions above. This is confirmed by Xenocrates’ eschatological doctrine, which involved daemones and ascribed to the Moon a new status

  

fr.  IP (= Aëtius, I , , p.  Diels); translation by Dillon (,  and ). Hades here is the lowest hypostasis of Zeus, the binary opposite of the Monadic ‘highest Zeus’; see fr.  IP, with Schibli (, ) and Dillon (, –). On the Moon’s eschatological role, see pp. –.



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

as a separating-junction and purgatorial way-station for the soul, as we shall see. To sum up my argument so far: this analysis of Xenocrates’ doctrine has yielded three tripartite schemes that are interconnected and map onto each other imperfectly but suggestively: (i) (ii) (iii)

(iv)

There is the general division of the cosmos into: intelligible region outside the heavens; celestial region; sublunary region. To correspond to the general division of the cosmos in (i), there are three epistemological categories: the intelligible, the opinable and the sensible respectively. There is a subdivision of the purely perceptible realm (i.e. excluding intelligible objects) into: the celestial region, the Moon, and the sublunary region. The Moon occupies an intermediate place among perceptible things. Finally, there is a fourth and more abstract tripartite scheme consisting of: Monad; World-Soul; Dyad. This classification does not perfectly match the others (though it is perhaps closely related to classification (i)), but we can clearly see that the Moon occupies an intermediate position in this classification as well, as it is associated with the World-Soul.

From this, a semiotically rich pattern emerges: the Moon is the archetypal junction. It is the airy, middle layer of the perceptible world (iii), and as such, it can be linked with other intermediate classifications within the Xenocratean scheme: with doxa, the mixed and equivocal form of cognition between knowledge and sense-perception that combines truth and falsehood in (ii); and with the World-Soul, the composite principle that mediates between the Monad and Dyad in (iv). Reinforcing its middling nature further, Xenocrates seems to have made the bold and additional move of associating the Moon with that quintessentially intermediate race of beings, the daemones. In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates (supposedly ventriloquizing the teaching of the enigmatic Diotima) outlined a daemonology as he expounded the nature of Eros. Neither god nor mortal, Eros was a spirit or daemon. All religious, mantic and magical business belongs to such daemones, who 

On Xenocrates’ daemonology, see Schibli (, –), with further references. As Schibli notes, the main source for Xenocrates’ daemonology is Plutarch, from whose own doctrines those of Xenocrates must be carefully disentangled. For further discussion, see Chapter , pp. – with nn.  and .

Metaphysical Moon: The Old Academy and Pythagoreans



form a vital junction between humans and gods. For gods, Diotima had explained, do not mingle with humans; instead, the daemones are the cosmic go-betweens, communicating to the gods the requests and sacrifices of humankind, and to humans the commands and answers of the gods. Existing in the middle like this, Socrates says, the daemones complete the universe, so that it forms a coherent, self-contained unity (ἐν μέσῳ δὲ ὂν ἀμφοτέρων συμπληροῖ, ὥστε τὸ πᾶν αὐτὸ αὑτῷ συνδεδέσθαι). This remark hints that Plato did indeed envisage a specific location and role for the daemones within the architecture of his cosmos, but the daemonology of the Symposium was not expressly applied to cosmology in any of his dialogues. That step was taken by Plato’s successors Xenocrates and Philip – and to make it work, they adduced the Moon. In his essay On the obsolescence of oracles ( c–d), Plutarch tells us that Xenocrates amplified Plato’s daemonology by expressing it in geometric terms, using the three types of triangle as analogies for the three types of being. In the familiar Xenocratean pattern, he posited the perfect equilateral triangle as model for the gods, the unequal scalene for mortal nature, and the isosceles, which is midway between the other two, as the geometric equivalent to the daemones. Plutarch then explains how this daemonology can be mapped onto the features of the cosmos: ἡ δὲ φύσις αἰσθητὰς εἰκόνας ἐξέθηκε καὶ ὁμοιότητας ὁρωμένας, θεῶν μὲν ἥλιον καὶ ἄστρα θνητῶν δὲ σέλα καὶ κομήτας καὶ διᾴττοντας. . . μικτὸν δὲ σῶμα καὶ μίμημα δαιμόνιον ὄντως τὴν σελήνην, τῷ τῇ τούτου τοῦ γένους συνᾴδειν περιφορᾷ φθίσεις φαινομένας δεχομένην καὶ αὐξήσεις καὶ μεταβολὰς ὁρῶντες οἱ μὲν ἄστρον γεῶδες οἱ δ’ ὀλυμπίαν γῆν οἱ δὲ χθονίας ὁμοῦ καὶ οὐρανίας κλῆρον Ἑκάτης προσεῖπον. ὥσπερ οὖν εἰ τὸν ἀέρα τις ἀνέλοι καὶ ὑποσπάσειε τὸν μεταξὺ γῆς καὶ σελήνης, τὴν ἑνότητα διαλύσει καὶ τὴν κοινωνίαν τοῦ παντὸς ἐν μέσῳ κενῆς καὶ ἀσυνδέτου χώρας γενομένης, οὕτως οἱ δαιμόνων γένος μὴ ἀπολείποντες ἀνεπίμικτα τὰ τῶν θεῶν καὶ ἀνθρώπων ποιοῦσι καὶ ἀσυνάλλακτα, τὴν ἑρμηνευτικήν, ὡς Πλάτων ἔλεγεν, καὶ διακονικὴν ἀναιροῦντες φύσιν, ἢ πάντα φύρειν ἅμα καὶ ταράττειν ἀναγκάζουσιν ἡμᾶς τοῖς ἀνθρωπίνοις πάθεσι καὶ πράγμασι τὸν θεὸν ἐμβιβάζοντας καὶ κατασπῶντας ἐπὶ τὰς χρείας, ὥσπερ αἱ Θετταλαὶ λέγονται τὴν σελήνην. Nature has set forth perceptible images and visible likenesses: Sun and Stars of the gods; beams and comets and meteors of mortals. . . But the Moon is a composite body and a true representation of the daemones. Seeing her undergo apparent wanings and waxings and changes in harmony with the cyclical existence of this daemonic race, some call her an ‘earth-like star’, 

Symp. e–a; cf. Epin. e–b.



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science others a ‘heavenly earth’, and others again the domain of Hecate who is both a chthonic and celestial goddess. And so, if someone were to remove and subtract the air between the Earth and the Moon, the unity and community of the universe would be dissolved, with the emergence of an empty, disconnected space in the middle. In the same way, those who refuse to leave the race of daemones in tact render the divine and mortal realms entirely alien and isolated from one another by removing the ‘species of interpretation and service’, as Plato called it. Or else they compel us to jumble and confuse everything as we impose human emotions and activities on the god, drawing him down to meet our needs, like the women of Thessaly are said to do to the Moon.

Plutarch alludes somewhat elliptically here to the physical qualities that make the Moon a uniquely daemonic entity: its composite substance and its cyclical behaviour. If we are right to link this theory with Xenocrates, then it appears that he had evolved a unified theory linking Plato’s daemonology with his own triadic epistemology and cosmology. A word of caution is required, for we cannot be certain if the link between the daimones and the Moon is Xenocrates’ idea or Plutarch’s innovation, elaborating on Xenocrates’ triangles which he adduced in the passage immediately prior to this. Dillon is cautiously optimistic: ‘This seems to me to be fully in accord with what we know of Xenocrates’ views, though we cannot, I suppose, be sure that it is not an elaboration by Plutarch on a basic Xenocratean theme. Certainly, the concept of the physical as well as the spiritual, mediating position of daemons is an elaboration of Plato’s doctrine which we may attribute to Xenocrates.’ If, however, we were to present a narrative that explained plausibly how Xenocrates could have evolved the connection between the daimones and the Moon, this would lend more strength to the possibility that the theory is indeed his. As it happens, the major breakthrough of fifth-century astronomy, the theory of heliophotism, provides us with an answer. Parmenides’ discovery  

  



For ‘Olympus’ as an equivalent term for ouranos or ‘heaven’, see Epinomis b. On Hecate’s liminal nature, which is connected with that of the daemones, see Johnston (, –), and on the goddess’ connection with the Moon, see Johnston (, –); also Van der Stockt (, –, esp. ) (citing Johnston): ‘We are plunged into a cosmography in which the moon has an “intermediary and transmissive nature”’. Plutarch, De def.  d–f. For the so-called Thessalian trick with the Moon, see Chapter , pp. –. These are explained in more detail in his essay On the face of the Moon (De facie); see Chapter , p. . Dillon (, –): ‘The daemonic level of being is thus firmly linked to the moon, in its capacity as a mixed and median entity. Both moon and daemons serve to bind the extremes of the universe together’. Dillon (, ).

Metaphysical Moon: The Old Academy and Pythagoreans



that the Moon reflects light from the Sun marks a watershed, not just in the understanding of the Moon’s physical nature (that it must be an opaque, solid body, as we have seen), but in ancient ideas about its metaphysical role as well, for it converted the Moon into a mirror-like agent that mediated between the Earth and the Sun. It can hardly be an accident that, from the fifth century BCE, we begin to find the Moon associated with mirrors and even conceptualized by the Pythagoreans in terms of a great celestial mirror, as we have seen. Related to this theory is the biological metaphor that identified the Moon with a soft organ – the spleen or liver – that mediated between the upper and lower parts of the body, for the liver itself had catoptric associations in Plato and in ancient thought more generally, as Ava Shirazi has shown. It was a comparatively intuitive step, then, for Xenocrates to expand the Moon’s role as a catoptric junction between the Earth and the Sun into an epistemological and theological junction as well. Moreover, we can pinpoint a passage in Plato’s work that might have suggested this very idea to him. We know already that Xenocrates was influenced by the daemonology of the Symposium. Earlier in that same work, Aristophanes provided his famous aetiological myth to account for different types of sexual attraction among humans. His comical primeval beings, double-faced and globular in shape, are divided into three original genders: the male–male, the female–female, and the mixed male–female sex or androgyne – and Aristophanes explains their origins with reference to the three primary celestial bodies: ἦν δὲ διὰ ταῦτα τρία τὰ γένη καὶ τοιαῦτα, ὅτι τὸ μὲν ἄρρεν ἦν τοῦ ἡλίου τὴν ἀρχὴν ἔκγονον, τὸ δὲ θῆλυ τῆς γῆς, τὸ δὲ ἀμφοτέρων μετέχον τῆς σελήνης, ὅτι καὶ ἡ σελήνη ἀμφοτέρων μετέχει· Now here is why there were three kinds, and why they were as I described them: the male kind was originally an offspring of the Sun, the female of the Earth, and the one that combined both genders was an offspring of the Moon, because the Moon shares in both.

It is easy to see why the Sun and Earth are gendered wholly male and female respectively: as Aristotle explains, the masculine Sun projects its fructifying beams of heat and light, which the feminine Earth receives and,

 



See p. . For the Moon as a cosmic liver or spleen, see Plut. De fac.  with pp. – below. For Plato’s liver-mirror, see Tim. b and c with Shirazi () (my thanks to the author for sharing this work with me in advance of publication). Symp. b, translation by A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff.



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

as a result, bears fruit. The attribution of a composite, androgynous nature to the Moon is rather more cryptic. Commentaries on the passage adduce parallels in religious thought found in (mostly later) texts that identify the Moon as both male and female, both god and goddess. Plutarch, however, gets to the heart of the matter when he explains the astronomical thinking that underlies such religious beliefs: διὸ καὶ μητέρα τὴν σελήνην τοῦ κόσμου καλοῦσι καὶ φύσιν ἔχειν ἀρσενόθηλυν οἴονται πληρουμένην ὑφ᾿ Ἡλίου καὶ κυϊσκομένην, αὐτὴν δὲ πάλιν εἰς τὸν ἀέρα προϊεμένην γεννητικὰς ἀρχὰς καὶ κατασπείρουσαν· For this reason they also call the Moon the mother of the world, and they think that she has a nature both male and female, as she is receptive and made pregnant by the Sun, but she herself in turn emits and disseminates into the air generative principles.

It makes sense that Aristophanes’ androgynous Moon should be understood as an early mythical expression of the recently discovered mechanism of heliophotism, in which the Moon plays both a female and male role – both receiving and dispensing light. And this heliophotic fantasy in turn contains the germ of Xenocrates’ mediating Moon. It is Xenocrates’ innovation to link the Moon with those other mediating beings of the Symposium, the daemones. Xenocrates’ daemonic Moon was not an isolated or eccentric theory within the context of the Old Academy, either: corroboration can be found in the doctrines of his colleague Philip of Opus. In the Epinomis, a postscript to Plato’s Laws that is now almost universally ascribed to Philip, he describes the five elemental layers of the universe in descending order: fire, aether, air, earth, water. Each of these layers correlates to a different kind of living being. In the uppermost fiery layer reside the visible gods in 





Aristotle, De gen. an. a –: ἄρρεν μὲν γὰρ λέγομεν ζῷον τὸ εἰς ἄλλο γεννῶν, θῆλυ δὲ τὸ εἰς αὑτό· διὸ καὶ ἐν τῷ ὅλῳ τὴν τῆς γῆς φύσιν ὡς θῆλυ καὶ μητέρα νομίζουσιν, οὐρανὸν δὲ καὶ ἥλιον ἤ τι τῶν ἄλλων τῶν τοιούτων ὡς γεννῶντας καὶ πατέρας προσαγορεύουσιν. The animal that generates life in another body we call ‘male’, and that which generates life within itself ‘female’. In the universe, for this reason, they consider the Earth’s nature as a female entity and mother, whereas they call the heavens and Sun and any other bodies of this sort ‘generators’ and ‘fathers’. The idea is paraphrased in the later Pythagorean treatise attributed to Ocellus, On nature of the universe ..–: τὸ μὲν οὖν ἐν ἑτέρῳ γεννῶν τὸ ὑπεράνω σελήνης ἐστί, τὸ δὲ ἐν ἑαυτῷ τὸ ὑποκάτω σελήνης· The region above the Moon is that which generates life in another; below the Moon is the region that generates life in itself. Bury (,  ad loc.) cites Philochorus fr.  and Orphic Hymn . on the worship of the Moon-goddess as both female and male; and Plutarch, De Is. et Osir. c, cited here with translation by F. Cole Babitt. See Epinomis b–a. On the question of authorship, see Brisson ().

Metaphysical Moon: The Old Academy and Pythagoreans



the form of the stars. Below these in the intermediate layers of aether, air and water, are the intermediate spirits or daimones who are usually invisible (aether and air), sometimes visible (water-nymphs), while the lowest, earthy layer is occupied by mortal beings. In the following passage, Philip expounds the daemonic beings: θεοὺς δὲ δὴ τοὺς ὁρατούς, μεγίστους καὶ τιμιωτάτους καὶ ὀξύτατον ὁρῶντας πάντῃ, τοὺς πρώτους τὴν τῶν ἄστρων φύσιν λεκτέον καὶ ὅσα μετὰ τούτων αἰσθανόμεθα γεγονότα, μετὰ δὲ τούτους καὶ ὑπὸ τούτοις ἑξῆς δαίμονας, ἀέριον δὲ γένος, ἔχον ἕδραν τρίτην καὶ μέσην, τῆς ἑρμηνείας αἴτιον, εὐχαῖς τιμᾶν μάλα χρεὼν χάριν τῆς εὐφήμου διαπορείας. τῶν δὲ δύο τούτων ζῴων, τοῦ τ’ ἐξ αἰθέρος ἐφεξῆς τε ἀέρος ὄν, διορώμενον ὅλον αὐτῶν ἑκάτερον εἶναι – παρὸν δὴ πλησίον οὐ κατάδηλον ἡμῖν γίγνεσθαι . . . καὶ συμπλήρους δὴ ζῴων οὐρανοῦ γεγονότος, ἑρμηνεύεσθαι πρὸς ἀλλήλους τε καὶ τοὺς ἀκροτάτους θεοὺς πάντας τε καὶ πάντα, διὰ τὸ φέρεσθαι τὰ μέσα τῶν ζῴων ἐπί τε γῆν καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν ὅλον οὐρανὸν ἐλαφρᾷ φερόμενα ῥύμῃ. τὸ δὲ ὕδατος πέμπτον ὂν ἡμίθεον μὲν ἀπεικάσειεν ἄν τις ὀρθῶς ἀπεικάζων ἐξ αὐτοῦ γεγονέναι, καὶ τοῦτ’ εἶναι τοτὲ μὲν ὁρώμενον, ἄλλοτε δὲ ἀποκρυφθὲν ἄδηλον γιγνόμενον, θαῦμα κατ’ ἀμυδρὰν ὄψιν παρεχόμενον. τούτων δὴ τῶν πέντε ὄντως ὄντων ζῴων, ὅπῃ τινὲς ἐνέτυχον ἡμῶν, ἢ καθ’ ὕπνον ἐν ὀνειροπολίᾳ προστυχόντες, ἢ κατὰ φήμας τε καὶ μαντείας λεχθέν τισιν ἐν ἀκοαῖς ὑγιαίνουσιν ἢ καὶ κάμνουσιν, ἢ καὶ τελευτῇ βίου προστυχέσι γενομένοις . . . But as to the first gods, those that are visible, greatest, most honored, and most sharply seeing everywhere, we must declare that these are the stars together with the celestial phenomena we perceive. After them and next in order beneath them are daimons. The kind made of air, which occupies the third, middle position, is responsible for mediation between gods and humans, and should be highly honored in our prayers for bringing words of good tiding. Both these kinds of living beings – the one made of ether and the next in order, the one made of air – are wholly imperceptible. Even when they are close by we cannot see them . . . Since the heaven is completely filled with living beings, we should say that they communicate with one another and with the highest gods about all humans and other things. They do so through the movements of the middle ranks of living beings, which are wafted lightly towards the earth and also towards the whole heaven. It would be correct to represent the fifth kind of living thing, that made of water, as a demigod made of that substance, sometimes seen, sometimes hidden and invisible, provoking wonder through its dim appearance. These five kinds  

Epinomis b–d. On the nature of the aqueous beings, see Tarán (, –) ad b and –. The watery beings are ‘fifth’ merely in the sense of last in the list to be dealt with, not in the sense of their order in Philip’s elemental hierarchy; see Tarán (, ) ad loc.



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science of beings really are living things, and some of them have had various types of encounters with humans, whether through dreams in sleep or in audible communications through divine voices or prophecies to certain people whether healthy or ill or even at the point of death …

There are some striking differences between Philip’s cosmos and Xenocrates’ – but remarkable consistency too. It is difficult to assess how new his five-fold structure may have been. Plato had not included aether as one of the elements in his dialogues: in the Timaeus, the four elements – fire, air, water and earth – had sufficed for the creation of all living beings: the heavenly gods, winged, aquatic and terrestrial creatures respectively. We might reasonably infer from fr.  IP (quoted on p. ) that Xenocrates favoured the Platonic four-fold elemental scheme too, though he innovated on the master’s doctrine by distributing living beings differently across the elemental zones and designating the Moon as a unique space for the daemones, as we have seen. However, this picture is complicated by three testimonia from Simplicius that inform us that Xenocrates also accepted Aristotle’s theory of aether as the ‘fifth element’ and the substance of the heavens, though we do not know further how he incorporated it into his cosmology. Why Philip also felt the need to interpolate a fifth element – aether – is not clear. Probably it was an attempt to retrofit Platonic doctrine so that it appeared to pre-empt the Aristotelian universe (even though Philip uses aether differently from Aristotle). It was also clearly an attempt ‘to develop Plato’s notion of τὸ δαιμόνιον as intermediate between god and man and as a messenger between both.’ One effect of Philip’s scheme is to make the airy zone more precisely and unequivocally central within the universe, counterbalanced in perfect symmetry by two elemental zones on either side (though admittedly, this   





 

Epinomis d–c (trans. McKirahan). For affinities between the two, see Krämer (,  n. ) and Tarán (, ). Tim. a; the daemones find no accommodation here. It is frequently pointed out that the mysterious duodecahedron of Tim. c left room in the Platonic cosmos for a fifth element – an opportunity that Xenocrates exploited, according to Simplicius. In fr.  IP the names of the gods evoke the corresponding elements: Demeter and Poseidon explicitly associated with earth and water respectively; Hades explicitly associated with air; Zeus implicitly identified with fire (both by default, and also on the strength of Plato, Tim. a, where the fiery zone is accompanied by ‘the intelligence of the supreme being’). frr. – IP. Dillon (,  n.) suggests that aether might have been equivalent to Xenocrates’ combination of ‘heavenly fire plus first density’ in fr.  IP, leaving ‘vulgar fire’ as a byproduct of the third density. Tarán (, –). For the role played by aether in the Aristotelian universe, see Aristotle De caelo b. Tarán (, ); full discussion on pp. –.

Metaphysical Moon: The Old Academy and Pythagoreans



symmetry is knocked somewhat askew by the distribution of daemones across both the aetherial and airy zones). Like Xenocrates, Philip locates daemones in the airy region in the middle of the cosmos. He does not explicitly identify this location with the Moon, as Xenocrates seems to have done, but this is surely what he had in mind, for his daemonic zone shares with Xenocrates’ Moon its airy nature and central location. The Moon in the Pythagorean Cosmos Beyond the Academy, these theories show affinities with the Pythagorean tradition. Pythagoreans were vigorously interested in the Moon, both in astronomical terms (especially Philolaus) and, more distinctively, from an eschatological perspective, as we shall see. They shared with Aristotle the division of the cosmos between the unchanging aethereal regions of the upper heavens and the lower elemental regions that are subject to change and decay, with the Moon – as ever – marking the boundary between the two. We find this belief spanning Pythagorean thought from Philolaus in the fifth century BCE to the pseudepigraphical tradition in the late Hellenistic period, e.g. treatises ascribed to Ocellus (alternately spelled as Okkelos) and Ecphantus (both probably second–first century BCE). For Philolaus, ‘the unchanging region stretches from the soul that encompasses the universe as far as the Moon, whereas the region of change stretches from the Moon as far as the Earth.’ A similar, bipartite structure – with the Moon dividing the two realms – is implied in a rather difficult passage from ps.-Ecphantus:







Unfortunately, the text is less than crystalline on this matter. Tarán restricts the daemones to the aetherial realm exclusively, but I do not think this can be right, since the ‘airy race’ is assigned precisely the duties that Plato attributes to the daemones at Symp. e (ἑρμηνεῦον καὶ διαπορθμεῦον θεοῖς τὰ παρ᾿ ἀνθρώπων καὶ ἀνθρώποις τὰ παρὰ θεῶν ‘mediating and transporting human things to the gods and divine things to men’), a passage which Philip practically quotes here (τῆς ἑρμηνείας αἴτιον; χάριν τῆς εὐφήμου διαπορείας). On this basis, it is inevitable to conclude, I think, that Philip means us to think of the airy beings as daemones as well. It is not clear from the Epinomis what distinction he envisaged between the airy and the aetherial daemones. According to Zhmud (), none of the Pythagorean pseudepigrapha can be dated earlier than the first century BCE. Ocellus is usually dated to the second century BCE (see Beutler  and Isayev , –; ; ), but Zhmud presents convincing evidence that the treatise ascribed to him is a pseudepigraphon, and that Ocellus did not, in fact, exist outside of Aristoxenus’ catalogue of Pythagoreans (preserved in Iamblichus VP ). DK  B, – (LM R ): καὶ τὸ μὲν ἀμετάβολον ἀπὸ τᾶς τὸ ὅλον περιεχούσας ψυχᾶς μέχρι σελήνας περαιοῦται, τὸ δὲ μεταβάλλον ἀπὸ τᾶς σελήνας μέχρι τᾶς γᾶς. Cf. Aristotle, De caelo b –a .



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science καὶ ἐν μὲν τᾷ τῶ θείω θέοντος ἀεὶ φύσει τὰ τὰν πράταν καὶ μεγίσταν ἀκολουθίαν ἔχοντα ἀσπάζεται . . . καὶ τοὶ πλάνατες ἀστέρες· ἐν δὲ τᾷ χώρᾳ τᾶς σελάνας ἔνερθεν τὰ δι’ εὐθείας ἰόντα σώματα ἁ τῶ δαίμονος φύσις ἔχει τὰν διεξαγωγάν· And, in the nature of the divine continually running [i.e. the aether], the things that follow the first and greatest path follow it . . . and the wandering planets. In the space beneath the Moon, the nature of the daimon provides a course for the bodies that travel in a straight line.

This passage is saturated in Aristotelian physics, which attributed different types of movement to the inhabitants of the different regions in the cosmos: perfect, circular motion to the stars, planets etc. that dwell in the celestial region of the aether, which is ‘always running’ (αἰθήρ speculatively from ἀεὶ θεῖν); and conversely, rectilinear motion (δι’ εὐθείας) to the inferior mortal entities in the regions below the Moon. The Pythagorean Ocellus, however, shows himself closer to the Academy in dividing his cosmos into three distinct parts: the heavens (ouranos), the Earth (gē) and sandwiched between these two, the ‘region in mid-air’ (to metarsion kai aerion): τῶν δὲ μερῶν συνυπαρχόντων ἀνάγκη καὶ τὰ ἐμπεριεχόμενα συνυπάρχειν αὐτοῖς, οὐρανῷ μὲν ἥλιον σελήνην ἀπλανεῖς τε ἀστέρας καὶ πλάνητας, γῇ δὲ ζῷα φυτὰ χρυσὸν ἄργυρον, μεταρσίῳ δὲ καὶ ἀερίῳ πνεύματα ἀνέμους μεταβολὴν ἐπὶ τὸ θερμότερον μεταβολὴν ἐπὶ τὸ ψυχρότερον· σὺν τούτῳ γὰρ οὐρανός, σὺν τῷ τὰ περιεχόμενα ἔχειν, καὶ σὺν τούτῳ γῆ, σὺν τῷ τὰ ἐπ’ αὐτῆς φυόμενα καὶ βοσκόμενα ὑπεῖναι, καὶ σὺν τούτῳ μετάρσιον καὶ ἀέριον, σὺν τῷ τὰ ἐν αὐτῷ γινόμενα πάντα γίνεσθαι. ἐπεὶ οὖν καθ’ ἑκάστην ἀποτομὴν ὑπερέχον τι γένος ἐντέτακται τῶν ἄλλων, ἐν μὲν οὐρανῷ τὸ τῶν θεῶν ἐν δὲ γῇ ἄνθρωπος ἐν δὲ τῷ μεταρσίῳ τόπῳ δαίμονες . . . Since the parts of the universe existed, their individual components (lit.: the things encompassed by them) existed by necessity along with them: in the heavens the Sun, Moon, the fixed stars and planets; on Earth animals, plants, gold, silver; in the region in mid-air, breezes, winds and changes to warmer and colder temperatures. For the heavens exist to the extent that the heavenly components exist; the earth, to the extent that the things that grow and are nourished by it are in place, and the region in mid-air to the extent that all of the things that come to be in it come to be. And so,   

Ps. Ecphantus, On kingship p. , – Thesleff. I thank my anonymous reader for drawing my attention to this passage.  Aristotle, De caelo b, –. Aristotle, De caelo b– and b–. Ocellus, On the nature of the universe p. , – Thesleff: λέγω δὲ μέρη οὐρανόν, γῆν, τὸ μεταξὺ τούτων ὃ δὴ μετάρσιον καὶ ἀέριον ὀνομάζεται.

Metaphysical Moon: The Old Academy and Pythagoreans



since in each section one race has been made pre-eminent over the others – in the heavens the race of the gods, on the Earth humankind, in the region in mid-air daimones . . .

From this passage it is clear that, like Xenocrates and Philip, Ocellus made the airy, middle region of his cosmos the abode of daemones, though in contrast with them, he located his Moon in the upper heavens (ouranos) along with the Sun and the other stars and planets. Ocellus, then, did not populate the Moon with daemones, but it nonetheless played a similar role in his cosmology by marking the boundary – ‘isthmus’ -between the eternal, immutable regions of the heavens where the gods reside, and the realm of air and earth below, which are susceptible to change and inhabited by both daimones and mortal beings: αἱ δὲ μοῖραι †αὐτοὺς διορίζουσι καὶ τέμνουσι τό τε ἀειπαθὲς μέρος τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὸ ἀεικίνητον· ἰσθμὸς γάρ ἐστιν ἀθανασίας καὶ γενέσεως ὁ περὶ τὴν σελήνην δρόμος· τὸ μὲν ἄνωθεν ὑπὲρ ταύτης πᾶν καὶ τὸ ἐπ’ αὐτῆς θεῶν κατέχει γένος, τὸ δ’ ὑποκάτω σελήνης Νείκους καὶ φύσεως· τὸ μὲν γάρ ἐστιν ἐν αὐτῷ διαλλαγὴ γεγονότων, τὸ δὲ γένεσις ἀπογεγονότων. Similarly, the fates divide and cut that part of the cosmos that is continually affected from the part that is continually in motion; for the circuit of the Moon is the strait between immortality and generation. Everything above it, and in its region, is occupied by the family of gods, while everything beneath it is occupied by Strife and Nature; for in this place occur interchanges among generated objects, and generation among outgrowths.

I will return in Chapter  to consider the implications of Ocellus’ vivid use of the geographical term ‘isthmus’ to describe this lunar border-zone. For the moment, however, we might note his implied connection between the Moon’s physical and ontological liminality: its place at the border between the upper and lower regions of the Universe puts it at the border between the changeless state of immortality (athanasia) and the mutable state of coming-to-be (genesis) as well. Ocellus’ Moon is not just an isthmus between two physical realms, then, but a bridge between two states of being. Although he apparently eschews the connection between the Moon and the daemones, we are moving closer here to a link between  



Ocellus, On the nature of the universe p. , – Thesleff. Ocellus, On the Nature of the Universe p. .– Thesleff. On Ocellus’s debt to Aristotle, see Zhmud (), who identifies borrowings from Aristotle’s On Generation and Corruption a– b. See Chapter , p. .



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

the Moon and transitions between one existence and another: between life and afterlife.

Eschatological Moon The Pythagoreans, in the fifth century BCE, seem to have been the first in the Greek world to transplant the realm of the dead from its traditional subterranean location in Greek thought to a celestial one centred on the Moon, which they regarded, along with the Orphics, as a ‘celestial Earth’. There was a Pythagorean doctrine that the planets were the ‘hounds of Persephone.’ According to Iamblichus, a Neoplatonic philosopher in the third/fourth century CE, the more religious-minded acousmatic Pythagoreans (as opposed to the more scientific members, the mathematikoi) believed that the Sun and the Moon were the Isles of the Blessed, and some counted Pythagoras himself among the philanthropic lunar daemones. It has long been recognized that astral eschatology emerged in the Greek world in response to the influx of ideas from the Near East and India during the axial age: a similar lunar eschatology can be found in the two oldest Upanishads, the Brhadāranyaka and Chāndogya, dated (tentatively) to the seventh–sixth centuries BCE. These ideas filtered into the Old Academy through Xenocrates and his contemporary Heraclides of Pontus, both of whom had Pythagorean interests. Xenocrates, as we have seen, identified the airy region of the cosmos – where he located the Moon – with Hades, and he posited the existence of ‘sublunary daemones’ there. On the basis of Plutarch’s myth in the De facie – a work that is permeated by Xenocrates’ influence – it looks as if he envisaged these daemones as souls that have been liberated from the body after death, only to soar to the lunar regions where they undergo purification. This doctrine will be discussed in Chapter , but for the present we should note that it was part of a wider complex of eschatological beliefs concerning the heavens from the fifth century BCE onwards. Xenocrates’ contemporary Heraclides of Pontus, for example,   

 

 Burkert (, –). See Porphyry, Vita Pythag.  with Burkert (, ). Iamblichus, Vita Pythag. . and . respectively. See Cumont (, –); Vernière (, esp. pp. –); West (, esp. – and –). For exploration, from diverse angles, of this cross-pollination of philosophical ideas, see essays in Seaford (). On the dating of the Upanishads, see Olivelle (, –). fr.  IP, cited on p.  above. De facie a–d; see Chapter , pp. –. There is considerable debate over the precise relationship between the soul and the daemones in Xenocratean thought – the detail of which is beyond my present scope; see Schibli ().

Eschatological Moon



shared this interest in astral eschatology. Like Xenocrates, Heraclides identified the region between the Moon and the Earth with Pluto, god of the underworld. He professed that the soul was ‘like light’ (φωτοειδῆ) and made of a heavenly or aethereal substance; after souls have been released from the bodies that house them, therefore, they drift back upwards to re-join their natural element, and cluster in the Milky Way. He relayed this eschatology in the myth of Empedotimus (a conflation of the names of the shamanistic figures Empedocles and Hermotimus), whose soul left his body and travelled up into the heavens where it was given a preview of the afterlife before returning again to his body. According to Empedotimus, the Milky Way is the ‘path of souls that are travelling through the Hades in the heavens’ (φησὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνος ὁδὸν εἶναι ψυχῶν τὸ γάλα τῶν τὸν Ἅιδην τὸν ἐν οὐρανῷ διαπορευομένων). Heraclides may not – as far as we can tell – have associated the Moon specifically with the souls of the dead (though he was interested in the Moon for other reasons, as we shall see), but his myth and its eschatology were influential on diverse philosophical and literary traditions subsequently. They permeate Cicero’s Platonizing Dream of Scipio, where the Milky Way also appears as the path of virtuous souls. In his commentary on this work, Macrobius points out that there are there are three distinct Pythagorean/Platonic theories about the celestial world of the dead. In the simplest version of these, the cosmos is divided in into two zones, separated by the Moon. Souls dwell in the superlunary zone, and undergo death as they descend into the sublunary region where they are confined in the physical body. In some respects, this appears to be a reversal of the Xenocratean account that we find in Plutarch’s De facie, where souls undergo death and dissolution as they ascend from the Earth 

 



 

On Heraclides and his doctrines, see Gottschalk (, esp. –) on his eschatology, and – on his Pythagorean leanings. On Heraclides in the context of the Old Academy, see also Dillon (, –). Heraclides fr.  Wehrli/  Schu¨trumpf, with discussion in Dillon (,  n. ). On the soul’s ‘light-like’ appearance, see fr. a and d Wehrli/  a–d Schu¨trumpf. On its aetherial nature, see fr.  Wehrli/  Schu¨trumpf: τῶν δὲ ἁπλοῦν σῶμα εἰρηκότων τὴν ψυχὴν εἶναι οἱ μὲν εἰρήκασιν αἰθέριον εἶναι σῶμα, ταὐτὸν δέ ἐστιν εἰπεῖν οὐράνιον, ὥσπερ Ἡρακλείδης ὁ Ποντικός. Of those who have said that the soul is a simple body, some have said it is an aetherial body, which is the same as to say a heavenly body, for example Heraclides of Pontus.’ Fr.  Wehrli/  Schu¨trumpf; cf. also fr.  Wehrli/  Schu¨trumpf, with Gottschalk (, –). The idea that souls congregated along the Milky Way recurs in the Stoicizing poet Manilius, Astronom. , – and in Neoplatonic thought, e.g. Porphyry, Antr. ; it is attributed also to the Neopythagorean Numenius (Proclus, In Plat. Rep. II, p. – Kroll). On the myth of Empedotimus and the Menippean tradition, see Chapter , pp. –. Cicero, Rep. .. See Macrobius In Somn. I , – for the three theories; the first is explained at I , –.



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

to the Moon, and are regenerated on the Moon, ready to experience new lives when they return to the world below. But the Moon plays a similar liminal role in both, associated with transitions between birth and death. In Macrobius’ words, it is ‘the boundary-line between life and death’ (uitae mortisque confinium) – an idea that smacks of the Pythagorean Ocellus’ ‘isthmus–Moon.’ Consequently, the region between the Moon and Earth comes to be the world of the dead. Xenocrates’ ideas about lunar soul–daemones proved to be very enduring. They emerge in the work of Varro in the first century BCE. In Book  of his work on ancient Roman religion Antiquitates Rerum Diuinarum, Varro attributes daemonic status to the sublunary souls: Hic [sc. Varro] adiungit . . . omnes partes quattuor animarum esse plenas, in aethere et aere inmortalium, in aqua et terra mortalium. ab summo autem circuitu caeli ad circulum lunae aetherias animas esse astra ac stellas . . . inter lunae uero gyrum et nimborum ac uentorum cacumina aerias esse animas, sed eas animo, non oculis uideri et uocari heroas et lares et genios. He [sc. Varro] adds that . . . all four elements are full of souls. The souls of the immortals are in the aether and air; and the souls of mortals are in the water and earth. From the outermost rim of the sky to the orbit of the Moon are the ethereal souls, the planets and stars. . . Between the lunar gyre and the upper regions of the clouds and winds are the aerial souls, but they are seen with the mind, not with the eyes, and they are called ‘heroes’ and ‘lares’ and ‘genii’.

As Dillon points out, ‘the terms lares and genii are plainly attempts to find native Roman equivalents for the Greek term daimones,’ and this passage presents Antiochus’ doctrine on daemons that will become a basic tenet in Middle Platonism, found later in Plutarch and Apuleius. The Stoics, in turn, inherited from thinkers of the Old Academy the belief that the souls of the dead wandered in the zone between the Earth and Moon. The soul, which they held to be fiery in nature, naturally soared up away from the Earth after its release from the body, and thereafter resided below the Moon for a long time, where the greater purity of the air allowed them to

 



In Somn. I , . cf. Chapter , p. . Augustine, Civ. Dei VII,  (fr.  Cardauns). On Augustine’s use of this work in his De ciuitate Dei, see Burns (). Varro’s Antiquitates Rerum Diuinarum is dated to the period – BCE; see Cardauns () Teil ii, . Dillon (, –).

Eschatological Moon



retain their form. While hovering there, they fed on exhalations from the Earth, and if they endured they became attached to daimones. These ideas entered into the literary imaginaire: the Stoicizing poet Lucan, for example, speaks of ‘the semi-divine spirits of the dead’ (semidei manes) that ‘inhabit the space between the Earth and the Moon’s wandering,’ while Platonizing Varro seems to have exploited the sublunary souls as the subject for his Menippean fantasy, Endymiones. In his treatise On the soul, Tertullian uses the name ‘Endymiones’ to refer mockingly to the Stoic ‘wise souls’ (animae sapientes) that occupy the space around the Moon after death: sed in aethere dormitio nostra cum puerariis Platonis aut in aere cum Ario aut circa lunam cum Endymionibus Stoicorum? But shall our sleep be in the aether with Plato’s boys, or in the air with Arius, or in the environs of the Moon with the Endymions of the Stoics?

Tertullian’s remark, albeit throwaway in its context, illustrates an important point for us about the tangled, syncretic nature of lunar thought. His evocation of the Moon’s mythical lover Endymion in a philosophical context reminds us that the metaphysical story of the Moon evolved alongside older, blurrier traditions of myth and religion, but did not oust or replace them. By the late first century CE, the belief that the Moon was the abode of souls was evidently common enough for Plutarch to cite it as a plausible explanation for why Roman aristocrats wore a crescent-shaped lunar trinket on their boots. Plutarch tells us that, according to the grammarian Castor (who had interests in Pythagoreanism), the trinket was a symbol of the belief that the soul will once again have the 

  

Sextus Empiricus Adv. Math. .–, esp. –: ἔκσκηνοι γοῦν ἡλίου γενόμεναι τὸν ὑπὸ σελήνην οἰκοῦσι τόπον, ἐνθάδε τε διὰ τὴν εἰλικρίνειαν τοῦ ἀέρος πλείονα πρὸς διαμονὴν λαμβάνουσι χρόνον, τροφῇ τε χρῶνται οἰκείᾳ τῇ ἀπὸ γῆς ἀναθυμιάσει ὡς καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ ἄστρα, τὸ διαλῦσόν τε αὐτὰς ἐν ἐκείνοις τοῖς τόποις οὐκ ἔχουσιν. εἰ οὖν διαμένουσιν αἱ ψυχαί, δαίμοσιν αἱ αὐταὶ γίνονται· ‘Once ousted from the Sun they inhabit the region below the Moon. They take a longer time to linger there on account of the purity of the air, and for nourishment they rely on the exhalation from the Earth, just like the rest of the celestial bodies. There is nothing in those regions that will dissolve them. And so, if the souls endure, they become attached to daimones’. On the eschatolology of this passage, see Reinhardt (, –). Lucan, Phars. .–: quodque patet terras inter lunaeque meatus / semidei manes habitant. This enigmatic work is discussed in Chapter , pp. –. De anima . We know that Tertullian is referring to the ‘wise souls’ from the explicit reference in the preceding chapter, De anima : itaque apud illum [Plato] in aetherem sublimantur animae sapientes, apud Arium in aerem, apud Stoicos sub lunam. ‘Therefore according to that man [Plato], the wise souls are elevated to the ether; according to Arius, they are elevated to the air, and according to the Stoics, beneath the Moon.’



Making Sense of the Moon: Philosophy and Science

Moon ‘beneath its feet’ after death. These traditions were in symbiosis; they could and did intersect, often through the language of philosophical allegory or, as Cumont has shown, in funerary art. Thus the sleeping Endymion could find his counterpart among the sublunary daemones, and the lunar/chthonic goddess Persephone with the lunar eschatology of the philosophers, ideas which were in turn evoked in Roman dress – and the Moon’s chthonic and eschatological associations in myth and philosophy enhanced, in turn, its potency in the sphere of magic, as we have seen.

Conclusion Together, Xenocrates, Philip, Heraclides and the Pythagoreans shone a new spotlight on the Moon in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE that brought it out of the realm of the purely physical speculation – questions such as ‘what is the Moon made of?’ – and more firmly into the realm of the epistemological, the metaphysical and the eschatological. If the fifth century represented a watershed moment in the history of lunar physics, then the fourth century marked the birth of lunar metaphysics. The two stories were inextricably entwined: the more complex semiotics of the Moon that I have traced here grew out of the increasingly complex physical role attributed to it by philosophers – especially those of the Old Academy – for whom the Moon had become ‘the essential arena of mediation and transition in the world scheme.’ The metaphysical Moon was a tradition of immense longevity, inspiring a rich stream of astronomical mysticism, satire, philosophy and fantasy in antiquity and beyond. Consequently, when Menippus arrives on the Moon in Lucian’s satirical fantasy Icaromenippus of the second century CE – a text that we will encounter in Chapter  – he meets the lunar philosopher Empedocles, whom he initially mistakes for a lunar daimōn. Likewise, in True Stories, Lucian’s Moonmen subsist on fumes, rather like the sublunary souls of the Stoics who absorb the damp exhalations of the Earth below; and when the Moonmen die they dissolve, incorporeal, into the lunar air. In fact, the Moon continued to be inhabited by



 

Plut. Quaest. Rom.  a–b. Juvenal (.) also attests to the trinket-wearing. On Castor of Rhodes’ Pythagorean interests, see Plutarch, Quaest. Rom.  e. The other explanations that Plutarch provides offers for the shoe-trinket provide equally interesting insight into the Moon’s symbolism in Roman thought: see p.  above. Dillon (, ); cf. also Dillon (, –). Icar.  and VH .; see Chapter , p.  with n. .

Conclusion



intermediary spirits well into the early modern period, as we discover in Kepler’s Dream and Cyrano de Bergerac’s Les états et empires de la lune. More recently still, the idea is parodied in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (), where the Moon–King – represented by Robin Williams’ disembodied head – evokes the ruling intellect or nous of Platonic psychology. Antiquity starts the tradition that the Moon is an incorporeal place albeit hovering tantalizingly close to our earthy world (a precarious situation, of which Gilliams’ Moon–King falls foul when he is re-attached all too easily to his body). In the Greek mind, the distance between the Earth and the Moon, however formidable, could be breached. Usually this was accomplished by souls and daemones who crossed the boundary with regularity. But as we shall see in the following chapters, occasionally – with exquisite rarity – it could be transgressed by corporeal entities too – by men, women and beasts, and travelling in both directions.  

Prévot (, ). For the latter reference, I am indebted to the exquisite cinematic and philosophical expertise of my anonymous reader.

 

Life on the Moon Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy

In several senses, Anaxagoras is one of the great landmark figures in the history of the Moon. In the previous chapter we saw how, in Parmenides’ wake, he brought to fruition a great paradigm-shift from ‘meteorological’ to ‘lithic’ astronomy (to use Graham’s terms). By doing so, he made the Moon habitable by postulating, for the first time, that it was an Earth-like world, radically different from the alien nebulous or fiery objects envisaged by his predecessors. Not only was it solid like the Earth, but it shared familiar features with the terrestrial landscape, such as mountains, gorges and caves – a theory that was shared by the atomist philosopher Democritus as well. It is probably no coincidence, therefore, that Anaxagoras is our earliest reported source for speculation about lunar life; he may well have been the first to grapple seriously with the idea. We are told that he envisaged ‘dwellings’ (oikēseis) and possibly even cities on the Moon, which presupposed habitation by lunar beings, and he may have claimed that the Nemean lion of myth originated there. His theories may not have been confined to the Moon, either; in the following  

See Chapter , p.  with n. . For lunar dwellings, see Diogenes Laertius .: [Οὗτος ἔλεγε] . . . τὴν δὲ σελήνην οἰκήσεις ἔχειν ἀλλὰ καὶ λόφους καὶ φάραγγας. [This man [Anaxagoras] said] . . . that there were dwellings on the Moon, but also hills and gorges’. Lunar cities are an additional feature of a report by Cicero (Academica II. . ), which is highly probably – based on similarities to the other Anaxagorean doxographica – to reflect Anaxagoras’ thinking, even though Cicero attributes the theory erroneously to Xenophanes: Habitari ait Xenophanes in luna, eamque esse terram multarum urbium et montium. ‘Xenophanes claims that the Moon is inhabited, and that it is a land of many cities and mountains’. The attribution to Xenophanes is unconvincing, given that Xenophanes believed the Moon to be an incandescent cloud and that there was not just one Moon, but an infinite number of them (see Chapter , pp. –.). It has been suggested that Cicero might have had Xenocrates in mind instead (Cherniss ,  note b), but I think this is also unlikely, since Xenocrates did not, apparently, believe the Moon was an earthy world, but that it consisted of air and ‘second density’ (see Chapter , pp. –.). Achilles (Isag. ; DK  A) reports a theory that the Moon is ‘earth incandescent with a steady fire, but that there is another quarter on it that is inhabited, with rivers and all other terrestrial features, and they tell a story that the Nemean lion fell from there’. ἕτεροι δὲ γῆν πεπυρωμένην στερέμνιον ἔχουσαν πῦρ, εἶναι δὲ ἐπ’ αὐτῆς οἴκησιν ἄλλην ποταμούς τε καὶ ὅσα ἐπὶ γῆς, καὶ τὸν λέοντα τὸν Νεμεαῖον ἐκεῖθεν πεσεῖν μυθολογοῦσιν. While Achilles himself does not attribute this belief explicitly to Anaxagoras, it is likely that he was its



Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy



fragment, whose import is much-debated, he seems to speculate about a plurality of habitable worlds, parallel to our own, within the universe: . . . καὶ [χρὴ δοκεῖν] τοῖς γε ἀνθρώποισιν εἶναι καὶ πόλεις συνωικημένας καὶ ἔργα κατεσκευασμένα, ὥσπερ παρ’ ἡμῖν, καὶ ἠέλιόν τε αὐτοῖσιν εἶναι καὶ σελήνην καὶ τὰ ἄλλα, ὥσπερ παρ’ ἡμῖν, καὶ τὴν γῆν αὐτοῖσι φύειν πολλά τε καὶ παντοῖα, ὧν ἐκεῖνοι τὰ ὀνήιστα συνενεγκάμενοι εἰς τὴν οἴκησιν χρῶνται. ταῦτα μὲν οὖν μοι λέλεκται περὶ τῆς ἀποκρίσιος, ὅτι οὐκ ἂν παρ’ ἡμῖν μόνον ἀποκριθείη, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἄλληι. . . . and [sc. one must think that] that these human beings possess inhabited cities and cultivated fields, just as among us, and that they have a sun and a moon and the other [scil. heavenly bodies], just as among us, and that the earth produces for them many things and of all kinds, of which they gather the most useful ones into their household and make use of them. This then is what I had to say about the separation, that there will not have been separation among us alone, but elsewhere too.

If Anaxagoras is indeed talking about parallel worlds here, as I think he must be, it constitutes another point on which Democritus agreed with him, for the plurality of worlds was a pronounced doctrine of the atomists. Nor was the belief confined to these, for Aëtius attributes it to Heraclides of Pontus, the Pythagoreans and the Orphics as well: Ἡρακλείδης καὶ οἱ Πυθαγόρειοι ἕκαστον τῶν ἀστέρων κόσμον ὑπάρχειν γῆν περιέχοντα ἀέρα ἐν τῷ ἀπείρῳ αἰθέρι. ταῦτα δὲ τὰ δόγματα ἐν τοῖς Ὀρφικοῖς φέρεσθαι· κοσμοποιοῦσι γὰρ ἕκαστον τῶν ἀστέρων. Heraclides and the Pythagoreans suppose that each one of the stars constitutes a cosmos in the infinite aether, incorporating earth and air. They say that this doctrine is held among the Orphics: they make each one of the stars a world.







source, not least because a scholium on Apollonius of Rhodes (.) attributes the Nemean lion theory securely to him; cf. pp. – below. Simpl. In Phys., p. .–, trans. by Laks and Most (= DK  B. –; G ; LM D). Interpretation of this passage has been much debated since antiquity: see commentary by Sider (, –). Inter alia, it has been argued that Anaxagoras might simply have been thinking about other parts of our world (an interpretation that Simplicius refutes, however: In Phys. .–), or that he might have had in mind microscopic worlds that are contained within our own and are imperceptible to us (Mansfeld ). Simplicius’ own comments at In Phys. p. .– suggest he believed Anaxagoras to be talking about other kosmoi coexisting with our own: ὅτι μὲν ἑτέραν τινὰ διακόσμησιν παρὰ τὴν παρ’ ἡμῖν αἰνίττεται, δηλοῖ τὸ ‘ὥσπερ παρ’ ἡμῖν’ οὐχ ἅπαξ μόνον εἰρημένον. ‘The expression “just as among us” – said not just once – shows that he is alluding to another cosmos alongside our own.’ See Democritus (DK  A ; G ; LM D); Metrodorus of Chios: Aëtius .. and .. (DG pp.  and ; DK  A  and  respectively); Lucretius DRN .–; see Gregory (, –); Warren (). Aëtius .. (DG p. , –), from the chapter ‘On the substance of the stars’ (Περὶ οὐσίας ἄστρων). For the doctrine in Heraclides’ thought, see frr.  a–c Wehrli/ a–d Schu¨trumpf, with Gottschalk (, –).

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy Whilst such theories about a plurality of habitable worlds provided a framework as well as ample scope for speculation about extra-terrestrial life, the Moon remained the principal focus for the hypothesis in antiquity. It is not hard to see why: the Moon was, after all, the celestial body closest to us, a compelling mirror image of our own world, with some features on its surface visible even to the naked eye. The modern quest to find extraterrestrial life is still focussed on recognizably Earth-like planets that we are beginning to find dispersed around our universe. The belief that the Moon was a parallel, celestial world or ‘counter-Earth’ was generally attributed to thinkers in the Pythagorean tradition who – as we saw in the previous chapter – were certainly intrigued by the Moon and speculated about its role in the cosmos. Heraclides of Pontus, whose lunar interests we also encountered in Chapter , hypothesized that the Moon was ‘an Earth enveloped in mist’ (γῆν ὁμίχλῃ περιεχομένην). This theory not only happens to be in alignment with Anaxagoras; it draws Heraclides closer into the orbit of fifth-century Pythagoreans who, as we shall shortly see, also speculated that the Moon was an Earth-like world, inhabited all over. It is possible that Heraclides believed the Moon to be populated by anthropoid beings as well, though the bizarre story attributed to him about a man who fell from the Moon may in fact have been a malicious distortion of his astral eschatology, which he had presented in the form of a myth about a man’s astral travels. It cannot be accidental that proponents of the earthy-Moon theory – Anaxagoras, Heraclides, Pythagoreans, Democritus – all hypothesized the existence of lunar inhabitants as 



 

The modern scientific criteria for defining a habitable world are discussed in Rothery, Gilmour and Sephton (, –). For example, in  seven Earth-size planets were discovered orbiting the ultra-cool dwarf star TRAPPIST-, which is sufficiently cool to allow liquid water to survive on these planets. See Gillon et al. (). This belief is reported widely in the tradition of philosophical commentary in late antiquity, e.g. Macrobius, In Somn. I..: denique illam [sc. Lunam] aetheriam terram physici uocauerunt et habitatores eius lunares populos nuncuparunt, quod ita esse plurimis argumentis . . . docuerunt. The philosophers (probably here the Pythagoreans specifically) called the Moon an aethereal earth and named its inhabitants ‘lunar peoples’, a matter that they professed with numerous arguments. See also Simplicius, In Arist. de Caelo, p. , – Heiberg: Ἀντίχθονα δὲ τὴν σελήνην ἐκάλουν οἱ Πυθαγόρειοι, ὥσπερ καὶ αἰθερίαν γῆν καὶ ὡς ἀντιφράττουσαν τῷ ἡλιακῷ φωτί, ὅπερ ἴδιον γῆς, καὶ ὡς ἀποπερατοῦσαν τὰ οὐράνια, καθάπερ ἡ γῆ τὸ ὑπὸ σελήνην. The Pythagoreans called the Moon a ‘counter-world’ as well as an ‘aethereal Earth’ since it blocked the Sun’s light – which is indeed a characteristic of earth – and since it marks the limit of the heavenly region, just as the Earth marks the region below the Moon. According to Proclus, In Tim. e, III p. ,  (= fr.  Kern), Orphics called the Moon a ‘celestial earth’ (οὐρανίαν γῆν). Fr. a–c Wehrli / a–d Schu¨trumpf. The theory is ascribed to Ocellus as well by Aëtius .., DG p.  (fr. a Wehrli/ b Schu¨trumpf ). Gottschalk (, ). The story about the man falling from the Moon was attributed to Heraclides by Timaeus of Tauromenium: see fr.  Wehrli /  Schu¨trumpf.

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

well. This equation between earth and life soon acquired a teleological bent, so that Earth-like worlds were not only a prerequisite for life, but were expected to support life: that was their purpose in the cosmos. Whilst serious astrobiological hypotheses in antiquity arose in direct consequence of speculation about the Moon’s physical nature, however, not all ancient ideas about extra-terrestrial life are thus rooted in scientific thought. Many of the ideas we will encounter in this chapter are accidents of the impulse to rationalize peculiarities of myth; others emerge from eschatological speculation about what happens after we die; and yet others are the stuff of pure literary fantasy (though even the fantasy is built on scientific thought, as we shall see). Speculation of this sort tends to arise, not from a commitment to the possibility of extra-terrestrial life per se, but from the tacit assumption of that possibility, which is then exploited for other purposes. In such cases, the idea of the inhabited Moon emerges collaterally, in an exercise of literary or scholarly ingenuity, and we cannot lean too heavily on this evidence as a serious resource for theories about extra-terrestrial life. These ideas are important, nevertheless, for they reveal that channels were opening up between the Moon and Earth in the ancient imagination, and that the other-world of the Moon was becoming a repository for alternative traditions of narrative and aetiology, taking shape as a world of exogenous story and authority. Experimental new fictions about lunar life expanded the contours of the ancient scientific imagination, even if their veracity was not to be taken too seriously. Finally, eschatological theories made the Moon the residence of souls after death (and indeed before birth). I will postpone treatment of this category to Chapter , since in this case the Moon is not conceived as supporting lifeforms in a biological sense; its ‘inhabitants’, rather, are disembodied souls and soul-substance. I mention it here, however, because there is a certain amount of overlap between ancient speculation about extra-terrestrial lifeforms, and speculation about existence post mortem (and extra mortem): the persistent hypothesis that Moon-creatures consume no food and produce no excrement, for example, is related to ancient ideas about the world of the gods and the dead. I shall point out such overlaps as they arise.

Pythagorean Moon-Creatures It was the Pythagoreans who, in Anaxagoras’ wake in the fifth century BCE, evolved the most detailed theories about lunar life. There are two 

See Chapter , pp. –.

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy strands to their thought on the topic: eschatological and astrobiological. Some Pythagoreans believed that the Moon was the temporary abode of souls after death, and that it was inhabited by ‘spirits’ (daimones), one of whom was Pythagoras himself. They shared this belief with Platonists, for whom the Moon was both a physical and metaphysical junction, as we have seen, and with subsequent Stoic thinkers as well. I will explore these ideas in Chapter , in my analysis of Plutarch’s essay On the face of the Moon, where eschatology plays a central role. In the interim, I will focus on the second astrobiological theory here. From doxographical reports, we learn that some Pythagoreans, including (significantly) the astronomer Philolaus, postulated that the Moon was a sort of celestial Earth inhabited by flora and fauna larger and more beautiful than their earthly counterparts: τῶν Πυθαγορείων τινὲς μέν, ὧν ἐστι Φιλόλαος, γεώδη φαίνεσθαι τὴν σελήνην διὰ τὸ περιοικεῖσθαι αὐτὴν καθάπερ τὴν παρ’ ἡμῖν γῆν ζώιοις καὶ φυτοῖς μείζοσι καὶ καλλίοσιν· εἶναι γὰρ πεντεκαιδεκαπλάσια τὰ ἐπ’ αὐτῆς ζῶια τῆι δυνάμει μηδὲν περιττωματικὸν ἀποκρίνοντα, καὶ τὴν ἡμέραν τοσαύτην τῶι μήκει. Among the Pythagoreans there are those, including Philolaos, who attribute its [the Moon’s] Earth-like appearance to the fact that it is inhabited all over just like our Earth by creatures and plants that are larger and more beautiful – for creatures on the moon are fifteen times greater in strength, and do not produce any excrement (perittōmatikon), and the lunar day is the same in length [i.e. fifteen times longer than the terrestrial day].

The mythographer Herodorus of Heraclea, also in the Pythagorean tradition, presented a complementary (and perhaps fanciful) theory that the Moon-people were specifically fifteen times larger than Earthlings – and that Moon-women laid eggs. Herodorus was contemporary with Philolaus in the fifth century BCE, and their ideas are clearly related, though we cannot be sure who is influencing whom. He will resurface again later in connection with speculation about the lunar origin of gigantic creatures on the Earth, and when we encounter Lucian’s extraordinary theory about Moon-men’s sexual fluidity.

  

Aëtius .. (DG p. ., DK  A; G ). The text and import of this testimonium are discussed by Huffman , –. FGrH  F = Athenaeus Deipn. . , cited on p. . See pp. – and pp. – respectively.

Pythagorean Moon-Creatures



Before immersing ourselves in analysis of the intriguing details of these two reports, I would like to point out two enduring tropes concerning extra-terrestrial life that are already recognizable in them. First, there is the (not unreasonable) expectation that an Earth-like environment is required to support life, whilst at the same time there is the recognition that exoenvironments may not exactly replicate conditions here on Earth: viz. a day lasts much longer on the Moon (true), which evidently impinges on the life-forms there. When we come to the discussion of lunar life in Plutarch’s De facie, we will discover much more detailed reflection on the differences between climate and conditions on the Moon and Earth. Second, there is the implied assumption here that extra-terrestrial life will resemble terrestrial life in broad terms (note that there are ‘creatures and plants’ on the Moon, just as there are on Earth), but that it will be somehow superior to its terrestrial counterparts. We shall see presently that there were good reasons why belief in the superiority of extra-terrestrial life was so tenacious in ancient thought. For now, we may note that it is still a persistent assumption in the modern popular imagination that ‘aliens’ will be of superior intelligence to us, have access to more advanced technologies etc, and that such beliefs finds their ancient counterpart in the Pythagoreans’ ideas about bigger, more beautiful beings on the Moon who produce no excrement. Why, then, should the Pythagoreans have believed Moon-beings were superior creatures with different digestive systems from us and different methods of reproduction? A peculiar obsession with the nature of bodily excretions is evident throughout ancient speculation about lunar life. The later writer Lucian takes it to absurd degrees in his lunar fantasy True Stories, where the Moon-men are blessed with secretions of extraordinary purity: nasal mucus that has the quality of honey and sweat like milk. It is worth pointing out that there is a certain ambiguity about the meaning of the term perittōmatikon in the Herodorus report, which I have rendered in my translation as ‘excrement’, but which could denote other bodily excretions such as bile or phlegm as well, as Huffman observes. However, on the basis of strong parallels in the description of Moon-people in  



See Chapter , pp. –. The Vulcan Mr Spock from the television series ‘Star Trek’ is probably the most familiar type of intelligent alien in modern popular culture, but there are countless examples of the type. Classics works of science fiction that explore the theme include Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End () and Carl Sagan’s novel Contact (). I am grateful to Martin Pitts for guidance on this. On the afterlife motif in modern science fiction, see Russell (, esp. –). See Chapter , p. .

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy Plutarch’s De facie and in Lucian’s True Stories where the Moon-men neither defecate nor urinate (though they produce ample secretions of other sorts), it is beyond reasonable doubt that the Pythagoreans had faecal excretion in mind. Now, if these Pythagorean Moon-creatures were not producing dung, it was presumably because they were not consuming solid food – for which again there are explicit parallels in later works. What is unclear is precisely why the Pythagoreans thought the Moon-creatures did not eat solid food, though Plutarch, writing some six centuries later, provides us with plausible answers. The speakers in De facie speculate that conditions on the Moon are arid and vegetation is scanty as a consequence, so the Moonpeople are probably oligotrophic, that is adapted to survive on exiguous nutriment, perhaps by inhaling fumes rather than consuming solid food, just like the fabled ‘Mouthless Men’ who were reported by historians like Megasthenes to exist in the torrid margins of the world in India. Lucian’s Moon-men survive in precisely this way, inhaling the smoke from their frog-barbecues. In fact, Aristotle somewhat scathingly reports the belief among some Pythagoreans that ‘certain animals’ were nourished entirely by smells, which could be a reference to their theory about lunar creatures, as Burkert suggests. The absence of physical bodies (or possession of only very slight forms), combined with the absence of excrement (and presumably food) are also characteristics that the Moon-creatures share with the world of the dead in ancient thought more generally. In the Homeric epics, for example, the soul is imagined as a feeble, witless entity, squeaking helplessly like a bat. Heraclitus, in the sixth century BCE, claimed 

    

Lucian’s Moon-men also subsist on fumes, producing neither urine nor faeces: VH .. Huffman (, –) points out that Aristotle used the term variously to denote faeces or excretions of a more general nature including phlegm and bile, e.g. Part. An.  b and HA  b–; cf. also Anon. Lond. .–, a theory about the disease-causing properties of digestive residues that is attributed to the fifth-century physician Euryphon of Cnidos. This prompts Huffman to speculate that Philolaus may have been talking in a medical sense here: ‘His point could be that moon creatures do not produce residues like bile and phlegm and thus are not subject to disease’. However, he concedes that the parallels from Plutarch’s work suggest that ‘there was more discussion about whether moon creatures ate or not than about their medical condition . . . and it is thus somewhat more likely that Philolaus is denying that moon creatures produce excrement than that they produce harmful residues such as bile and phlegm.’ The relevance of Plato Phaedo b, where Plato says that the inhabitants of the upper earth are free from disease, is wellobserved, all the same. Huffman (, ). De facie a–e; for detail and discussion, see Chapter , pp. –. VH .; cf. p. . [Aristotle], de Sens.  a– (DK  B); Burkert (,  n. ). E.g. Il. . –; Od. . ; .  and ; Bremmer (, –, esp. ff).

Pythagorean Moon-Creatures



that ‘the souls in Hades use their sense of smell’, and Lucian ridicules the belief that the dead can eat or drink. This brings us to a third trope of astrobiological thought: that if other worlds represent extremes of the conditions that prevail on ours, we can expect some affinity between extra-terrestrial life-forms and the beings that inhabit the extreme zones of Earth (such as the Mouthless Men of India referred to above). In fact, it is precisely this assumption that drives modern astrobiologists to seek analogues for extra-terrestrial life among the Earth’s ‘extremophiles’: organisms that, as their collective name suggests, thrive in conditions on our own planet that are intolerable for mammalian life. Whilst the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence continues through the activities of SETI, therefore, astrobiologists have turned their attention to simpler organisms of amazing resilience, like the acidophile snottites, that flourish in sulphuric environs of the Earth’s volcanic caves; the microbes that can thrive in anoxic conditions deep in the oceans’ darkness; barophiles, that live in the deepest places on our planet, populating even the Mariana Trench, where we used to think life all life was crushed out of existence; hyperthermophiles and psychrophiles, that survive at temperature extremes that are unbearable for us; and oligotrophs, that require little nutriment. These tiny creatures are the very best candidates we have as models for the forms that life on other worlds might take. What is astonishing is that ancient thinkers arrived at similar conclusions, albeit for reasons that are quite distinct and bound up with their own assumptions about the organization of the cosmos, as we shall see. The differences between humans and the lunar creatures envisaged by Pythagoreans in the fifth century BCE may be slight (and nowhere near as radical as the difference between mammals and the extremophiles of modern astrobiological inquiry), but they are palpably there. Moreover, when Plutarch in the late first century CE invokes scientific reasoning to justify the possibility that lunar life exists, he turns to the ancient equivalent of the Earth’s extreme environments – its deserts and oceans – to find an analogy for the Moon. The torridity of the Earth’s deserts – where water is scarce and the heat unbearable – ought to render this terrain lifeless, and yet, as he points out, some plants can only grow in these apparently hostile places. So too with the oceans: at face value, no one would believe it  

αἱ ψυχαὶ ὀσμῶνται καθ’ Ἅιδην (DK  B). Plutarch quotes Heraclitus in De fac. e, where the disembodied souls on and around the Moon are nourished on exhalations; cf. Lucian, Charon . For discussion of extremophiles, see Rothery, Gilmour and Sephton (, –); on SETI and the search for more advanced, intelligent extra-terrestrial life-forms, see Rothery, Gilmour and Sephton (, –); Lamb ().

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy possible that the oceans could support life, for they are cold, salty and there is no air to breathe. Yet they teem with life of abundant variety: ὥσπερ οὖν εἰ τῇ θαλάττῃ μὴ δυναμένων ἡμῶν προσελθεῖν μηδ’ ἅψασθαι, μόνον δὲ τὴν θέαν αὐτῆς πόρρωθεν ἀφορώντων καὶ πυνθανομένων ὅτι πικρὸν καὶ ἄποτον καὶ ἁλμυρὸν ὕδωρ ἐστίν, ἔλεγέ τις ὡς ζῷα πολλὰ καὶ μεγάλα καὶ παντοδαπὰ ταῖς μορφαῖς τρέφει κατὰ βυθοῦ καὶ θηρίων ἐστὶ πλήρης ὕδατι χρωμένων ὅσαπερ ἡμεῖς ἀέρι, μύθοις ἂν ὅμοια καὶ τέρασιν ἐδόκει περαίνειν, οὕτως ἐοίκαμεν ἔχειν καὶ ταὐτὸ πάσχειν πρὸς τὴν σελήνην, ἀπιστοῦντες ἐκεῖ τινας ἀνθρώπους κατοικεῖν. Imagine we were not able to approach the sea or touch it, but only caught sight of it from a distance and heard that the water is bitter, undrinkable and briny. If someone said that it sustains in its depths fauna of great number, size and variety of forms, and that it is full of beasts who use water just like we use air, he would appear to be talking the stuff of myth and fantasy. This, it seems, is precisely our situation and response to the Moon when we doubt that people live there.

Like the oceans, the lunar environment may appear hostile from our remote anthropocentric and terracentric perspective, but that does not rule out the possibility that life thrives there. We must allow that, even on Earth, life adapts to a wondrous diversity of conditions, and so life of a different sort must also be possible on an Earth-like world like the Moon. Plutarch’s remarkable desert- and ocean-analogy is the ancient equivalent of the extreme environments (mines, volcanoes, oceanic trenches) that are canvassed as analogues for extra-terrestrial worlds today. There has been much debate about the origins and rationale underlying the peculiar Pythagorean theories about incorporeal, egg-laying, biggerand-more-beautiful lunar beings. How do we make sense of these remarkable theories, within the context of the fifth-century thought-world? The influential historian of religion Walter Burkert argued that Pythagoreanism, particularly with its doctrine of metempsychosis (‘transmigration of the soul’), had its origins in the practices of shamans among the ancient Scythians, and suggested that the Pythagorean theories about lunar lifeforms were expressions of the shaman’s experience during his soul-flight 

 

De fac. d. Plutarch’s marine analogy is a reworking of a Heraclitean paradox: Heraclitus DK B  (LM D): θάλασσα ὕδωρ καθαρώτατον καὶ μιαρώτατον, ἰχθύσι μὲν πότιμον καὶ σωτήριον, ἀνθρώποις δὲ ἄποτον καὶ ὀλέθριον. The sea, the purest water and the foulest: for fish it is drinkable and life-giving, but for humans undrinkable and deadly. (Translation by Laks and Most); see Hussey (, –); Warren (, –). The full passage is De fac. c–f; for further discussion, see Chapter , pp. –. Burkert (/, –) (esp.  ff.).

Pythagorean Moon-Creatures



through the skies. The purity and increased size and beauty of lunar lifeforms could therefore be understood as projections of the shaman’s ecstatic, pharmacologically induced sense-perception and outer-body existence. Even Herodorus’ bizarre egg-laying Moon-women could be made to fit the picture, he argued, for this hints at asexual reproduction and is a cleaner, less corporeal process than mammalian ‘live birth’ (zōiotokein). However, Burkert’s theory is problematic for at least three reasons, the latter two of which are interrelated. First, it assumes straightforward connections between philosophical hypotheses in the fifth century BCE and religious practices that may, only very speculatively, have been associated with Pythagoreans in their remote past, and it should be noted that recent scholarship vigorously repudiates theories about the shamanistic origins of Pythagoreanism. Second, Burkert’s theory glosses over the distinction between the supposedly shamanistic founder-figure Pythagoras and the distinctly astronomical Philolaus, who is explicitly named in the doxography as one of the theoreticians associated with these ideas about lunar life. Carl Huffman emphatically distances Philolaus from these notional shamanistic associations, and emphasizes instead his affiliation with the astronomical enterprise of other Pre-Socratic philosophers such as Anaxagoras and Empedocles. The authority of Herodorus the mythographer is another matter, for it is clear that he was interested not in scientific inquiry, but in gathering weird and wonderful stories, probably with a rationalizing bent. Burkert tends to overlook the significance of the contemporary context of natural philosophy in which Pythagoreans like Philolaus participated. Though their Moon-people may, superficially, look like ‘fantasy’, in fact we do not have to stretch very far to see that they are constructed on a bedrock of contemporary scientific thought. Their enhanced strength and size is plainly connected (though it is not clear precisely how) with the greater length of the lunar day: all three surpass conventional terrestrial measurements by a factor of precisely fifteen. 

   

Burkert (/, ). In antiquity, it was believed that some species of birds could produce eggs as a result of impregnation by the wind. These eggs did not hatch, and were known as ‘windeggs’ (hypēnemia [ōia], Aristotle, Hist. An. b–a). In De gen. an. a–b and b– a, Aristotle explicitly distinguishes fertilized eggs, which are the result of sexual congress, from wind-eggs, and compares fish, which produce eggs that are then fertilized outside of the body. For further discussion of wind-eggs, see Dunbar () ad Aristophanes Birds .  Zhmud (, –). Huffman (, esp.  and –). Huffman (, –). Contra Furley (, ): ‘the whole scheme lapses into fantasy’. Huffman (, ) speculates that the greater exposure to prolonged periods of sunlight and darkness might have been thought to influence their growth, but we do not know.

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy And although it is not unproblematic, we can, I think, discern a clear astronomical rationale underlying this number. From the terrestrial perspective, fifteen days – half a terrestrial month – is the time it takes for the Moon to wax to its brightest full phase. During the second fifteen days of the month, it wanes steadily darker to new moon, when it disappears from the sky entirely. To this extent, the theory that one lunar day is equal to fifteen terrestrial days makes intuitive sense, since it accommodates the lunar phases to a diurnal pattern of alternating daylight and darkness, so that what we on Earth experience in twenty-four hours is stretched out to last a whole month on the Moon. Underlying this equation (however faulty it may be) is an attempt to understand time extra-terrestrially, from a lunar perspective. The astronomical basis of this reasoning speaks strongly against Burkert’s shamanistic theory, and points instead to the tradition of scientific inquiry in the contemporary intellectual world: ‘The parallels with other Pre-Socratic authors as well as fourth-century authors show that we need not conclude with Burkert that Philolaus’ knowledge of the moon is based on a shamanistic journey unless we want to suppose that Anaxagoras, Aristotle, and other members of the Academy were shamans who journeyed to the moon as well.’ However, though Burkert’s theory about shamanism at the historical roots of Pythagorean philosophy is legitimately disputed, congruence of another sort firmly entwines the tradition of astronomical inquiry with that of soul-travel in ancient thought. In our earliest narrative of soulprojection – the Myth of Er from Plato’s Republic (. b–) – the soul of the Armenian warrior Er leaves his body and explores, not only the world of the afterlife, with its places of punishment and reward, but the cosmos as well. He observes the mighty, iridescent axis of the universe with the Spindle of Necessity, around which the concentric planetary spheres revolve, propelled and regulated by the hands of the three Fates (b– d), a vision that was probably influenced by Eudoxus’ homocentric 



As various scholars have pointed out, there is a problem with Philolaus’ theory: ‘Since the moon takes thirty days (i.e. twenty-four-hour periods) to circle the central fire, as opposed to the earth’s one day, if we assume that the moon rotates once on its axis during its orbit around the central fire as the earth does, it would seem that its period of daylight would last about half the time of its orbit around the central fire, or fifteen twenty-four-hour periods. This would mean, however, that this period of daylight would in fact be thirty times an average period of daylight on the earth’. (Huffman, ,  with my italics; cf. also Burkert /,  n. ). Huffman explains this in terms of ‘confusion between the two types of day (twenty-four-hour period or a period of daylight)’. On Philolaus’ solution for explaining night and day on Earth, see Huffman (, –). For changing experiences of time in extreme geographical zones, including the Moon, see Chapter , p. . Huffman (, –).

Pythagorean Moon-Creatures



sphere model of the cosmos. The myth of Plato’s Phaedo (c–a) provides a vision of the afterlife of the soul that is entwined with cosmic vision. Within this myth, in an analogy for the soul’s journey to the blessed place, the crater-dweller climbs upwards and enters a world whose inhabitants are afforded a stunningly clear vision of the Sun, Moon and stars (a–c). The myth of the Phaedrus (c–d) also recounts the soul’s celestial origins as it ‘travels around the whole heaven’ (πάντα δὲ οὐρανὸν περιπολεῖ, b). Inspired by Platonic myth, Cicero’s Dream of Scipio combines exposition of the fate of the soul with a flight to the heavens and explanation of cosmic phenomena such as the harmony of the spheres and the Milky Way. Such combinations are found also in Greek narratives that are rooted in the Jewish tradition, such as in chapter  of the Testament of Abraham (probably second century CE), where Abraham views activities on Earth from the archangel Michael’s cherub-drawn chariot, and in the apocalyptic Book of Enoch (Greek version, second/first century BCE), where Enoch, accompanied by the angel Uriel, observes from the top of a mountain, which reaches to heaven, the receptacles of thunder, the great rivers of the Earth, the stone that supports the Earth, the place of sinners and blessed souls, the tree of knowledge, and the revolutions of the Sun, Moon and stars whose movements, as Uriel explains, are controlled by angels. Eventually, the motif of the visionary, disembodied flight became the vehicle for geographical and astronomical doctrine in the Greek and Roman scientific tradition: we find it in Eratosthenes’ scientific poem Hermes, for example, where the god Hermes surveys the universe from his point of vantage in the heavens. We find it too at the beginning of the Aristotelian treatise On the universe, where study of the cosmos requires a psychic journey to places that are unattainable to the body. The Roman astronomical poet Manilius similarly describes himself as travelling through the heavens, where he can observe up close the movements of the heavenly bodies:    





See Dicks (, –) and cf. Proclus (In Tim. , p. .  Diehl), who assumes that Plato is referring to such a device at Tim. d. Cicero, Rep. ; this is discussed in further detail in Chapter , pp. –. This date is suggested by Schmidt (, ); Allison (, esp. –) suggests a date before – CE. Enoch – and –. On the astronomy of the latter section, see Neugebauer apud Black and Vanderkam (). Alexander the Great’s ascent to heaven, from where he surveys the entire world (A. Rom. .), is rooted in the Babylonian legend of Etana: see Stoneman (, esp. pp. –). See esp. Eratosthenes fr.  Powell. Geus (, –) explores the poem’s extraordinary heterogeneity: a mixture of epyllion, hymn and didactic poem, it comprised (inter alia) mythology, geography, astronomy, aetiology and other forms of erudition. [Aristotle], De mundo a.

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy . . . iuvat ire per ipsum aera et immenso spatiantem vivere caelo et adversos stellarum noscere cursus. It is my delight to travel through the air itself, to spend my life roaming in the boundless heaven and come to know the paths of the stars before my very eyes.

We even find the flight motif used as a metaphor for astronomical inquiry by a scientist as sober as Claudius Ptolemy, in the epigraph to his great Syntaxis: Οἶδ’, ὅτι θνατὸς ἐγὼ καὶ ἐφάμερος· ἀλλ’ ὅταν ἄστρων μαστεύω πυκινὰς ἀμφιδρόμους ἕλικας, οὐκέτ’ ἐπιψαύω γαίης ποσίν, ἀλλὰ παρ’ αὐτῷ Ζανὶ θεοτρεφέος πίμπλαμαι ἀμβροσίης. I know that I am mortal and short-lived. But whenever I track the planets’ dense and spiralling paths, moving now this way, now that, I no longer touch the Earth with my feet; instead, by the side of Zeus himself, I am filled with ambrosia that nourishes the gods.

We will return to this flight-of-the-mind motif in Chapters  and , where we will encounter fantastical and parodic versions of it in the literary tradition. For the present, however, the evidence accumulated here shows us that the strangely incorporeal quality of the Pythagorean Mooncreatures can be explained as a result, partially, of the deep connection in Greek thought between cosmic exploration and the disembodied flight of the soul. That this tradition had its roots in the soul-journeys of distant shamanistic figures is arguable, but we do not have to reach that far in order to account for the motif in the fifth century BCE. In spite of its fantastic tang, Pythagorean astrobiology was firmly rooted in contemporary scientific thought and its meta-narratives. More specifically, Philolaus’ and Herodorus’ ideas are consistent with Platonic and Aristotelian traditions about incorporeal beings who dwell in purer, loftier regions of the cosmos. In Phaedo, Plato presents Socrates’ 



Astron. .–, translation after G. P. Goold, modified. On the motif of the heavenly journey in Manilius, see Volk (, – and , –). For the motif more generally, see Miller Jones (). I am indebted to discussions with Nicholas Banner, whose work on narratives of cosmic ascent is eagerly anticipated. Anth. Graeca . , though fresh doubts about its original status in the text as well as its authorship have been raised by Tolsa ().

Pythagorean Moon-Creatures

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theory that the beings who dwell in the upper regions of our world – regions we have never seen – are far superior in strength, health, intelligence and longevity because the air they breathe up there is far purer than the miasmic vapours respired by us in our murky craters down below. Amongst these beings there are those who have been released upwards through the lifelong study of philosophy and who now live an incorporeal existence, presumably without eating or drinking, like Philolaus’ Mooncreatures. These ideas are rooted in the hierarchy of elements that placed earth, the heaviest element, low down, water and air higher up, and fire – which is a light, rarefied, incandescent substance – at the uppermost levels of the natural world. There is even the suggestion in later antiquity that when Socrates describes this upper world in Phaedo, he might actually be describing the Moon. Aristotle thought the Moon was possibly inhabited, though we could never find out about the lunar population, since the great distance prevents us from seeing them. However, he speculated that the Moon might provide the habitat for a species of fire-creatures, whose existence he hypothesized in order to complete the series of creatures which correspond to each of the elemental zones: τὰ μὲν γὰρ φυτὰ θείη τις ἂν γῆς, ὕδατος δὲ τὰ ἔνυδρα, τὰ δὲ πεζὰ ἀέρος·. . . τὸ δὲ τέταρτον γένος οὐκ ἐπὶ τούτων τῶν τόπων δεῖ ζητεῖν· καίτοι βούλεταί γέ τι κατὰ τὴν τοῦ πυρὸς εἶναι τάξιν· τοῦτο γὰρ τέταρτον ἀριθμεῖται τῶν σωμάτων. . . ἀλλὰ δεῖ τὸ τοιοῦτον γένος ζητεῖν ἐπὶ τῆς σελήνης· One could attribute vegetable life to the Earth, aquatic creatures to the water, and walking creatures to the air. . . As for the fourth species, one cannot search for it in these places. And yet something is required to correspond to the category of fire, for this is counted as the fourth of the elements . . . One must search for this type of species on the Moon.

In his commentary on Aristotle’s treatise in the sixth century CE, Philoponus elaborated this description of the hypothetical lunar beings, further emphasizing their incorporeality:     

 Phaedo d–c. Phaedo  c, noted by Huffman (, ). For the stratification of the elements, see Aristotle Meteor. .,  b–. Plutarch, De facie f with Cherniss (, ) note a; cf. Chapter , pp. –. Aristotle, de Mot. An. b –; cf. Chapter , pp. –. Aristotle, De gen. anim.  b–. I am unconvinced by Macfarlane () that Aristotle’s fire animals are the celestial bodies themselves. [Plato], Epinomis d–e does make such a link possible, but Plutarch can assert that the Sun is a ‘fiery animate being’ (ζῷον πύρινον, De fac. c), while also upholding the view that the Moon is inhabited.

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy εἰσὶ γὰρ καὶ γίνονται μερικὰ λογικὰ αἰθέρια ζῷα μήτε ἐσθίοντα μήτε πίνοντα, ἀσχολούμενα δὲ περὶ μόνην τὴν ὁρατικωτέραν καὶ θεωρητικωτέραν διατριβὴν καὶ ἔχοντα τὴν οἴκησιν ἐν αἰθέρι καὶ ἀέρι, καὶ ζῇ ἕκαστον αὐτῶν καὶ ὑπὲρ τὰ τρισχίλια ἔτη, θνήσκει δὲ ὅμως. For there exist and come into being special creatures endowed with intellect which dwell in the aither. These do not eating or drink, but engage exclusively in contemplation of a more visual and speculative nature. They have their dwelling in the aither and the air and each one of them lives more than three thousand years, but still dies eventually.

This claim that the Moon-people do not eat or drink (or barely do so) is recurrent in ancient astrobiological theories, as we have seen. Philoponus embellishes it with the suggestion that such beings live purely contemplative lives, apparently unencumbered by the mundane needs of the body. This notion has roots in deeply held beliefs and philosophical theories that are interrelated: the (now familiar) theory about the hierarchy of the elements, and theories about the airy nature of the soul, which is imprisoned in the heavy, earthier nature of the body. These beliefs surface jokingly in Aristophanes’ comedy Clouds, for example, when Socrates makes his memorable entrance suspended in a basket where his airy thoughts are unencumbered by the Earth, leaving him free to ‘tread the air and circumcontemplate the sun’. There are obvious similarities between these cerebral Aristotelian fire-creatures, Socrates’ myth about the incorporeal and beatific denizens of the upper world, and the Philolaic–Herodoran theory about superior Moon-people, who neither defecate nor give birth as we do. As we shall see, ideas like these are in turn germane to the long tradition of lunar narratives in the early-modern world, where the Moon becomes home to a race of intellectually and morally superior beings.   





Philoponus, Comm.in Arist. De gen. an., p.  –. On the body as a vessel for the soul, see Plato Phaedrus c; Cratylus c; Gorgias a etc. Clouds –; Dover (,  ad loc.) finds connections with theories about the constitution of the air and the airy nature of intelligence in Diogenes of Apollonia (DK  B (G ) and B (G)). Cf. Plato, Phaedo b, where the superior intelligence of the beings who live in the upper regions of the world is attributed to the purer atmosphere. This triangulation is argued by Huffman (, –), though Huffman points out the incongruity, within Philolaus’ cosmos, of this belief in the Moon-creatures’ superiority: ‘This makes sense in a Platonic or Aristotelian universe where the earth is at the center and the upper regions are viewed as more divine. It is less clear how it fits into the Philolaic universe where the center of the universe is just as divine as the periphery with the result that it is uncertain what status the moon would have in comparison with the earth.’ (p. ). In Cyrano de Bergerac’s fantasy Les états et empires de la lune (), for example, the Moon is a place of imaginative liberty (in contrast with Earth), aligned with the biblical Paradise, and inhabited by oracular spirits and other supernatural beings who once tried to educate people on Earth. Food and cookery consist of the consumption and confection of odours, which means they

The Woman Who Fell to Earth: Helen of Troy

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The Woman Who Fell to Earth: Helen of Troy Neocles of Croton (an otherwise unknown figure, but possibly a Pythagorean) used Herodorus’ theory about egg-laying Moon-women to produce an ingenious rationalization of the myth about Helen of Troy’s parentage: οὐκ εὖ δὲ Νεοκλῆς ὁ Κροτωνιάτης ἔφη ἀπὸ τῆς σελήνης πεσεῖν τὸ ᾠὸν ἐξ οὗ τὴν Ἑλένην γεννηθῆναι· τὰς γὰρ σεληνίτιδας γυναῖκας ᾠοτοκεῖν καὶ τοὺς ἐκεῖ γεννωμένους πεντεκαιδεκαπλασίονας ἡμῶν εἶναι, ὡς Ἡρόδωρος ὁ Ἡρακλεώτης ἱστορεῖ. But Neocles of Croton was incorrect when he claimed that the egg from which Helen was born fell from the Moon on the basis that Moon-women lay eggs and those born there are fifteen times larger than us, as Herodorus of Heraclea reports.

This bizarre idea surfaces during the dinner-conversation among the eponymous intellectuals in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae. According to the well-known myth, Helen was born from an egg after Zeus impregnated her mother Leda in the form of a swan. Supposedly, the egg itself was preserved and housed in the temple of the Leucippides in Sparta where, according to Pausanias (..), it was still visible in the second century CE. Neocles, however, argued that the egg was proof, not of Helen’s divine paternity, but that she came from the Moon. He could rely on her legendary beauty to corroborate his theory, since according to Pythagoreans (as we saw in the previous section), Moon-people are also vastly more beautiful than Earthlings. The veracity of Neocles’ story is rejected by Athenaeus’ speaker, but it is not an isolated report. A parallel story is found in the tradition of Homeric allegory. According to Eustathius, the twelfth-century commentator on the Odyssey, Homer’s comparison of Helen to the lunar goddess Artemis in Od. . inspired an ancient story that Helen had fallen to Earth from the Moon: Ἀρτέμιδι δὲ χρυσηλακάτῳ τὴν Ἑλένην ὁ ποιητὴς εἰκάζει, διὰ τὴν κατὰ σῶμα φυήν. ἐντεῦθεν δὲ λαβόντες ἀρχὴν, οἱ μεθ’ Ὅμηρον διὰ τὸ εἰς σελήνην ἀλληγορεῖσθαι τὴν Ἄρτεμιν, σεληναίαν ἄνθρωπον τὴν Ἑλένην ἐπλάσαντο. ὡς ἐκ τοῦ κατὰ σελήνην κόσμου πεσοῦσαν. καὶ αὖθις δὲ ἄνω ἁρπαγῆναι αὐτὴν ἐμυθεύσαντο, ἐπειδὰν δι’ ἐκείνης αἱ τοῦ Διὸς ἠνύσθησαν βουλαί.



produce very little excrement and enjoy superior physical health. Poetry is used as currency instead of money. Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae ..

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy The poet compares Helen to Artemis of the golden bow because of her physical stature. However, generations after Homer, taking their cue from this reference, as well as from the fact that Artemis stands for the Moon, made up the story that Helen was a Moon-woman who had fallen from the lunar region of the cosmos. They also told a story that she was snatched back up again, once Zeus’ wishes had been accomplished through her.

We should reckon with the possibility both here and in Neocles’ story that the phonetic similarity in Greek between the nouns ‘Helen’ and ‘Moon’ (Helenē and Selēnē respectively) suggested the connection, or added credence to it. Nevertheless, we are dealing with two distinct categories of thought, for whereas Neocles’ story about Helen’s origins is rooted in Pythagorean astrobiology, Eustathius’ claim is rooted in Homer’s verse. The coda to Eustathius’ story, in which Helen is once again whisked up to the Moon after the Trojan war has broken out, pulls the story into the orbit of revisionist fictions about Helen’s part in the Trojan war, a tradition which goes back to Stesichorus in the sixth century BCE. Stesichorus famously claimed that Helen had run away to Troy, then recanted this claim in a palinode which asserted the counter-Homeric story that she had never been there. This story crops up in the fifth century in Herodotus’ Histories and Euripides’ tragedy Helen. In Herodotus’ version, Helen was guilty of running away with Paris, but their ship was blown off course to Egypt, where the priests, horrified to learn of the couple’s adulterous intentions, forbade Paris from seeing Helen, sent him on his way, and retained Helen in seclusion in Egypt where she awaited Menelaus’ arrival. Tragically, it was by then impossible to prevent the war, for the Greeks did not believe Paris’ story. Although Herodotus’ Helen was guilty in intent, however, she was ultimately innocent in spite of herself. In his tragedy Helen, Euripides, in contrast, exonerates her entirely by having Hermes transport her magically to Egypt and substitute a Doppelgänger in Sparta, a phantom fashioned from cloud, which commits adultery with Paris and travels to Troy, whilst the real Helen virtuously awaits the end of the war in Egypt. The allegorical story reported by Eustathius seems to contaminate elements from both of these versions, for the real Helen herself does indeed instigate the war, as in Herodotus’ tale (she is, in fact, dispatched to Earth from the Moon precisely for this purpose, which is Zeus’ will), but her subsequent return to the Moon   

Eustathius, Commentary on Odyssey p. .– ad Od. .. Similarly, Simon Magus’ consort was a woman called Helena or Luna; cf. Chapter , p.  with n. .   Stesichorus frr. – Page. Herodotus . –. See Helen –.

The Woman Who Fell to Earth: Helen of Troy



evokes the miraculous abduction in Euripides’ play. What we have here is a distinctive, counter-Homeric version of Helen’s part in Trojan affairs, in which the real Helen – who is an extra-terrestrial being – is indeed the cause of the war but in a passive way, and where her subsequent return to the Moon redeems her virtue, albeit too late to prevent the war itself. Both versions of this story – that of Neocles and the fuller one reported by Eustathius – are clearly related to each other. It is not possible to be certain if one version preceded the other, or which came first, but the most likely scenario is that Neocles’ theory preceded the Homeric allegory rather than the other way round, for otherwise it is difficult to explain why the (fairly anodyne) comparison of Helen with Artemis in the Odyssey should provoke the extraordinary claim that Homer really meant that Helen came from the Moon. If, however, a theory connecting Helen with the Moon was already in circulation, then the allegory would have suggested itself more readily. We do not know, either, precisely when these stories appeared. For the unknown Neocles, we have a terminus ante quem of the early third century CE, when Athenaeus wrote the Deipnosophistae, and a terminus post quem of the late fifth century, when Herodorus was active. For the Eustathian story, we have only the looser terminus ante quem of the twelfth century CE. However, on the basis of cumulative evidence which indicates a peak of philosophical interest in the inhabited Moon in the fifth century BCE, it is not unreasonable to suggest that both stories were in circulation around this time too. This would make them synchronous also with the vogue for alternative ‘Helen’ myths in the fifth century, when, as Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen shows, Helen’s story had become a showcase for the new science of rhetoric: internally, it demonstrated the power of verbal persuasion through Paris’ corruption of Helen, and it also offered the narrator the opportunity to display his own rhetorical skill by portraying Helen either as villain or victim. This outlandish story of the lunar Helen is the apologia to beat all others and smacks of the scholarly joke – a reductio ad absurdum, perhaps, of Gorgias’ avowed paignion. These tales about a lunar Helen belong to a larger cluster of stories about people and creatures descending from the Moon, in both figurative and more literal senses. Epimenides of Crete, a shadowy poet and holy man from the seventh century BCE, claimed that he himself, along with 

Gorgias, famously, ends his Encomium of Helen with the confession that it is an authorial game (fr. , ): I wanted to write the speech as Helen’s praise and my own game. ἐβουλήθην γράψαι τὸν λόγον Ἑλένης μὲν ἐγκώμιον, ἐμὸν δὲ παίγνιον.

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy the fabled Nemean lion, had come from the Moon. In the same passage, it is also reported that Epimenides had received divine food from the nymphs, which enabled him to sustain himself in such a way that he was never seen eating or defecating; on account of this, some Cretans sacrificed to him as a god. This combination of numinosity, frugal eatinghabits and the absence of defecation points unequivocally to theories about lunar beings from the fifth century onwards. Among the fragments of Philodemus’ work, which have come to light over the last decades from Herculaneum, there is a scrap of text that attributes lunar origins to the legendary poet Musaeus as well. According to Philodemus, the singer Orpheus had claimed that Musaeus was a son of the Moon (huios Selēnēs). This is not, I think, simply a matter of claiming to belong to Selene’s mythical family, or a way to lay claim to origin from a higher realm, as Burkert suggests: Ion of Chios (the philosopher and poet of the fifth century BCE who also had lunar interests) claimed that Musaeus had ‘fallen from the Moon’ (selēnopetēs). Another intriguing tale, of which we could wish we knew more, is recorded by Diogenes Laertius, according to whom the historian Timaeus reported that Heraclides of Pontus (a fourth century BCE polymath and astronomer in the Platonic tradition) had claimed that a man had fallen from the Moon. We have no further detail, except that Timaeus declared Heraclides to be a ‘narrator of marvels’ (paradoxologos), and so evidently regarded his tale with scepticism. Attempts have been made to identify Heraclides’ mysterious Moon-man with a character who falls abruptly to 

 



Our source for this claim is late, Diogenes Laertius (third century CE) .: λέγεται δὲ ὡς καὶ πρῶτος αὐτὸν Αἰακὸν λέγοι. ‘He is said to have been the first to call himself Aiakos.’ This is usually understood to mean that Epimenides claimed to be a reincarnation of Aeacus, which is nonsense. West () made the ingenious suggestion that †αἰακὸν was in fact a corruption from ƒιακὸν, i.e. σεληνιακὸν ‘from the Moon’, where the lunar symbol ƒ had been used as short-hand for σελήνη. The text, thus emended, means: ‘He is said to have been the first to call himself a lunar being.’  See pp. –. Burkert (,  nn. –). Cf. Obbink (, ); Burkert (,  n. ). The lacunose Greek text, printed in Henrichs (, ), reads as follows: καὶ Μουσα[ῖο]ν ̣ μὲν Ὀρφε̣ὺ̣ς̣ υ[ἱὸν] α ̣ὐ̣τ ̣ῆ̣ς̣ (sc. Σελήνης) γ̣ε̣νέσ[θ]αι̣ ̣ ̣ () restores the word which is ascribed to φησίν, . . .”σεληνο[. (.).]η̣” δ’ Ἴων αὐτὸν [λέγ]ει.West Ion as σεληνο[πε]τῆ, i.e., ‘fallen from the Moon’, on the model of the adjective διοπετής. For the idea that Musaeus and Orpheus were the offspring of Selene or the Muses, see also Plato, Rep. . e; Philochorus fr. ; cf. Proclus in Tim. ., – Diehl. In this way, he says that the lunar soul descends into the man’s nature, as they say of Mousaeus’ soul, and the Apolline soul into woman’s nature, which is what they report about the Sibyl. Diogenes Laertius .: After saying things of this sort, Timaeus added: ‘But Heraclides is such an outright narrator of marvels that he claims a man has fallen from the Moon’. τοιαῦτά τινα εἰπὼν ὁ Τίμαιος ἐπιφέρει· ‘Ἀλλὰ διὰ παντός ἐστιν Ἡρακλείδης τοιοῦτος παραδοξολόγος, καὶ ἐκ τῆς σελήνης πεπτωκέναι ἄνθρωπον λέγων’. Much later, in the ninth century CE, Photius associated Antonius Diogenes’ narrative about the Moon with the same tradition of paradoxography; see p. .

The Nemean Lion and Other Lunar Creatures



Earth in one of Varro’s Menippean satires, Endymiones (fr.  Krenkel), a work which I shall discuss in Chapter . Yet another story, to which I shall turn in the next section, claims that the mythical Nemean lion fell to Earth from the Moon. At least one ancient author seems to have connected this version of the Nemean lion story with the myth of Helen the Moon-woman. Ptolemy Chennus, in the fourth book of his Novel History, claimed ‘that Helen was a daughter of Helios and Leda, and that she was called Leonte’. Novel History was a scholarly spoof, a mythography crammed full of playful erudition. In this case, Helen’s solar paternity is a correction – or perhaps embellishment – of the obscure notion that she originated from the Moon. At the same time, her invented name ‘Leonte’ hints at her mythological connection with the Nemean lion (leōn), which, as we shall see, supposedly fell from the Moon as well. Though some of these stories relate to figures from the distant past such as Epimenides, none of the sources is earlier than the fifth century BCE. No doubt such reports about lunar flotsam and jetsam were fuelled by the well-documented meteorite that crashed in Aegospotami in  BCE, not only confirming, in the most spectacular way, Anaxagoras’ theories about stony objects whirling about the cosmos, but also opening up a pathway for other, stranger objects to fall from the Moon.

The Nemean Lion and Other Lunar Creatures Another story, which spread more numerous tentacles throughout antiquity, tells how the Nemean lion – the huge, marauding beast which Heracles slayed in his first labour – fell to Earth from the Moon. This was not the only ancient story about animals which originated from the Moon. We have an isolated reference to the idea that the Cretan Bull – another one of Heracles’ foes – came from the Moon. Herodorus of 





Daebritz (RE . , s.v. Herakleides ὁ Ποντικός col. ), following Hirzel (, vol. I, –) thinks this man may be a figure of dialogue, with news to report from the Heavens ‘eine . . . Dialogfigur, die von den himmlischen Dingen zu erzählen hatte’. See Chapter , p.  with n. . Ptolemy ap. Photius, Bibl. cod. , a –: Ὡς Ἡλίου θυγάτηρ καὶ Λήδας Ἑλένη, ἐκαλεῖτο δὲ Λεοντή. On Ptolemy’s Novel History as spoof scholarship, see ní Mheallaigh (, –) and cf. Dowden ( and forthcoming) on Ptolemy’s ‘new mythology’. I am very grateful to the author for sharing this work with me in advance of publication. This claim is made in a late source, the anonymous poem Laus Herculis -: taurus medio nam sidere lunae/ progenitus Dictaea Iouis possederat arua. ‘For a bull, born from the heart of the lunar world, had taken hold of Jupiter’s Dictaean fields’. Guex (,  ad loc.) notes that the Moon was considered in antiquity to be the source of monstrous and fantastic creatures.

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy Heracleia, whose ideas we have encountered several times now in connection with the Moon, speculated that vultures came from ‘another world’, an aerial place that is unknown to us, meaning possibly an extra-terrestrial world. Ps.-Demetrius, author of De elocutione, refers to stories that cats originated from the Moon because they could bear kittens for twenty-eight days consecutively (i.e. one for every night of moonlight), and also because they grow thin and fat again in tandem with the Moon’s phases of waxing and waning. Plutarch corroborates the latter detail, but connects the Moon’s phases more specifically with the pupils in cats’ eyes, which become incrementally wider and narrower, as the Moon waxes and wanes. Of all these, however, the lion story is the most tenacious. It originated in the work of Herodorus of Heraclea, the Pythagorean mythographer who speculated in such detail about the inhabited Moon and produced a version of Heracles’ heroic exploits in which mythical elements were rationalized as astronomical allegories. Herodorus, for example, explained Heracles’ feat of taking over the burden of the heavens from Atlas (in his eleventh labour) as an allegory for his becoming a natural philosopher and receiving expert instruction from Atlas in astronomy. Our authority for Herodorus’ authorship is Tatian, a Christian apologist in the second century CE, who derides the tale in the same breath as he dismisses Greek (specifically, Anaxagoras’) astronomical theories: πῶς πεισθήσομαι τῷ λέγοντι μύδρον τὸν ἥλιον καὶ τὴν σελήνην γῆν; τὰ γὰρ τοιαῦτα λόγων ἐστὶν ἅμιλλα καὶ οὐκ ἀληθείας διακόσμησις. ἢ πῶς οὐκ ἠλίθιον πιθέσθαι τοῖς Ἡροδώρου βιβλίοις περὶ τοῦ καθ’ Ἡρακλέα λόγου, γῆν ἄνω κηρύττουσιν κατεληλυθέναι τε ἀπ’ αὐτῆς λέοντα τὸν ὑφ’ Ἡρακλέους φονευθέντα; How shall I be persuaded by one who claims that the Sun is a fiery mass, and the Moon is an Earth? Assertions like these are mere battles of logic, not an orderly exposition of the truth. What is more foolish than to believe Herodorus’ books about the story of Heracles, which assert that there is a 





Aristotle HA a– and  a–; Plut. Rom. .– (see BNJ  F a and b). This may explain why Menippus, the lunar voyager in Lucian’s Icaromenippus, uses a vulture’s wing to elevate himself to the Moon, and also why vultures feature prominently as the lunar police force in Lucian’s True Stories (e.g. VH . and ); cf. Chapter . Ps. Demetrius, De elocutione  and Plutarch, De Is. et Osir. e–f. This lore about cats’ eyes is preserved in W.B. Yeats’ -line poem ‘The cat and the moon’ (Yeats ). Other creatures believed to share such lunar sympathies include oysters and shellfish (Cicero, De Div. ...). Further examples are listed in Préaux (, –). Astraeus, a mysterious character in Antonius Diogenes’ novel, has similar eyes; cf. Chapter , p. . For the Moon’s influence on terrestrial physiology and events more generally, see Pérez Jiménez (,  and ); Setaioli ().  See also Garrod (, ). Clem. Alex., Strom. ... (BNJ  F ).

The Nemean Lion and Other Lunar Creatures



world up above, and that the lion which was killed by Heracles descended from there?

Tatian’s sequence of thought starts with Anaxagoras who, as we saw in Chapter , was the originator of the inhabited Moon theory and emphasized the Moon’s status as an analogous world. Tatian then continues to Herodorus, who is the author of the Nemean lion story. This sequence suggests that, although Herodorus was the direct source for the story, Anaxagoras’ theories were a significant prerequisite for it: in other words, astrobiological theories in antiquity were founded on the hypothesis that the Moon is an earth-like world in the first place. This is confirmed by other witnesses to the same story. According to a scholiast on Apollonius’ Argonautica, ‘the same Anaxagoras shows that the Moon is a wide, spacious country, from which the Nemean lion appears to have fallen.’ This comment does not attribute the lunar lion theory to Anaxagoras himself, as a careful reading of the Greek shows that only the theory about the lunar topography is attributed to the philosopher; it is the scholiast him- or herself who then augments this theory, in direct speech, with the claim about the lion. But once again, it points to Anaxagoras’ Earth-like Moon as the critical forerunner to theories about life-forms emanating from there. It is also of interest that the scholiast seems disinclined to believe the story, as the verb dokei in the phrase dokei . . . peptōkenai (‘it seems . . . to have fallen’) has the force of a disclaimer. The astronomer Achilles Tatius in the third century CE also connects the Nemean lion story with the theory about the Earth-like, inhabited Moon: ἄλλοι δὲ αὐτὴν ἐξ ἀναθυμιάσεως γῆς εἶναι λέγουσιν, ἕτεροι δὲ ἐκ πυρός, ἄλλοι καὶ ἀέρος, ἄλλοι ἐκ τῶν τεσσάρων στοιχείων, ἕτεροι δὲ γῆν πεπυρωμένην στερέμνιον ἔχουσαν πῦρ [τὴν σελήνην]· εἶναι δὲ ἐπ’ αὐτῆς οἴκησιν ἄλλην ποταμούς τε καὶ ὅσα ἐπὶ γῆς, καὶ τὸν λέοντα τὸν Νεμαῖον ἐκεῖθεν πεσεῖν μυθολογοῦσιν. Some say that [the Moon] consists of an exhalation of Earth, and others say it consists of fire, of air, or of the four elements, and still others say it is an incandescent Earth with a stable supply of fire, and that there are other types of habitation on it, and rivers and all the features which the Earth has. They also tell a story (mythologousin) that the Nemean lion fell from there.   

Tatian, Oration to the Greeks .. Schol. Apoll. .– Wendel (DK  A ): τὴν δὲ σελήνην ὁ αὐτὸς Ἀναξaγόρας χώραν πλατεῖαν ἀποφαίνει, ἐξ ἧς δοκεῖ ὁ Νεμαῖος λέων πεπτωκέναι. Achilles, Isag. .– (DK  A ).

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy We have no evidence, therefore, that Anaxagoras himself threw philosophical weight behind the story of the lunar lion and, as both the diffident scholiast and Achilles’ use of the verb mythologeō (‘I fabricate’) in the passage above show, ancient readers do not appear to have interpreted it au pied de la lettre. But these reports confirm our impression that Anaxagoras’ theory about the Moon created just the right sort of environment in which stories like this could thrive. Kepler, in fact, speculated that the story of the falling ‘lion’ (leōn, in Greek, nominative singular) may actually have arisen out of confusion over the sensational fall ‘of stones’ (laōn, genitive plural of laas) from the sky like the Aegospotami meteorite. It is certainly true that word-play was a fertile resource for the invention of fabulous tales about the Moon, as tales of the lunar Helen and other examples of the lunar lion story will presently attest, but if Kepler is right, this reinforces our impression of the extraordinary influence which Anaxagoras’ revolutionary lithic astronomy exerted on the ancient imagination. The story about the Nemean lion and the Moon, therefore, belongs to Herodorus, and fits with his interests in the inhabited Moon, and also his more specific ideas about the gigantic animals who lived there: if the Nemean lion was a monster among the lions of the Earth, then it made a certain kind of sense to claim it had originated among the fifteen-timeslarger fauna on the Moon. We may even be able to catch a glimpse of the mythical tradition behind the story, which Herodorus was trying to rationalize. According to Aelian, a natural historian who was active in either the late second or early third century CE, the story of the lunar lion originated in the work of Epimenides of Crete who, as we saw in the previous section, also claimed lunar provenance himself. Aelian quotes some verses of Epimenides’ poem: καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ γένος εἰμὶ Σελήνης ἠυκόμοιο, ἣ δεινὸν φρίξασ’ ἀπεσείσατο θῆρα λέοντα ἐν Νεμέᾳ, ἀνάγουσ’ αὐτὸν διὰ πότνιαν Ἥραν. . And I am of the race of Selene of the beautiful hair, who shuddered terribly and cast off the lion, a wild beast.

 

Kepler, n.  of his translation of De facie (p.  n. h); cf. Cherniss (, ) note e. Lactantius Placidus Comm. in. Theb. ii. regards the moon as the birthplace of all gigantic creatures: haec (sc. luna) autem omnia corpora maiora gignit utpote quae uicina sit caelo, poetae denique omnes asserunt Leonem de his polis ortum, quem Hercules prostrauit. ‘The Moon, however, begets all larger bodies, inasmuch as it is nearby in the sky, and all the poets therefore assert that the lion, which Hercules slew, was born from these celestial regions’.

The Nemean Lion and Other Lunar Creatures



in Nemea, raising him up with the help of Lady Hera. 

Although many of the details in this text are obscure, the reference to Hera makes it clear that we are dealing with the Nemean lion, which was sent by Hera against her nemesis Heracles. In this passage, Hera conspires with the Moon-goddess Selene, who is personified and anthropomorphized with the Homeric epithet ēukomos ‘pretty-haired’, in a manner that is very similar to the Homeric Hymn which we explored in the introduction. That the story is represented on an amphora which Beazley attributed to the Diosphos painter ca.  BCE confirms that the myth was circulating in the fifth century. A more explicit version of the tale is preserved in the pseudo-Plutarchan work On rivers (probably second century CE): Τὸ μὲν Ἀπέσαντον ἐκαλεῖτο πρότερον Σεληναῖον. Ἥρα γὰρ παρ’ Ἡρακλέους δίκας βουλομένη λαβεῖν συνεργὸν παρέλαβε τὴν Σελήνην· ἡ δὲ ἐπῳδαῖς χρησαμένη μάγοις ἀφροῦ κίστην ἐπλήρωσεν, ἐξ ἧς γεννηθέντα λέοντα μέγιστον Ἶρις ταῖς ἰδίαις ζώναις ἐπισφίγξασα κατήνεγκεν εἰς ὄρος Ὀφέλτιον· ὁ δὲ ποιμένα τινὰ τῶν ἐγχωρίων Ἀπέσαντον σπαράξας ἀνεῖλεν κατὰ δὲ θεῶν πρόνοιαν ὁ τόπος Ἀπέσαντος ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ μετωνομάσθη, καθὼς ἱστορεῖ Δημόδοκος ἐν α0 Ἡρακλείας. Formerly, Mt. Apesantus used to be called Mt. Selenaeus (i.e. Moonmountain). For Hera, wishing to exact justice from Hercules, took Selene as her collaborator. Employing magical incantations, Selene filled a chest with foam, and out of this a huge lion was born. Binding it tightly with her own belts, Iris brought it down to Mount Opheltion. And the lion attacked a shepherd of the regions, Apesantus, and killed him. According to the providence of the gods, the place was renamed Apesantus from him, as Demodocus records in Heracleia I.

There are clear signs of an aetiological and rationalizing tendency in this peculiar narrative, not only in the connection with the name of the mountain, but also in the association of the foam (a moist, generative substance) with the Moon-goddess (and perhaps Hera with air), and of Iris’ belt, implicitly, with the rainbow. Herodorus’ version also begins to look like a rationalization, which converts the mythic collaboration   

 

Aelian, On the nature of animals .. –; cf. DK  B. The last verse, which is Hesiod, Theogony , was added by Diels. See Hom. Hymn to Selene , where Selene is praised as ἐϋπλόκαμος, ‘pretty-tressed’. See Hajdu (, ) (but note correction: Diosphos Painter, not ‘Diosphoros’). For the vase, see: New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art X . (GR ); Beazley (, ); CVA New York ,  (), , pl. . –; Beazley Archive Database no. . On rivers .: For the significance of Selene’s foam-filled chest, cf. Chapter , p. . Hajdu (, ).

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy between Hera and Selene into the claim that the monstrous lion literally came from the Moon. Epimenides’ reputation for mendacity comes into play here, as he was author of the famous ‘Cretan liar paradox’, where – albeit a Cretan himself – he asserted that ‘All Cretans are liars.’ Aelian, like other sources who report the story about the lunar lion, is certainly disinclined to believe it, and relegates it to the category of a lion ‘myth’, in contrast with his accumulated lion-facts. Already the Moon is beginning to acquire the ambiguity that will make it the perfect place to Lucian’s fantasies in True Stories in the second century CE, and would find its acme in the celebrated moon-hoaxes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Herodorus’ rationalizing tendency is given an aetiological turn in Alexandrian poetry, where the story appears again, this time in connection with the origins of the Nemean games. As the poem which is known as ‘Heracles the Lion-slayer’ shows, the question of the lion’s origins was a matter of learned dispute in Hellenistic literature. Although our evidence is fragmentary, a plausible case can be built to support the argument that the two Hellenistic poets, Callimachus and Euphorion, addressed this question in their poems by adducing the lunar theory. The following is an obscure fragment by Euphorion, a notoriously opaque and allusive poet from the third century BCE: Κλαίοντες δέ τε κοῦρον ἐπ’ ἀγχιάλοις πιτύεσσι κάτθεσαν, ὁκκόθε δὴ στεφάνωμ’ ἄθλοις φορέοντο· οὐ γάρ πω τρηχεῖα λαβὴ καταμήσατο χειρῶν Μήνης παῖδα χάρωνα παρ’ Ἀσωποῦ γενετείρῃ, ἐξότε πυκνὰ σέλινα κατὰ κροτάφων ἐβάλοντο Weeping, they laid out the boy on pines from the shore, and from this they derived the wreath for prizes, for the rough hand-grip had not yet felled the fierce child of Mēnē beside Asopus’ daughter, after which they put dense parsley around their temples.

The ‘boy’ in this fragment is Melicertes, the son of Athamas, King of Boeotia, and grandson of Cadmus through his mother, Ino. To punish Ino for bringing up Dionysus, one of Zeus’ illegitimate sons, Hera drove 





Aelian On the nature of animals ..–: Let us set this aside in the category of myth; about the peculiarities of lions enough has now been said above. καὶ ταῦτα μὲν ἐς τοὺς μύθους ἀποκρίνωμεν, τά γε μὴν λεόντων ἴδια καὶ ἀνωτέρω καὶ νῦν δὲ ἀποχρώντως εἴρηται. The poem, which is known as Hēraklēs Leontophōnos, is transmitted with the poems of Theocritus, and is believed to date to the third century BCE. The question of the lion’s origin is puzzled over at [Theocritus] , ; see Gow (). Euphorion, fr.  Lightfoot.

The Nemean Lion and Other Lunar Creatures

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Athamas mad, and he pursued his wife and son with murderous intent. They fled, and eventually took a fatal leap over a cliff into the sea, where they were transformed into the marine deities Leucothea and Palaimon. Afterwards, Melicertes’ corpse was carried ashore and, in different versions of the myth, either laid under a pine tree or buried on a bier of pine, which was sacred to the sea-god Poseidon. Thereafter, the Isthmian games were instituted in his honour, and victory-crowns of pine commemorated the boy’s untimely death. But Euphorion’s fragment also alludes to the subsequent change from using pine-crowns to crowns of parsley, a custom which the Corinthians adopted from the neighbouring Nemean games which were founded later to commemorate Heracles’ victory over the Nemean lion. It is to this that the second half of the fragment refers. The ‘fierce child of Mēnē’ in line four is the Nemean lion, and ‘Mēnē’ is another name for the Moon; we therefore know for certain that Euphorion alluded to the Nemean lion’s lunar origins. The ‘rough hand-grip’ (line ) refers to Heracles’ wrestling action which killed the lion, since its hide was invulnerable to weapons, and ‘Asopus’ daughter’ is the River Nemea, which provides the location of the episode. Euphorion’s fragment therefore contains two aitia to explain the origins of two neighbouring games: the Isthmian games (which commemorate Melicertes’ death) and the Nemean games (which commemorate Heracles’ victory over the Nemean lion). These aitia also explain why pine and parsley were used at both games respectively. In the case of the Isthmian games, the role of pine in the original story is explicitly clear, but the role of parsley in the Heracles-myth that underlies the Nemean games is more elusive. This may be because Euphorion told the story in another part of the poem, which has not survived. On the evidence of the four lines that we do have, however, we may speculate that the close homophony between the Greek words selina (parsley, selinon in singular) and selēnē (Moon) was central to the aetiological punchline. The poet alerts the reader to this figura etymologicum, paradoxically, with his provocative use of the rarer word Mēnē instead of Selēnē for ‘Moon’ in line . Such playful conflation of etymological cleverness with abstruse astronomical lore is characteristic of Euphorion’s Alexandrianism, and a rococo aetiological invention like this would have appealed to the recondite readerly tastes du jour. 



The reasons for this switch are discussed in detail in Plutarch’s Table talk (Quaest. conv. d– b), in which several of the passages in this section are cited. Plutarch also knew the story of the lunar lion; see De fac. f and pp. – below. On the impenetrability of the lion’s hide, see Pindar (Is. .–) and Bacchylides (.–), with discussion of the motif in Tyrrell ().

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy Callimachus also narrated the Nemean lion myth in his poem The victory of Berenice in Book Three of his Aetia. Fragment  refers (like Euphorion fr. ) to the switch from the traditional pine for the Isthmian crowns, to parsley, a custom which the Isthmians borrowed from the Nemeans: καί μιν Ἀλητιάδαι, πουλὺ γεγειότερον τοῦδε παρ’ Αἰγαίωνι θεῷ τελέοντες ἀγῶνα, θήσουσιν νίκης σύμβολον Ἰσθμιάδος, ζήλῳ τῶν Νεμέηθε· πίτυν δ’ ἀποτιμήσουσιν, ἣ πρὶν ἀγωνιστὰς ἔστεφε τοὺς Ἐφύρῃ. and the children of Alete [i.e. the people of Corinth], even though they celebrate much more ancient games than this in honour of their god Aigaion [Poseidon], will establish this [i.e. parsley] as the symbol of victory at the Isthmus in emulation of those at Nemea, and they will spurn the pine which formerly used to crown the victors at Corinth.

From Probus’ summary, we learn that the poem also contained an aetiology for the use of parsley itself: Heracles fell asleep after killing the Nemean lion – either through Juno’s resentment, so that he should not attain divine honours, or through his own exhaustion – but when he woke up, he made good the loss with marvellous speed and fashioned himself a crown out of parsley, then came upon Molorchus preparing sacrifice to his ghost, where the ram had been sacrificed. That is the origin of the Nemean Games. Afterwards they were re-instituted in honour of the spirit of Archemoros by the Seven Against Thebes. But Callimachus mentions Molorchus in his Aitia.

Two traditions are associated with the Nemean games’ origin in this passage: one involving Heracles and the lion, and the other involving the baby prince Opheltes (who was subsequently known as Archemoros) and the Seven against Thebes. ‘Probus’ makes it clear that Callimachus’ poem followed the Heracles-tradition, which he presents as the more ancient of the two. In Callimachus’ version, then, the Nemean crowns commemorate Heracles’ original, makeshift wreath which he fashioned rapidly out of parsley after killing the lion. He used parsley because it was readily at hand:   

Callimachus frr. –; frr. –A are particularly relevant. Callimachus, fr. , – SH. ‘Probus’ ad Virgil, Georgics ., Servius III ii, p.  Thilo-Hagen, following the textual corrections made by Keil and Naeke Cf. Callimachus fr.  SH: interfecto autem leone cum sopitus esset uel odio Iunonis, ne ei caelestes honores contingerent, uel fatigatus, experrectus mira damnum celeritate correxit, sumptaque apiacea corona, qua ornantur, qui Nemea uincunt, < >. superuenit itaque et Molorcho paranti sacrificium manibus, ubi et aries immolatus erat. inde Nemea instituta sunt: postea Archemori manibus sunt renouata a septem uiris, qui Thebas petebant. sed Molorchi mentio est apud Callimachum in Αἰτίων libris.

The Nemean Lion and Other Lunar Creatures

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in an earlier fragment of the poem, Callimachus had described him clearing away the parsley from his host Molorchus’ wall, thus emphasizing its weed-like abundance. There is no evidence in this version for Euphorion’s lunar pun (selina/selēnē). Nevertheless, Callimachus’ poem may have incorporated a reference to the lion’s descent from the Moon via another channel. We know that he recounted that the lion had been sent by Hera as a trial for Heracles, whom she hated since he was an illegitimate son of Zeus. According to the late antique source Stephen of Byzantium, the Victory of Berenike also included a reference to Mount Apesas, which was associated in antiquity with the lion’s descent from the Moon: Ἀπέσας ὄρος τῆς Νεμέας, ὡς Πίνδαρος καὶ Καλλίμαχος ἐν γ, ἀπὸ Ἀφέσαντος ἥρωος βασιλεύσαντος τῆς χώρας, ἢ διὰ τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁρμάτων ἢ τοῦ λέοντος· ἐκεῖ γὰρ ἐκ τῆς σελήνης ἀφείθη. Apesas is a mountain in Nemea, according to both Pindar and Callimachus in his third book, either after Apesas the hero who was king of the land, or because of the ‘release’ [aphesis] either of the chariots or of the lion, for it was there that it was released from the Moon.

The lion had been associated with the Nemean highlands around Corinth since Hesiod. This connection makes sense in a general way,  

 

Callimachus fr. , – SH. Callimachus fr.  SH: τὸν μὲν ἀρισκυδὴς εὖνις ἀνῆκε Διός Ἄργος ἔθειν, ἴδιόν περ ἐὸν λάχος, ἀλλὰ γενέθλῃ Ζηνὸς ὅπως σκοτίῃ τρηχὺς ἄεθλος ἔοι. The wrathful spouse of Zeus sent him [i.e. the lion] forth to destroy Argos, even though it was her own city by lot, to be a harsh trial for the illicit son of Zeus. See Callimachus fr.  Pfeiffer/ fr. A SH; the emphasis is mine. Theogony –: ἡ δ’ ἄρα Φῖκ’ ὀλοὴν τέκε Καδμείοισιν ὄλεθρον, Ὄρθῳ ὑποδμηθεῖσα, Νεμειαῖόν τε λέοντα, τόν ῥ’ Ἥρη θρέψασα Διὸς κυδρὴ παράκοιτις γουνοῖσιν κατένασσε Νεμείης, πῆμ’ ἀνθρώποις. ἔνθ’ ἄρ’ ὅ γ’ οἰκείων ἐλεφαίρετο φῦλ’ ἀνθρώπων, κοιρανέων Τρητοῖο Νεμείης ἠδ’ Ἀπέσαντος· ἀλλά ἑ ἲς ἐδάμασσε βίης Ἡρακληείης. But she [Echidna], having mated with Orthus, bore the baneful Sphinx to destroy the race of Cadmus, and the Nemean lion, whom Hera, glorious wife of Zeus, reared, and made to dwell in the highlands of Nemea, a woe to mankind. There he used to ravage the clans of her own people lord of Nemean Tretos and Apesas – but the force of mighty Heracles subdued him.

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy since mountains, which are closer to the heavens and were used as the platform for astronomical observation in antiquity, were a logical location for a junction between the Earth and Moon. More specifically, there was also an ancient connection between the Moon and the isthmus that was such a distinctive feature of the Corinthian coastal landscape. Ocellus of Lucania, the apocryphal Pythagorean author whom we met in the previous chapter, described the lunar zone in the heavens as the isthmus (i.e. border or celestial strip) that separated the divine and mortal regions of the cosmos. Ken Dowden points out that the isthmus of Corinth has special lunar significance in Apuleius’ novel in the second century CE as well: ‘The Isthmus is also. . . a key location in the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, placed suggestively between Hymettos and Taenarus in the preface, and serving as the location at which Lucius finally sees the moon, understands something of its force, and achieves salvation as he passes from the th book into the th and heads towards a salvation in which he can shed his asinine body.’ This specific mountain had particular lunar connections too, which are preserved in the history of its name. Mount Apesas – which is now identified with Mount Phoukas in the Peloponnese – was also known, at different phases in history, as ‘Selinountio’, a name that preserves its ancient connection with the Moon. Indeed, we have already seen this connection in the passage from the pseudo-Plutarchan On rivers, which we examined earlier. Although we cannot, on the strength of Stephen’s comment alone, ascribe this Mt Apesas/Moon connection to the Victory of Berenike with certainty, Callimachus’ poem is a plausible home for it. The etymological 

 



Mount Ida, a tall mountain in the Troad (modern Kaz Dağları, in Turkey) was the site for astronomical observations by the sixth century philosopher Xenophanes and Cleostratus of Tenedos, who is believed to have introduced information about the zodiac to the Greek world; see Diels (, –). A number of the doxographica for Xenophanes imply a connection between his explanation of the sunrise with observation at Mt. Ida; see G - with Keyser (). The fourth century scientist Theophrastus alludes to Cleostratus’ astronomical observations on Mt. Ida in De signis , but these activities were probably well-known already in the fifth century BCE. Pfundstein () argues persuasively that Cleostratus, with his Trojan connections through Mt Ida and Tenedos, is evoked in an astronomical allusion in Aeschylus Agamemnon –. For mountains as platforms for astronomical observation, see also Philostratus, VA ... Ocellus, On the Nature of the Universe,  Thesleff; cf. Chapter , pp. –. Dowden (, ). In his translation of Plutarch’s De facie (p. ), Kepler rationalized this strange story about the Nemean lion with reference to the Isthmus of Corinth: Videtur causa fabulae: quod mari undique prater isthmum cincta Peloponnesus, nec credibile, hominum opera inuectum animal praedas agens et saeuum. Sed fabula fabulam parit. ‘The rationale underlying the myth seems to be the fact that the Peloponnesus is surrounded by sea on all sides apart from the isthmus, and it is not believable that a savage animal chasing prey should have been brought in by human intervention. But one myth generates another’. Tyrrell (,  n.): ‘The truncated peak of Mt. Apesas . . . may have attracted mythmakers’ attention as a suitable landing zone for the lion’.

The Nemean Lion and Other Lunar Creatures

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association between Apesas and the starting-point (aphesis) of the Nemean chariot-race may lurk under the surface of one of the fragments of Callimachus’ Iambi, where he locates the first Nemean chariot-race on Mount Apesas itself. He needs only to have transferred the Apesas/ aphesis link to the story of the lunar lion, which was already current in Euphorion’s work in the third century BCE. The lion’s descent from the Moon in the Victory of Berenice at the start of Aetia Book , and subsequent catasterism into the constellation Leo, would have formed a neat symmetry with the ascent of the Queen’s lock of hair to the stars in its counterpart poem, the Lock of Berenice, at the close of Book . Perhaps, then, we should read Euphorion’s selina/selēnē world-play in fr.  as a correction of Callimachus, his older contemporary, giving a sharper aetiological point to the parsley which, in Callimachus’ version, had played a merely accidental role. The story bubbles up occasionally in subsequent centuries, for example in the antiquarian lore of the Latin scholar Nigidius Figulus (first century BCE), where it forms the aetiological history of the constellation Leo, and in the work of the mythographer Hyginus (second century CE). The Latin poet Seneca alludes to it in his tragedy The madness of Hercules and (more obliquely) his Thyestes. Plutarch – writing in the late first century CE – reports the story in the context of a broader philosophical discussion of the inhabited Moon in his dialogue On the face of the Moon. Midway through the dialogue, Theon, who is a literary expert, asks his companions what they think about the possibility. Theon himself is sceptical, and raises two scientific objections to the hypothesis. The first of these involves the Nemean lion: given that the Moon is said to revolve at great speed, Theon does not understand how those who live there do not come spinning off, like the mythical Ixion tied to his wheel: 





Callimachus fr.  Pfeiffer: κοὐχ ὧδ’ Ἀρείων τῷ Ἀπέσαντι πὰρ Διί ἴθυσεν Ἀρκὰς ἵππος. Not thus did Areion speed straight by the shrine of Zeus Apesas, Arcadian horse. Further intertextual dynamics may also be discerned: it is notable, for instance, that Euphorion talks about the Corinthians’ borrowing of the parsley from the younger Nemean games as a past event, whereas Callimachus narrates the same borrowing in the form of a prophecy, which is yet to be fulfilled. Euphorion’s reversal elegantly acknowledges the post-Callimachean status of his own poem. The references, which are collated in Mayer (, –), are as follows: Nigidius Figulus fr.  Swoboda; Hyginus Fab. . Rose; Seneca Hercules Furens,  (see Billerbeck  ad loc.) and Thyeste, –.

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy οὔκουν εἰ λέων τις ἔπεσεν ὑπὸ ῥύμης εἰς Πελοπόννησον, ἄξιόν ἐστι θαυμάζειν, ἀλλ’ ὅπως οὐ μυρί’ ὁρῶμεν ἀεὶ ‘πεσήματ’ ἀνδρῶν καὶ ἀπολακτισμοὺς βίων’ ἐκεῖθεν οἷον ἐκκυβιστώντων καὶ περιτρεπομένων. So it’s no wonder that a lion was thrown to the Peloponnese; we should wonder, instead, why we aren’t constantly seeing countless ‘men falling and lives overthrown’ from there, like tumblers and cartwheelists.

Theon’s tone is facetious. His image of extra-terrestrial beings tumbling from the Moon evokes Aristophanes’ fantastic description of the primeval androgyne humans who came from the Moon and who, with their round bodies, four arms and four legs each, moved in a wheel-like motion ‘like tumblers’. It seems also to offer us a parallel for the curious report (if we can believe it) that Heraclides of Pontus wrote about a man who fell to Earth from the Moon. The association of the Moon with eccentric rationalizations (the Nemean lion, the double-sexed humans) reinforces Theon’s assertion that tales of the inhabited Moon are potentially the stuff of nonsense, and that it is difficult to know what to believe.

Conclusion: The Question of Belief In Plutarch’s dialogue, Theon’s second objection to life on the Moon arises principally from the Moon’s climate, which is presumed to be so arid that it supports little vegetation. Even if, says Theon, we were to speculate that the Moon-men sustain themselves on the most meagre rations, like the fabled ‘Mouthless men’ of India who inhale the fumes of toasted herbs in lieu of food, there would hardly be any vegetation to burn on the Moon in the first place. How, therefore, could anybody survive there? It is left to Lamprias to answer Theon’s objections – which he does in a lengthy speech, in which he provides a rational basis for the hypothesis that the Moon is inhabited, and refutes the assumption that it must be a desert world. In Lamprias’ view, the beings who live there probably have very slight bodies and frugal needs (rather like the fire-beings whom Aristotle envisaged), but their biology is poorly understood by us. Before he can continue, however, Sulla takes over the rest of the dialogue to expound on the religious importance of the Moon. Although the thrust of his myth is not about lunar life per se, he nevertheless touches on the subject, arguing

  

Plutarch, De fac. f. The comparison with Ixion occurs earlier in the same passage.   Plato, Symp. a. See pp. –. De fac. a–c; cf. Chapter , pp. –. De fac. c–f.

Conclusion: The Question of Belief

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that the Moon is the temporary abode of souls after they have been separated from the body in ‘first’ death, and also the birthplace of brand new souls, before they are dispatched down to the Earth. As we shall see, the Moon emerges from Plutarch’s dialogue as a liminal place that is associated with both birth and death. Sulla’s theory about the shuttling of souls back and forth between the Moon and Earth is a metaphysical variation on a theme that finds more literal expression in the ancient stories we have examined here about creatures falling to Earth from the Moon, as well as in contemporary fantasies about adventurers who travel to the Moon from the Earth, which we shall explore in the final chapters of this book. Stories about lunar inhabitants find their place there too. The protagonist of Antonius Diogenes’ novel, The incredible things beyond Thule (late first/early second century CE) probably travelled to the Moon and may have encountered the old sibyl there, though the record of what he saw is lost to us. In Lucian’s Icaromenippus (late second century CE), the lunar traveller Menippus encounters a being on the Moon which he initially fears may be one of Sulla’s lunar spirits – but which turns out to be the soul of the philosopher Empedocles. Lucian’s other lunar fiction, in True Stories, is a vastly richer repository of extra-terrestrial lore: here the entire cosmos is inhabited, and the narrative includes beings from the Sun and Zodiac, as well as residents of other aerial worlds like ‘Lamptown’ (Lychnopolis) and ‘Cloodcuckooland’. The greatest detail, however, is devoted to the inhabitants of the Moon, whom Lucian describes in the scrupulous manner of an ethnographer, including what sort of food they eat, what they wear, their peculiar reproductive habits and the marvellous telescopic and telephonic technology which they possess. This is by no means the end of the discussion of lunar life therefore – but Lucian’s uniquely elaborate lunar ecology will require a chapter of its own (Chapter ). As we shall see, it is firmly rooted in the astrobiological theories that we have examined here. To review our evidence, therefore: ancient Greek speculation about lunar life certainly goes back as far as the fifth century BCE, and began as soon as philosophers postulated that the Moon was an Earth-like place, possibly even a parallel world, and therefore capable – in principle – of sustaining life-forms. The seriousness with which stories of such beings were invented and received fluctuated from one context to another; it is unwise, therefore, to formulate monolithic ideas about their nature in general, and better to judge each report on its own terms. There is no 

De fac. f–d, esp. c–d.



Chapter , pp. –.

 Life on the Moon: Between Philosophy, Science and Fantasy reason to doubt that Anaxagoras was perfectly serious in his assertion that there were ‘dwellings and cities’ on the Moon, and I have shown that Herodorus’ and the Pythagoreans’ speculations about the nature of Mooncreatures had a firm basis in contemporary scientific thought. There is no reason to doubt, either, that Herodorus was serious about his suggestion that the Nemean lion came from the Moon. Neocles might have been more committed to the ingenuity of his theory that Helen was a Moonwoman than to its veracity – we do not know. He may not have convinced anyone to believe him, but his story was not unique, and moreover, it was clearly grounded in Pythagorean thought. We cannot interpret rejections of these theories at face value, either. The speaker in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae who rejects Neocles’ Helen-theory does so on the basis of etymology, not because he is sceptical about the possibility of an inhabited Moon per se. Eustathius is sceptical about the lunar connotations of the Homeric Helen, but his objection has more to do with the incongruous comparison with Artemis than with the question of lunar life. However, these theories’ potential for absurdity was patently clear: Aristophanes’ globular lunar androgynes in Plato’s Symposium, which are obviously invented tongue-in-cheek, could be seen as a reductio ad absurdum of the scientific thought-world that invented giant, egg-laying Moon-people. Timaeus of Tauromenium might have attributed the story of the fallen Moon-man to Heraclides in order to poke fun at his astral eschatology. Photius, who epitomized Antonius Diogenes’ novel The incredible things beyond Thule, expresses caustic disdain for the narrator’s report of what he saw on the Moon, referring to it scathingly as ‘the sort of thing you’d expect from someone who has already fabricated such extremes of fiction’, and simply refusing – to the eternal chagrin of his subsequent readers – to summarize any of its details. We are left with fragments of a lost history of the Moon. If we cannot interpret scepticism about reports of lunar life at face value as rejections of the possibility that such life exists, we should not interpret the invention of such reports as straightforward affirmation of belief, either. As we shall see in the following chapters, there is ample evidence to suggest that Antonius Diogenes had his tongue firmly in his cheek when describing his hero’s lunar expedition and, in the prologue to True Stories, Lucian explicitly warns his readers not to believe a word he writes. The  

Dover () examines folkloric influences on Aristophanes’ myth, and does not consider the myth’s resonance with contemporary astro-biological ideas. See Chapter , p. .

Conclusion: The Question of Belief

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lunar narratives in both of these works encapsulate the texts’ equivocality about their own truth-status more generally. In Plutarch’s De facie, the interplay between different speakers’ attitudes to such stories dramatizes the conflict that must have existed in reader’s minds: Theon is fascinated by the possibility of lunar life, but inclined to mistrust the stories, and introduces the topic as an amusing interlude amid the discussion of more serious, scientific questions. In contrast, Lamprias is ardently committed to the possibility of life on the Moon, though he cannot adduce conclusive proof. In Lucian’s Icaromenippus, Menippus’ interlocutor is inclined initially to treat his friend’s lunar voyage as a joke or make-believe, as Menippus himself observes: ‘You have obviously been mocking me all this time, and it’s no wonder that my amazing story seems like fiction to you.’ But he is soon convinced by Menippus’ detailed account of his flight-experience. Stories about the Moon in antiquity are always embedded in a conflict between conviction and scepticism. Their equivocal nature is linked to the peculiarly liminal nature of the Moon itself, which appears both tantalizingly real, but beyond physical reach throughout antiquity: undeniable, yet also frustratingly unverifiable, situated just beyond the limits of what could be known. This unique status made it the ideal site for fictions like those of Diogenes and Lucian that ran daringly close to documentary narrative; even in the modern world, there is a long history of the Moon’s association with hoax. But first, in Chapter , we will encounter liminality of a different kind, as the Moon is subjected to different interpretative lenses and crosses the threshold separating scientific, metaphysical and fantastical speculation in Plutarch’s De facie. 

Icar. : σὺ μὲν πάλαι σκώπτων δῆλος εἶ, καὶ θαυμαστὸν οὐδὲν εἴ σοι τὸ παράδοξον τοῦ λόγου μύθῳ δοκεῖ προσφερές.

 

The Moon of Many Faces Plutarch’s Great Lunar Dialogue De Facie

Plutarch’s De Facie and the Duel of the Philosophies Plutarch’s dialogue On the face of the Moon, known more conveniently by its abbreviated Latin title De facie, is the only work dedicated exclusively to the Moon to have survived from antiquity. It therefore marks a landmark in the history of selenography: a nodal point in ancient thinking about the Moon as well as (as I shall argue) between ancient and modern lunar thought. The dialogue is rooted in curiosity about the dark blotches on the lunar surface. Cultures across the world have long discerned human or animal features in the appearance of the lunar disc. Common lunar pareidolia include: a trio of a man, tree and dragon or individual figures such as a rabbit. Demetrius Triclinius, the author of a Byzantine treatise on the Moon, who certainly knew Plutarch’s De facie, provides a detailed description of the figure of a lunar man, as we shall see. But the characters of Plutarch’s dialogue saw a human face in the Moon, in a tradition that links the ancient world with the modern. Plutarch’s speakers first rule out what this apparent face is not. It is not a mirror-reflection of the Earth’s ocean because the patterns do not match: the Earth’s outer ocean was believed to be a continuous circle, whereas the blotches on the Moon are discontinuous and irregular. Nor is it a mere optical illusion caused by the Moon dazzling our eyes – if that were true, the Sun should dazzle us even more strongly and we should see a face there too. Quite the contrary: the fact that those with sharper eyesight discern the Moon’s facial features more clearly – and those with blurrier vision less well – confirms that these are real physical features and no trick of the light

 

Triclinius, On the black figure that is seen in the Moon, – Wasserstein; see pp. –. An old European tradition sees a burden-bearing man on the lunar disc, and the Moon-rabbit was seen by diverse cultures including the Aztecs and eastern Asian cultures. On lunar pareidolia and pretelescopic interpretations of the lunar markings, see Whitaker (, –).



Plutarch’s De Facie and the Duel of the Philosophies



(d). As a physical feature, the face is the key to revealing us the secrets of the Moon’s nature. Through its extraordinary exercise of astro-physiognomy, De facie produces our single most comprehensive source of information on the Moon in antiquity, delivering a holistic account of the Moon from the perspectives of physics and metaphysics. The dialogue is shaped largely around the clash between two titanic astronomical theories about the Moon, Stoic vs Academic, which offer competing explanations for the markings of the lunar face. What is at stake, beneath this apparently trivial query, is the bigger question of what the Moon is made of, which in turn impinges on its role in the cosmos. The possibilities are boiled down to two: either the Moon is a gaseous world as the Stoics believed, and the blotches are discoloured pockets of air, or it is a solid, earthy world much like our own, as the Academics Lamprias and Lucius argue, and the blotches are the result of permanent topographical features on its surface. Eventually, a third position evolves out of the dialogue: that the Moon is an earthy world but saturated with aether, the substance of which the stars are made. This theory is attested only here, and may be Plutarch’s invention. However, there are no conclusive answers about the Moon – something that has perplexed readers of De facie for a long time. As a Platonist (and the author of a polemical treatise that exposed the contradictions in Stoic thought), there is no real doubt about where Plutarch’s sympathies lie, but nevertheless he retains a certain equivocal aloofness throughout, nudging the reader strongly in certain directions, yes, but never dogmatically marking out one position as victorious. With the benefit of our modern knowledge, it is difficult to empathize with the speakers’ uncertainty about the Moon’s nature. We can note, however, the ways in which the dialogue’s peculiarly equivocal structure captures the atmosphere of a point in history when the Moon was as yet an unfixed, unstable world in the imagination, a place of uncertainty and a doctrinal battleground. Another source that captures this atmosphere well is Aëtius’ doxography, which is dated to the first century CE (between a terminus post quem of ca.  BCE based in internal references, and a more speculative terminus ante quem of ca.  CE based on papyrological evidence). This work is a miracle of scholarly reconstruction, salvaged by Diels from other doxographical collections (especially one attributed to Plutarch and one by Stobaeus) and now refined and elucidated in the monumental work by Mansfeld and Runia. The term ‘doxography’ denotes the ‘systematic 

Mansfeld and Runia (). On Aëtius’ date, see vol. , –.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

description of the tenets (placita, doxai, areskonta), or doctrines, of the philosophers’. These assemblages of philosophical opinion on particular topics, which developed in the Hellenistic period and flourished in the Roman Empire, were clearly designed to be an aide memoire for scholars; in fact, it is likely that Plutarch himself drew on a doxographical source in De facie. In De fac. a–b, for example, the speaker Lucius namechecks four distinctly identifiable theories: he quotes Parmenides and Anaxagoras by name on heliophotism, and alludes obliquely to the theories of Ion of Chios and Empedocles, who argued that the Moon was a translucent body like glass or ice, respectively. These opinions are followed by further citations of Democritus, Empedocles (twice) and the Stoic Posidonius in c–e, in a quickfire accumulation of opinions that is evocative of the style of writing we find in Aëtius. As Mansfeld and Runia observe, ‘Plutarch knows the doxographical tradition well, and is influenced by both its practices and its content.’ Aëtius devotes seven chapters to the Moon, collating scholarly opinion on its substance, size, shape, the source of its light, the nature of lunar eclipse, its Earth-like appearance and its distance from the Sun and Earth. One of these chapters – Aëtius . on the markings on the lunar surface that impart to the Moon its Earth-like appearance – treats precisely the theme that is germane to Plutarch’s dialogue, and it is illuminating to compare the two author’s approaches. Aëtius provides his usual rapid-fire bullet-point summary of different opinions, none of which is favoured or rejected: Philolaus and some Pythagoreans, he reports, explain the Moon’s Earth-like appearance by proposing that it is, in fact, a parallel Earth, inhabited like our own (this is the doxographicum about Moon-beings that we discussed in the previous chapter). Others – Aëtius must mean other Pythagoreans in this context – declare that the image in the lunar disc is a reflection (anaklasis) of the sea that lies beyond the torrid zone of our inhabited world (ἄλλοι δὲ τὴν ἐν τῇ σελήνῃ ἔμφασιν ἀνάκλασιν εἶναι τῆς πέραν τοῦ διακεκαυμένου κύκλου τῆς οἰκουμένης ὑφ’ ἡμῶν θαλάττης). This is clearly related to the Pythagorean doctrine that the Moon is a ‘mirror-like body.’ Moreover, it provides us with an ancient attestation to 

  

Runia (, ). The term was coined by Diels (). Though collections of doxai indubitably existed in antiquity (e.g. the lost Physikai aitiai of Theophrastus; Aëtius’ work), it is uncertain if a genre as such was recognized. Mansfeld and Runia (, –) identify several passages of the De facie that contain traces of doxographical discussion, including: b–c; c; f; f–a; c; d; c; d. Mansfeld and Runia (, , n. ).  See Aëtius .–, with Mansfeld and Runia (, –). Aëtius ...

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the tradition that viewed the Moon as a cartographical instrument or ‘catoptrical machine’, mirroring back to us parts of our world that were as yet unexplored. In this capacity, the Moon can be aligned with the eagle-eye view of the eponymous Hermes in Eratosthenes’ poem, as he surveys from the heavens the five geographical zones of the Earth below. For the Earth-bound viewer, whose perspective is more restricted, the Moon functions as an ‘encyclopaedic mirror’, a surface that reflects not just the viewer back to him or herself in an act of simple replication, but a transcendental device that reflects back to us images of things that lie beyond our sight entirely, a sort of prosthetic eye that extends the natural range of our vision. This property of mirrors (particularly convex mirrors) was well-known to ancient technical writers. Aëtius continues his chapter with a collation of the opinions of philosophers whom we have already encountered: Anaxagoras, Democritus, Parmenides, the Stoics, Aristotle and finally the mathematical astronomers who, he says, explain the lunar markings by invoking the varied optical effect of light as it is filtered through uneven densities of cloud. It is not Aëtius’ business to elucidate any of these views or to persuade the reader of one over another; his task is to filter doctrine down to its bare bones, and to archive. Plutarch demonstrates familiarity with a similarly wide range of opinions (including Anaxagoras, Aristotle and mathematical philosophers like Aristarchus), but he streamlines opinion more dramatically into two opposing camps: the Stoics vs adherents of Plato’s Academy. Instead of Aëtius’ bullet-points, he gives us lengthy character-speeches and vivid evocations of different learning situations and exegetical strategies such as experiment, diagram, the lecture-hall. As readers, we identify with one position, then another. Both authors offer us a fascinating glimpse of the controversy that surrounded the Moon in the early imperial period, as well as the canon of philosophical opinion that had crystallized around it, but Plutarch offers us the live-action version of Aëtius’ archive.

  



For the Moon as ‘catoptrical machine’, see Baltrusaitis (, ). For the Moon’s use in mediaeval and early modern cartography, see Neve (, –). Eratosthenes fr. ; see Chapter , p.  with n.  and Chapter , p. . See McCarty (, ) with n.  and Grabes (, –). Dällenbach (, –) compares the transcendental power of the mirror in art, with that of the mise en abyme in literature: both have the ability to actualize realities that lie ‘outside’ themselves. The most famous example in art is the role of the mirror in Velázquez’s Las Meninas. See Chapter , pp. –.

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The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

Some elucidation of the philosophical positions that are at play in Plutarch’s dialogue will be helpful before plunging into the details of the work. Stoic cosmology was much influenced by Aristotelian doctrine. This included the principle that our Earth, which is composed of the densest element, is located at the centre and lowest part of the cosmos, while all other celestial bodies are distributed throughout the cosmos according to their elemental density: the heavier bodies tend centripetally down towards the Earth itself, while the lighter, aethereal bodies move in the upper strata of the cosmic sphere. This is the so-called doctrine of proper place and natural motion, which is asserted in De facie by the Stoic speaker Pharnaces, and refuted in turn by our redoubtable narrator Lamprias, who is of the Academic school. On the basis of the Moon’s elevated position, combined with its proximity to Earth, the Stoics intuited that it must consist of lighter material than Earth, but denser material than the rest of the celestial bodies, leading them to speculate that it consisted not of pure aether, but of a baser, smoky mixture of fire and air instead (f ). Their concept of a fiery Moon did not entail an outright rejection the principle of heliophotism, but they did not believe that the Moon reflected the Sun’s light (antiphraxis). Instead, as the Stoic astronomer Cleomedes explains in his lecture series On the heavens, the Moon glows with light which it absorbs from the Sun like a sponge. The Stoics envisaged this as an active process: the Moon is transformed (alloioumenē) by the Sun’s rays, and through the twin processes of mixture (kata krasin) and derivation (kata metokhēn), produces a light that is all its own (idios), just like the glow of iron when it is heated by fire. The Stoic Moon therefore acted as a sort of celestial conductor, and the dark markings on its ‘face’ were caused by smoky ripples in its air. On the question of the Moon’s nature, Platonists generally may well have agreed with the Stoics: in Chapter  we saw that Academics Xenocrates and Philp proposed that the Moon consisted of air or aether, mixed (in Xenocrates’ doctrine) with ‘second density’. As far as we can tell, Plato had nothing to say about the substance of the Moon specifically, although



 

See e for Pharnaces’ assertion (= SVF ii, p. , fr.  and p. , fr. ), and c–e and e–b for Lamprias’ refutation. At De def. or. b–c, Plutarch ascribes the theory to Aristotle. For the theory, see Aristotle, De caelo ., esp.  a–b and  b–; SVF ii, p. .–; p. . –; p. .–; p. .–. See Cleom. ..–; ..– and –; ..– with notes ad loc. in Bowen and Todd (). For the Moon as a sponge, see Cleomedes .. and cf. ..–. See Cleomedes ..– on the mixed light of moon, esp. ..–.

Plutarch’s De Facie and the Duel of the Philosophies



the doxographical tradition attributed a fiery-Moon thesis to him. Aristotle had argued that the Moon’s nature is mixed, consisting either of aether mixed with fumes from the Earth, or aether mixed with fire. Plutarch mentions Xenocrates’ lunar theory at De facie f., and adopts the mixed-Moon theory, with some modifications, in the myth of De facie, as we shall see. Nevertheless, the Academics in the dialogue, Lamprias and Lucius, vigorously oppose Stoic doctrine and espouse instead the earthy-Moon theory (EMT), which was in fact neither Platonic nor Aristotelian strictly speaking, but a revival of old Pre-Socratic and Pythagorean ideas, notably those of Anaxagoras, Democritus, Philolaus and Heraclides of Pontus. The great scholar of Plutarch’s work, Herwig Görgemanns, insists that EMT was not respected prior to De facie: it was not adopted by any subsequent philosophical schools and found a home instead in the tradition of myth and novelistic fantasy. One of the greatest achievements of De facie, then, is that it imbued this fanciful theory with scientific and metaphysical legitimacy. Lamprias and Lucius dismantle the Stoic fiery-Moon thesis with a battery of objections. If the Moon is an igneous and gaseous world, where is the source of the fuel needed to sustain it (a–b and  e)? Why are its features more clearly visible when the Sun shines directly on them at full Moon, which is precisely when we would expect an airy world to be flooded with light and all its features lost in the glare (d and f )? Other theories are refuted along the way as well, such as Empedocles’ idea that the Moon consisted of icy, compacted air (c) or Ion of Chios’ hypothesis that it was made of glass (b–c). These proposals, which make the Moon a translucent body, are rejected on the evidence of the Moon’s phases, which can only be caused by a body that is both solid and opaque; the Moon’s phases therefore present a huge problem for the Stoic theory of a gaseous Moon as well (e–c). These same objections, in turn, prove the Academics’ theory that the Moon must be made of earth, that it does not absorb the Sun’s light into its body as the Stoics believed, but reflects it off its surface instead, and that the markings on its face represent deep lunar gorges whose shadows the Sun cannot penetrate.

 

 

Aëtius .. (DG p. ) and .. (DG p. ). On Aristotle’s Moon, see Aëtius .. (DG p. ) and Ar. De gen. anim. b –. The stranger in Sulla’s myth also argues that the Moon has a mixed constitution, but the ingredients are aether and earth (e–a). Chapter , pp. –. On the history of the EMT, see also Görgemanns (, –). Görgemanns (, –).



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

The Stoics’ principal objection to this earthy-Moon hypothesis is the difficulty of reconciling the Moon’s elevated position in the sky with its heavy weight. How could a dense, earthy mass float higher up in the sky than our Earth? To counter this problem, Lucius adduces mathematical and geometrical proof that the Moon is, in fact, much smaller and therefore lighter than the Earth, even if it is made of the same dense material (a; cf. d). But the Stoics’ objection is refuted on more systematic grounds as well. The Academics believed that the planets and stars had been providentially arranged by the divine cosmic craftsman or ‘demiurge’, and not simply distributed according to density. This liberated them from the need to postulate a gaseous Moon on the basis of the Moon’s position in the cosmos, and allowed them to envisage instead a Moon that could be heavy and earthy despite its apparently paradoxical elevation. For the Academics, in other words, the location of a celestial body was not an accident of its relative weight, but a design feature linked to its function in the cosmos, as Lamprias explains (a–c): ὥσπερ εἰκὸς ἔχειν καὶ τὸν κόσμον, εἴ γε δὴ ζῷόν ἐστι, πολλαχοῦ γῆν ἔχοντα πολλαχοῦ δὲ πῦρ καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ πνεῦμα, οὐκ ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἀποτεθλιμμένον ἀλλὰ λόγῳ διακεκοσμημένον. οὐδὲ γὰρ ὀφθαλμὸς ἐνταῦθα τοῦ σώματός ἐστιν ὑπὸ κουφότητος ἐκπιεσθείς, οὐδ’ ἡ καρδία τῷ βάρει ὀλισθοῦσα πέπτωκεν εἰς τὸ στῆθος, ἀλλ’ ὅτι βέλτιον ἦν οὕτως ἑκάτερον τετάχθαι. μὴ τοίνυν μηδὲ τῶν τοῦ κόσμου μερῶν νομίζωμεν μήτε γῆν ἐνταῦθα κεῖσθαι συμπεσοῦσαν διὰ βάρος, μήτε τὸν ἥλιον, ὡς ᾤετο Μητρόδωρος ὁ Χῖος, εἰς τὴν ἄνω χώραν ἀσκοῦ δίκην ὑπὸ κουφότητος ἐκτεθλῖφθαι. . . ἀλλὰ τοῦ κατὰ λόγον κρατοῦντος. . . ἥλιος δὲ καρδίας ἔχων δύναμιν ὥσπερ αἷμα καὶ πνεῦμα διαπέμπει καὶ διασκεδάννυσιν ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ θερμότητα καὶ φῶς, γῇ δὲ καὶ θαλάσσῃ χρῆται κατὰ φύσιν ὁ κόσμος, ὅσα κοιλίᾳ καὶ κύστει ζῷον. σελήνη δ’ ἡλίου μεταξὺ καὶ γῆς ὥσπερ καρδίας καὶ κοιλίας ἧπαρ ἤ τι μαλθακὸν ἄλλο σπλάγχνον ἐγκειμένη τήν τ’ ἄνωθεν ἀλέαν ἐνταῦθα διαπέμπει καὶ τὰς ἐντεῦθεν ἀναθυμιάσεις πέψει τινὶ καὶ καθάρσει λεπτύνουσα περὶ ἑαυτὴν ἀναδίδωσιν. εἰ δὲ καὶ πρὸς ἄλλα τὸ γεῶδες αὐτῆς καὶ στερέμνιον ἔχει τινὰ πρόσφορον χρείαν, ἄδηλον ἡμῖν. ἐν παντὶ δὲ κρατεῖ τὸ βέλτιον τοῦ κατηναγκασμένου. It is likely the cosmos, if indeed it is a living organism, is arranged in the same way, and that it has earth in many places as well as fire and water and air, not because it has been pressurized by necessity but because it has been organized by intelligent design. An eye is not located here in the body because its lightness squeezed it upwards, nor does the heart’s weight cause it to slide and fall down into the chest; no, it is because it is better that each should be positioned where they are. So let us not think that, among the components of the cosmos, the Earth is stationed here because it fell on account of its weight, or that the Sun’s lightness squeezed it out into the

Plutarch’s De Facie and the Duel of the Philosophies



upper region like a balloon, as Metrodorus of Chios believed . . . Through the dictates of reason, the Sun, which has the power of a heart, dispenses and disperses heat and light from itself like blood and breath; the cosmos naturally uses earth and sea for the same purposes as a living creature uses stomach and bowel; and the Moon, which is positioned between Sun and Earth, like a liver or some other soft organ between heart and stomach, channels the heat from above and sends up the exhalations from here, refining these by a process of decoction and purification that takes place in its environs. It is unclear to us if its earth-like, solid nature is useful for some other purposes as well. But in any case, whatever offers the greater advantage trumps that which is simply necessary.

In the Platonic, teleological view, the Moon had been placed above the Earth and below the Sun precisely because that was where it could best perform its mediating function between the two worlds. The Moon’s location, therefore, was not indicative of its substance. This robs the Stoics of the central pillar of their argument, and Lucius concludes that the Moon is in fact a world analogous to ours, nothing less than a ‘celestial earth’ (gē olympia, c). This thesis then has important implications, which must be thrashed out. Not least is the question of whether the Moon, as an earthy world, supports life – or if not, what is its role in the cosmos? These questions are treated in the middle interlude and the final myth of the dialogue, where the atmosphere is more relaxed and the speakers engage more freely in speculation about possibilities than in definitive proof and rebuttal. It is in these sections that we find our first detailed astrobiological theory, as well as the doctrine about the Moon’s metaphysical role in the cycle of birth and death and its connection with the liminal beings known as daimones. Between Earth and Sun, between life and death, mortal and immortal, sub- and super-lunary zones – in every sense, the Moon emerges here as a world between worlds. Ultimately, however, Plutarch provides no absolute conclusions about the Moon’s nature and purpose. Instead, as De facie takes us through the varying modalities of science and myth, the argument seems to advance, correct or contradict itself and grow steadily richer. One of the central 

For the Moon’s active mediation between our world and the Sun, see also De Pythiae responsis b–d, esp. d: λαμβάνουσα δὲ παρ’ ἡλίου τὸ λαμπρὸν καὶ πυρωπὸν οὐχ ὅμοιον ἀποπέμπει πρὸς ἡμᾶς, ἀλλὰ μιχθὲν αὐτῇ καὶ χρόαν μετέβαλε καὶ δύναμιν ἔσχεν ἑτέραν· ἡ δὲ θερμότης καὶ παντάπασιν ἐξοίχεται καὶ προλέλοιπε τὸ φῶς ὑπ’ ἀσθενείας. Taking the luminous, fiery substance from the Sun, she [the Moon] dispatches it to us not in the same form; instead, after mixing with her, it changes colour and has a different power: its heat is entirely gone and its light is faint from weakness.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

proposals of this chapter is that the dialogue’s indeterminacy and doctrinal complexity are qualities that characterize the Moon itself as a distinctive and indeterminate space in the ancient thought-world.

Plutarch’s Inter-disciplinary Moon We have seen that Plutarch’s dialogue places the Moon between philosophical schools that jockey with each other for control over it, and that he also subjects it to the different interpretative lenses of physics, astronomy and theology. Since the Moon was an empirically unknowable world for Plutarch’s readers, De facie challenged them to draw on the full arsenal of intellectual resources at their disposal to arrive at an understanding of it. The dialogue, consequently, becomes a disciplinary, as much as a doctrinal, battleground. At the outset of our text, Lamprias asserts that all means must be deployed in order to ascertain the truth about the Moon: διὰ πάντων τἀληθὲς ἐξελέγχειν (c). One of the fascinating – and challenging – aspects of the dialogue is not only to understand how Plutarch interweaves physics with theology in order to construct a comprehensive theory about the Moon – an aspect of this work that has received comparatively generous attention – but to observe this interweaving at the subatomic level as well. It is rather less well-recognized that the scientific section is itself scored by a web of disciplinary fault-lines, as Plutarch mingles the physics of natural philosophers (physiologoi) with the mathematical approaches of astronomers and geometers (mathēmatikoi), which represented distinctly demarcated strategies for understanding the celestial regions. The difference between the two disciplines interested intellects in the first century BCE such the astronomer Geminus, the Stoic polymath Posidonius and the Middle Platonist Eudorus of Alexandria, whose work was known to Plutarch. In a well-known fragment, Geminus, paraphrasing Posidonius, explains the difference largely in terms of theoretical and applied science. Natural philosophers are concerned with theorizing first    

In Lucian’s comical–satirical dialogue, Icaromenippus, the Moon herself complains about this doctrinal squabbling: see Icar. – with discussion on pp. –. Baldassari (), Donini (), Görgemanns (, –), Opsomer () and Taub () and are all instructive. This aspect of Plutarch’s science does not elude Görgemanns’ astute eye (,  n. ), but he does not develop the observation. Geminus fr.  (ap. Simpl. Phys. p. , –p. ,  = Posidonius fr.  EK), with Evans and Berggren (, –). Eudorus’ views on the question are reported by Achilles Tatius, Isag. ..

Plutarch’s Inter-disciplinary Moon



principles; it is they who explain why things are the way they are, and explain the origin, substance, power and destruction of the celestial bodies. Natural philosophers deal with the fundamental questions. Astronomers, in contrast, are concerned principally with mensuration: they calculate the sizes and shapes of the celestial bodies, the distances between them and describing the motions of the stars using arithmetic and geometry. Astronomers do not trouble themselves with asking why things are the way they are, but invent hypotheses that justify apparent reality (‘saving the phenomena’). The criticism levied against such hypotheses is that they are not always reconcilable with the theoretical physics of the natural philosophers. As a prime example of this, Geminus adduces the theory (which he ascribes to Heraclides of Pontus) that the Earth revolves around the Sun, a theory which economically explains many celestial phenomena but is sadly at odds with the principle that the cosmos is geocentric (!). Lucius, in fact, alludes to the same dispute in De facie in his rejoinder to his Stoic colleague (a): ὦ τάν, μὴ κρίσιν ἡμῖν ἀσεβείας ἐπαγγείλῃς, ὥσπερ Ἀρίσταρχον ᾤετο δεῖν Κλεάνθης τὸν Σάμιον ἀσεβείας προσκαλεῖσθαι τοὺς Ἕλληνας ὡς κινοῦντα τοῦ κόσμου τὴν ἑστίαν, ὅτι φαινόμενα σῴζειν ἁνὴρ ἐπειρᾶτο μένειν τὸν οὐρανὸν ὑποτιθέμενος, ἐξελίττεσθαι δὲ κατὰ λοξοῦ κύκλου τὴν γῆν, ἅμα καὶ περὶ τὸν αὑτῆς ἄξονα δινουμένην. Come now! Don’t put us on trial for impiety, like Cleanthes! He thought the Greeks should summon Aristarchus of Samos on a charge of impiety for displacing the cosmic hearth because the man was trying to ‘save the phenomena’ with his hypothesis that the heavens remain still and the Earth revolves on an oblique orbit whilst spinning around its own axis.

Evidently, the stakes are high, if arguing that the Moon is made of earth is tantamount to the heresy of a heliocentric universe. Plutarch reveals here just what a paradigm-shift the EMT threatened to enact on his contemporary intellectual world. Lucius’ evocation of this cause célèbre between a natural philosopher (Cleanthes) and mathematical astronomer (Aristarchus) calls attention to the boundary separating physics and geometry in De facie itself, and installs Plutarch’s dialogue in a long tradition of intellectual polemic that reaches back to the fourth century BCE. As natural philosophers, the Platonic speakers Lamprias and Lucius speculate freely about the substance of the Moon and the causes of its behaviour in eclipse, but they defer to the mathematician in the company, 

For Aristarchus’ theory, see Heath (, –).



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

Apollonides, when it comes to questions relating to geometry and mensuration. At  c–d, for example, Lamprias ponders the possibility that light reflected from the Moon might be distorted on its path to the Earth since the Moon and Earth are not homocentric spheres. This is a question that requires knowledge of mathematical astronomy and optics combined. To signal this, Lamprias defers to Apollonides’ knowledge of the Hipparchan theory of lunar motion, since that is the province of mathēmatikoi, but he also asserts that optics is, strictly speaking, the province of physiologoi like himself (c–d): ἐκεῖνο μὲν γὰρ ἐρωτῶν ἀσφαλέστερόν ἐστιν ἢ ἀποφαίνεσθαι σοῦ παρόντος, εἰ τῆς οἰκουμένης εὖρος τοσαύτης καὶ μῆκος ἐνδέχεται πᾶσιν ὡσαύτως ἀπὸ τῆς σελήνης ὄψιν ἀνακλωμένην ἐπιθιγγάνειν τῆς θαλάσσης, καὶ τοῖς ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ μεγάλῃ θαλάττῃ πλέουσι νὴ Δία καὶ οἰκοῦσιν, ὥσπερ Βρεττανοῖς, καὶ ταῦτα μηδὲ τῆς γῆς, ὥς φατε, πρὸς τὴν σφαῖραν τῆς σελήνης κέντρου λόγον ἐπεχούσης. τουτὶ μὲν οὖν’ ἔφην ‘σὸν ἔργον ἐπισκοπεῖν, τὴν δὲ πρὸς τὴν σελήνην [ἢ] τῆς ὄψεως κλάσιν οὐκέτι σὸν οὐδ’ Ἱππάρχου· καίτοι γε φιλοπράγμ· ἀλλὰ πολλοῖς οὐκ ἀρέσκει φυσιολογῶν περὶ τῆς ὄψεως . . . In your presence it is safer to phrase this as a question rather than an assertion: whether, given the enormous length and breadth of the inhabited world, it is possible that a visual ray, as it is reflected from the Moon, should touch every part of the sea in precisely the same way – even, by Jove, those who sail or live in the great sea itself like the Britons! And that, even though the Earth is not fixed centrally on the Moon’s sphere, as you say? Well,’ I said, ‘it is your business to ponder this question. But as for the reflection of the visual ray towards the Moon, that is no longer your business or Hipparchus.’ Hipparchus’ curiosity over-extended itself, but his speculation on the natural philosophy of vision did not find favour with many . . .

For all the sensitivity Lamprias shows here to the boundaries that separate different disciplinary terrains, however, neither he nor Lucius hesitates to transgress when it will serve them. Both, for example, venture into the discipline of catoptrics – the science of reflected light – to support their arguments. Lucius ably refutes the so-called half-Moon problem which Sulla raises (f–d) by presenting exceptions to the law that light is reflected at equal angles. Lamprias takes up the catoptric argument later (d–c) when he expatiates on ‘the characteristics of reflection’ (τὰ τῆς ἀνακλάσεως, d), expertise in which he had earlier conceded to 

For catoptrics as a sub-discipline of optics and arithmetic, see Geminus fr.  from his Philokalia (ap. Proclus, In Eucl. p. , – Friedlein), with Evans and Berggren (, – and –).

Plutarch’s Inter-disciplinary Moon



the geometer and mathematician of the group, Apollonides (f ). At another point (a–b), Lucius uses calculations of the relative sizes of the Moon and Earth – which are, strictly speaking, the business of the mathematical astronomer – to point out a paradox in Stoic astrophysics: οἱ δὲ γῆν ὑποτιθέμενοι τὴν σελήνην, ὦ βέλτιστε, τί μᾶλλον ὑμῶν ἄνω τὰ κάτω ποιοῦσι τὴν γῆν ἱδρυόντων ἐνταῦθα μετέωρον ἐν τῷ ἀέρι, πολλῷ τινι μείζονα τῆς σελήνης οὖσαν, ὡς ἐν τοῖς ἐκλειπτικοῖς πάθεσιν οἱ μαθηματικοὶ [καὶ] ταῖς διὰ τοῦ σκιάσματος παρόδοις τῆς ἐποχῆς τὸ μέγεθος ἀναμετροῦσιν; ἥ τε γὰρ σκιὰ τῆς γῆς ἐλάττων ὑπὸ μείζονος τοῦ φωτίζοντος ἀνατείνει καὶ τῆς σκιᾶς αὐτῆς λεπτὸν ὂν τὸ ἄνω καὶ στενὸν οὐδ’ Ὅμηρον, ὥς φασιν, ἔλαθεν, ἀλλὰ τὴν νύκτα ‘θοήν’ ὀξύτητι τῆς σκιᾶς προσηγόρευσεν· ὑπὸ τούτου δ’ ὅμως ἁλισκομένη ταῖς ἐκλείψεσιν ἡ σελήνη τρισὶ μόλις τοῖς αὑτῆς μεγέθεσιν ἀπαλλάττεται. σκόπει δὴ πόσων ἡ γῆ σεληνῶν ἐστιν, εἰ σκιὰν ἀφίησιν, ᾗ βραχυτάτη, πλάτος τρισέληνον. My dear friend, how is it that those who hypothesize that the Moon is an earth turn things any more upside-down than you Stoics? For you situate the Earth suspended here in mid-air even though it is much larger than the Moon according to the mathematicians who, during states of eclipse, measure the length of time the Moon’s light is dimmed in its transit through the shadow. The Earth’s shadow diminishes the farther it extends, since the illuminating body is larger [than the Earth itself], and they say that even Homer knew that the extreme tip of the shadow is slender and narrow, for he called the night ‘keen’ on account of the shadow’s sharpness. Yet the Moon is caught in this very shadow during eclipse and barely manages to break free of it within an expanse that is three times its own size. Consider, then, how much larger than the Moon the Earth must be, if it casts a shadow which, at its narrowest point, is the width of three Moons!

At  a–d, Lamprias again adduces the mathematical calculations of Apollonides and his colleagues to argue that the Moon is much closer to the Earth than to the other celestial bodies, quoting Aristarchus’ treatise On sizes and distances that the Sun’s distance from the Earth is between eighteen and twenty times greater than the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Striking out in another direction, Lucius evokes literary authority with his argument that the Moon must be Earth-like because it exhibits the same physical behaviour as the Earth (d–c). His argument is based on the (to our eyes faulty) premise that the darkness of night-time is the same as the darkness of a solar eclipse. He first asks his audience to 

For the scientific theory behind this, see Posidonius F EK; Cleomedes . and ..–; Theon of Smyrna, p. –. Hiller; Pliny NH .–.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

‘grant him’ (δότε μοι) this premise on the strength of their own personal recollection (μνησθέντες) of a solar eclipse that took place in the recent past, when day literally became night: the Sun was dimmed, darkness fell over the Earth and the stars appeared in the sky. If this empirical evidence is not enough, however, he can draw on the authority of the poets of old, quoting in rapid succession six poetic voices that likened solar eclipse to night. This is accompanied by a deferential nod to Theon, the group’s literary expert, which marks Lucius’ foray into a territory where he does not feel expert himself, and effectively signals for the reader the threshold between two different types of authority, empirical and literary. He then proceeds to the more technical language and numerical computations of mathematical astronomy which explain night as occultation (episkotēsis) of the Sun’s light by the Earth, and solar eclipse as occultation of the Sun’s light by the Moon. The reason eclipses are often less dark than night, he explains, is because of the great difference in the size of the occulting bodies. The Moon is calculated to be much smaller than the Earth: according to the Egyptians, seventy-two times smaller and, according to Anaxagoras, merely the size of the Peloponnesus. Lucius cites Aristarchus’ calculation of the ratio of the Earth’s diameter to that of the Moon, and is confident in the accuracy of his mathematical argument: ‘But for the rest, I believe it has been reduced to a clear and certain account by mathematical precision (ταῖς μαθηματικαῖς ἀκριβείαις).’ Such passages illustrate the natural philosophers’ ease with geometrical reasoning, which was strictly speaking the province of the mathēmatikoi. It is a curious characteristic of De facie, therefore, that while it brings different doctrines (e.g. Stoic and Academic) and different theoretical approaches (e.g. science and metaphysics) into dialogue with one another to build a cohesive theory about the Moon, this centripetal thrust is counterbalanced by an almost obsessive attention to the boundaries that separate philosophies and disciplines. The repeated, ostentatious acknowledgement by the physiologoi of their encroachments into other experts’ fields has the effect of drawing the reader’s attention to the seams in the inter-disciplinary fabric of Plutarch’s work, and inviting us implicitly to evaluate one approach against the other, as Geminus had done. Whereas 



For discussion of the date of this eclipse, see Cherniss (, –). Three total solar eclipses have been canvassed as possible matches for the one Plutarch saw: th March  (visible at Chaeronea), th January  (at Rome); th December  (at Alexandria). Cherniss favours the eclipse that occurred in CE, and proposes that as the terminus post quem for the dialogue’s dramatic date. f: for the text at this point, see Cherniss (, –). At b Lucius cites Proposition  of Aristarchus’ On the sizes and distances of the Sun and Moon.

The Lunar Texture of De Facie



Geminus had theorized disciplinarity in explicit terms, however, Plutarch shows the reader inter-disciplinarity in action. The argument demonstrates the need to be critical but boldly inter-disciplinary in our approach to the Moon, as Plutarch gently directs the reader to the diet of Middle Platonism, with its curriculum based on the Aristotelian triad of theoretical knowledge (physics, astronomy and theology), as the optimum route to unlocking the Moon’s secrets. This is reinforced by the strongly Platonizing myth in the second half of the dialogue; indeed, Donini makes the appealing suggestion that the Island of Cronus, the origin of the myth, where attendants of the god become experts in astronomy, geometry and theology, is an idealized microcosm of Middle Platonism. Through his exploration of physics and theology as complementary routes to understanding the Moon, Plutarch, as Donini argues, is also exploring ‘a more general question belonging to the speculative philosophy of Middle Platonism: the relationship between physics and metaphysics, and between special sciences and theology’. The Moon, consequently, becomes a test-site for Middle Platonic thought as well as the more obvious interdoctrinal competition.

The Lunar Texture of De Facie The doctrinal, disciplinary and epistemological complexity of the argument of De facie is intensified by the work’s literary complexity as well. Plutarch’s choice of the dialogue form for his lunar discussion was unusual. Ancient writers since Plato had favoured the dialogue to treat philosophical themes in a non-dogmatic way, since its openness allowed different voices to proliferate. However, the choice of the dialogue to treat a scientific subject, albeit favoured by early modern scientists like Galileo, was comparatively rare in antiquity. Plutarch certainly had other options available to him and exercised different choices elsewhere. In Greek and Roman Questions and Natural Questions, he experimented with the form of zētēmaliterature, which treated scientific themes in a discrete question-andanswer structure. On the principle of cold takes the form of an essay which he addressed to Favorinus. He also wrote commentaries on scientific works such as Aratus’ astronomical poem Phaenomena and Plato’s Timaeus (Explanations of Aratus’ Weather-Signs and On the procreation of the soul

 

Donini (, ). On the myth’s Platonic pedigree, see Hamilton ().  Donini (, ). Taub (, ).



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

respectively). But he was interested in the dialogue form and how Plato had used it. In this case, his choice was well-suited to his goal of integrating mathematical astronomy, natural philosophy and metaphysics on the topic of the Moon. As Taub observes, ‘the usefulness of the dialogue as a vehicle to explore divergent – even conflicting – ideas, without forcing the reader (or writer) to make a choice between them, must have motivated Plutarch in his choice of the genre for his treatment of cosmology. The dialogue offered Plutarch the possibility of approaching his topic from very different perspectives, without necessarily declaring his own views.’ De facie draws the reader’s attention to its own artfulness through its structure, which is strikingly self-referential and primes the reader to be observant of metaliterary dimensions of the work. This self-reflexivity is generated in two ways. First, Plutarch has woven De facie out of a particularly rich intertextual fabric. This is partly due to his use of literary models (especially Plato), and partly to the sheer proliferation of citations that punctuate the speeches throughout. In addition to the frequent allusions to a diverse range of philosophical and astronomical doctrines (Stoic, Platonic, Peripatetic, etc.), as we have seen, there are numerous direct quotations from the writing of poets, philosophers (poetry and prose) and even astronomical texts. Needless to say, this imparts an air of immense erudition to the dialogue, and De facie becomes a sort of dramatized compendium of lunar knowledge that spans the realms of literature, philosophy and science. By intensifying the rugged texture of the dialogue, Plutarch’s citation-practice sharpens our awareness of the heterogeneous literary tradition of which De facie is a part: of its complex affiliations with that tradition, and its distinctiveness within it.     

For Explanations of Aratus’ Weather-Signs, see frr. – Sandbach, with Volpe Cacciatore (). On commentary as an ancient form of scientific writing, see Taub (, –). See the discussion of Plato’s diegetic and dramatic dialogues at QC ..b–c. Taub (, ). Taub’s entire chapter is illuminating; pp. – and – are particularly germane to the discussion of Plutarch’s choice of the dialogue form. On the Platonic models of De facie, especially Timaeus–Critias, see Hamilton () (on the myth), and Taub (, –). The following direct citations emerge from a superficial sweep of the dialogue: (i) Poets: Homer: b, e, b, f, b, d, e, a, f, f (twice); Hesiod: c; Alcman: a; Pindar: c, e; Aeschylus: c, f; Sophocles: f, f; Hegesianax: e, b; Various poets (Mimnermus, Cydias, Archilochus, Stesichorus): e; (ii) Philosophers: Pherecydes: b; Heraclitus: e; Parmenides: a; Empedocles: c, b, e, f, c–d. e, d; Anaxagoras: b, a; Democritus: c; Ion of Chios: a; Plato: b, f–a, e, e, f; Xenocrates: f, a; Aristotle: c; Posidonius: c; (iii) Astronomer: Aristarchus:  c–d, b; (iv) Historian: Megasthenes: b.

The Lunar Texture of De Facie



This brings me to the second self-reflexive turn of the work, which is built into its architecture. The ostentatious complexity of the work’s structure is something which I will have more to say about later in the chapter when discussing how it oscillates between fact and fiction. For the moment, we can note the structure of nested and regressive narrative frames: the ‘companion’s’ lecture (diatribē) on the Moon is embedded within the speakers’ dialogue on the Moon, which is itself nestled within Lamprias’ recapitulation. The ‘Russian doll’ structure heightens our sensitivity as readers to the changing of voices, authority and form in the work, and invites us to judge how one reported element relates to another. This nested structure is then mirrored in the second half of the work, with the anonymous stranger’s myth that is embedded in Sulla’s narrative, which itself nested in Lamprias’ recapitulation. The symmetry brings these two kernels into dialogue – scientific lecture vs eschatological myth – in a structure that provokes the reader to ponder the relationship between the two. The structure of De facie has plainly been designed to support Plutarch’s inter-disciplinary theme. But I would like to think a bit more instead about the relationship between two contrasting scientific discourses in the dialogue: the speakers’ discussion and the anonymous companion’s lecture, which is summarized by Lucius and Lamprias. In his painstaking analysis of the text, Görgemanns detects signs that the substance of the lecture already existed before it was incorporated into the structure of De facie as we have it. We may imagine the Urform of this lecture to have been an older Plutarchan treatise on the face of Moon, possibly similar in form to his essay On the principle cold. Whether we agree with such a literal interpretation or not, the interpolation – even at an imaginary level – diversifies the structure and atmosphere of the dramatic scenario and enriches Plutarch’s work, while at the same time highlighting, by contrast, what is distinctive about the dialogue form. There is a good example of what I mean at b where, as they recall what ‘the companion’ said, Lucius manages to convey a vivid sense of an occasion of astronomical learning quite different from their present discussion:



(Cherniss (, –; Görgemanns , ;), in contrast, views the diatribē as ‘primarily a literary fiction, part of the structure of the dialogue for this it provides a specious motivation.’ It does not matter, for my argument here, whether we think the diatribē represented a real text underlying De facie or not.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie ὁ μὲν οὖν ἑταῖρος ἐν τῇ διατριβῇ τοῦτο δὴ τὸ Ἀναξαγόρειον ἀποδεικνύς, ὡς ἥλιος ἐντίθησι τῇ σελήνῃ τὸ λαμπρόν, ηὐδοκίμησεν· ἐγὼ δὲ ταῦτα μὲν οὐκ ἐρῶ, ἃ παρ’ ὑμῶν ἢ μεθ’ ὑμῶν ἔμαθον . . . Our companion earned applause in his lecture for his demonstration of this Anaxagorean proposition that ‘the Sun imparts its radiance to the Moon.’ But I won’t talk about these things which I learned from you and in your company . . .’

Clearly, the goal of the lecture was primarily exegetical, with emphasis on the demonstration (apodeiknus) of basic principles. Lucius’ comment also offers us insight into the exciting interactive atmosphere, where applause and discussion among members of the audience was commonplace. As Martin observes, this is borne out in the fuller account of such occasions in Plutarch’s essay On how to listen to lectures, which reveals that ‘in Plutarch’s day the customary format was quite informal. Lectures were immediately followed by discussion among the audience and between audience and lecturer . . ., and questions were addressed to the speaker throughout his lecture . . . In fact, a lecturer sometimes spoke directly to a listener . . ., or asked his audience to raise questions and propose problems . . . Plutarch elsewhere . . . records an occasion on which one of his own lectures. . . aroused a protest from the audience.’ This type of lecture was closely related to the form of astronomical discourse known as the ‘introduction’ (eisagōgē). Geminus’ Introduction to the Phaenomena (probably first century BCE) and the Caelestia (On the heavens) of the Stoic astronomer Cleomedes, which was produced (it is estimated) at the turn of the third century CE, are excellent examples of this sub-genre. De facie evidently shared some common ground with this tradition, especially with the Stoic tradition out of which Caelestia evolved. Caelestia identifies itself as an ‘introduction’ to astronomy (eisagōgē, ..) and a ‘lesson’ (didaskalia, ..). As we might expect, it is written in a straightforward style. Each of its books is structured





Martin (, ), with the following references: De recta a and a–b (discussion following lecture and between audience and speaker); f–e, c–d and a–b (questions addressed to the speaker throughout his lecture; c–b and f–a (lecturer speaking directly to audience members); Non posse suaviter vivi secundum Epicurum d–a (protest at one of Plutarch’s own lectures). On Geminus’ date, see Evans and Berggren (, –). On Cleomedes’ date, see Bowen and Todd (, –). On the genre of the astronomical eisagōgē, see Evans and Berggren (, –); Taub (, –). Görgemanns () cites evidence that De facie drew on the eisagōgē tradition (especially the Stoic train in which Cleomedes would also work), e.g. –, –, –, –, .

The Lunar Texture of De Facie



around a series of chapters devoted to separate astronomical topics, which correspond to a series of lectures or skholai, and the two books that we possess formed part of a broader lecture series envisaged by the author. The content and style of Cleomedes’ work provide us with an analogy for the diatribē which Lucius and Lamprias’ companion gave and can usefully illustrate the ways in which it is distinctive from the speakers’ discussion in the dialogue. Cleomedes’ emphasis is on summary and straightforward exposition of the core curriculum of Stoic astronomy. With authorial modesty, he disavows credit for the material of his lectures, claiming merely to present doctrines that he has harvested from others’ works, mostly his Stoic predecessor Posidonius. There are occasional references to authors such as Aratus, but on the whole, Caelestia wears its erudition lightly – far more lightly than De facie which, as we have seen, goes in for an ostentatious display of literary quotation and scientific theory. De facie assumes from its readers a higher degree of familiarity with the principles of astronomy as it glides with agility from one doctrinal position to another. Nevertheless, Plutarch does occasionally make concessions with a nod to the more basic style of astronomical text typified by Cleomedes and his ilk. At  d–e, for example, Lucius asks his companions if they need a ‘lecture’ (meletē) and ‘demonstration’ (apodeixis) to remind them how eclipses work. Theon responds with an enthusiastic ‘yes’, and as he recalls his basic teaching on the subject, his speech lapses into the compressed, ‘no frills’ style that is characteristic of the eisagōgē: νὴ Δί’’ εἶπεν ὁ Θέων ‘τούτοις καὶ ἐμμελέτησον· ἐγὼ δὲ καὶ πειθοῦς τινος δέομαι, ταύτῃ μόνον ἀκηκοὼς ὡς ἐπὶ μίαν [μὲν] εὐθεῖαν τῶν τριῶν σωμάτων γιγνομένων, γῆς καὶ ἡλίου καὶ σελήνης, αἱ ἐκλείψεις συντυγχάνουσιν· ἡ γὰρ γῆ τῆς σελήνης ἢ πάλιν ἡ σελήνη τῆς γῆς ἀφαιρεῖται τὸν ἥλιον· ἐκλείπει γὰρ οὗτος μὲν σελήνης, σελήνη δὲ γῆς ἐν μέσῳ τῶν τριῶν ἱσταμένης· ὧν γίνεται τὸ μὲν ἐν συνόδῳ τὸ δ’ ἐν διχομηνίᾳ’ καὶ ὁ Λεύκιος ἔφη ‘σχεδὸν μέντοι τῶν λεγομένων κυριώτατα ταῦτ’ ἐστί· ‘By all means,’ said Theon, ‘do give us a lecture on these matters, for I need some persuasion, having only heard it explained in the following way: that eclipses take place when the three bodies – the Earth, Sun and Moon – are in alignment, because the Earth cuts off the Sun from the Moon, or else the





See Cael. .. with Bowen and Todd (,  nn.  and ). Cleomedes refers to the lectures that match the Caelestia at .. and ..–, and to future lectures at ..–, – and –. ..–; ..–.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie Moon cuts the Sun off from the Earth in turn. For the Sun is eclipsed by the Moon, and the Moon by the Earth when it is positioned in the middle of the three, which happens at conjunction and at half-Moon respectively.’ And Lucius said: ‘Well, these are pretty much the most important points of what is said on the subject.’

We also know from Cleomedes that lectures could provide the speaker with the opportunity to indulge in scorching polemic at his rivals’ expense. At one point, Cleomedes excoriates his rivals, the Epicureans, with a vitriol that must have made an exhilarating performance (..–). In contrast, this sort of academic grandstanding is absent from the more urbane exchange in De facie, where speakers frequently interrupt one another, and may utter condescending or disgruntled remarks about each other’s arguments, but generally show mutual respect for each other’s philosophical affiliations and the boundaries of expertise. Nevertheless, Plutarch briefly allows the rowdier atmosphere of the lecture-hall to infiltrate his dialogue when Lamprias recalls the companion’s polemic against the Stoics, the inflammatory nature of which Lucius tones down for the sake of politeness in the presence of their Stoic friend Pharnaces (f ): Καὶ ὁ Λεύκιος ‘ἀλλὰ μὴ δόξωμεν’ ἔφη ‘κομιδῇ προπηλακίζειν τὸν Φαρνάκην, οὕτω τὴν Στωικὴν δόξαν ἀπροσαύδητον ὑπερβαίνοντες, εἰπὲ δή τι πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα, παντος ἀέρος μῖγμα καὶ μαλακοῦ πυρὸς ὑποτιθέμενον τὴν σελήνην, εἶθ’ οἷον ἐν γαλήνῃ φρίκης ὑποτρεχούσης φάσκοντα τοῦ ἀέρος διαμελαίνοντος ἔμφασιν γίνεσθαι μορφοειδῆ . . .’ ‘χρηστῶς γ’’ εἶπον ‘ὦ Λεύκιε, τὴν ἀτοπίαν εὐφήμοις περιαμπέχεις ὀνόμασιν· οὐχ οὕτω δ’ ὁ ἑταῖρος ἡμῶν, ἀλλ’, ὅπερ ἀληθὲς ἦν, ἔλεγεν ὑπωπιάζειν αὐτοὺς τὴν σελήνην, σπίλων καὶ μελασμῶν ἀναπιμπλάντας, ὁμοῦ μὲν Ἄρτεμιν καὶ Ἀθηνᾶν ἀνακαλοῦντας ὁμοῦ δὲ σύμμιγμα καὶ φύραμα ποιοῦντας ἀέρος ζοφεροῦ καὶ πυρὸς ἀνθρακώδους, οὐκ ἔχουσαν ἔξαψιν οὐδ’ αὐγὴν οἰκείαν, ἀλλὰ δυσκρινές τι σῶμα τυφόμενον ἀεὶ καὶ πυρίκαυστον, ὥσπερ τῶν κεραυνῶν τοὺς ἀλαμπεῖς καὶ ‘ψολόεντας’ ὑπὸ τῶν ποιητῶν προσαγορευομένους. And Lucius said, ‘But lest we appear to insult Pharnaces completely by passing over the Stoic opinion and leaving it unspoken, come now, make some response to the man who proposes that the Moon is a mixture of dense air and gentle fire, and who claims that the appearance of a recognisable shape in it is the result of blackening of its air, like when in calm weather a ripple runs under the surface of the sea . . .’ ‘How kind of you, Lucius,’ I said, ‘to cloak the absurdity in finesounding words! But that’s not how our companion put it! He told it like it is: that they beat the Moon black and blue, filling her full of spots and

The Lunar Texture of De Facie



bruises, now calling her Artemis and Athena, now making her a mixture and compound of murky air and smouldering fire without spark or radiance of her own: a malformed entity, smoking and charred all the time, just like the thunderbolts which are described as dim and “lurid” by our poets.’

Here the explicit contrast with the diatribē enhances our sense of what is distinctive about the dialogue, with its more refined atmosphere of academic politesse. Another interesting feature of the eisagōgē is the use of diagrams for exegetical purposes. Cleomedes seems to have used diagrams as an aid to enhance his introductory lectures. De facie, in contrast, eschews such visual aids – probably because they were not suited to the perambulatory nature of the discussion, and probably too because this was not a pedagogical occasion but rather a discussion among equals. Nevertheless, it alludes to such classroom strategies and thereby smuggles them in by a sort of praeteritio. Lucius, for example, recalls the use of a diagram (or rather, the decision not to do so) during the companion’s lecture, when their teacher was attempting to explain the rather technical half-Moon problem: Ἔνιοι δὲ καὶ δεικνύουσι γράφοντες, ὅτι πολλὰ τῶν φώτων αὐγὴν ἀφίησι κατὰ γραμμῆς ὑπὸ τὴν κεκλιμένην ὑποταθείσης· σκευωρεῖσθαι δ’ ἅμα λέγοντι διάγραμμα, καὶ ταῦτα πρὸς πολλούς, οὐκ ἐνῆν. Some people even demonstrate by drawing that many luminous bodies cast their ray along a line that subtends along an incline. But it was not possible [for him] to construct a diagram while talking – and talking to many people, too.

Later, Lamprias refers to an optical experiment using a bowlful of water and a wall in sunlight (b–c). No explicit context is given for this experiment, but it is characteristic of the sort of practical techniques that were used in ancient scientific demonstration. All the participants in the dialogue are expected to be familiar with the techniques and paraphernalia of this background of astronomical instruction, which is grafted onto the De facie.

  



On the use of diagrams as an ‘explanatory technique’ in ancient scientific writing, see Taub (, –). Cael. ..–. e. In his translation, Cherniss envisages Lucius wishing to draw a diagram for the company but unable to do so as they perambulate; however, I think Görgemanns (,  and –) is right, that this is part of Lucius’ summary of the companion’s lecture, and reflects an airy allusion by the companion to a diagram which he could not produce on that particular occasion. See Taub (), – on Aristotle’s use of experiments and diagrams.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

By these subtle means, then, Plutarch exposes the reader to the whiff of the lecture-hall and inveigles other sorts of astronomical discourse into his own. This has the effect of highlighting the complexity and richness of De facie by contrast: the dialogue is not playing a simple melody, like its more minimalist relative, the eisagōgē; Plutarch has harnessed the full orchestra. This richness sets De facie apart from all other astronomical texts, as befits the unique nature of the Moon, which is the most semiotically complex of all the celestial bodies in the ancient thought-world. No other body is so changeable; none other occupies cosmic boundaries in the same way, and none other is so intimately entangled, physically as well as metaphysically, with life on Earth. In Plutarch’s hands, Moon and dialogue are interlinked.

Theon, Lamprias and Life on the Moon Once Lamprias and Lucius have concluded that the Moon is indeed an Earth-like world, Lamprias suggests a change of scenery: Ἡμεῖς μὲν οὖν’ ἔφην, ‘ὅσα μὴ διαπέφευγε τὴν μνήμην τῶν ἐκεῖ λεχθέντων, ἀπηγγέλκαμεν· ὥρα δὲ καὶ Σύλλαν παρακαλεῖν μᾶλλον δ’ ἀπαιτεῖν τὴν διήγησιν, οἷον ἐπὶ ῥητοῖς ἀκροατὴν γεγενημένον· ὥστε, εἰ δοκεῖ, καταπαύσαντες τὸν περίπατον καὶ καθίσαντες ἐπὶ τῶν βάθρων ἑδραῖον αὐτῷ παράσχωμεν ἀκροατήριον.’ ‘Well then,’ I said, ‘I have reported as much of what was said on that occasion as has not escaped my memory. Now it’s time to invite, or rather to demand from Sulla his narrative, in accordance with the terms on which he joined us to listen. So, if you please, let’s take a break from our perambulation and sit down on the benches and provide him with a seated audience.’

The switch from strolling to sitting is significant, clearly marking the change from the cut-and-parry of philosophical debate to a more speculative mood and facilitating, ultimately, the transition to the narrative mode of Sulla’s myth. But before Sulla can begin narrating his long-awaited story, however, Theon intervenes with an intriguing question: ‘ἐγώ τοι, ὦ Λαμπρία . . . ἐπιθυμῶ μὲν οὐδενὸς ἧττον ὑμῶν ἀκοῦσαι τὰ λεχθησόμενα, πρότερον δ’ ἂν ἡδέως ἀκούσαιμι περὶ τῶν οἰκεῖν λεγομένων ἐπὶ τῆς σελήνης, οὐκ εἰ κατοικοῦσί τινες ἀλλ’ εἰ δυνατὸν ἐκεῖ κατοικεῖν. εἰ γὰρ οὐ δυνατόν, ἄλογον καὶ τὸ γῆν εἶναι τὴν σελήνην. δόξει γὰρ πρὸς οὐθὲν ἀλλὰ μάτην γεγονέναι μήτε καρποὺς ἐκφέρουσα μήτ’ ἀνθρώποις  

c–d. Görgemanns (,  with nn. –) notes parallel Plutarchan examples of this technique.

Theon, Lamprias and Life on the Moon



τισὶν ἕδραν παρέχουσα καὶ γένεσιν καὶ δίαιταν· ὧν ἕνεκα καὶ ταύτην γεγονέναι φαμὲν κατὰ Πλάτωνα ‘τροφὸν ἡμετέραν ἡμέρας τε καὶ νυκτὸς ἀτρεκῆ φύλακα καὶ δημιουργόν’ Lamprias, I am as keen as any one of you to hear what’s going to be said. But before that, I’d like to hear about those who are said to live on the Moon: not if some people live there, but whether it’s possible to live there. For if it’s not possible, then it’s absurd to claim that the Moon is an earth, for it will apparently have come into existence for no purpose but in vain if it does not bear fruit or provide a habitat, birthplace and way of life for some sort of people, which are the reasons we say this earth of ours exists – to quote Plato: ‘our nurse, strict guardian and maker of day and night.’

By Theon’s reasoning, if the earthy-Moon hypothesis is right, then the Moon must serve an analogous purpose to the world we inhabit; his teleological world-view does not accommodate an Earth-like Moon that is lifeless. Ventriloquized through Theon, questions about the inhabited Moon are clearly associated with the realm of literature. Janus-like, his intervention creates a bridge between the lunar physics of the first section of De facie and the metaphysics of the second, for it shows that the physical question (what is the Moon made of?) has direct implications for the metaphysical ones (is the Moon habitable? What is its function in the cosmos?). Just as importantly, Theon modulates the mood, tone and epistemological framework of the discussion, not least by allowing humour and fantasy to infiltrate the exchange. As he observes: ‘much is said on this subject both in jest (sun gelōti) and in earnest (meta spoudēs).’ Theon himself has the distinct ability of the spoudaiogeloios or serio-comic to spin scientific theory into fantastical absurdity. A good example of this is his objection to the earthy-Moon hypothesis: that Earth-dwellers who live directly beneath the Moon must live in perpetual fear of it falling, like so many Tantaluses with boulders hanging dangerously over their heads. In a similar way, he evolves his knowledge of the Moon’s erratic speed and three-way motion into the absurd idea that the only way for creatures to  

 

De fac. d–e. It is Theon whom Lamprias consults when he needs to check the source of a literary reference (f ). Lamprias attributes to him an encyclopaedic knowledge of lyric and elegiac poetry as well as Homer and Homeric scholarship (e–f; d; a). He is probably to be identified with Theon the literary scholar or grammatikos who was a guest at other convivial occasions in Plutarch’s work (Quaest. Conv. e and f ). πολλὰ λέγεται καὶ σὺν γέλωτι καὶ μετὰ σπουδῆς περὶ τούτων. The quotation is from Tim. b. De fac. e. The fear that the Moon might fall on Earth-dwellers’ heads was ascribed to Pharnaces and the Stoics earlier in the dialogue (c).



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

stay on the Moon as it spins rapidly around the Earth is if they are bound fast to its surface, like so many Ixions on their wheels. Theon knows stories about the Moon: it is no wonder, he says, that a lion was once hurled down from the Moon to the Peloponnese (an allusion to the Nemean lion tale we encountered in Chapter ); we should rather wonder that we are not constantly bombarded by such lunar jetsam, with men flying off the Moon like acrobats tumbling and performing cartwheels. Theon’s tumbling Moon-men strike an Aristophanic note, recalling the primeval tumbling (kubistōntes) humans from Aristophanes’ speech in Plato’s Symposium (a), some of whom were descended from the Moon. The result is not just humorous; Aristophanes’ whimsical myth, with its tripartite aetiology, is proleptic of the myth which Sulla is shortly to narrate. Where Aristophanes had postulated that the original three human sexes originated from different heavenly bodies – the male from the Sun, the female from the Earth and the mixed man–woman from the Moon which mediates between the Sun and the Earth (b) – the stranger of Sulla’s myth will introduce the celestial origins of the three constituent parts of each human being: the body from Earth, the intellect from the Sun, and the soul, which connects all three, from the Moon in between. In addition to these absurdities, Theon raises serious climatological objections to the habitable Moon. With twelve scorching lunar summers a year on the Moon, only the thinnest of atmospheres and no rain at all, it is difficult to imagine how the Moon could possibly sustain the vegetable life that is vital for people’s survival: καὶ γὰρ γελοῖον περὶ μονῆς τῶν ἐκεῖ διαπορεῖν, εἰ μὴ γένεσιν μηδὲ σύστασιν ἔχειν δύνανται. ὅπου γὰρ Αἰγύπτιοι καὶ Τρωγλοδῦται, οἷς ἡμέρας μιᾶς ἀκαρὲς ἵσταται κατὰ κορυφὴν ὁ ἥλιος ἐν τροπαῖς εἶτ’ ἄπεισιν, ὀλίγον 





De fac. e; cf. b–d where Lucius explains that the heavy, earthy Moon is kept aloft by the rapidity of its revolution. The earliest Greek theoretician of lunar and planetary motion known to us is Apollonius of Perga (third century BCE). In the following century, Hipparchus calculated a geometrical model for the Moon’s motion based on Apollonius’ theory, which is described at Ptolemy, Syn. I, . – . [Heiberg]. The complexity of the Moon’s motion was well known in antiquity: Varro, for example, makes the same etymological link as Theon here between the lunar goddess Artemis’ epithet ‘Trivia’ (meaning ‘Goddess of the Three Ways’) and the Moon’s three-way movement in space (De lingua Latina .). Lunar motion and speed are explained in detail in the fourth book of Ptolemy’s Syntaxis (I, pp. ff. [Heiberg]); see esp. p. . –. For discussion of Plutarch’s sources, see Torraca (, –). De fac. e: οὔκουν εἰ λέων τις ἔπεσεν ὑπὸ ῥύμης εἰς Πελοπόννησον, ἄξιόν ἐστι θαυμάζειν, ἀλλ’ ὅπως οὐ μυρί’ ὁρῶμεν ἀεὶ ‘πεσήματ’ ἀνδρῶν καὶ ἀπολακτισμοὺς βίων’ ἐκεῖθεν οἷον ἐκκυβιστώντων καὶ περιτρεπομένων. Evidently Plutarch was familiar with Heraclides Ponticus’ story about a man who fell from the Moon; cf. Hirzel (, vol. II, ). The psychology of Sulla’s myth – especially the division between soul and intellect – is unusual in Platonic terms: see Dillon (, –) and Cherniss’ note ad loc.

Theon, Lamprias and Life on the Moon



ἀπέχουσι τοῦ κατακεκαῦσθαι ξηρότητι τοῦ περιέχοντος, ἦπου τοὺς ἐπὶ τῆς σελήνης εἰκός ἐστι δώδεκα θερείας ὑπομένειν ἔτους ἑκάστου, κατὰ μῆνα τοῦ ἡλίου πρὸς κάθετον αὐτοῖς ἐφισταμένου καὶ στηρίζοντος, ὅταν ᾖ πανσέληνος; πνεύματά γε μὴν καὶ νέφη καὶ ὄμβρους, ὧν χωρὶς οὔτε γένεσις φυτῶν ἔστιν οὔτε σωτηρία γενομένοις, ἀμήχανον ἐκεῖ διανοηθῆναι συνιστάμενα διὰ θερμότητα καὶ λεπτότητα τοῦ περιέχοντος. οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐνταῦθα τῶν ὀρῶν τὰ ὑψηλὰ δέχεται τοὺς ἀγρίους καὶ ἐναντίους χειμῶνας, ἀλλ’ . . . ἤδη καὶ σάλον ἔχων ὑπὸ κουφότητος ὁ ἀὴρ ἐκφεύγει τὴν σύστασιν ταύτην καὶ πύκνωσιν. εἰ μὴ νὴ Δία φήσομεν, ὥσπερ ἡ Ἀθηνᾶ τῷ Ἀχιλλεῖ νέκταρός τι καὶ ἀμβροσίας ἐνέσταξε μὴ προσιεμένῳ τροφήν, οὕτω τὴν σελήνην, Ἀθηνᾶν λεγομένην καὶ οὖσαν, τρέφειν τοὺς ἄνδρας ἀμβροσίαν ἀνιεῖσαν αὐτοῖς ἐφημέριον, ὡς Φερεκύδης ὁ παλαιὸς οἴεται σιτεῖσθαι τοὺς θεούς. τὴν μὲν γὰρ Ἰνδικὴν ῥίζαν, ἥν φησι Μεγασθένης τοὺς μήτε πίνοντας ἀλλ’ ἀστόμους ὄντας ὑποτύφειν καὶ θυμιᾶν καὶ τρέφεσθαι τῇ ὀσμῇ, πόθεν ἄν τις ἐκεῖ φυομένην λάβοι μὴ βρεχομένης τῆς σελήνης; ‘Moreover, it is ridiculous to raise the difficulty of how they abide there, if they cannot be born and exist in the first place. Now, when the Egyptians and Troglodytes, for whom the Sun stands at the zenith for a moment of one day at solstice before it withdraws, are practically burned to a crisp by the aridity of the atmosphere – is it really likely that those on the Moon withstand twelve summers each year, with the Sun standing vertically and fixed over them every month at full Moon? Besides, because of the heat and tenuousness of the atmosphere, it is impossible to envisage the formation of winds, clouds and rain there, without which there is no way of generating plants nor of sustaining them once they have been generated. For even here the high mountains do not admit savage and hostile storms, but the air, [which is tenuous] in any case and ripples on account its lightness, escapes this compaction and condensation. But perhaps, by god, we are to say that, just as Athena dropped some nectar and ambrosia into Achilles’ mouth when he was refusing food, so too the Moon (which is called Athene and is indeed identical with the goddess) nourishes the men by sending ambrosia up to them each day, just as Pherecydes of old supposes the gods were fed! For even the Indian root which, according to Megasthenes, the Mouthless Men, who [neither eat] nor drink, kindle and cause to smoulder and are nourished by its fumes – on what basis might one assume it grows there, given that there is no moisture on the Moon?

Theon’s speculation that the Moon-people might subsist on vapours rather than solid food had terrestrial parallels. Herodotus had described the Scythians’ recreational habit of inhaling hemp-fumes, and the historian Megasthenes had reported the existence in India of the tribe of ‘Mouthless Men’ (Astomoi) to whom Theon refers here, who survived the desert 

a–c.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

conditions solely by ingesting vapours. The Pythagoreans also believed certain animal species behaved likewise, though Aristotle argued against the possibility that such creatures exist. The idea, then, may be hypothetically plausible – but there was a deeper problem: could anything grow on the Moon in the first place? With these objections, Theon gives us our very first insight into what it might be like to be on the Moon – and not just through the lens of fantasy; all of his objections, no matter how ludicrously presented, have a scientific basis. Time, for example, is indeed experienced quite differently on the Moon. Since the Moon revolves around the Earth once every month, which is twelve times more rapidly than the speed at which the Sun revolves around the Earth to ancient thinking, it undergoes all the seasons of the terrestrial year within each of its monthly orbits. There are consequently twelve lunar summers for everyone here on Earth, corresponding to the phases around the full-Moon each month. In that respect, time seems densely compressed on the Moon (one year into one month). In another sense, however, time seems to expand, for sunlight spreads gradually over the Moon through the first half of its monthly orbit, and wanes to darkness through the second half, which means that a lunar ‘day’ lasts roughly as long as fifteen solar days on Earth, and the lunar ‘night’ the same length. We have already seen in Chapter  how this fact informed the Pythagorean Philolaus’ theories about the size of the Moon-men, whom they supposed to be fifteen times larger and stronger than Earthlings. What we on Earth experience as a solar day of twenty-four hours – a unit known as a νυχθήμερον in Greek – therefore lasts a whole month on the Moon. This warping of time was a phenomenon that the Greeks associated with the circumpolar regions on Earth as well, thus reinforcing the connections between the Moon and the arctic zone in the ancient imagination. Theon’s scientific hypothesis about conditions on the Moon goes against prevailing assumptions about its humidity that are based on the Moon’s perceived moisturizing effects on Earth and its femininity. It is



  

For the Astomoi, see Megasthenes FGH c  F ; Strabo .. and ..–; Pliny NH ... It was said that the philosopher Democritus staved off death by surviving for several days on the fumes from baking bread or honey (DK  A and ). Herodotus .. mentions a tribe of Scythians who recreationally inhale the fumes of toasted hemp-seed. The fume-sniffing Moon-men of Lucian VH . play on these ideas. Aristotle Parva Natura a – and Sens. a –.  DK  A; cf. Chapter , pp. –. See Chapter , pp. –. See, for example, Ptolemy Tetr. .; at ., Ptolemy argues that the Moon’s humidity is caused by its proximity to the Earth’s moist exhalations. The theory that there are enormous quantities of

Theon, Lamprias and Life on the Moon



not an isolated example of speculation about the climates of extraterrestrial worlds: Vitruvius, for example, attributes variations in climate to the varying positions occupied by the celestial bodies: Mars is scorching hot because of its proximity to the Sun; Saturn, which is located farthest from the Sun, is glacial; Jupiter, which is situated in between these extremes, experiences a more moderate climate. Theon’s theory is, however, the most detailed of such accounts. It is inferred partly from the desert conditions at the Earth’s tropics where the Sun’s radiation is most direct, and partly from Aristotelian meteorology, which teaches that the air is hot and dry at high altitude since the constant current generated by the celestial motion prevents cloud-formation. In confirmation of this, Aristotle’s second-century commentator Alexander of Aphrodisias points out that the remnants of sacrifices performed on certain high mountain peaks are often found in tact by worshippers a year later, since there has been no wind to scatter the ashes in the interim; Plutarch himself records the same phenomenon. In Alexander’s unperturbed ashes we may see an ancient forerunner of Neil Armstrong’s boot-print in the lunar regolith, for Theon is quite right that there is no weather on the Moon. To his way of thinking, since it was located at a higher altitude than even the highest mountains on Earth, as well as on the margins of the unchanging superlunary zone, the Moon is a logical extension of the hot, moistureless and weatherless regions on Earth. In fact, Aristotle explicitly ascribes such conditions to the ‘space between the Earth and stars’, which incorporates the Moon. Lamprias congratulates Theon on his entertaining speech: γε’ ἔφην ‘καὶ ἄριστα τῇ παιδιᾷ τοῦ λόγου τὰς ὀφρῦς ἃ καὶ θάρσος ἡμῖν ἐγγίνεται πρὸς τὴν ἀπόκρισιν, μὴ πάνυ πικρὰν μηδ’ αὐστηρὰν εὐθύνην προσδοκῶσι. καὶ γὰρ ὡς ἀληθῶς τῶν

 



water on the Moon – enough to cause a cataclysm here on Earth – is ascribed to Philolaus (Aëtius .., DG p. ; DK  A; G): Φ. διττὴν εἶναι τὴν φθορὰν τοῦ κόσμου, τὸ μὲν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ πυρὸς ῥυέντος, τὸ δὲ ἐξ ὕδατος σεληνιακοῦ, περιστροφῆι τοῦ ἀέρος ἀποχυθέντος. ‘Philolaus says that there are two methods for the destruction of the cosmos: one by fire streaming from heaven, and the other by lunar water poured down by the revolution of the air.’ On this text and its interpretation, see Huffman (, –), who finds it ‘hard to see any direct connection’ with Philolaus’ thoughts on the inhabited Moon (DK  A, and concludes that its meaning is obscure.  Vitruvius ... Aristotle, Meteor. b –a . Alexander, In Meteor. p. ., esp. –: ὡμολόγηται δὲ ὄρη τινὰ καὶ ὑπερνέφελα καὶ ὑπερήνεμα εἶναι· θυσιῶν οὖν ἐπ’ αὐτῶν γινομένων εὑρίσκεται μετ’ ἐνιαυτὸν ἡ ἀπὸ τοῦ πυρὸς τέφρα ἔτι σωζομένη τε καὶ ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ χώρᾳ μένουσα. It is agreed that certain mountains are above the clouds and wind, and so when sacrifices are performed on them, after a year, the ashes of the fire are found still preserved and remaining in the same place. Cf. Plutarch fr.  Sandbach. Aristotle, Meteor. a –.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie σφόδρα πεπεισμένων τὰ τοιαῦτα διαφέρουσιν οἱ σφόδρα δυσκολαίνοντες αὐτοῖς καὶ διαπιστοῦντες ἀλλὰ μὴ πράως τὸ δυνατὸν καὶ τὸ ἐνδεχόμενον ἐθέλοντες ἐπισκοπεῖν. ‘Well,’ said I, ‘you’ve unfurrowed our brows very nicely with the playfulness of your speech. This gives me courage for my reply, for I won’t expect too sharp or severe a scrutiny. For really, there’s no difference between those who seriously believe this sort of thing, and those who get seriously irritated and sceptical about it and are unwilling to examine in a calm manner what is possible and what is admissible.’

As well as adjusting the mood to a more light-hearted tone by contrasting Theon’s playful attitude with that of serious believers or non-believers, Lamprias’ distinction between a proposition that is possible (to dunaton) and one that is admissible or contingent (to endekhomenon) manoeuvres the discussion away from the framework of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers that had defined the earlier debate about the Moon’s substance, towards a more flexible contemplation of possibilities, as Görgemanns also notes. This argument has a distinctly Aristotelian tang. In fact, Aristotle had evoked the notion of men on the Moon, in a discussion of different categories of the impossible: οὐ γὰρ ὡσαύτως τήν τε φωνὴν ἀδύνατόν φαμεν εἶναι ὁραθῆναι καὶ τοὺς ἐπὶ τῆς σελήνης ὑφ’ ἡμῶν· τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἐξ ἀνάγκης, τὸ δὲ πεφυκὸς ὁρᾶσθαι οὐκ ὀφθήσεται. For it is not in the same sense that we say ‘it is impossible for us to see sound’ and ‘it is impossible for us to see the men in the Moon.’ The former [sound] is necessarily invisible, whereas the latter [the men on the Moon] are by nature visible, but will never be seen by us.

Aristotle contrasts two impossibilities in this passage: the impossibility of seeing sound, and the impossibility of seeing the men on the Moon. A different sense of impossibility is involved in each case. ‘Seeing sound’ is impossible for logical or categorical reasons. Seeing the men on the Moon is equally impossible, but for different reasons: not because they are categorically un-seeable, in the way that sound is un-seeable, but for some other reason, about which Aristotle does not expand. Now, it would be misleading, I think, to interpret Aristotle’s statement that the men on the Moon are ‘by nature visible’ as a commitment to their existence on his   

De Fac. c. This is the topic of Aristotle, Met. Book . On Aristotle’s concept of possibility, see Sharples (). Aristotle, de mot. an. b –, translation after Peck and Forster ().

Theon, Lamprias and Life on the Moon



part, for though he speculates elsewhere on the fiery nature of the beings that live there, that is not the point of this passage. Nevertheless, a fall-out of the argument is that the men in the Moon emerge as a weaker, de facto type of impossibility – and the inquisitive reader may speculate about why we are unable to see entities which are by nature seeable: is it because there are no men on the Moon, or because we are too far away, or because they inhabit some portion of the Moon that cannot be seen . . .? One way or another, this places the Moon at the nub of problems of theory, empiricism and belief in the philosophical tradition. Lamprias reinforces that here in De facie with his explicit turn to the realm of hypothesis, which prepares the reader for the mythical mode of the work’s final section. Lamprias begins his exposition with the assertion that nothing that has been said proves the Moon is uninhabitable. Theon’s objections are answered one by one. First, Lamprias argues that the Moon’s rotation is gentle and orderly, not violently erratic as Theon had suggested, so there is no need to reckon with Moon-men being flung from its surface. Second, the Sun’s searing heat every full Moon is palliated in turn by the extreme cold every New Moon, when one hemisphere is deprived entirely of the Sun’s radiation. On balance, therefore, the prevailing climate must be like spring. Moreover, the Sun’s radiation is far more effectively dispersed in the Moon’s thin atmosphere than in the Earth’s, where dense vapours act as fuel (hupekkauma) that intensifies the heat. There is no reason to suppose that there are no winds on the Moon, either; in fact, it is likely that its gentle revolutions generate breezes which, in turn, distribute any existing moisture around the globe. There is good reason to think that the Moon, therefore, has a mild and humid climate rather than a torrid one; after all, the Moon is known for its gently humidifying effects on Earth – which include causing meat to decay and easing women’s delivery; the Moon exerts the tidal pull on the Earth’s oceans and brings about dew. These well-known effects are quite the opposite of those from the Sun, indicating a very different sort of world. As for what might grow there,

   



See Chapter , pp. –. My thanks to both my anonymous reader and Gabriele Galluzzo for help with interpreting this difficult passage. a–b. This sits somewhat uncomfortably with Lucius’ earlier claim (b–d) about the rapidity of the Moon’s revolution, which keeps it aloft even though it is heavy. b–c. For the meteorological theory underpinning Lamprias’ argument, see Aristotle, Meteor. b – (on the Earth’s stratified atmosphere) with Alexander In Meteor. pp. .–.; Seneca QN b  (that air is more rarefied at altitude and retains heat less effectively). f–a; on the Moon’s putrefying powers, see Chapter , p.  with n. .

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The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

we should remember that on Earth, vegetation adapts to thrive in a wide variety of climatic conditions: some plants flourish only where it is cold, others only where it is hot and dry; some even thrive in the sea. We must suppose that lunar vegetation is comfortably adapted to the summery conditions and rarefied air that prevail there. The same is true for the Moon-beings, who must be adapted physically to survive on the Moon: Lamprias supposes that they must be slight of body and need only frugal nourishment. (The stranger subsequently reveals in his myth that the righteous souls on the Moon are indeed incorporeal, appearing as beams of light, and nourished on fumes.) Certainly, Lamprias avers, we cannot rule out the possibility of life on the Moon just because the conditions there do not favour our kind of life. On that principle, after all, we should have to assume that the Earth’s seas are barren just because they cannot support humans, and if anyone reported that they are filled with different sorts of aquatic creatures, that claim would be considered ‘the stuff of myth and marvel’ (μύθοις ὅμοια καὶ τέρασιν). Yet we know that the oceans teem with creatures and plants of wondrous variety. So too it must be with the Moon: the apparently fantastical notion that there is life on the Moon is probably true – but we should not expect the life-forms to be identical to us. In fact, Lamprias concludes, it must seem far stranger to those on the Moon to think that the Earth is inhabited, since from their vantage point above, our world must appear a dismal place, practically an underworld: ἐκείνους δ’ ἂν οἴομαι πολὺ μᾶλλον ἀποθαυμάσαι τὴν γῆν ἀφορῶντας οἷον ὑποστάθμην καὶ ἰλὺν τοῦ παντὸς ἐν ὑγροῖς καὶ ὁμίχλαις καὶ νέφεσι διαφαινομένην ἀλαμπὲς καὶ ταπεινὸν καὶ ἀκίνητον χωρίον, εἰ ζῷα φύει καὶ τρέφει μετέχοντα κινήσεως ἀναπνοῆς θερμότητος· κἂν εἴ ποθεν αὐτοῖς ἐγγένοιτο τῶν Ὁμηρικῶν τούτων ἀκοῦσαι ‘σμερδαλέ’, εὐρώεντα, τά τε στυγέουσι θεοί περ’, καί ’τόσσον ἔνερθ’ Ἀίδαο, ὅσον οὐρανὸς ἔστ’ ἀπὸ γαίης’, ταῦτα φήσουσιν ἀτεχνῶς περὶ τοῦ χωρίου τούτου λέγεσθαι καὶ τὸν Ἅιδην ἐνταῦθα καὶ τὸν Τάρταρον ἀπῳκίσθαι, γῆν δὲ μίαν εἶναι τὴν σελήνην, ἴσον ἐκείνων τῶν ἄνω καὶ τῶν κάτω τούτων ἀπέχουσαν. Rather, I think they would be far more amazed, seeing the Earth in the distance and what a lowly place it appears to be – the dregs of the universe in its moisture, mists and clouds; a gloomy, depressed, unmoving place – to   

c–e. d. On the Stoic notes in this description, see Cherniss’ note ad loc. with Reinhardt (, –) and Görgemanns (, ). c–e. For the Heraclitean idea that underlies Plutarch’s analogy, see Chapter , pp. – with n. . Plato, Phaedo c–d is also in the background; there Socrates compares the craterdwellers of the lower world (i.e. us) with creatures that live under the sea.

Sulla’s Myth: The Moon as Metaphysical Junction

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think that it grows and nourishes living creatures that move, breathe and have warmth! And if they heard from somewhere these Homeric verses ‘dreadful and dank, hated even by the gods’ and ‘so far beneath Hades as are the heavens from the earth’, they would say they refer to our world: that Hades and Tartarus had been banished here, and the only Earth is the Moon, since it is equally distant from those upper regions and these lower ones.

The significance of this brief exercise in cognitive estrangement cannot be overemphasized. Underlying it is a long tradition of remote Earth-views, a genealogy which I trace in full in Chapter . However, this is our earliest example, albeit in embryonic form, of an imagined lunar perspective on our world, and it was an enormously influential idea. In the following century, Lucian would take this seed and develop it into the full-blown motif of selēnoskopia or ‘view from the Moon’ in two works that are early forerunners in the genre of science fiction (see Chapter ). The motif would go on to dominate trips to the Moon in early modern literature, and would finally – and momentously – become reality with the first photographic image of our world taken from the Moon in . The more relaxed mood, together with Lamprias’ Homeric quotations and allusion to ‘myths and marvels’ and the world of the dead, primes the reader for transition to the final myth about the Moon, where Plutarch gives an account of the Moon’s metaphysical role in the cosmos to complement what has already been argued about its physical role. But the interlude with Theon is a crucial threshold within the dialogue: with its distinctive propositional framework (what is hypothetically possible rather than provable), its mixture of the serious and comic, its splashes of fantasy and its experiment in cognitive estrangement, Plutarch modulates the reader into a new frame of mind that is receptive to a story that lies somewhere between the poles of science and fantasy.

Sulla’s Myth: The Moon as Metaphysical Junction With Lamprias’ mention of the world of the dead, Sulla suddenly intervenes, for this touches on the topic of his myth: 



e–f. Huffman (, ) notes that this passage is closely connected to both the Stoics (Zeno called the earth ‘sediment’ and ‘dregs’, SVF .–) and Plato’s Phaedo ( c, where the water and mist around the earth are called the ‘sediment’ of aether). Kepler’s Somnium, where ‘Volva’ (Earth) is the satellite of ‘Levania’ (the Moon), is full of similar reversals of perspective. See also Cyrano de Bergerac’s Les états et empires de la lune, where the Moon-people consider it a heresy to claim that the Earth (their ‘moon’) is inhabited; also Fontenelle’s Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (Troisième soir), where the phases of the Earth are visible to those on the Moon. The selēnoskopic tradition is examined in Chapter .

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The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie Ἔτι δέ μου σχεδὸν λέγοντος ὁ Σύλλας ὑπολαβών ‘ἐπίσχες,’ εἶπεν ‘ὦ Λαμπρία, καὶ παραβαλοῦ τὸ θυρίον τοῦ λόγου, μὴ λάθῃς τὸν μῦθον ὥσπερ εἰς γῆν ἐξοκείλας καὶ συγχέῃς τὸ δρᾶμα τοὐμὸν ἑτέραν ἔχον σκηνὴν καὶ διάθεσιν. ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν ὑποκριτής εἰμι, πρότερον δ’ αὐτοῦ φράσω τὸν ποιητὴν ὑμῖν, εἰ μή τι κωλύει, καθ’ Ὅμηρον ἀρξάμενος. ‘Ὠγυγίη τις νῆσος ἀπόπροθεν εἰν ἁλὶ κεῖται,’ δρόμον ἡμερῶν πέντε Βρεττανίας ἀπέχουσα πλέοντι πρὸς ἑσπέραν· I had barely finished speaking, when Sulla interrupted and said, ‘Hold on, Lamprias, and put a lid on your speech so you don’t unwittingly run the story ashore, as it were, and ruin my show, which has a different setting and arrangement. I, then, am actor – but first I shall reveal its author to you by starting, if I may, with Homer: “Ogygia, an island, lies far away in the sea” – at a distance of five days sailing from Britain towards the west . . .’

Sulla claims to have heard the account he is about to relate from an anonymous stranger, who had himself heard it from the attendants of the sleeping god Cronus on an island faraway in the western ocean. I will consider later on the implications of this curiously oblique framework for our interpretation of the myth. First, however, I wish to focus on the doctrine itself and the controversial question of how it relates to the earlier scientific discussion in the De facie. Sulla launches immediately into the religious domain: according to his source, one should honour the Moon above all the visible gods since she is sovereign over life and death. To explain, he offers an allegorical interpretation of the myth of Demeter and Persephone: Demeter, as goddess of agriculture, represents the Earth, and her daughter Kore or Persephone represents the Moon. In the well-known myth, Persephone is abducted by her uncle Hades and trapped in the underworld for six months of the year, but she emerges for the other half, when she is reunited with Demeter. The familiar interpretation reads this as an aetiology for the seasons: it is winter for one third of the year while the Earth-goddess mourns her daughter’s absence, and when mother and daughter are reunited, the Earth enjoys the fruitfulness of spring, summer and autumn. The stranger, however, offers an astronomical interpretation that focuses on Demeter and Persephone’s biennial embrace on the moment they part each year as well as the moment of their reunion. This, he explains, is an allegory for

  

De fac. f–a. This island is also mentioned in De def. or. a; cf. pp. –. The motif finds parallel in Tractate . of the Corpus Hermeticum; for discussion, see Bos , – and n.  below. Hom. Hymn. to Dem. .–, – and –.

Sulla’s Myth: The Moon as Metaphysical Junction



the fact that the Moon is eclipsed every six months: when the Moon falls into the Earth’s shadow, in mythic terms Persephone is embraced by her mother the Earth-goddess. Just as Persephone cannot leave Hades though she longs to, so too the Moon is fixed within the boundary of Hades, standing at the threshold between life and death (d–f ). We have already encountered the Moon as ‘warden of the dead’ in the magical hymns. Sulla’s stranger reinforces the Moon’s connection with Persephone through some fancy etymological footwork: () he links the name ‘Persephone’ with the Greek phōsphoros meaning ‘light-bearing’, which is a quality of the Moon; and (), he links the Moon with Persephone through the goddess’ cult-name ‘Korē’, which means ‘Maiden’ but also ‘pupil’ of the eye (d). Such tortuous etymology is not isolated: according to Varro, Ennius had also identified the Moon with Proserpina, the Roman Persephone, on the basis of her name’s supposed derivation from the verb proserpere: Hinc Epicharmus Ennii Proserpinam quoque appellat, quod solet esse sub terris. Dicta Proserpina, quod haec ut serpens modo in dexteram modo in sinisteram partem late movetur. For this reason, Ennius’ Epicharmus also calls her [i.e. the Moon] ‘Proserpina’, because she is wont to be under the earth. She is called Proserpina because, like a serpent, she moves widely now to the right, now to the left.

Ennius’ connection between the Moon and the chthonic serpent hints further at the Moon’s underworld associations. Having established the Moon’s connection with the dead through the link with Persephone, the stranger then explains more precisely the sense in which it is ‘sovereign over life and death’. Humans, he says, are  

  

On the eclipse-allegory, see also Pérez Jiménez (, –). Cf. the myth of De gen. Soc., e.g. f where Earth and Hades are identical; a–c, where the region between Earth and the Moon is known as the ‘portion of Persephone’, and Earth’s shadow is the ‘Styx’ and ‘road to Hades’. In the Platonizing adventures of his novel Metamorphoses, Apuleius frames Lucius’ experience during his first initiation to Isis in terms that evoke an eschatological journey to the Moon: ‘Accessi confinium mortis et calcato Proserpinae limine per omnia vectus elementa remeavi, nocte media vidi solem candido coruscantem lumine’. ‘I approached the boundary of death and, after I had stepped on Proserpina [Persephone’s] threshold, I returned, borne through all the elements; in the middle of the night I saw the sun glittering with glistening light’. (Met. .); see Dowden (, esp.  and ), where he notes the similarity of the expression used by Macrobius, Commentary on Cicero, Somnium Scipionis ..: ipsamque lunam vitae esse mortisque confinium. See Chapter , pp. –. For discussion of the optical pun, see Chapter , p.  and Chapter , pp. –. Varro, De lingua Latina ..



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

composed of three constituent parts, each of which belongs to one of three celestial bodies: the body (which belongs to Earth), the mind or intellect (which belongs to the Sun) and the soul (which belongs to the Moon). Like the Moon, which stands between the Sun and Earth, the soul connects the body with the intellect. At our appointed time we each undergo a double-death: the first death is the death of the body, which takes place on the Earth. It is a sudden process in which the soul and intellect are violently separated from the body and released upwards to the Moon. The second death takes place on the Moon, and is a much gentler process in which the intellect is gradually separated from the soul and returns to its home, the Sun. To guide the soul through this double process there are two divine psychopomps: the ‘terrestrial/chthonic Hermes’ who guides the soul through its first separation on Earth, and the ‘celestial Hermes’ who guides it through its second separation on the Moon (b). As a divine messenger who makes regular transitions between the realm of the living and the dead, Hermes is suitably adapted to the in-between Moon, with which he seems to have been connected in both Greek and Egyptian religious thought. His presence here probably indicates the influence on Plutarch’s myth of Hermetic sources, which exhibit a similar mixture of Pythagorean, Platonic and Stoic doctrinal elements. 



Clearchus, the famously pious Greek we encountered earlier in Chapter , used to polish and place garlands on the statues of Hermes and Hecate every month at New Moon (Theopompus ap. Porphyry, De abst. .). At De Is. et Os.  d–e, Plutarch reports that the Egyptians locate Heracles on the Sun because the Sun’s agency is strong and violent, and Hermes on the Moon because the Moon’s agency is cerebral just like Hermes, who was associated with wisdom. At Amatorius b–d, he reports another Egyptian belief, this time one that identified the Sun with Eros and the Moon with Aphrodite – a pairing that allegorized the ‘erotic’ embrace in which the Sun and Moon were locked (see Am. a). There is a reference to Hermes’ Roman counterpart Mercury among the fragments of Varro’s Endymiones (fr.  Krenkel), a Menippean satire which probably played on lunar eschatology – see Chapter , pp. –. Hermes figures in the myth of Persephone as early as Hom. Hymn. to Dem. .ff. I can find no other references to the particular duo of ‘heavenly’ and ‘terrestrial’ Hermes that Plutarch features here, and it may be Plutarch’s invention; see Vernière (, ) and van der Stockt (, –). We should detect the influence of Plato’s Symposium (d–c) with its two versions of the goddess Aphrodite (the ‘heavenly’ and the ‘vulgar’ Aphrodite Ourania/ Pandēmos), and two versions of Eros to correspond to each. We should also reckon with the possible influence of Xenocrates who – in a theory known to Plutarch – identified two versions of Zeus: the ‘highest’ Zeus hypatos who ruled over the intelligible realm, and the ‘lowest’ Zeus neatos who ruled over the sublunary zone (Plut. Quaest. Plat.f ). Dillon (), who notes that this theory ‘imparts an almost Gnostic flavour to Xenocrates’ thought’ (p. ), speculates tentatively about the influence of Hermetic and Gnostic material on Plutarch (‘influences to which Plutarch was not, perhaps, immune’ p. ), esp. Tractates  and  of the Corpus Hermeticum which evince similar (non-Platonic) ideas about the distinctness of mind and soul as we find in the myth of De facie (Dillon , –).

Sulla’s Myth: The Moon as Metaphysical Junction



Once liberated from both body and intellect, the soul wanders in the region between the Earth and the Moon and on the Moon itself, undergoing purification (c–e). During this time, souls do not reside on the Moon constantly, but can shuttle back and forth to the Earth on daemonic errands such as delivering oracles, participating in mystery rituals, punishing misdeeds or saving humans in crises at war or at sea ( c–d). The Moon’s essential liminality is therefore shared by its psychic inhabitants. For most souls, the end-game is to be dissolved, once separated from intellect, and reabsorbed into the Moon, just as bodies decompose and are reabsorbed into the Earth. This happens more quickly for some than others. Some souls still feel an attachment to the body and, as they sleep, they dream of their former lives and begin to drift back down to Earth, but the Moon lures them back for further cleansing. For those who have led temperate lives ungoverned by the passions, however, dissolution happens more efficiently (a). Eventually, once the soul has been thoroughly reabsorbed, as the Sun imparts its fertilizing light, warmth and intellect onto the Moon, the Moon brings forth from itself fresh souls, ready for rebirth into new bodies (e and c). For this reason, the Moon presides over both death and birth. For those interested in the origins of Plutarch’s ideas, the lunar eschatology of De facie is clearly embedded in the network of densely interwoven Pythagorean and Platonic theories that we explored in Chapter . And as we have already seen, there are parallels for these ideas in ancient Indian thought as well. A parallel doctrine of lunar eschatology is also preserved in two important fragments from Stobaeus’ Anthology, which 







There are similar accounts of the existence and activities of these lunar demigods at De gen. Soc. c and De def. orac. a–b. Plutarch’s daemonology was rooted in the Platonic idea that daimones link the regions of the immortal and mortal (see Plato, Symp. e) but influenced also by Xenocrates, see Dillon (, –) and, more generally, Brenk (, –); Brenk (, –). Aurélio Pérez Jiménez has written copiously on Plutarch’s description of the newly liberated souls’ experience, both as they approach the Moon and thereafter as daimones (e.g. Pérez Jiménez , , , a, a). Cf. De genio Socratis f–f, where it is revealed to Timarchus that the principles of birth and decay are linked together at the Moon, which is the ‘turning-point of birth’ (ἡ καμπὴ τῆς γενέσεως, b). For comparison of the two myths, see von Arnim (, –) and Deuse (). At Plutarch, Amat. d and b, the Moon is identified with Aphrodite as a place for the regeneration of souls through the fertilizing influence of the Sun, which is identified with Eros. See pp. –. Donini (, esp. –), who argues that De facie shows wide reading but espouses a firmly Platonic–Aristotelian view, emphasizes the importance of the contemporary tradition of Middle Platonism for Plutarch’s thought: ‘Plutarch can be allowed to find some Platonic doctrine which is not to be found explicitly in the Dialogues but had by then become part of the tradition of the school.’ On Plutarch’s place in the history of Platonism, see Opsomer (). See Chapter , pp. –.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

were originally attributed to Porphyry, but have been convincingly reassigned to Plutarch, perhaps belonging to a treatise on the soul, now lost. The passages present an allegorical interpretation of different episodes from the Odyssey, and feature numerous overlaps with the doctrine of De facie. Fr. , the shorter of the two, focuses on the sea-god Proteus’ prophecy of a glorious afterlife for Menelaus in Od. . –: ἀλλά σ’ ἐς Ἠλύσιον πεδίον καὶ πείρατα γαίης ἀθάνατοι πέμψουσιν, ὅθι ξανθὸς Ῥαδάμανθυς But you the immortals will send to the Elysian Plain and the ends of Earth, where fair Rhadamanthys resides . . .

The ‘Elysian plain’ (Ēlusion) is interpreted here as a punning allusion to the far side of the Moon since, in the reverse of the modern tendency to refer to this as the Moon’s ‘dark side’, this was believed in antiquity to be illuminated by the Sun (hēlios). This is corroborated in De facie c, where Plutarch tells us that ‘Elysian plain’ was indeed the name for the far side of the Moon. In fr. , the ‘ends of Earth’, in turn, are interpreted as a reference to the Earth’s shadow, which often touches the Moon. This is almost identical to the interpretation of the same Homeric verse in De fac. f. In fr. , Plutarch interprets the Circe episode from the Odyssey – where Odysseus’ men are transformed into swine – as an allusion to the Pythagorean–Platonic doctrine of the transmigration of the soul. Although there is no explicit mention of the Moon here, there are suggestive connections made between Circe’s island Aiaia and the sorting-place of souls. The fragment emphasizes Circe’s solar connection through her genealogy, which makes her a daughter of the Sun-god Helios. It also explains that her name, which evokes the Greek word for ‘circle’ or ‘ring’ (κίρκος, or in the more common form κρίκος), is an allusion to the cycle of rebirth, and that her island’s name Aiaia – which evokes the Greek cry of lament, αἰαῖ! – is appropriate for its lugubrious status in the afterlife. ‘Aiaia’, then, is the place to which all souls go after death, there to wander in confusion and distress. Longing for the familiar pleasures of their earthly existence, they readily partake – as Odysseus’ sailors had once done – of Circe’s magical





Stobaeus I .–. (W.-H.), now included in Sandbach’s edition of Plutarchan fragments as frr.  and . On the authorship question (in favour of Plutarch), see Helmig (). For detailed discussion of the fragments’ doctrine, see Scannapieco (), who speculates that fr.  might belong to the same passage in Plutarch’s lost On the soul as frr. –, or else possibly to another lost work, That the soul is incorruptible (n.  in Lamprias’ catalogue).  See pp. –. See Sandbach (, ) note b and Kaiser (, –).

Sulla’s Myth: The Moon as Metaphysical Junction



posset (kukeōn), which brings about their transformation. Now those who had indulged their souls’ appetitive element are transformed into gluttonous beasts like donkeys or pigs, and those who indulged the spirited element take on the form of more savage creatures like lions or wolves. It is only through the intervention of reason – represented allegorically here by the god Hermes – that souls can hope to escape the posset and the cycle of rebirth entirely, or at least to retain their human form for as long as possible through the vicissitudes of transmigration. Plutarch explains that the posset in the Homeric tale is equivalent to the forking of the paths in the underworld in Platonic eschatology, where souls are divided into different destinies according to their natures. There are obvious similarities between the eschatology of fr.  and the doctrine promulgated in the myth of De facie. Granted, fr.  deals with the familiar Platonic tripartite division of the soul into the elements of appetite, spirit and reason – whereas in De facie we find a different tripartite division of the person into body, soul and mind. Although the two systems can be mapped onto each other fairly intuitively at a superficial level, they are in fact quite distinct, and the question of how the psychology of De facie relates to Platonic doctrine on the soul has provoked much debate. Nevertheless, there are other compelling similarities between fr.  and De facie. Sulla also describes the bewildered state of the souls when they are newly arrived on the Moon, and the processes of sorting them out for purification and rebirth or otherwise for union with the Sun. On the strength of these connections, Rosario Scannapieco has argued that Aiaia of fr.  should in fact be identified with the Moon. She notes, inter alia, that Circe can be associated with the Moon through her connection with the lunar goddess Hecate, and that the Moon’s act of enchanting errant souls back to her in De fac. b makes better sense if understood in terms of Circe’s magic. We might add that Circe’s magical posset, which is a mixture of barley, milk and wine, mirrors the mixed nature of the Moon in De facie. Scannapieco herself makes the attractive suggestion that, as metaphor for turbulence and transformation, it corresponds to the abyss in De facie c and to the great ‘chasm’ in other eschatological myths in Plutarch’s work.   

See Schibli (). Scannapieco (, –). According to Diodorus Siculus .., Circe was the daughter of Hecate and Aeëtes, who was son of Helios. Scannapieco (, ), citing also De gen. Soc. f and De sera num. vind. e. On the cup-symbolism that is latent here, See Chapter , pp. –.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

The Moon’s daimonic nature in De facie is clearly related to its mixed physical composition, for as Sulla now explains, in an expansion (and perhaps correction) of the earlier Academic doctrine, the Moon is not pure earth but a mixture of earth and the star-substance aether (d). We find a similar theory in Plutarch’s essay De defectu oraculorum d–f, where the Sun, stars and planets are said to be likenesses of the gods, comets and meteors are likenesses of humans, and the Moon, which has a more complex, mixed nature between Earth and star (since it shares with the stars their revolutions, but is subject to change like the Earth), is the likeness of the demigods or daimones, which likewise have a more complex status between human and divine. Metaphysically, then, as well as physically, Plutarch emphasizes the Moon’s essential in-betweenness. In the myth of De facie it plays the role of a cosmic junction once again: both receiving and dispensing souls, both separating soul from intellect and reuniting the two, a place of both death and birth, for which reason it is associated with both Artemis and Eileithyia (c). And as everywhere else in this work, the Moon’s metaphysical liminality is reflected in Plutarch’s treatment of it: a mixture of Pythagorean, Platonic and Stoic ideas, Sulla’s myth is characterized by the same sort of doctrinal hybridity as the scientific section of the dialogue. The Moon’s role as a metaphysical junction emerges also in the belief that it is the point of origin for communications from the superlunary to the sublunary zones in the form of oracles and dreams. In De facie, the daimonic souls are the transporters of such messages as they flit between the Moon and Earth, which entwines the Moon’s mantic-oneiric role with its eschatological one. Elsewhere, oracles and dreams have a more concrete source on or near the Moon. First to consider in this connection is the tradition about the Sibyl of the Moon, to which Plutarch attests, among others. In his essay On the Pythian oracles, he explains that after the original Sibyl of Delphi died, she did not cease to prophesy, but became a lunar spirit – the face in the Moon – and she flies around the Moon ceaselessly uttering her prophecies. This tradition infiltrated contemporary fiction, for Deinias, the intrepid traveller in Antonius Diogenes’ novel The incredible things beyond Thule (which we will explore in the next chapter) encounters the Sibyl on his lunar voyage. Pausanias also records the  

De Pyth. or.  c–d; cf. also De sera num. vind.  d. The same belief is reported by Clement, Strom. ...– and Phlegon of Tralles (FGrH , fr. ). Photius, Bibl. cod.  a, with Schmedt , –; the presence of the mantic philosopher Empedocles on the Moon in Lucian’s Icaromenippus may be a nod to this idea; it is also significant that Empedocles espoused a doctrine of metempsychosis; see p.  with n. .

Sulla’s Myth: The Moon as Metaphysical Junction



tradition that the Sibyl claimed to have a semi-divine nature since she was born of a divine mother (one of the nymphs of Mount Ida) and a mortal father. Combined with her prophetic abilities, the Sibyl’s hybridity accords well with the nature of the Moon, with whom she may even be identified, for we also hear that she gave herself the name of the lunar goddess Artemis and called herself the sister, wife or sometimes daughter of the Sun-god Apollo. Second, we can consider the tradition that associates the Moon with dreams. Plutarch’s essay On the delayed vengeance of the gods features a myth in which the soul of a man called Thespesius flies up to the region near the Moon where, guided by a kindred soul, he observes not only eschatological features such as the place of purification (e–e), chasm of Lethe (e–a) and the place of punishment (e–f ), but also the magnificent Crater of Dreams, the oracle of Night and the Moon, which is a shimmering, iridescent melting-pot of truth and falsehood: Ἄλλην οὖν τοσαύτην διελθὼν ὁδὸν ἔδοξεν ἀφορᾶν κρατῆρα μέγαν, εἰς δὲ τοῦτον ἐμβάλλοντα ῥεύματα, τὸ μὲν ἀφροῦ θαλάσσης ἢ χιόνων λευκότερον, τὸ δ’ ὁποῖον ἶρις ἐξανθεῖ τὸ ἁλουργόν, ἄλλα δ’ ἄλλαις βαφαῖς κεχρωσμένα, πρόσωθεν ἴδιον ἐχούσαις φέγγος. ὡς δὲ πλησίον ἦλθον, ὁ κρατὴρ ἐκεῖνος ἀφανὴς † χλεμάβλου τοῦ περιέχοντος, τῶν τε χρωμάτων ἀμαυρουμένων τὸ ἀνθηρότερον ἀπέλειπε πλὴν τῆς λευκότητος. ἑώρα δὲ τρεῖς δαίμονας ὁμοῦ καθημένους ἐν σχήματι τριγώνου πρὸς ἀλλήλους τὰ ῥεύματα μέτροις τισὶν ἀνακεραννύντας. ἔλεγεν οὖν ὁ τοῦ Θεσπεσίου ψυχοπομπὸς ἄχρι τούτου τὸν Ὀρφέα προελθεῖν, ὅτε τὴν ψυχὴν τῆς γυναικὸς μετῄει, καὶ μὴ καλῶς διαμνημονεύσαντα λόγον εἰς ἀνθρώπους κίβδηλον ἐξενεγκεῖν ὡς κοινὸν εἴη μαντεῖον ἐν θεοῖς Ἀπόλλωνος καὶ Νυκτός· οὐδενὸς γὰρ Ἀπόλλωνι Νύκτα κοινωνεῖν· ‘ἀλλὰ τοῦτο μέν’ ἔφη ‘Νυκτός ἐστι καὶ Σελήνης μαντεῖον κοινόν, οὐδαμοῦ τῆς γῆς περαῖνον οὐδ’ ἔχον ἕδραν μίαν, ἀλλὰ πάντῃ πλανητὸν ἐπὶ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἐνυπνίοις καὶ εἰδώλοις· ἐκ τούτου γὰρ οἱ ὄνειροι μιγνύμενον, ὡς ὁρᾷς, τῷ ἀπατηλῷ καὶ ποικίλῳ τὸ ἁπλοῦν καὶ ἀληθὲς παραλαμβάνοντες διασπείρουσι.’ Proceeding as far again, he thought he saw in the distance a mighty crater with streams tumbling into it: one whiter than sea-foam or snow, one that blossomed purple like a rainbow, and others dyed with varied hues that

 

See esp. Pausanias ..: εἰμὶ δ’ ἐγὼ γεγαυῖα μέσον θνητοῦ τε θεᾶς τε ‘I am born a combination of mortal and goddess’. Cf. Lightfoot (, –). In Lucian, Icar.  the Moon claims she is the Sun’s sister and bemoans how philosophers impugn her reputation by attributing to her an incestuous desire for her brother.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie each shone forth with a brilliance of its own. But as they drew near, that crater disappeared . . .† of the atmosphere, and as the colours faded, the splendour disappeared except for the white colour. He then saw three demigods sitting together in triangular configuration facing one another, mixing the streams in certain measures. Thespesius’ soul-guide said that Orpheus had come this far when he was searching for his wife’s soul, and that he had misremembered and delivered a false report to mankind that there was among the gods a shared oracle of Apollo and Night – for Night has nothing in common with Apollo. ‘This, rather, is the shared oracle of Night and Selene,’ he said, ‘which has no outlet on Earth and no single seat, but wanders everywhere among mankind in dreams and visions. For this is the source from which dreams derive and disseminate the simple and true mixed, as you see, with the deceptive and colourful.’

The emphasis in this magnificent passage on the hybrid nature of oneiric communications – rendered visually here as a multi-coloured confluence of truth and lies – befits the lunar location, while the comparison of the kaleidoscopic streams with the rainbow is a subtle reminder of the liminality of this space which, rainbow-like, bridges heaven and Earth. In fact, the emphasis on the colour and iridescence of the Crater of Dreams here will find parallel in Lucius’ description of the lunar landscape in De facie f–a, a passage which we will examine presently. As Thespesius flies past the oracle of Night and the Moon, he hears a woman’s shrill voice uttering, amongst other things, a prediction about the time of his death. His soul-guide explains that this is the voice of the Sibyl who sings about the future as she is carried around in the face of the Moon. The Moon’s liminality, then, is reinforced by its association – both here in De facie and other Plutarchan works – with liminal entities such as dreams, oracles, souls and daimones. As noted earlier, the question of how Sulla’s myth relates to the earlier discussion in the dialogue is notoriously controversial, and the aspect of De facie that has most perplexed its readers. Certainly, it is not a straightforward relationship. Sometimes the myth confirms what has been said already, for example the stranger’s claim that what appears as the ‘face’ on the Moon is indeed a result of the depths and chasms on the its surface (c; cf. c). It also expands the science by bringing new information to the table that can be reconciled with previous arguments. The religious and eschatological dimensions of the myth are rooted in the same teleological view of the Moon that dominated the earlier discussion. As  

De sera num. vind. b–c, translation after De Lacy and Einarson ().  See pp. –. De sera num. vind.  d.

Sulla’s Myth: The Moon as Metaphysical Junction

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Görgemanns argues, the myth supplements the earlier cosmocentric teleology (the Moon’s role in the cosmos) with an anthropocentric teleology (the Moon’s role in the cycle of human life). He rightly emphasizes that the myth is not a simple extension of the science, but introduces new directions to the discussion. But there are also some surprises in store, for example the stranger’s surprising assertion that the Moon is a hybrid body, combining earth-like substance with the qualities of a star (e). As Opsomer rightly points out, this is not, strictly speaking, at odds with Lamprias and Lucius’ earlier arguments, since they did not argue that the Moon is exclusively earthy, and had even, in fact, conceded its mixed nature at one point. Nevertheless, coming so late in the work, this revelation is startling for the reader, who has certainly been encouraged all the way to accept that the Moon is an earthy world. It is more problematic still to try to make sense of details in the myth that are very definitely in conflict with earlier arguments in the dialogue. The best example of this is the stranger’s specious reasoning that the Moon is much larger than the Earth, which flies in the face of what had been conclusively demonstrated earlier in the work, and affirms Stoic astrophysics instead. There is no easy way to interpret this inconcinnity. Which argument did Plutarch expect his readers to accept? Opsomer thinks it likely that Plutarch was ‘in the end more convinced by the scientific arguments than by a myth fabricated by him on the basis of foreign source material’. But he wonders why he felt the need to bring up an alternative view at all. Torraca, who does not dwell on these problems, argues that the myth elevates the entire discussion to the level of ‘absolute’ metaphysical– theological truth – but no other scholar of recent years has arrived at such an optimistic conclusion. Instead, the trend has been to focus on how contradictory details of the myth undermine epistemological confidence in the scientific arguments retroactively. Within this more pessimistic framework, there has been a clear tendency to see the relationship between the  

 

Görgemanns (, –). At f, Lucius says that the Moon’s irregular movements and blotchy appearance are ‘the result of some effect of her substance or of the admixture, somehow, of another substance’. However, I think it is going too far to suggest with Opsomer (, ) that Lucius ‘stressed’ this mixed nature. See Cherniss notes ad loc.: this belief is attributed to Posidonius along with most’ of the Stoic school in the doxographical tradition (Aëtius ..; DG p. ).  Opsomer (, ). Torraca (, ).



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

two sections as complementary. Donini, for example, lends an explicitly Aristotelian patina to Görgemann’s thesis by arguing that the myth offers a correction of the science, supplementing the account of the Moon’s material cause with an account of its final cause. For Opsomer, who follows Donini’s lead, the myth offers theological vindication of the Moon’s teleology and an ‘improvement’ over the scientific discussion with its thesis that the Moon is ‘ensouled’ (empsykhos, e); the myth’s general function is ‘to make the teleological dimension of the treatise more explicit and encompassing’. Baldassari and Taub emphasize the epistemological distinctiveness and symbiotic importance of both sections of the work, as Plutarch aspires to provide a more holistic understanding of the Moon’s nature. Prompted by the myth to reexamine earlier sections of the work, we notice in retrospect that Lamprias’ and Lucius’ speeches evince a certain reticence to commit fully to the EMT. Donini notes that Lamprias and Lucius sometimes speak as if the EMT were their own argument (e.g., f, b, c), but elsewhere speak as if it had been stated by ‘other persons, with whom they do not wish to identify themselves’. The most egregious example of this tactic is a: ‘We express no opinion of our own now; but those who suppose that the Moon is earth, why do they turn things upside down any more than you [Stoics]?’ In Donini’s view, this detachment ‘reflects the proper caution of a Platonist – one who knows he is treating the question from an absolutely partial point of view, discussing as a physicist and astronomer a matter which is not simply physical and astronomical’. But it is disquieting, all the same. And then there is Sulla’s nonchalant bid to his audience – and the final words in the dialogue – to ‘make of these things what you will’ (d). The challenge speaks as much to readers of De facie as to Sulla’s internal audience, for while there can be no doubt that Plutarch nudges us strongly towards belief in the EMT, it is impossible to boil this work down to a simple digest of takeaway points. As Opsomer argues, the structure is entirely fallibilistic, engineered not to permit certainty.’ No-one, as far as I am    

 Donini (, –). Opsomer (, –). Baldassari (, esp. ); Taub (, –) links the dialectic between myth and science in De facie with Plato’s Timaeus.  Other examples: e, f, e. Donini (, –). Opsomer (, ): ‘Quite probably he [Plutarch] wants to hint at the fallibilistic nature of all scientific reasoning.’ Cf. Donini (, –): ‘The contradictions must therefore have exactly the same sense as the somewhat skeptical reservation in the first part of the work; they have the purpose of insisting on the nondefinitive, not fully certain, nonabsolute nature of scientific explanations . . . What Plutarch means to produce with regard to scientific matters is, however, a

Sulla’s Myth: The Moon as Metaphysical Junction



aware, has argued that this fallibilistic dynamic works in both directions, undermining the reader’s certainty in the myth as well as the science. To be sure, Opsomer briefly considers this possibility, but he still concludes that the effect is to undermine scientific reasoning only. I will return to this idea in a moment. Zooming out from the minutiae of doctrinal detail, it is obvious that the myth also contributes new cultural perspectives on the Moon. As this book demonstrates, the Moon absolutely pervaded the ancient thought-world, playing an important role in such diverse categories as chronometry and agriculture, erotic discourse, female fertility, religion and magic as well as astronomy, natural philosophy and (as we shall shortly see) the traveller’s imagination. By bringing several of these other dimensions to the table, Sulla’s myth helps build a fuller, more representative account of the Moon’s role in the ancient thought-world. The Moon emerges from De facie not just as an astronomical body but as a religious entity and eschatological space as well. The effect is compounded by Plutarch’s distinctive way of speaking about the Moon here, through the medium of myth rather than scientific argument and proof, as Liba Taub has emphasized. For Taub, Plutarch chose the dialogue form itself as ‘a vehicle for the deliberate bringing together of scientific and mythic explanations . . . to engage us readers in actively considering the ways in which we claim to know, to understand, and explain’. One of Plutarch’s goals, she argues, is to explore both logical and mythical methods as a route to understanding the world – something that she sees as essential to ancient scientific writing more generally, since it takes much more diverse forms than modern, e.g. scientific poetry as well as treatises. It seems to me that Plutarch had deliberately left deficiencies and gaps in his scientific account which the myth partially fills – but that he does not want us to take the myth as authoritative either. On this reading, De facie does not allow us to get too comfortable in our assumptions, nor does it offer us any safe conclusions. This is not gratuitous nihilism, but perhaps Plutarch’s most important lesson about the Moon: that as a remote but real world, it is fascinating but empirically unknowable, attainable only through hypothesis, and requiring a combination of disciplinary

  

sense of watchful reservation and not of corrosive mistrust; an irrationalist critic of science could never have written the first part of the De facie’. Opsomer (, ). Taub (, –) discusses the dialectic between mythos and logos in De facie. Taub (, ). Cf. Torraca (, –) on ‘la simbiosi di epistemologia e teologia’.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

approaches to understand it. The Moon is a world constructed out of – and representative of – Plutarch’s encyclopaedic and eclectic erudition. If, as Donini persuasively argues, Plutarch’s goal in De facie was to weld together the metaphysical and physical components of the Middle Platonic curriculum, then we may see the Moon as an icon of Plutarch’s intellectual world, especially Middle Platonism with its diet of physics and mysticism – and perhaps more broadly still of the culture of what used to be called the ‘Second Sophistic’, with its enkyklios paideia that included astronomy as well as linguistic, rhetorical and literary expertise. This tendency of multiple theories and approaches to converge around the Moon converts it into a doxographical space, an archive of ideas. It is no accident that the selenographic impulse – the desire to collate all theories and write about the Moon – coincides precisely with the globalizing period of the Roman Empire, an association to which we will return again in Chapter , where the Moon becomes the platform from which to view the entire world. What we shall explore next, however (and further in Chapter ), is a more concrete connection between lunar exploration and the expansion of borders, specifically the north Atlantic frontier.

Literary Coordinates and a Map to the Moon The Moon’s cosmic position on the margin between the sub- and superlunary zones carries significant epistemological ramifications, as we have seen, not least because it places the Moon precisely on the margins of the realm of certain knowledge (epistēmē) that is found in the superlunary regions, and the realm of deceptive opinion (doxa) that is characteristic of the changeful world below. Located in between, the Moon is a unique crepuscular zone of imaginative possibility; it is the world of science and 



Donini (, ) addresses this aspect of the dialogue to the Middle Platonic school specifically: ‘Clearly, therefore, the effective and important subject of the De facie is not really the nature and functions of the moon. This question serves only to exemplify, through the discussion of a specific problem, the difficulties inherent in a more general question belonging to the speculative philosophy of Middle Platonism: the relationship between physics and metaphysics, and between special sciences and theology. This is the real problem, and it may be suggested that in Plutarch’s oeuvre this question is not presented by the De facie alone.’ On the role of astronomy in higher education (the so-called ἐγκύκλιος παιδεία) during the Roman imperial period, as well its position among the ‘seven liberal arts’ of late antiquity and the Middle Ages, see Görgemanns’ succinct comments (, –); Evans (, –). On the ubiquity of astronomical introductions as evidence for the vigorous interest in basic astronomy through much of antiquity, see Evans and Berggren (, ): ‘Whether for the sake of popular reading, or for liberal education, or as part of the preparation for more advanced studies, introductions to the astronomical phenomena permeated Greek culture from about  B.C. to the end of Antiquity’.

Literary Coordinates and a Map to the Moon



myth, and of scientific fiction. In this final section, I will examine how the structure of Plutarch’s work impresses on the reader the nebulous truthstatus of any account of the Moon, and how the geographical setting that is evoked in the myth captures something of the Moon’s indeterminacy as a place in the ancient traveller’s imagination. Plutarch has structured his dialogue in a provocatively complicated way. The text that we have is narrated entirely by Lamprias. His omnipresence is easily forgotten, as he mostly reports the earlier conversation in direct speech, and the reader slips into the illusion that (s)he is overhearing the live conversation itself. Lamprias probably addresses his entire narrative to an interlocutor, whose presence was made known in the lost beginning of the work. In it, he reports how he narrated for Sulla the discussion about the Moon’s nature that had already taken place before Sulla joined the group. This conversation reprised arguments from a lecture (diatribē) on the Moon that Lucius, Lamprias and possibly some of the others had already attended, which had been delivered by a character who is referred to simply as ‘our companion’ (hetairos), possibly meant to indicate Plutarch himself. In return for his reprise of their earlier discussion, Sulla then told the group the myth which he had learned from an anonymous stranger whom he had met in Carthage, which the stranger himself had learned from two further sources: the attendants of the god Cronus, scholars of astronomy who dwelt on a remote island in the Atlantic, and a sacred text from Old Carthage which he had discovered (c and d). This yields a formal parallelism between the two densely layered sections of Lamprias’ report: between the source of the scientific arguments (the companion and the astronomical text that probably underlies his lecture) and the source of the myth (the stranger and the astronomical texts that underlay his narrative too).

  



See Cherniss (, –); Görgemanns (, –). Görgemanns (, –) provides a persuasive reconstruction of the contents of the lost beginning of the text. The ‘companion’ is referred to at De fac. f, f, b, f. Plutarch is referred to as ‘companion’ in Quaest. Conv. c. For the likelihood that he is Plutarch, see Cherniss (, ) note a, and also Görgemanns (, –), with further references. Görgemanns (, ) makes the attractive argument that an astronomical text book – one that Plutarch himself used as his source – underlies the companion’s diatribē, but he is dismissive of the possibility that the mysterious ‘sacred parchments’ discovered by the stranger at Carthage played a similar role in the myth on the basis of Sulla’s claim (d) that the stranger learned his lore from the servants of Cronus. Sulla’s claim does not, however, exclude the possibility that the stranger used additional source material as well. Vernière (, ) draws attention to the stranger’s religious background, which he connects with the African cult of Saturn in which sacred texts



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

Like the detailed fictional décor and the elaborate introductions of the Platonic dialogues, the complicated layers of the De facie, along with its cast of historical characters, are part of Plutarch’s strategy for ‘giving flesh and blood to a systematic exposition of a problem’. However, such superfluous complexity can also activate the opposite response and instead of lulling the reader into a fantasy of verisimilitude, may draw attention to the author’s artifice instead, making the reader aware of the troubling distances and gaps that separate him from the source materials. As Opsomer notes, the effect is compounded by the doctrinal incongruities in the myth, which seem to be designed to cultivate a more profound mistrust in the stranger’s authority: ‘Prima facie this creates a distance between Plutarch and the contents of the myth. Hence it is necessary to raise the question as to what the epistemic status of the doctrines presented in the myth is supposed to be. It is noteworthy that they often deviate from Plutarch’s usual views or from views for which Plutarch has good arguments.’ To exacerbate this, Lamprias emphasizes his own imperfect recollection of the previous conversation: Ἡμεῖς μὲν οὖν’ ἔφην, ‘ὅσα μὴ διαπέφευγε τὴν μνήμην τῶν ἐκεῖ λεχθέντων, ἀπηγγέλκαμεν· ‘Well then, then,’ I said, ‘I have reported as much of what was said on that occasion as has not escaped my memory . . .’

This narrative indeterminacy mirrors the fallibilistic structure of the philosophical arguments in Lamprias’ report, and generates a crisis of interpretation for the reader: just how are we to interpret this work? What sort of authority should we attribute to these philosophers’ logoi? More specifically, what sort of authority can we ever attribute to logoi about the Moon, a remote world which no Greek has ever, or could ever, visit? In other words, the dialogue’s structure is related to the uncertainty of lunar inquiry itself. In his introduction to the myth, the narrator Sulla delivers mixed messages about the narrative’s authority. He begins with a thick impasto



 

played an important role: ‘N’est-ce pas un uolumen de ce genre que l’Etranger a découvert à Carthage?’ Russell (, ). On the cast and setting of this dialogue, see Görgemanns (, –), Hirzel (, –) and Taub (, –). Titchener () discusses the indeterminate historicity of Plutarch’s Table Talk, which blends ‘real’ life with the (Platonic) literary tradition in a way that is similar to the De facie. On the historicity question, see also Klotz and Oikonomopoulou (, –). Opsomer (, ). c–d. For this double-edged effect in pseudo-documentary fictions, see ní Mheallaigh ().

Literary Coordinates and a Map to the Moon



of theatrical terms, describing his long-awaited narrative as a ‘play’ or ‘performance’ (drama) and his own role as an ‘actor’ (hypokritēs) who merely ventriloquizes words that were composed by someone else before him, the ‘poet’ or ‘author’ (poiētēs). Sulla’s abdication of responsibility for the myth raises doubts about its veracity, while by evoking the world of the theatre, he prepares the reader for an experience like fiction. To intensify the ambiguity, he roots the myth in the world of travellers’ tales with a quotation from the Odyssey: Ogygia, an island, lies far away in the sea . . . In addition to generating an air of fantasy, this evokes the allegorical interpretation of Homeric geography, in which Circe’s island Aiaia was read as the place of souls – and possibly the Moon itself – in Plutarch fr. . These geographical coordinates are disquieting. The echoes of the geographical setting of the Atlantis myth in Plato’s Timaeus (e–a) are striking enough to indicate that Plutarch was using Plato as his direct model – and the truth-status of the Atlantis myth was ambiguous even in antiquity. Both myths speak of a western continent at the other side of the Atlantic, with intervening islands dotted like stepping-stones between it and the Mediterranean world. According to Plato, once upon a time, as one sailed out westwards from the Mediterranean, one arrived first at the island of Atlantis, then numerous other islands, and eventually one reached the continent in the west. Plutarch reworks this idea with more detail and greater precision: now, instead of Atlantis (which has been submerged), Ogygia is the first island one reaches – after five days sailing west from the coast of Britain. After Ogygia, there are then a further three outlying islands, each at the same distance farther west, after which one finally reaches the continent. These more precise coordinates put Calypso’s island more firmly on the map, converging Odyssean fantasy with the more matter-of-fact style of the periplous in a way that is most disconcerting. As Romm notes: ‘It is as if one were to quote Shakespeare’s descriptions of    

For discussion of Sulla’s imagery, see Görgemanns (, –). Od. .. On Homer’s controversial status as a geographer in antiquity, see Romm (, –). On Plutarch’s fantastical geography and his models for it, see Vernière (, –). On Plutarch’s use of Plato’s myth as his model, see Hamilton (, –). Cameron () is a magisterial account of readers’ varied responses to the Atlantis myth in antiquity. The fictionality of the myth has been variously interpreted in modern scholarship: Gill () reads it an experiment in fiction; Morgan (, –) argues that the dialogue’s internal audience is encouraged to interpret it as a ‘noble lie’; for Johansen (, –) it is a ‘plausible fiction’, made more truth-like by Plato’s use of historiographical authentication strategies. On the variegated reception of the Atlantis story, see Vidal-Naquet () (who does not, however, discuss De facie).



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

Prospero’s island in The Tempest – and then offhandedly supply the precise latitude and longitude of the place. Plutarch deliberately fuses the language of poetry and science, emphasizing perhaps the permeability of the boundary between the two: If on the one hand the Odyssey can be read as straightforward geography, then on the other there is nothing to stop a poiētēs from illuminating the nature of the moon.’ We can also detect a cross-reference to Pytheas, the first Greek explorer of the northern Atlantic and author of a work of controversial veracity called On the ocean. Pytheas had claimed that the mysterious island of Thule lay six days north of Britain. Since Thule was regarded in antiquity as the farthest northern boundary of the inhabited world, this brings Plutarch’s Ogygia – at five days west of Britain – closer to home. The myth’s origins hover just within the boundaries of belief. Pytheas, an Atlantic explorer who was criticized for his mendacity in antiquity, is almost certainly in the background to Sulla’s myth as well as Plato, since another feature of Plutarch’s oceanscape – the shallow sea called the ‘Cronian Main’ – conflates features of the Atlantic oceanography from both authors. According to Plutarch, the ‘Cronian Main’ is a sluggish sea whose muddy waters make sailing slow (braduporos). This echoes Plato’s Atlantis-narrative, where it is twice explained that the barrier of mud created as Atlantis sank has made the ocean impassable (aporos). But it also evokes well-documented accounts of a ‘congealed’ or ‘frozen sea’ far to the north near Thule in Pytheas’ work among others. The     



Romm (, ). Pytheas, fr. a Mette = Strabo .. The similarity is noted by Romm (,  n. ). On Pytheas’ ambiguous reputation, see Romm (, –); for a more detailed appraisal of his achievements, see Roller (, –). De fac. b Plato, Tim. e–a and d: The island of Atlantis sank just like this beneath the sea and vanished, causing the sea in that region to become difficult to cross and to explore, on account of the mud shallows which the island generated as it was settling. ἥ τε Ἀτλαντὶς νῆσος ὡσαύτως κατὰ τῆς θαλάττης δῦσα ἠφανίσθη· διὸ καὶ νῦν ἄπορον καὶ ἀδιερεύνητον γέγονεν τοὐκεῖ πέλαγος, πηλοῦ κάρτα βραχέος ἐμποδὼν ὄντος, ὃν ἡ νῆσος ἱζομένη παρέσχετο.’ Critias e–a: They say that it [Atlantis], submerged now by earthquakes, has created an impassable barrier of mud for those who sail out from here to the great ocean, so that it’s no longer possible to cross. νῦν δὲ ὑπὸ σεισμῶν δῦσαν ἄπορον πηλὸν τοῖς ἐνθένδε ἐκπλέουσιν ἐπὶ τὸ πᾶν πέλαγος, ὥστε μηκέτι πορεύεσθαι, κωλυτὴν παρασχεῖν. When Pytheas locates the island of Thule six days’ sail north of Britain, he adds that it lies near ‘the frozen sea’; Strabo ..: [Θούλη] (ἥν φησι Πυθέας ἀπὸ μὲν τῆς Βρεττανικῆς ἓξ ἡμερῶν πλοῦν ἀπέχειν πρὸς ἄρκτον, ἐγγὺς δ’ εἶναι τῆς πεπηγυίας θαλάττης). The elder Pliny (NH . ()) located this stretch of water one day’s distance from Thule and mentions that it was called by some the ‘Cronian Sea’. Tacitus similarly reports sluggish, immobile seas in the north near Britain and Germania (Agricola ) which he explains as a result of the lack of weather, due to the rarity of landmasses to break up its massive oceanic expanse; cf. also Germania .

Literary Coordinates and a Map to the Moon



pastiche of Atlantean–Thulean geography intensifies the indeterminate truth-status of Plutarch’s myth. The myth also resonates in the cloudier orbits of historiography, utopian and novelistic fiction. Similarities have been noted, for example, between Sulla’s account of life on the Island of Cronus and the account of the mysterious Hyperboreans written by Hecataeus of Abdera, a historian of the late fourth or early third century BCE. Hecataeus describes an island called Helixoia, situated far in the north opposite a mysterious landmass called ‘the Celtic land’. He claimed it was inhabited by a population of musicians who, like the attendants of Cronus in Sulla’s myth, lived a blissful existence in priest-like devotion to Apollo. Both Hecataeus’ and Plutarch’s narratives include evidence that Greeks had visited these remote lands a long time ago, and both feature a more recent visit by one of the island-dwellers to the Greek world: the holy man Abaris in Hecataeus’ case, and in Sulla’s account the anonymous stranger who has the air of a holy man, undergoing religious initiations in his travels (c). Tantalizingly, Hecataeus had claimed that the Moon wheeled so close to Helixoia that individual features of the lunar topography, such as Earthlike protuberances in its surface, were clearly visible from there. Hecataeus’ influence can be found in Antonius Diogenes’ novel The incredible things beyond Thule, another narrative of Atlantic exploration, which was probably near-contemporary with De facie in the late first century CE. According to Diogenes, the remote northern island of Thule (like Helixoia) borders so close to the Moon that the lunar surface is clearly visible to those standing there. Then there is the character of the enigmatic stranger who offers Sulla religious instruction in Carthage and explains to him the nature of the



 

 

As noted long ago by von Arnim (, –). Vernière (, –, after Rohde) explores the affinities with the fantastical travel-narratives of Hecataeus, Euhemerus, Iambulus and Antonius Diogenes. Hamilton (,  n.) (B). Hecataeus’ account is summarized by Diodorus Siculus .; for other fragments, see also FGH a, , F. See Hamilton (), who also finds similarities between Plutarch’s description of the attendants’ life on the Isle of Cronus with Hellenistic Utopia-narratives such as Euhemerus’ Sacred Inscription (Diodorus .–), Theopompus (Aelian, Var.Hist. .) and Diodorus (.–). On the Hyperboreans in Greek thought, see Romm (, –) and Bridgman () (– on Hecataeus’ account). Diodorus Siculus ..: φασὶ δὲ καὶ τὴν σελήνην ἐκ ταύτης τῆς νήσου φαίνεσθαι παντελῶς ὀλίγον ἀπέχουσαν τῆς γῆς, καί τινας ἐξοχὰς γεώδεις ἔχουσαν ἐν αὐτῆι φανεράς· Cf. De facie c. Photius, Bibl. a–; see also Morgan (, ) who, however, backs away from the idea that Hecataeus exerted a direct influence on Diogenes: see Chapter , p.  with n. .



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

Moon. Having spent thirty years on the Isle of Cronus studying astronomy, geometry and physical science and attending the god, he decided to travel farther east across the ocean, for he had a ‘desire and longing to inspect the great island’ – which was how the Mediterranean world appeared to him on his horizon (b). This character’s intellectual curiosity about the far side of the Ocean and the desire to become a ‘sightseer’ or ‘spectator’ (theatēs) assimilates him to explorers from both the historical and scientific-fictional traditions. According to Herodotus, the Athenian statesman Solon had travelled east for the purpose of ‘sightseeing’ (kata theoriēs prophasin and tēs theōriēs . . . heineken), and dispensed philosophical wisdom to the King of Lydia there. In more closely contemporary fictions, Deinias, the protagonist in Antonius Diogenes’ novel, travels the world ‘for the purpose of exploratory research’ (κατὰ ζήτησιν ἱστορίας, Photius, Bibl. a), while the lunar explorer Lucian sets out into the Atlantic driven by ‘inquisitiveness, a desire for novel experiences, and my wish to learn what the end of the ocean is and who are the people who live beyond it’. In antiquity, tales of voyages into the mighty frontier of the Atlantic, known as exōkeanismoi, were practically synonymous with lies, marvels and fantastical claims. It is likely that the newly awakened interest in the Moon in the late first century is connected with the Romans’ exploration of Britain and the Atlantic regions of the north-west, especially under the Flavians. It is explicitly in the context of an imperial mission of exploration that Demetrius visits some remote islands off the coast of Britain in On the obsolescence of oracles, an essay which, as we have seen, is closely related to De facie with its blending of science and theology, its doctrine about daimones, its mention of the Island of Cronus, and its insistence on the Moon’s importance as the central, mediating fabric of the cosmos. In fact,   

 

 De fac. b. See especially Herodotus .–. Lucian, VH .: περιεργία καὶ πραγμάτων καινῶν ἐπιθυμία καὶ τὸ βούλεσθαι μαθεῖν τί τὸ τέλος ἐστὶν τοῦ ὠκεανοῦ καὶ τίνες οἱ πέραν κατοικοῦντες ἄνθρωποι. On narratives of exploration into the northern and Atlantic frontier, see Romm (, – and –) and Roller (). Romm (, –) examines the literary–critical implications of the motif of exōkeanismos. Cf. Bowie (, ), who speculates that Antonius Diogenes’ attention was drawn to Thule by the publicity given to it by Tacitus. For Demetrius’ travels, see De def. or. e–a. On the Moon’s mixed nature as a ‘star-like earth or earth-like star’ – a doctrine identical to that of Sulla’s myth – and its mediating role in the cosmos, see De def. or. e; on the Island of Cronus, see a. The doctrinal and structural analogies between the De facie and the De defectu have long been noticed by scholars including Görgemanns (, –,  and –); Vernière (, – and –); Brenk (, ).

Literary Coordinates and a Map to the Moon



Demetrius claims that some of these Atlantic islands were associated with daimones and heroes, making them analogous to the Moon: Ὁ δὲ Δημήτριος ἔφη τῶν περὶ τὴν Βρεττανίαν νήσων εἶναι πολλὰς ἐρήμους σποράδας, ὧν ἐνίας δαιμόνων καὶ ἡρώων ὀνομάζεσθαι· πλεῦσαι δὲ αὐτὸς ἱστορίας καὶ θέας ἕνεκα πομπῇ τοῦ βασιλέως εἰς τὴν ἔγγιστα κειμένην τῶν ἐρήμων ἔχουσαν οὐ πολλοὺς ἐποικοῦντας ἱεροὺς δὲ καὶ ἀσύλους πάντας ὑπὸ τῶν Βρεττανῶν ὄντας. Demetrius said that, among the islands off the coast of Britain, there were numerous deserted ones, widely dispersed, some of which were named after demigods and heroes. On a mission from the Emperor for the purpose of research and observation, he himself had sailed to the closest of the deserted islands, which had few inhabitants, all held sacred and inviolate by the Britons.

As the oikoumenē began to encroach into the north Atlantic and subarctic regions, the Moon hove into view as the tantalizing new frontier, the mysterious world that lay just beyond. The lunar and Atlantic frontiers are brought into dialogue with each other through the spatial configuration of Sulla’s myth in De facie, as the stranger’s horizontal travels along the narrative’s x-axis, stretching from the far western Atlantic, mirror the soul’s vertical journey up the y-axis as far as the Moon. Certain details reinforce the connection between the remote western ocean and the Moon. The iridescent lunar environment (a), for example, finds parallel in the effulgent gold of the cave on the island where Cronus sleeps (f ), and both places are platforms for defamiliarizing reversals of perspective: to the stranger as he looks east across the Atlantic, the Mediterranean world appears as an island (b), while to the imagined beings looking down on us from the Moon, Earth appears as a dank underworld mire (e–f ). The Moon, with its liminal position on the y-axis, between the sub- and superlunary zones, finds its co-referent in this island in the far western ocean, which also exists on the margins between real and imaginary space. The very fact that the myth is sourced in this oceanic junction    

De def. or. e. Bos (, –) also sees an analogy between the sleeping Cronus and the sleeping Endymion on the Moon, who is evoked at b. Bos also notes this parallel: , – and . Elsewhere, the stars are envisaged as islands in the celestial sea: see De gen. Soc. c; De ser.num. vind. f. At VH ., Lucian imagines the Moon as an island in space. The far West – where the Sun sets – is frequently associated with Hades in ancient thought, as is the far East, where we find the island of Leukē, the ‘White Island’ (see Cerri ). It is possible that Leukē was identified with both the Isle of the Blessed, as Cerri suggests – and also the Moon.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

reinforces, once again, the Moon’s associations with crossroads and transitions. Finally, the myth provides small but sure indications that the demystification of the lunar space had begun, for the stranger relays our first detailed information about the lunar topography ( b–c). Earlier in the interlude with Theon, Lucius had conjured a visionary picture of the lunar landscape: τὴν δὲ σελήνην οὐκ εἰκὸς ὥσπερ τὴν θάλασσαν μίαν ἔχειν ἐπιφάνειαν, ἀλλ’ ἐοικέναι μάλιστα τῇ γῇ τὴν φύσιν, ἣν ἐμυθολόγει Σωκράτης ὁ παλαιός, εἴτε δὴ ταύτην αἰνιττόμενος εἴτε δὴ ἄλλην τινὰ διηγούμενος. οὐ γὰρ ἄπιστον οὐδὲ θαυμαστόν, εἰ μηδὲν ἔχουσα διεφθορὸς ἑαυτῇ μηδ’ ἰλυῶδες, ἀλλὰ φῶς τε καρπουμένη καθαρὸν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ καὶ θερμότητος οὐ διακαοῦς οὐδὲ μανικοῦ πυρὸς ἀλλὰ νοτεροῦ καὶ ἀβλαβοῦς καὶ κατὰ φύσιν ἔχοντος οὖσα πλήρης κάλλη τε θαυμαστὰ κέκτηται τόπων ὄρη τε φλογοειδῆ καὶ ζώνας ἁλουργοὺς ἔχει χρυσόν τε καὶ ἄργυρον οὐκ ἐν βάθει διεσπαρμένον, ἀλλὰ πρὸς τοῖς πεδίοις ἐξανθοῦντα πολὺν ἢ πρὸς ὕψεσι λείοις προφερόμενον. However, it is likely that the Moon does not have one plane surface like the sea, but closely resembles in nature the earth which Socrates of old described in his myth, whether he was making a riddling allusion to our world or telling a story about some other. For in view of the fact that it has no decayed or slimy matter, but enjoys pure light from heaven, and is filled with warmth from a fire that is neither searing nor raging but moist and harmless and in its natural state, it is neither beyond belief nor wonder that it possesses a topography of marvellous beauty, with fiery-red mountains, zones of purple, and gold and silver not scattered in the deep but bursting out in abundance over the plains or exposed on its smooth heights.

There is a poignant contrast between the jewel-like fancy of this description – which is our earliest imagined vision of the Moon – and the drab reality that was revealed in  when we discovered that the Moon is a landscape of grey-tan rock, and the only jewel-like colour in the cosmic darkness emanates, in fact, from our own Earth. Here, in contrast, the Moon takes on the quality of a utopian space, with its pure, mild climate and the abundance of precious metals that are rare on Earth; in comparison with this imagined glamour, our world must appear dim indeed (e–f ). The resplendent colours of Lucius’ moonscape connect this  

 f–a. This contrast struck the Apollo astronauts forcibly; see Chapter , p. . Compare the description of the Isle of Blessed in Lucian VH .–, with von Möllendorff’s notes ad loc (von Möllendorff , –). The description in the Locke’s Great Moon Hoax of  is closely similar, with its rocks of green marble, mountains of claret-coloured amethysts,

Literary Coordinates and a Map to the Moon



passage with Thespesius’ vision of the Crater of Dreams in On the delayed vengeance of the gods. As Lucius indicates, his vision is influenced by Socrates’ description of the upper Earth in the myth of Plato’s Phaedo, a passage of kaleidoscopic colour that lies at the foundation of the selenoscopic tradition which we will examine in Chapter . With this passage, the history of our ocular encroachment into the hitherto mysterious world of the Moon has begun. Lucius’ dream-like vision is followed by more precise details of lunar toponymy. In an earlier passage, Lamprias had identified three large shadowy areas on the Moon’s surface, corresponding to the two eyes and lips of the familiar pareidolion of the lunar face (De fac. c). Now Sulla’s stranger dispels this illusion: there is no fearsome, yawning face on the Moon; what looks like a face is in fact merely a concatenation of topographical features that correspond to familiar terrestrial features in our world: ἔστι δ’ οὐ τοιοῦτον, ἀλλ’ ὥσπερ ἡ παρ’ ἡμῖν ἔχει γῆ κόλπους βαθεῖς καὶ μεγάλους, ἕνα μὲν ἐνταῦθα διὰ στηλῶν Ἡρακλείων ἀναχεόμενον εἴσω πρὸς ἡμᾶς, ἔξω δὲ τὸν Κάσπιον καὶ τοὺς περὶ τὴν Ἐρυθρὰν θάλατταν, οὕτως βάθη ταῦτα τῆς σελήνης ἐστὶ καὶ κοιλώματα. καλοῦσι δ’ αὐτῶν τὸ μὲν μέγιστον Ἑκάτης μυχόν, ὅπου καὶ δίκας διδόασιν αἱ ψυχαὶ καὶ λαμβάνουσιν ὧν ἂν ἤδη γεγενημέναι δαίμονες ἢ πάθωσιν ἢ δράσωσι, τὰ δὲ δύο Μακάρων· περαιοῦνται γὰρ αἱ ψυχαὶ δι’ αὐτῶν, νῦν μὲν εἰς τὰ πρὸς οὐρανὸν τῆς σελήνης, νῦν δὲ πάλιν εἰς τὰ πρὸς γῆν· ὀνομάζεται δὲ τὰ μὲν πρὸς οὐρανὸν τῆς σελήνης Ἠλύσιον πεδίον, τὰ δ’ ἐνταῦθα Φερσεφόνης. It’s nothing of the sort. Rather, just like our world has deep, large gulfs – one that pours inwards here towards us through the Pillars of Herakles, and outside, the Caspian and the Red Sea with its gulfs – in the same way, these are deep recesses and hollows of the Moon. They call the largest of them ‘Hecate’s Hollow’, where the souls pay the penalty and undergo punishment for what they have experienced or done, though they have now become daimones. The other two belong to the blessed souls, for the souls pass through them – sometimes to the side of the Moon that faces heaven, other times to the side that faces Earth. The heavenward side of the Moon is named ‘Elysian plain’, and the Earthward side ‘Plain of Persephone’.

 

yellow and orange quartz and sapphire, its abundant seams of gold, and seasons blended together ‘in a circle of perpetual harmony.’  See pp. –. Phaedo b–c. b–c. The text of c is problematic, and I have adopted the emendations suggested by Pérez Jiménez (b). Inter alia, Pérez Jiménez dispenses here with the speculative topographical feature called ‘The Gates’, for which there is no palaeographical evidence.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

Various plausible suggestions have been made to identify the features on the Moon to which the stranger refers. These hollows are a distinctive, shared feature of terrestrial and lunar topography: in contrast, the apparent ‘hollows’ (koilotētes) in the surface of the Sun are not real topographical features at all, but mere optical illusions. We have already encountered the punning toponym ‘Elysian Plain’ for the side of the Moon that faces the Sun in Plutarch fr. . The ‘Plain of Persephone’, on the other hand, is well-suited to the side that faces the Earth for two reasons: first, because of the ancient interpretation of the name ‘Persephone’ as ‘light-bearer’, which makes it appropriate for the Moon’s bright side; and second, given that the Moon has already been identified with Persephone and the Earth with Demeter, the toponym also captures the idea that Persephone gazes longingly towards her mother. More generally, of course, the nomenclature points to the Moon’s role in the afterlife, and tells us that the impetus to map the Moon in antiquity was rooted firmly in the traditions of lunar eschatology. By attaching mythical toponyms like these to real, observable features on the lunar surface, Plutarch has also taken the very first step towards creating a lunar map. The idea that the Moon’s geography reflects that of the Earth is central to the earliest traditions of lunar cartography. In De facie, the theory (attributed to Clearchus of Soli), that the Moon is a mirror that reflects the Earth’s features in its surface, has already been raised, only to be refuted (De fac. f–e). But it seems to resurface here. The stranger does not actually say that the three lunar chasms he names are reflections of the three corresponding gulfs on Earth (the Mediterranean, Caspian and Red Sea respectively), but given the obvious parallel of three 

  

See Görgemanns (,  n. ) and Whitaker (, – with diagram); both, however, follow different versions of the text at c to the one I have adopted here (see previous note). Görgemanns speculates that the chasms of the Blessed (which he identifies as ‘The Gates’) comprise the Mare Fecunditatis and Mare Nectaris, or alternatively – if they are supposed to be physically linked to Hecate’s Hollow – he suggests the complex of the Maria Tranquillitatis and Serenitatis as a likely match. Whitaker thinks Hecate’s Hollow is probably to be identified with the feature that we call Mare Imbrium, and the other two chasms with a combination of the Mare Tranquillitatis and Mare Fecunditatis to the north, with the Mare Tranquillitatis, Sinus Asperitatis and Mare Nectaris to the south. Plutarch fr.  Sandbach; cf. De fac. c–d, where this possibility is scotched in the case of the Moon. See De fac. d, with Cherniss’ notes ad loc. On Elysium, see also the somewhat cryptic allusion to the Odyssey at De fac. f with Cherniss’ note ad loc. On Hecate’s liminal nature, which is connected with that of the daemones, see Johnston (, –), and on the goddess’ connection with the Moon, see Johnston (, –); also Van der Stockt (, –, esp. ) (citing Johnston): ‘We are plunged into a cosmography in which the moon has an “intermediary and transmissive nature”’.

Literary Coordinates and a Map to the Moon



and three, that is inevitably implied. Plutarch is therefore an important early witness to the tradition of the speculum lunae, which we have already encountered, briefly, in Aëtius’ doxography. This idea appears again – but in far greater detail – in the Byzantine treatise of Demetrius Triclinius. Triclinius’ short treatise On the black figure that appears in the Moon is dated to the early fourteenth century. The treatise is clearly influenced by Plutarch’s essay; in contrast with Plutarch, however, Triclinius interprets the ‘Man on the Moon’ as a figure with head, arms and legs, rather than simply a face with eyes and mouth. As he explains, the bright swathes of the Moon’s surface are reflections of terrestrial landmasses, and the dark patches correspond to the Earth’s oceans. He then tries painstakingly to match the Moon-man’s features with landmarks of terrestrial geography, referring the reader to a fascinating diagram, which has been preserved in one of the manuscripts (Fig. ): ἐκ τούτου γοῦν ἡμῖν ἔγνωσται ὡς κεφαλὴ μὲν τοῦ τοιούτου ἀνδρώδους ἐστὶ σχήματος ἡ περὶ τὰ Γάδειρα θάλαττα, ὦμοι δὲ πάλιν ἡ ἐγγὺς αὐτῶν θάλαττα, χεῖρες δὲ δεξιὰ μὲν πέλαγος τὸ Ἰόνιον, ἐκτεταμένη τις οὖσα καὶ οἷον δεξιουμένη τινά, ἡ δέ μεγίστη Σύρτις εὐώνυμος. κεκαμμένη γάρ τις εἶναι δοκεῖ ὥσπερ ἠγκαλισμένη τινά. κοιλία δὲ καὶ τὸ λοιπὸν σῶμα ἡ καθ’ ἡμᾶς αὕτη θάλαττα. πόδες δὲ δεξιὸς μὲν πόντος ὁ Εὔξεινος: οὕτω γὰρ ἔοικε τὸ σκέλος ἔχειν ἠρμένον. ἀριστερὸς δὲ τὰ τῆς καθ’ ἡμᾶς ἄκρα θαλάττης, ἃ μέχρι Κύπρου καὶ Παμφυλίας ὥς φασιν ἔρχεται. From this, in any case, we have ascertained that the head of this humanoid figure is the sea around Cadiz, and that its shoulders, in turn, correspond to the sea near us. Of its hands, the right one is the Ionian Sea, stretched out as if welcoming someone; and the left is the Great Syrtis, for it has a bent appearance, as if embracing someone. The stomach and the rest of the body corresponds to this sea of ours (i.e. the Mediterranean). Of its feet, the right is the Black Sea: for it looks as if it has its leg lifted up thus. The left corresponds to the outer reaches of our sea, which stretch as far as Cyprus and Pamphylia, as they say.



 

Pérez Jiménez (b) explores how Plutarch’s geographical comparison makes the lunar world more realistic for the reader, and also how stylistic features in c–b serve to reinforce the parallelism between the two worlds. See Chapter , pp. –. Triclinius, On the black figure in the Moon, ll. – Wasserstein. At ll. –, Triclinius refers to working with a fellow native of Thessalonike, whose name he does not reveal explicitly in the text, but whom he describes as a grapheus, which may mean ‘writer’ or ‘painter’. Wasserstein (,  ad loc.) speculates that it is ‘just conceivable’ that this was the artist who produced the diagram of the Man in the Moon that is preserved in manuscript P.



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

Fig. 

Image of Man in Moon.

Par.gr. , fol. v, Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Conclusion: A Landmark in the Selenographical Tradition



We can detect here the first glimmers of the Moon’s evolution from a nebulous other-world into a chartable physical space in the premodern world – making Plutarch, followed over a millennium later by Triclinius, distant forerunners of Hevelius’ Selenographia by some fifteen hundred years.

Conclusion: A Landmark in the Selenographical Tradition In De facie, Plutarch provides a new unified theory of the Moon, which would account for its importance as a religious as much as an astronomical entity, and which would explicitly connect its metaphysical role with its physical nature. Plutarch thus completed the work that Academicians like Xenocrates had initiated centuries earlier, and as a result, De facie is a landmark achievement in the history of lunar thought. Although prima facie quite different in tone and purpose to the lunar narratives that I will explore in the following chapters – works by Varro, Antonius Diogenes and Lucian – its doctrines resonate with these writers’ astonishing ideas. As we shall see, Plutarch’s doxographical tendencies will find parallel expression in fantasies of the Moon as a place from which the scholar can command the whole world of knowledge. Plutarch’s bending of disciplinary boundaries in De facie will resonate, in turn, with fantasies of liquescent lunar forms and the Moon as a place for literary experimentation. In another sense, too, De facie paved the way for the first works of scientific fiction in the ancient world: it is Plutarch who first maps the Moon, Plutarch who first turns the reader’s imaginary eye Earthward from the Moon’s environs, and Plutarch who uses fiction – the myth – to make sense of science. The story of his influence on later lunar thought is still to be written, but it includes the Byzantine scholar Triclinius and such formidable scholars as Kepler, who translated the De facie into Latin with (still useful) notes. Above all, the EMT that Plutarch evolves (though he adjusts it, ultimately) is of tremendous significance. Not only is he right that the Moon is an earthy world, but his theory converts the Moon into an almosttangible outpost of our own world, and he provides us with our first elaborate astrobiological theory about the lunar climate and the beings who live there. If De facie represents the sum of all the lunar thought that  

For a history of lunar cartography, see Whitaker () (though Triclinius’ treatise is not included in his account). On the mixture of science, religion and literature in De facie, see Pérez Jiménez ().



The Moon of Many Faces: Plutarch’s De Facie

has gone before, then Janus-like, it also foreshadows the imaginative journeys and experimentation to come. Like the liminal Moon itself, it teeters on the threshold of two worlds, the ancient and the modern. At the beginning of the dialogue, the Moon is a hazy place of fire, smoke and optical illusion; but by the end it is an inhabited world and a solid platform, ready to welcome the first lunar voyagers in the history of European literature.

 

The Moon in the Fantastic Imagination

 

The Imaginary Moon Lunar Journeys

As its title suggests, this chapter deals with ancient space-men: not in the sense of those early flights of fancy that took, for example, Peisetairos to Cloudcuckooland in Aristophanes’ comedy Birds, or Socrates’ imagination to the upper world where he could view the Earth as a globe in Plato’s Phaedo, though these are important predecessors (and we shall encounter them more fully in Chapter ). I am dealing here with the motif of travel to the Moon. Among ancient writers of fictions of outer space, the best known today is probably Lucian of Samosata, who treats the Moon in two works, Icaromenippus and the rather better-known True Stories. As we shall see here, he may not in fact have been the first to put men on the Moon, but his lunar expeditions are the earliest that survive in detail. I come to Lucian last, not only because he is the latest, chronologically, of the authors I will treat here, but because his work is also the most complex, engaging with the entire preceding selenographical tradition in surprising and sophisticated ways, as well as with complex literary-critical matters in his own society. Two other lunar fantasies must be considered before we come to Lucian, both of them from fragmentary sources: Varro’s enigmatic Endymiones and Antonius Diogenes’ novel The incredible things beyond Thule, the latter of which exerted its influence, I believe, on Lucian’s work. Though slender, the threads connecting the Moon with fiction and lies in the ancient imagination are already discernible in these fragmentary works, and Lucian would weave these into a lavish cloth. Lucian’s Moon, about which there is more to say, will be examined from diverse perspectives. I will argue here that Lucian uses lunar travel as a way to talk about his own exploratory journeys as an author, and how he shapes the Moon into a special kind of imaginative, conceptual space, where perspectives can shift, dissent can be expressed and Lucian can indulge in the pleasures of invention that characterize his work. Here, the Moon acquires important status as a metafictional symbol, since both Diogenes and Lucian use its liminality to embody the in-between concept 



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

of fiction itself, which is a central preoccupation of their narratives. Finally, I will examine the peculiar texture of Lucian’s lunar narratives and how he exploits the resources of ancient philosophical thought and technology, combining these with the familiar narrative of exploration in a way that draws us tantalizingly – and controversially - close to the genre of science fiction in the modern world.

The First Man to Go to the Moon? The Dream Hoax in Varro’s Endymiones One of Varro’s Menippean satires, called Endymiones, is widely believed to have included a trip to the Moon. As Varro’s Menippeans are usually dated between ca. – BCE, this would make the unknown traveller in Endymiones the earliest astronaut in what survives of the Graeco-Roman literary tradition, antedating by over a century the surer lunar adventures in Antonius Diogenes’ novel The incredible things beyond Thule, and nearly two hundred years earlier than Lucian’s Icaromenippus and True Stories, all of which we shall explore in this chapter. As we shall see, however, there are good reasons to believe that the lunar trip in this work was a fantasy, planting Endymiones more firmly in the tradition of imagined philosophical soul-journeys than actual voyages to the Moon. Nevertheless, the context of intellectual spoof in which it is embedded in Varro’s work is itself significant. Interpretation of Varro’s text is difficult. His Menippean satires generally survive in very fragmentary form, and fragments – (Krenkel ) – a meagre twelve lines – are all that remain of Endymiones, whose precise theme and plot are therefore hotly disputed. There are clear references to an evening meal in frr. –, which may have formed the setting for a philosophical discussion, a combination found several times elsewhere in Varro’s Menippeans as well. A further two fragments 

 

Cardauns () provides a lucid introduction to Varro’s work, including a chapter (pp. –) on the Menippeans; more specifically, see Alfonsi (). Relihan (, –) explores Varro’s contribution to the genre of Menippean satire in a way that helps build a more organic sense of the works out of their very fragmentary remains. For commentaries on the text of Endymiones itself, see Krenkel (, –), whose text I follow throughout, unless otherwise stated. Cèbe (, –) provides a richer commentary. The best summaries of the complex doxography on Endymiones are in Alfonsi () and Cèbe (). See Relihan (, ), who notes that the topos of the satirical symposium goes back to Menippus himself, and cites parallel scenes of ‘absurd debate’ in Varro’s Agatho (frr. -), Est modus matulae (frr. –), Eumenides (frr. –), Manius (frr. –), Meleagri (frr. –) and Ταφὴ Μενίππου (frr. –).

The First Man to Go to the Moon? Dream Hoax in Endymiones  attest to a first-person narrative of past events, presumably a story told during or after the dinner. In fr., a wakeful narrator recalls how he dispatched his soul on a reconnaissance mission through the city to see what others were doing late at night: animum mitto speculatum tota urbe ut quid facerent homines cum experrecti sint me faceret certiorem; si quis melius operam sumeret, ut eius consilio potius uigilium amminicularem nostrum. quid uidit? alium curantem extremo noctis tempore I sent out my soul to scout around the entire city, so that it might tell me what people were doing when they were awake – if someone was using his time better, so that I might follow his lead and occupy my wakeful hours more effectively. What did it see? Just another man worrying at the end of the night.

This fragment contains the motif of kataskopia – the ‘view from above’ – a method that enabled the narrator to observe other people’s faults, and a favourite motif of both Cynic literature and Menippean satire. And finally in fr.  – a single line – the narrator recalls his abrupt return to Earth: ‘Thus, quicker than expected, I fell down to you, a tumbling wretch’ (sic ad uos citius opinione uertilabundus miser decidi). Most scholars link these two fragments as part of the same narrative, in which the fall of fr.  puts an end to the soul’s urban peregrinations in fr. . So where, in the midst of these exiguous scraps, is the evidence for a lunar adventure? The key to the lunar theme is in the work’s title Endymiones. In myth, as we have seen, Endymion was the beautiful, sleeping youth with whom the moon-goddess Selene fell in love and used to visit in secret in a cave on Mount Latmos. ‘Endymion’, consequently, became a byword in antiquity for deep sleepers, and given the presence of the sleep-theme in frr. –, it has been suggested that Endymiones could have been a satire 



 

Mitto in the first line is a historic present, as is shown by the tense-sequence (faceret, imperfect subjunctive) in the following subordinate clause; the perfect uidit in the penultimate line is unequivocal. The text of the final line is insecure; for discussion, see Norden (/, ) and Cèbe (, ). On the fantasy of kataskopia as a link connecting Old Comedy and Varronian Menippean satire, see Freudenburg , –; on kataskopia in Lucian’s Menippean works and more generally, see Chapter , pp. –. See Chapter , pp. –. In one of Martial’s epigrams (.., cited by Bolisani , ), he is described simply as ‘the sleeper’ (dormitor). Sleeping ‘in Latmian fashion’, where the adverb evokes Endymion’s cave on Mt Latmus, occurs in Herodas’ Mimiambs .. as an expression for prolonged slumber: δει] λὴ Μεγαλλί, κα[ὶ] ̣ σ̣ὺ Λάτμιον κνώσσεις; Cf. Brown ().



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

on sleep, possibly even a riposte to Naevius’ comedy, Agrypnountes ‘The sleepless ones’. However, there is also plenty of evidence to support Endymion’s allegorical connection with astronomy and the Moon. According to Mnaseas of Sicyon, a travel-writer of the third century BCE, Endymion was the first to discover ‘the course of the Moon’ (cursus lunae), after which he fell asleep for thirty years because he had no further ambitions. This curious nugget of information is recorded by Germanicus in his commentary on Aratus’ Phainomena, and both Pliny the Elder and Lucian reported versions of it thereafter. This means Varro’s title could have functioned equally well as a mocking allusion to contemporary astronomers, who could have been the butt of his satire. There is one other possible significance to the title. The plural form ‘Endymiones’ is enigmatic, but it is not unique. As we saw in the previous chapter, Tertullian uses it in his treatise On the soul to refer mockingly to the souls of the wise that, according to the Stoics, occupy the space around the Moon after death, a context that suggests it might have been an appropriate title for a satire on eschatological beliefs. Although we do not have evidence for Varro using the term in this way, we know at least that he was aware of such doctrines relating to the Moon, as Augustine reports: He [i.e. Varro] adds that . . . all four elements are full of souls. The souls of the immortals are in the aether and air; and the souls of mortals are in the water and earth. From the outermost rim of the sky to the orbit of the Moon are the ethereal souls, the planets and stars. They are not only understood to be celestial gods; they are also seen as such. Between the lunar gyre and the upper regions of the clouds and winds are the aerial souls, but they are seen with the mind, not with the eyes, and they are called ‘heroes’ and ‘lares’ and ‘genii’.

It is possible, then, that Varro’s Endymiones might have been a satire on Platonic/Stoic eschatology and soul-journeys, a theme that could easily accommodate both the kataskopia of fr.  and the tumbling fall in 

 

 

Alfonsi (, ); Cèbe (, ). Turnèbe ( [non uidi]) and Oehler (, ) interpreted the work as a satire on Endymion-like sleepers, but this has been overwhelmingly rejected in favour of the lunar hypothesis. Della Corte (, ) implausibly interpreted the sleep-theme as a metaphor for Roman political apathy in the run-up to the Catilinarian conspiracy. Mnaseas periēgētēs, FHG III (Mu¨ller) t. Pliny NH . and Lucian Astrologia . In the preface to his Selenographia (), Hevelius speaks of becoming a virtual Endymion, since his task of observing the Moon required him to work alone by night whilst others slept, and sleep by day, so that he seemed to others to sleep constantly.  Krenkel (, ). De anima : cf. Chapter , p. . Augustine, Civ. Dei VII, , quoted earlier with Latin text on p. .

The First Man to Go to the Moon? Dream Hoax in Endymiones  fr. , as has been argued by several Varronian scholars. It is notable that when Menippus, the lunar traveller in Lucian’s Icaromenippus, encounters the philosopher Empedocles on the Moon, he is initially afraid he might be seeing one of these lunar spirits; Empedocles subsequently swears an oath ‘by Endymion’ (Icar. ) who is evidently the appropriate divinity because of his daemonic connection. It is significant that Icaromenippus, as the title suggests, is written in the tradition of Menippean satire. In light of this eschatological frame of reference, the flight-narrative which is implicit in Varro fr.  was probably a parodic version of narratives of near death-experiences such as Plato’s ‘Myth of Er’ and Heraclides of Pontus’ tale of Empedotimus, where the soul leaves the body prematurely but returns again, so that the narrator can report what happens after crossing the threshold of mortality. These myths were an important component of the genre of Menippean satire more generally, as Relihan has shown. In Varro’s case, the title Endymiones suggests that the narrator claimed his soul had floated off to the Moon, perhaps following the Stoic destiny of the souls of the wise. It is not clear why he would make such a claim in the context of a dinner conversation (frr. –), but one possible scenario is that he had in fact fallen asleep through boredom (and perhaps a little too much wine); then, when he awoke disorientated and in panic, he used his wits to cover up his embarrassing faux pas by fabricating a story about his soul leaving his body and flying to the Moon, only to have fallen back to Earth with a bump. The inept act of falling asleep is therefore parlayed cleverly into a profound eschatological experience. As a byword for both sleep and death, the titular ‘Endymion’ accommodates both states. Presumably, Varro’s readers would have enjoyed the comical discomfiture of a would-be philosopher who had nodded off during the moralizing post-prandial chatter, whilst at the same time his incredible story parodied the conceit of philosophy-as-flight as  

 



Boyancé (); Alfonsi (, –). Boyancé (, –) argues that Endymion’s eternal sleep was a divine gift which in fact elevated him to the status of a deified mortal like Hercules/ Bacchus/ the Dioscuri, so that he would have been identified by Stoics as a divinity. I am sceptical of attempts to reconstruct Varro’s Endymiones out of Lucian’s dialogue, however (e.g. Krenkel (), part of a long tradition). This theory was advocated by Alfonsi (, esp. –). For the Myth of Er, see Plato Rep. b– b; for Heracleides of Pontus’s tale of Empedotimus, see Proclus Comm. in Rem. , . Daebritz (RE s.v. ‘Herakeides’ col. ), sees similarity between the visionary Empedotimus and Heracleides’ Moon-man.  Relihan (, –). See Alfonsi (, –).



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

well as the sort of eschatological doctrine we find in Plutarch’s De facie and the Myth of Er. Mockery of scholarly pretensions is typical of Varro’s Menippeans. There is one new circumstantial but suggestive scrap of evidence to be considered, which may offer us some insight into the content of Varro’s satire, though at this point I concede that I am entering the realm of speculation. The Neronian poet Persius includes a quotation from Ennius in his sixth satire: “Lunai portum, est operae, cognoscite, ciues.” cor iubet hoc Enni, postquam destertuit esse Maeonides Quintus pauone ex Pythagoreo. “It is worthwhile, citizens, that you should know the port of Luna.” This was wise Ennius’ command, after he snored out his dream that he was the fifth incarnation of Homer, after a Pythagorean peacock.

Precisely where in Ennius’ work this line belonged is controversial. The scholiast assigns it to the beginning of the Annals – an intuitive choice, since the line obviously refers to the poet’s famous dream. This assignation is rejected by Housman, who assigns it to Ennius’ Satires instead, while Skutsch includes it among the fragments whose location is uncertain, but which ‘probably’ belong to the Annals. I myself see no good reason not to assign it to the dream-narrative in Annals Book , but in any case, it does not matter for my argument here whether Persius was quoting from Ennius’ dream in the Annals or from a reference that Ennius made to his 

 







Tranio, the seruus callidus of Plautus’ comedy Mostellaria –, shows similar quick thinking in fabricating a story which follows the pattern of conventional haunted-house tales; see Felton (, –). See Relihan (, –). Persius, Sat. .–; Ennius fr. ii Skutsch (operis incerti fragmenta Annalibus fortasse tribuenda). Ennius’ five reincarnations were the Trojan soldier Euphorbus, Homer, Pythagoras, a peacock and finally Ennius, in various permutations; see Skutsch (, –). hunc uersum ad suum carmen de Ennii carminibus transtulit . . . sic Ennius ait in annalium suorum principio, ubi se dicit uidisse in somnis Homerum dicentem fuisse quondam pauonem . . . ‘He [Persius] transferred this verse to his own poem from the poems of Ennius . . . This is what Ennius says at the beginning of his Annals where he says he saw Homer in dreams claiming that he was once a peacock . . .’ Housman (). Skutsch (, ): ‘Accommodating the line in the proem of the Annals would not be easy . . . However, if the line belonged to the Annals at all, it could have its place only immediately after the dream.’ I confess that I do not understand the logic of Skutsch’s argument against locating the verse after the dream (, ): ‘The idea that the poet in the manner of a herald . . . proclaimed the name of Portus Lunae because it was the place where he had his dream can hardly be entertained, especially since that announcement would have been made after the account of the dream (postquam destertuit).’ Why should we not entertain this possibility?

The First Man to Go to the Moon? Dream Hoax in Endymiones  dream somewhere else among his works. What interests me is the reference to Luna, a colony in Liguria, which was founded in  BCE (modern Luni), and the fact that Luna was the location for the dream in which the sleeping Ennius met Homer and discovered the truth about his soul’s former identities. No doubt, at this point, the reader can see where I am going . . . My suggestion is this: that Varro (a famous polymath) knew this verse by Ennius and punningly elaborated the toponym Luna – the location of Ennius’ Pythagorean, metempsychotic dream – into the Moon (Luna) where the ‘wise souls’ (whom Tertullian refers to as ‘Endymiones’) clustered after death, according to Stoic theory and also Pythagorean–Platonic doctrines, as we saw in Chapter . We have already seen that Varro was acquainted with such doctrines, probably through his teacher, the Middle Platonic philosopher Antiochus of Ascalon. Just such a pun on the name of the town Luna is found in the fourth century CE poet Rutilius Namatianus. Ennius’ dream could easily fit into the theme of sleep which we know featured in Endymiones; in fact, it is cited in precisely such a light-hearted moralizing context in the correspondence between the antiquarian Fronto and his pupil the emperor Marcus Aurelius in the midsecond century CE. In one letter, Marcus builds a witty case against sleep (pro insomnia) as a riposte to an earlier work in which Fronto had praised it. The letter consists mainly in citations from epic which illustrate the evils of sleep, and it includes a reference to Ennius’ dream: Transeo nunc ad Q. Ennium nostrum, quem tu ais ex somno et somnio initium sibi scribendi fecisse. Sed profecto nisi ex somno suscitatus esset, numquam somnium suum narrasset. I pass now to our own Q. Ennius, whom you say began his writing after sleep and a dream. But in fact, if he had not been woken from his sleep, he would never had told the story of his dream!

Marcus’ tongue-in-cheek praise of the virtues of wakefulness seems in line with the sort of moralizing we find in frr.  and  of Varro’s  



Chapter , pp.  and . In his travel poem, De Reditu Suo, the poet refers to the town of Luna through riddles, without naming it (.–). One of these riddles alludes to the Moon (): nominis est auctor sole corusca soror. ‘The Sun’s gleaming sister is the source of its name.’ On Namatianus’ neo-Alexandrian riddling and the significance of the cosmic imagery in his poem, see Devecka, . Fronto, Letters, Vol. I, p. . (Haines), dated to  CE. Fronto elsewhere declared Homer’s inspiration to have been the Muse Calliope, whilst Ennius’ was both Sleep and Homer himself: Magistra Homeri Calliopa, magister Enni Homerus et Somnus (De Eloquentia I, Vol. II, p. , Haines).



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

Endymiones, where none of the late-night vigilants is engaged in anything worthwhile. To be clear: we have no evidence that Varro knew or used Ennius’ Lunai portus verse. But we know for certain from fr.  that he was quoting Ennius (specifically, Ennius’ Annals) in Endymiones. If my suspicions here are right, then it prompts us to consider the possibility that Endymiones included, in its plot of philosophical visionaries and other lunacies, a satire on the famous Ennian dream, which was transplanted through Varro’s linguistic trickery from the mundane location of Luni to the Moon itself. We may recall from the previous chapter the Moon’s oneiric associations as the source of dreams. The title Endymiones therefore gives us good reason to think that Varro’s satire probably did include a trip to the Moon, albeit a fabricated one. We should probably not reckon here with a fictionally ‘real’ trip to the Moon like Deinias’ adventures in The incredible things beyond Thule or Menippus’ and Lucian’s subsequent lunar explorations in Icaromenippus and True Stories – narratives that we will examine presently; for how could this motif fit the otherwise mundane context of Varro’s dinner-party? No: if Varro sent his man to the Moon, it was on a specious psychic trip, not to be interpreted au pied de la lettre but as a cunning spoof of astronomical ‘flights’ of the mind and eschatological journeys of the soul, including possibly Ennius’ dream. That is not to deny Endymiones’ importance in the tradition of narratives of space-flights, however, for we can detect here, I think, the seeds of a long-lasting tradition that would associate the Moon with the philosopher’s learned hoax. Moreover, Varro firmly anchors the ancient lunar journey in the tradition of Menippean satire. Subsequent Moon-travellers would not stray very far from these origins, for the flavour of Menippean satire permeates Lucian’s lunar fantasies as well.

From Thule to the Moon: Antonius Diogenes’s Scientific Fiction Antonius Diogenes’ Greek novel The incredible things beyond Thule dates probably to the end of the first century or the early second century CE, making it nearly contemporary with, or a little later than, Plutarch’s De   

Fr.  Skutsch, which is quoted by Varro in fr. , belongs probably to the first twelve books of the Annals (Skutsch , –). pp. –. The question of whether Diogenes’ novel included a trip to the Moon, rather than just to the borders of the Moon, is controversial. Morgan () ruled out the possibility of a lunar visit, but the opposite view has been convincingly argued by von Möllendorff (, –).

From Thule to the Moon: Diogenes’s Scientific Fiction



facie. The affinities between the two works have not gone unnoticed: both are (to a greater or lesser extent) concerned with the Moon, and both tap into the richly ambiguous narrative tradition of travel in the north-west Atlantic. The affinity that concerns me here is the connection in both works between scientific fiction and the Moon. We saw in Chapter  how Plutarch’s dialogue combines science and myth, integrating them alongside one another, whilst at the same time calling attention to the boundaries that distinguish the two so that the reader is very conscious of moving from one mode of thought and argumentation to another. In Diogenes’ novel we are immersed in a vastly more complex interpenetration of science and fiction, where the boundaries are befuddled, leaving the reader uncertain about his/her epistemological compass. This disorientation is linked thematically to the novel’s trajectory off the geographical map: beyond Thule, that mysterious island in the remote north of the world, to the Moon itself. Although, as we shall see, we know disappointingly little of what Diogenes actually said about the Moon, by understanding his novel more broadly, we can glean much about the atmosphere of scientific inquiry and pioneering travel crossed with fantasy and scholarship in which his lunar episode was embedded. In The incredible things beyond Thule we probably have the earliest (almost) surviving account in Greek literature of a lunar voyage that was plotted as a plausibly real journey rather than, say, as a dream, as in Varro. This statement is not uncontroversial, as we shall presently see. The problem is that, as with Varro, we are dealing here with a text that has barely survived. It is represented for us mainly in a summary by the Byzantine Patriarch Photius in the ninth century CE and in a few short papyrus fragments as well as some other supplementary texts. Out of this 



 

Bowie (, –) argues persuasively for a date between  CE and  CE. The dating of the latest papyrological discoveries from the novel, P.Oxy. (second/third century) and  (probably third century) do not contradict this view, see also Schmedt (, –). Von Möllendorff (, –) thinks it likely that the novel dates to the latter third of the second century CE, giving Lucian’s True Stories an explosive reference point in contemporary literature. As Romm (, ) observes: ‘It is clear . . . that Diogenes, like Plutarch . . . used the explorer’s log as a way of mediating between the poles of geography and fiction, or perhaps as a way of questioning whether any real distinction could be drawn between the two categories.’ On the various forms of the ancient genre of the fantastic journey, see Bichler . Photius Bibl. cod. , the Greek text of which can be found in the Budé edition (Henry ) and also in Fusillo (). The papyrus fragments are: PSI ; P. Oxy.  (also possibly P. Mich. inv.  and P. Dubl. C the ‘Herpyllis’ fragment): text and commentary in Stephen and Winkler (); and P.Oxy.  and : text and commentary in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri  (), –. Other testimonia are printed and discussed in both Stephens and Winkler (), Fusillo () and Schmedt ().



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

material, scholars have managed to construct a sense of the original whole – which was a novel twenty-four books long! – but much of the detail has obviously been lost. Of the vital section in which Diogenes dealt with the Moon, there is now nothing left but Photius’ summary, and he was austerely unsympathetic to the extremes of Diogenes’ fantasy. In spite of these challenges, it is clear that the novel was presented originally as the pseudo-documentary travel-narrative of the Arcadian explorer Deinias. In a series of introductory letters, and with tongue firmly in cheek, the author Diogenes adopted the pose of the soi-disant ‘editor’ of Deinias’ long-lost account, whereas in fact the entire novel was the fruit of his own inventive imagination and (semi-)serious scholarship, as he reveals: Ὁ γοῦν Διογένης . . . ταῦτα πάντα Δεινίαν εἰσαγαγὼν πρὸς Κύμβαν τερατευσάμενον, ὅμως γράφει Φαυστίνῳ ὅτι τε συντάττει περὶ τῶν ὑπὲρ Θούλην ἀπίστων, καὶ ὅτι τῇ ἀδελφῇ Ἰσιδώρᾳ φιλομαθῶς ἐχούσῃ τὰ δράματα προσφωνεῖ. Λέγει δὲ ἑαυτὸν ὅτι ποιητής ἐστι κωμῳδίας παλαιᾶς, καὶ ὅτι εἰ καὶ ἄπιστα καὶ ψευδῆ πλάττοι, ἀλλ’ οὖν ἔχει περὶ τῶν πλείστων αὐτῷ μυθολογηθέντων ἀρχαιοτέρων μαρτυρίας, ἐξ ὧν σὺν καμάτῳ ταῦτα συναθροίσειε· προτάττει δὲ καὶ ἑκάστου βιβλίου τοὺς ἄνδρας οἳ τὰ τοιαῦτα προαπεφήναντο, ὡς μὴ δοκεῖν μαρτυρίας χηρεύειν τὰ ἄπιστα At any rate, Diogenes . . . even though he presented Deinias as having narrated these marvels to Cymbas, writes nevertheless to Faustinus that he composed The incredible things beyond Thule and that he is dedicating the novel to his sister Isidora, who has a passion for knowledge. He says that he is author of an ancient comedy and that, even if he invented incredible and false things, for most of the stories he has the testimony of more ancient sources, out of which he collated this material by dint of hard work. And he prefaced each book with the names of those who had who had made these sorts of claims before him, so that his wonders might not appear to lack witnesses.

This mixture of messages is important, for it means that our earliest lunar voyage was explicitly embedded within the framework of the hoax, the literary ‘in’-joke or scholarly game: Diogenes himself alludes to it here as an ‘ancient comedy’. It was not necessarily meant to pass as fact (though its author probably enjoyed the prospect of deceiving some readers); instead, readers were meant to savour the erudition and artfulness with which the reality-effect was achieved. A subtle thread therefore connects Diogenes’ elusive work, the scholarly lunar fantasies of the early modern period, and the Great Moon Hoax of . Since I have explored the complex 

Photius, Bibl. cod. , a.

From Thule to the Moon: Diogenes’s Scientific Fiction



structure and metafictional thrust of Diogenes’ novel in detail elsewhere, I will limit myself here to two key aspects of the work: its scientificfictional texture and what we can reconstruct of Deinias’ lunar adventure. In Diogenes’ elaborate pseudo-documentary fiction, Deinias’ story is presented as an ancient text from the fifth century BCE, which survived because it was buried in its author’s tomb. It was first written down as Deinias, in his old age, dictated to his compatriot Cymbas an account of his adventures. This narrative includes not only an account of his own adventures, but also the narratives of characters whom he encountered such as his lover Derkyllis, her brother Mantinias and other travellers like the Pythagorean sage Astraeus, Myrto (Derkyllis’ deceased maidservant who speaks from the underworld), Philotis (the name of a well-known Pythagorean wise woman) and Azoulis. In the figure of Astraeus, we may have another lunar traveller of sorts, for he is a man with unique cosmic affiliations. His name translates as ‘star-man’; he can stare at the Sun without blinking, and was discovered as an infant feeding on that nowfamiliar lunar substance, dew. A true star-child, the pupils of his eyes widen and narrow in sympathy with the phases of the Moon, which earns him worship as a divinity on the novel. This peculiar physiology links Astraeus with other creatures such as cats, sea-urchins, oysters and mice, which were also believed to be in sympathy with the Moon. A copy of Deinias’ text is buried with the author at Tyre, but two centuries later it is rediscovered by Alexander the Great and his men in the wake of the sack of city in  BCE. One of Alexander’s men, Balagrus, writes an account of its amazing discovery in a letter to his wife which includes also a transcription of Deinias’ text so that she too can enjoy the extraordinary story of ‘the incredible things beyond Thule’. Three centuries or so later, the historical author Antonius Diogenes claims to deliver yet another version of this text, this time in the novel which he dedicates to the knowledge-loving Isidora. A schema of these different levels of narrative would look like this (Fig. ):

     

ní Mheallaigh (, – and –). Photius Bibl. cod., a–b. For the motif of book-discovery in tombs, see Speyer (, esp. –). On pseudo-documentary fiction, see Hansen (); ní Mheallaigh (). Porphyry Vit. Pyth. . His peculiar affinity with nature is also part of his characterisation as a holy man; see Fauth (, esp. –). He is worshipped by the Aquitani. Notably, Astraeus uses the lunar cycle to regulate the dual kingship of the Aquitani (b). Cf. Chapter , p.  with n. . For a sensitive analysis of the text’s fiction of transmission, see Morgan ().



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

(7) Philotis

(6) Astraeus

Myrto

(5) Derkyllis

Mantinias

Azoulis (Bk. 24)

(4) Deinias narrating to Cymbas

(3) an account that is written down by the scribe Erasinides at Tyre (5th BCE). Two copies of this text are made: one to be archived in Arcadia, the other buried in a chest with Deinias at Tyre, where it lies undiscovered for ca. 150 years.

(2) Deinias’ text discovered by Alexander the Great and rewritten (as précis?) by Balagrus in letter to his wife Phila (ca. 332 BCE)

(1) A new (expanded?) version of Balagrus’ epistolary text written by Antonius Diogenes as novel dedicated to Isidora (ca. first century CE)

Fig. 

Narrative skeleton of The Incredible Things Beyond Thule.

Diogenes could have chosen to write a straightforward account of the travels of Deinias the Arcadian. Instead, like Plutarch in De facie, he encases his narrative within a structure of fiendish complexity. As the diagram shows, from its deepest regress, the narrative can be unfolded into no fewer than seven layers, making this the most convoluted narrative structure to survive from the Classical past. Whereas the complex train of transmission in De facie, with its priestly stranger and sacred texts, created an air of mystical revelation for Sulla’s myth, in Diogenes’ novel it appeals more overtly to the reader’s antiquarian tastes. We are not so much in the realm of initiation and religious instruction about the Moon, as in the library hunting for obscure knowledge and long-lost texts about real information gathered from there. At the heart of this extraordinary edifice lies Deinias’ text, concealed within a chest in a subterranean tomb. An inscription on the chest promises to explain everything: ‘O stranger, open to understand the things which are astonishing you.’ The reader’s curiosity mirrors that of the protagonist Deinias, who travels the world on a research-expedition (kata zētēsin historias, a: literally ‘on a quest for

From Thule to the Moon: Diogenes’s Scientific Fiction



research’). Intellectual curiosity, then, is the engine that drives this narrative at both the level of the characters and reader alike. The ‘more ancient sources’ (a) which Diogenes says he researched for the novel must have included the work of Pytheas of Massalia, the discoverer of Thule. As we saw in Chapter , the veracity of Pytheas’ account was a murky question in antiquity: Strabo declared him to be ‘the greatest liar’ (anēr pseudistatos) specifically for his account of Thule which, he says, no other northern adventurers in his time had seen. It has been pointed out that the fictional discovery of Deinias’ text (in the aftermath of the siege of Tyre) is synchronous with Pytheas’ pioneering travels and the discovery of Thule itself. This can hardly be a coincidence: it looks very much as if it were Diogenes’ intent to steal a march on Pytheas by producing a voyage to Thule (and beyond) avant la lettre. Another likely source was Hecataeus of Abdera who, as we have seen, located the far northern island of the Hyperboreans so close to the Moon that protuberances on the lunar surface were clearly visible from there. By following in the footsteps of Pytheas and Hecataeus – the latter of whom has been described as a ‘romanticist, Utopianizing pseudo-historian’ – Diogenes assimilates himself to highly ambivalent models. But none could be more dubious than the one source which we know for sure Diogenes mentioned in his text: Antiphanes of Berge. Like Pytheas, Antiphanes (also in the fourth century BCE) had written an account of his travels in the far north, but it was a work of outrageous fantasy which may in fact have been a parody of Pytheas’ On the Ocean. A detail preserved in Plutarch gives us a taste of his surreal humour: he claimed it was so cold in the far north that the inhabitants’ conversations froze instantly in mid-air, and they had to

 



  

 Strabo ... See generally Palacios Fernández (). It is likely that political tensions underlie such a literary game: Pytheas was from Massalia in southern Gaul in the Greek west and was evidently a poor layman (Polybius ..); the fictional Deinias is from Arcadia in the Peloponnesian heartland of the Greek mainland, and as David Braund (pers. comm.) points out, he is evidently a man of means and status, such that Kymbas is dispatched to bring him home from Tyre. Diogenes himself has been associated with Aphrodisias in the Greek east (Bowersock , –; Bowie , ). Diod. ... Morgan (, ) makes this point but retreats from the idea that Hecataeus exerted direct influence on Diogenes: ‘it is all too plausible that Antonius Diogenes might have chosen to base his hero’s experiences on a world-view he found in a source like this.’ (Emphasis mine.) Morgan (, ). Photius, Bibl. cod. , a. It is usually assumed that Antiphanes was named as a source which Diogenes followed, but see n.  below. See Knaack ().



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

wait for the thaw in the following spring to hear what they had wanted to say. His pseudo-geography was criticized by Eratosthenes, Polybius and Strabo, and his falsehoods became so notorious that he literally became synonymous with lying. Although, as Peter von Möllendorff points out, Diogenes’ attitude to Antiphanes in his narrative is unclear – he may in fact have disavowed him as an authority rather than followed him – there are obvious parallels between their work, especially the collection of marvellous facts presented within a continuous, pseudo-factual narrative. It is this peculiar mixture of the authentic with the fantastical which surfaces again and again in later criticisms of Antiphanes and which, according to Photius, characterized Diogenes’ novel as well. The specifically scientific tenor of much of the novel’s authentic detail, which includes geographical, astronomical and ethnographical erudition, imparts to the narrative the distinct flavour of scientific fiction. The scope of Diogenes’ novel may justly be described as encyclopaedic, in the general (and probably modern) sense of the extensive and allencompassing nature of its erudition. The protagonist’s travels carry him in a circle (kyklos, a) which circumscribes the entirety of the known world. Its twenty-four books must have been stuffed full with excurses on diverse and recondite subjects, ranging from ethnography, geography and paradoxography, to magic, philosophy, eschatology, astronomy and botany. Being packaged, fictionally, as an ancient rediscovered 

  

 



Plutarch, De profectu in virtutem a: ὁ γὰρ Ἀντιφάνης ἔλεγε παίζων ἔν τινι πόλει τὰς φωνὰς εὐθὺς λεγομένας πήγνυσθαι διὰ ψῦχος, εἶθ’ ὕστερον ἀνιεμένων ἀκούειν θέρους ἃ τοῦ χειμῶνος διελέχθησαν· Romm (, – and ). The Greek verb Bergaizō means ‘I tell lies’ and the adjective Bergaios means ‘mendacious’; Stephanus of Byzantium s.v. Βέργη. Von Möllendorff (, ) raises the intriguing possibility that Diogenes disavowed Antiphanes as a source. He points out that Photius does not actually say that Diogenes imitated Antiphanes, only that ‘he mentions a certain Antiphanes, a more ancient writer who – he says – idled away his time with marvellous tales of this sort’. Μνημονεύει δ’ οὗτος ἀρχαιοτέρου τινὸς Ἀντιφάνους, ὅν φησι περὶ τοιαῦτά τινα τερατολογήματα κατεσχολακέναι. If von Möllendorff is right about this – and he may well be – then it looks as if Diogenes affected to distance himself, presumably tongue in cheek, from his predecessor in apista.. On Antiphanes see, for example, Polybius .. and Marcian of Heraclea’s epitome of Menippus’ Periplus Maris Interni, Book  prologue .–; on Diogenes see Photius a. See also Stephens and Winkler (, –): ‘That Diogenes’ novel had an encyclopedic range cannot be strictly proved, but the two considerations of the novel’s sheer size and its structure of interlocked wanderings make the suggestion worth entertaining’. I will not enter here into the debate about the meaning of enkuklios paideia or whether the encyclopaedia existed as a genre in the first century; those interested in this question can consult Doody (). Information about Hades (eschatology?, a); Pythagorean philosophy (b); natural sciences, including zoology, botany and astronomy (a); sorcery (b); astronomy again, specifically in relation to the arctic (a–b); geography, paradoxography and ethnography (passim).

From Thule to the Moon: Diogenes’s Scientific Fiction



text meant that it titillated this reader’s bibliophile tastes in a dramatic way. This was not just an inert ‘store house’ of knowledge (to borrow a Gellian metaphor); rather, by virtue of its pseudo-documentary fiction, reading the novel became itself an experience of history, of discovery, of contacting the world of the past in a directly personal way. What, then, did the novel have to say about the Moon? This is difficult to answer. The question of whether the narrative even included a lunar visit has itself been a matter of dispute, for Photius does not make it clear whether Deinias actually visited the Moon, or merely went as far as the Moon’s borders in the extreme north. He says the following: Καὶ τὸ πάντων ἀπιστότατον, ὅτι πορευόμενοι πρὸς Βορρᾶν ἐπὶ σελήνην, ὡς ἐπί τινα γῆν καθαρωτάτην, πλησίον ἐγένοντο, ἐκεῖ τε γενόμενοι ἴδοιεν ἃ εἰκὸς ἦν ἰδεῖν τὸν τοιαύτην ὑπερβολὴν πλασμάτων προαναπλάσαντα. Εἶτα καὶ ὡς ἡ Σίβυλλα τὴν μαντικὴν ἀπὸ Καρμάνου ἀνέλαβε. Μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα ὅτι εὐχὰς ἰδίας ἕκαστος ηὔξατο, καὶ τοῖς μὲν ἄλλοις ἑκάστῳ συνέπεσεν ὥσπερ ηὔξατο, αὑτὸν δέ φησιν ἐκεῖθεν ἀφυπνώσαντα ἐς Τύρον ἐς τὸν τοῦ Ἡρακλέος νεὼν εὑρεθῆναι, ἐκεῖθέν τε ἀναστάντα τήν τε Δερκυλλίδα καὶ τὸν Μαντινίαν ἀνευρεῖν εὖ πεπραχότας καὶ τούς τε γονεῖς τοῦ μακροῦ ἀπαλλάξαντας ὕπνου, μᾶλλον δὲ ὀλέθρου, καὶ τἆλλα εὐδαιμονοῦντας. And most incredible of all, [Deinias said] that as they travelled North they drew near the Moon, which was like a very pure world, and having arrived there (ekei) that they saw the sort of things which are typical for someone who has already fabricated such extremes of fiction. Next [he told] how the Sibyl recovered her prophetic power from Carmanes. After that, [he said] that each man said his own private prayers and each man’s prayer was granted. He said that he himself was discovered to have travelled from there (ekeithen) in his sleep to the temple of Heracles in Tyre, and when he emerged from that place, he found Derkyllis and Mantinias doing well and their parents released from their long sleep (or rather, destruction) and happy in every way.

Much hangs on Photius’ use of the adverb ‘there’ in the crucial phrase ‘having arrived there’, but this is rather vague, for it could indicate Deinias’ arrival at the Moon’s borders or his transition to the Moon itself. The statements that follow swing the case in favour of a lunar visit, as Peter von

  

litterarum penus, Aulus Gellius, NA pr.. The latter interpretation is argued by Morgan (, –) and Nesselrath (, –, esp.  n.). Photius, Bibl. cod. , a.



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

Möllendorff has argued, for Deinias’ narrative evidently continued after their arrival ‘there’ to include an encounter with the Sibyl of the Moon as well as an account of the astonishing marvels which they saw there. One could argue that this is not conclusive proof, since the Sibyl could have met the travellers at the Moon’s borders, and they might have been able to see marvellous things on the Moon from a distance, much like Hecataeus’ Hyperboreans who could make out features of the lunar landscape from their remote northern island of Helixoia. That is possible, though it has the air of special pleading. Moreover, Helena Schmedt has raised the attractive and intriguing possibility that Mantinias’ journeys – an account of which included ‘the most incredible sights’ relating to the Sun and Moon (a) – might themselves have incorporated exploration near the lunar region. Was Deinias, then, following his footsteps? From Photius we know that Deinias described the Moon as ‘a very pure world’ (katharōtatē gē, a). The precise meaning of this phrase is debated: the adjective katharos means ‘pure, clean’ and also ‘bare, sterile’. Given the Pythagorean strand within the novel, it is more likely that Deinias was impressed by the Moon’s purity than its bare quality, for as we saw in Chapter , the Pythagoreans emphasized the superior bodily cleanliness of the Moon’s inhabitants. They also espoused the theory that the Moon sustained lush flora and fauna – so that if Diogenes was following Pythagorean ideas, he would hardly have described the Moon as ‘barren, bare’. Beyond that, however, we are in the realm of speculation. After twenty-four books, the text had stretched Photius’ patience: his dismissal of the lunar episode means that the details of Deinias trip to the Moon remain – for now – an almost completely closed book. The intensification of Diogenes’ scientific fiction around the Moon is, however, important in itself. The farther north Deinias travels, the more fantastical his narrative becomes – and yet, this part of the text was also

  



Von Möllendorff (, –). We have encountered the Sibyl on the Moon already in the myth of Plutarch’s De facie; see Chapter , pp. –. See Chapter , p. . For discussion of the term, see von Möllendorff (,  n. ) and Schmedt (, –). Morgan (, ) argues against the idea that the adjective denotes a world of greater moral purity, as that could only be determined on the basis of a visit there, which he believes did not take place in Diogenes’ narrative; he interprets katharos as ‘bare’ or, following Rohde (,  () n. ), ‘an earth pure and simple’. The Pythagorean sources, however, point to physical purity or cleanliness (absence of excrement, for example, in contrast with the inhabitants of Earth). Chapter , p. .

From Thule to the Moon: Diogenes’s Scientific Fiction



peppered with accurate astronomical lore of the sort which we find in the handbook of Geminus. Photius gives a sample of the phenomena which Deinias witnessed at the North Pole: καθ’ ἣν πλάνην τὰ ὑπὲρ τὴν Θούλην ἄπιστα θεάσασθαι νῦν ἀπαγγέλλων εἰσάγεται Κύμβᾳ, ἐκεῖνα λέγων ἰδεῖν ἃ καὶ οἱ τῆς ἀστροθεάμονος τέχνης σπουδασταὶ ὑποτίθενται, οἷον ὥς ἐστιν ἐνίοις δυνατὸν κατὰ κορυφὴν τὴν ἄρκτον εἶναι, καὶ τὴν νύκτα μηνίαιαν, καὶ ἔλαττον δὲ καὶ πλέον, καὶ ἑξαμηνιαίαν δέ, καὶ τὸ ἔσχατον ἐνιαυσιαίαν· οὐ μόνον δὲ τὴν νύκτα ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον παρατείνεσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὴν ἡμέραν ταύταις συμβαίνειν ἀνάλογον. καὶ ἕτερα δὲ ἀπαγγέλλει ἰδεῖν ὅμοια, καὶ ἀνθρώπους δὲ ἰδεῖν καὶ ἕτερα τινὰ τερατεύεται, ἃ μηδεὶς μήτε ἰδεῖν ἔφη μήτε ἀκοῦσαι, ἀλλὰ μηδὲ φαντασίαις ἀνετυπώσατο He [Deinias] is presented reporting now to Cymbas that he saw during this journey the incredible things beyond Thule, saying that he witnessed those phenomena which scholars of astronomical science postulate, such as that it is possible for some people to exist at the North Pole, and that the night is a month in length, more or less, and even six-months long or, at the extreme, as long as a year. And that it’s not only the night that extends to such length, but the day also undergoes a phenomenon analogous to the nights. And he reported that he saw other similar phenomena and that he saw people and he told some other marvels which he said no one had seen or heard, and no one had even formed in the imagination.

This arctic phenomenon, which nowadays has given the region the familiar moniker of ‘the land of the midnight sun’, is well-attested in ancient sources. Its discovery was attributed in antiquity to Pytheas, and it was reported thereafter in many sources, including Geminus and the elder Pliny. Tacitus, who was probably a contemporary of Diogenes, claimed that, in the far north where the Suiones live, the light of the sunset lingered all the way through till dawn with such brightness that it outshone the stars. Alongside such authentic scientific lore, Deinias includes narratives of ‘marvels’ which, in counter-historiographical fashion, ’marvels which he said no one had seen or heard, and no one had even formed in the imagination.’ From Thucydides .., this claim to autopsy had become a standard historian’s claim (albeit one that was susceptible to    

Photius, Bibl. cod. , b–a. Pliny NH .– and .; Geminus El. Astr. .–. For discussion, see Romm , –, esp. n. . Germania : extremus cadentis iam solis fulgor in ortus edurat adeo clarus, ut sidera hebetet. . . Tacitus gives a more detailed account of the length of arctic nights in Agr. .–. cf. Lucian VH .: ‘Ctesias son of Ctesiochus of Cnidos, who wrote about India and its habitants things which he had neither witnessed himself nor heard from another truthful source’. Κτησίας ὁ



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

abuse), but what Deinias has to report cracks the limits of historiographical belief. His lunar adventure lies beyond this point. The Moon’s location at the outer extreme of these travels and near the textual end of the twentyfourth book of the novel mirrors its status at the epistemological extreme of Diogenes’ fiction too. As Photius remarks, this episode is ‘the most incredible of all’ (τὸ πάντων ἀπιστότατον), and the things that Deinias saw on the Moon are the ‘acme of fiction’ (ὑπερβολή πλασμάτων). In De facie, the literary Theon asserted that, on the question of the inhabited Moon, ‘much is said . . . both in earnest and in jest’. Theon may have been polarizing these two categories, but Diogenes fused them in a novel of humour, fantasy and serious science that appealed to a reader hungry for knowledge. Significantly, The incredible things beyond Thule probably contained the very first realistic account of a lunar expedition in world literature. But even if, on the more pessimistic view, Deinias did not actually visit the Moon in this text, Diogenes still took him up to the lunar border and therefore made the Moon contiguous with the northernmost frontiers of our world, just barely within reach of the most trepidatious travellers. With Diogenes, the Moon entered the range of vision of experimental writers of fiction as a potential destination, and one that was bound up with the ambiguous zone between truth and lies.

Astro-poetics: Icaromenippus, the Moon and Lucianic Mixis The last writer we explore in this chapter is Lucian, a writer of Greek who was born in Syria Samosata in the early second century CE. Lucian postdated Varro, Plutarch and probably Antonius Diogenes as well. He was a prolific writer of comical–satirical dialogues and fantastic prose fiction, and thankfully, his works survive largely intact. He exerted enormous influence on European literature. His sceptical, rationalist stance in the face of superstition ensured that he became the darling of the enlightenment; and this, combined with his lucid, copperplate Greek, meant that he was widely read from the early modern period on. His two lunar fictions, Icaromenippus and True Stories, directly influenced Kepler, who studied Lucian as a means to learn Greek, translated Plutarch’s De facie and produced one of the earliest works of science fiction, the Dream. In

 

Κτησιόχου ὁ Κνίδιος, ὃς συνέγραψεν περὶ τῆς Ἰνδῶν χώρας καὶ τῶν παρ’ αὐτοῖς ἃ μήτε αὐτὸς εἶδεν μήτε ἄλλου ἀληθεύοντος ἤκουσεν. Photius, Bibl. cod. , a. Cf. Fusillo (, ): ‘La luna era stata sempre fonte di invenzioni fantasiose . . . e luogo consono alla sapienza dei mistici.’ De fac. e.

Astro-poetics: Icaromenippus, the Moon and Lucianic Mixis



contrast with Varro and Diogenes, therefore, we are in the happy position of having ample information about Lucian’s lunar fictions. In the remainder of this chapter, I will explore not only what Lucian tells us about the Moon, but also how the Moon in Lucian’s hands becomes a politicized space, a special symbol of Lucian’s own distinctive, experimental poetics. Icaromenippus is a dialogue between the protagonist Menippus and an unnamed interlocutor, to whom Menippus tells the story of an amazing journey which he has just made to the realm of the gods in the sky. The reason he undertook this daring flight was to consult with the gods about all of the problems which philosophers debate. Menippus has had a bad experience with philosophers. He trusted them to explain the mysteries of the universe to him: the origin of the cosmos, the nature of the Sun and the stars, why the Moon changes shape each month, what causes the weather etc. (Icar. ). But instead of providing him with answers, they merely confused him further with their obscure jargon and conflicting doctrines, leading him to the conclusion that they were equally at a loss about the questions of natural science. He soon came to realize that if he truly wanted the answers, he must abandon philosophy and take to the skies instead. And so, after fashioning a pair of wings after Daedalus’ example, he took to the air and, when he tired, he stopped off on the Moon (Icar. –). Two significant events take place there: first, using a trick which he learns from the spirit of the philosopher Empedocles, who now resides on the Moon, Menippus looks down on Earth below. This magnificent panorama is an expansion of the motif that we encountered in embryonic form in Plutarch’s De facie. Second, the personified Moon speaks to Menippus and complains to him about how the philosophers on Earth slander her. Nothing they say about her is true, she claims (Icar. –). The Moon therefore confirms Menippus’ suspicions about these so-called experts and, with renewed confidence and vigour, he flies onwards to the gods’ abode. Lucian exploits the Moon, both here and in his other lunar fiction True Stories, as a space for intellectual and imaginative freedom. In Icaromenippus, for example, the Moon provides a place of detachment from which Menippus can critique philosophical dogma with impunity. The Moon authorizes the voice of the spoudaiogeloios (serio-comic) – a standard Lucianic hero – over the competing voices of the philosophers by affording Menippus a uniquely panoptic view of the triviality and hypocrisy of 

See Chapter , pp. –.

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The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

humankind, as well as by echoing his outrage against the philosophers. On Earth, the spoudaiogeloios Menippus is an outsider, alienated from every philosophical school, but on the Moon his views are imbued with the authority of indisputable evidence and ultimately receive the nod of approval from Zeus himself. In some of the lunar narratives of the later European tradition (Cyrano de Bergerac, for example), the Moon is similarly used as a space of heterodox freedom, where writers could safely satirize our world or express scientific views that were too controversial to present as straight-faced treatises here on Earth. Lucian’s Moon signified freedom of other kinds, which were specific to his own literary culture. Across his works, Lucian is preoccupied with the question of his own creative freedom. His desire to forge new literary forms did not sit entirely easily within his contemporary culture, which tended to favour imitation of Classical and Archaic models over bold innovation. And yet, within the parameters of that Classicizing aesthetic, new genres did emerge and proliferate; the ancient novel was one of these. But of all ancient literary revolutionaries, Lucian was arguably the most radical, the most obsessively confessional - and the most artful. He invented the comic dialogue, raised the rhetorical ‘preamble’ or prolalia to the status of the literary-critical essay, and wreaked havoc across the boundaries of ‘high’ literature and ‘low’, producing category-defying works such as Saturnalia, Gout and True Stories itself. The entire Classical tradition, no less, was grist to Lucian’s relentlessly innovative mill, and as a result, the world was – in quite a literal way – not enough; Lucian’s imagination colonized the worlds beyond our Earth. The two works in which Lucian records a trip to the Moon are, consequently, of great literary-critical import. This is more obvious in True Stories, and the meta-literary dimensions of the Moon in this work have been extensively covered in scholarship as a result. The same, however, cannot be said for Icaromenippus. I will begin, therefore, by exploring how Lucian uses Menippus’ flight to the Moon as a way to think about his own distinctive literary enterprise, the invention of the genre of the comic dialogue. In order to understand this properly, however, we need to turn our attention to another of Lucian’s dialogues, the fantasy court-case Twice accused, where Lucian (represented by a character  

For discussion of Lucian’s genre-innovation, see ní Mheallaigh (, –) with further references. See Georgiadou and Larmour (, –) (though the interpretation as philosophical parody tends to be overplayed); Fusillo (); von Möllendorff’s magisterial commentary (, –) and ní Mheallaigh (, –).

Astro-poetics: Icaromenippus, the Moon and Lucianic Mixis



called ‘the Syrian’) stands in the dock and publicly justifies his decisions as an author. In Twice accused , the personification of Philosophical Dialogue accuses Lucian of corrupting him by forcing him to associate with low, abusive literary types such as comedy and satire: Ἃ δὲ ἠδίκημαι καὶ περιύβρισμαι πρὸς τούτου, ταῦτά ἐστιν, ὅτι με σεμνὸν τέως ὄντα καὶ θεῶν τε πέρι καὶ φύσεως καὶ τῆς τῶν ὅλων περιόδου σκοπούμενον, ὑψηλὸν ἄνω που τῶν νεφῶν ἀεροβατοῦντα, ἔνθα ὁ μέγας ἐν οὐρανῷ Ζεὺς πτηνὸν ἅρμα ἐλαύνων φέρεται, κατασπάσας αὐτὸς ἤδη κατὰ τὴν ἁψῖδα πετόμενον καὶ ἀναβαίνοντα ὑπὲρ τὰ νῶτα τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ τὰ πτερὰ συντρίψας ἰσοδίαιτον τοῖς πολλοῖς ἐποίησεν, καὶ τὸ μὲν τραγικὸν ἐκεῖνο καὶ σωφρονικὸν προσωπεῖον ἀφεῖλέ μου, κωμικὸν δὲ καὶ σατυρικὸν ἄλλο ἐπέθηκέ μοι καὶ μικροῦ δεῖν γελοῖον. εἶτά μοι εἰς τὸ αὐτὸ φέρων συγκαθεῖρξεν τὸ σκῶμμα καὶ τὸν ἴαμβον καὶ κυνισμὸν καὶ τὸν Εὔπολιν καὶ τὸν Ἀριστοφάνη, δεινοὺς ἄνδρας ἐπικερτομῆσαι τὰ σεμνὰ καὶ χλευάσαι τὰ ὀρθῶς ἔχοντα. τελευταῖον δὲ καὶ Μένιππόν τινα τῶν παλαιῶν κυνῶν μάλα ὑλακτικὸν ὡς δοκεῖ καὶ κάρχαρον ἀνορύξας, καὶ τοῦτον ἐπεισήγαγεν μοι φοβερόν τινα ὡς ἀληθῶς κύνα καὶ τὸ δῆγμα λαθραῖον, ὅσῳ καὶ γελῶν ἅμα ἔδακνεν. Πῶς οὖν οὐ δεινὰ ὕβρισμαι μηκέτ’ ἐπὶ τοῦ οἰκείου διακείμενος, ἀλλὰ κωμῳδῶν καὶ γελωτοποιῶν καὶ ὑποθέσεις ἀλλοκότους ὑποκρινόμενος αὐτῷ; τὸ γὰρ πάντων ἀτοπώτατον, κρᾶσίν τινα παράδοξον κέκραμαι καὶ οὔτε πεζός εἰμι οὔτε ἐπὶ τῶν μέτρων βέβηκα, ἀλλὰ ἱπποκενταύρου δίκην σύνθετόν τι καὶ ξένον φάσμα τοῖς ἀκούουσι δοκῶ. His violent crimes against me are as follows. Up till now, I was a dignified being. I investigated the gods and nature and the cycle of the universe; I trod the air aloft somewhere above the clouds, where great Zeus goes driving his winged chariot in the sky. But he dragged me down as I was flying along the vault and ascending over the back of heaven. He clipped my wings and reduced my status to that of the common people. He tore that tragic and respectable mask from me, and put another comic, satyric, virtually clownish one on me instead. Then he took me and fenced me in with Jest, Iambic poetry, Cynicism, and Eupolis and Aristophanes, who are dreadful for mocking dignified subjects and scoffing at what’s proper. Last of all, he dug up Menippus, one of the ancient Cynics – a rough, barking character, I’m told – and introduced this man to me. He was a truly terrifying dog with a hidden bite, for even as he laughed, he snapped. Am I not, then, a victim of abuse, if I am no longer treated in the manner to which I am accustomed, but play the comic and the clown instead, and act out strange new plots for him? And the most unsettling part of it all is that I am now a mixture of incongruous components, marching neither in prose nor in verse. Instead, I seem like a hippocentaur to my audience – a mixed thing, an alien apparition.

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The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

Dialogue’s opening assertion that he has been ‘wronged’ and ‘abused’ (ēdikēmai kai periubrismai) asks us to consider Lucian’s creativity in terms of ‘criminal wrongdoing’ (graphē adikias) and ‘assault’ (hybris). Specifically, the author’s violence consists of ‘dragging down’ (kataspasas), of disabling Dialogue’s flight by clipping his wings (ta ptera suntripsas), stripping him of his dignity and subjecting him to ridicule (the switch of tragic mask for comic), of incarcerating him (sunkatheirxen) with vulgar companions who abuse and deride him, and of forcing him to perform buffoonish acts for entertainment. The implied narrative is the plight of a well-born individual who is sold into slavery and a life of dishonour as a member of a troupe of mime actors. Dialogue’s speech is also a cento of literary allusions, which converts it into a performance of the very hybridity which he is describing: he is literally speaking in the language of other genres, which is proof of the violence Lucian has already wrought upon him. His description of how he used to ‘tread the air aloft somewhere above the clouds’ (ὑψηλὸν ἄνω που τῶν νεφῶν ἀεροβατοῦντα) evokes Socrates’ sensational entry in Aristophanes’ comedy Clouds, where he swings aloft in a basket, which enables him to ‘tread the air and circumcontemplate the sun’. Dialogue is already quite literally ‘performing the comic role’ (kōmōidōn) which Lucian has imposed upon him. Moreover, by alluding to Clouds with its famous caricature of Socrates, he evokes the locus classicus for the comic subversion of philosophy. This artful allusion therefore reminds us of the Classical pedigree for this sort of authorial abuse, in a way that reinforces Lucian’s self-construction as an heir to the Aristophanic tradition. With similar irony, Dialogue’s description of his former ‘soaring along the vault and ascending over the back of heaven’ (κατὰ τὴν ἁψῖδα πετόμενον καὶ ἀναβαίνοντα ὑπὲρ τὰ νῶτα τοῦ οὐρανοῦ) evokes the flying soul-chariot of Plato’s Phaedrus (a–b) at the very moment where he describes his own rupture with his philosophical past. By combining images of height and depth with this narrative of violent reversal, Lucian also recreates the disorientating effect which his new genre has on audiences. In contrast with the airborne Dialogue who is violently   



On the legal underpinning of Dialogue’s speech, see Braun (,  with n. ), who favours hybris as the charge in question. Braun (,  with n. , – and –), with Wiemken (, –). Clouds : ἀεροβατῶ καὶ περιφρονῶ τὸν ἥλιον; see Braun (,  n.), who notes also the echo in Empedocles’ claim in Icar. : ‘I live on the Moon, treading the air, and I frequently feed on dew’ (ἐν τῇ σελήνῃ κατοικῶ ἀεροβατῶν τὰ πολλὰ καὶ σιτοῦμαι δρόσον). On Lucian’s literary relationship with Aristophanes, see Brusuelas ().

Astro-poetics: Icaromenippus, the Moon and Lucianic Mixis



dragged down from the sky, Menippus, the inventor of Menippean satire, is associated with the underworld, from where he must be ‘exhumed’ upwards (anoruxas). This act of exhumation dramatizes Lucian’s resurrection of Menippean satire, which had become defunct in Greek literature. At the same time, it also reminds us of the work for which Menippus was most famous in antiquity: his Nekyia or ‘Journey to the world of the dead,’ a satirical version of Odyssey Book , with Menippus as a neo-Odyssean traveller interviewing the ghostly intellects of the past. The Menippean Nekyia is a direct model for Lucian’s dialogue Menippus, where Menippus travels to the underworld. It also influences Icaromenippus, which inverts the katabasis or ‘journey downwards’ so that Menippus ascends to heaven instead. The dizzying whirl of heaven, Earth and underworld in this passage from Twice accused therefore perfectly captures the inversion of Menippean satire in Icaromenippus itself, as well as the mixture of high and low that was characteristic of Lucian’s comic dialogues more generally. Dialogue identifies the other genres which Lucian combines as well. His description of his new role – ‘playing the comic, playing the clown, and acting out strange new plots’ – is not a heaping-up of inert synonyms, as has sometimes been thought; it is, rather, a carefully nuanced triad, which reflects in a precise way Dialogue’s affiliation with () the comic authors (kōmōidōn); () the genres of mockery (iambos) and jest (gelōtopoiōn); and () Menippean satire, for the third phrase in this ascending tricolon evokes the ‘fantastic plots’ (allokotoi hypotheseis) for which both Menippean satire and Lucian’s dialogues were famous. Dialogue’s description of his emerging identity as ‘a mixture of incongruous elements’ (krasin tina paradoxon kekramai) hints strongly at the Latin term satura, whose meaning ‘mixture/medley’ underlay the concept of ‘satire’ itself as a literary genre, and therefore compounds the essential hybridity of Lucian’s work.   





On the Nekyia as Menippus’ ‘signature work,’ see Relihan (, ). ní Mheallaigh (, –). Mossman (, –) explores how narratives of flight in imperial Greek literature relate to literary and cultural self-positioning. Braun (,  n. ) is not sure if Lucian means us to differentiate between these three terms – or if it is not, rather, ‘little more than a heaping up of three approximate synonyms to signify comic or laughable’ (McCarthy , ). Opinions vary on the degree of Menippean influences on Lucian’s dialogues. For the extreme views, see Helm  (maximal influence) and Bompaire (, –) (who downplays Menippean influence). For the preferable middle view, see McCarthy () and Relihan (, –) who treat Icaromenippus as an exponent of the Menippean genre, which Lucian has modified. Fusillo (, –) discusses Menippean degradation in True Stories. Relihan (, ).

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The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

Finally, the image of the ‘hippocentaur’ links Dialogue’s speech in Twice accused with the network of hybridity metaphors which pervades Lucian’s works. In his essay You are a literary Prometheus, where he discusses the difficulties of striking a balance between innovation and tradition, Lucian fears that his new genre may be a ‘freakish hybrid’ (allokotos xynthēkē) like a hippocentaur, hippocamp or tragelaph. In Zeuxis the hippocentaur is again the metaphor for his work, which Lucian describes as a carnival of ‘strange monsters’ (xena mormolykeia) and ‘magic tricks’ (thaumatopoiia) which amaze the crowd, who thrill to the novelty and unconventionality (kainon kai terastion) of his bizarre plots. These ideas about cheap entertainment resonate in turn with the narrative underlying Dialogue’s complaint, that he has been reduced to a mime actor who entertains the crowds with his buffoonish behaviour. The reason I have combed through this important passage in such detail is because it is vital for understanding the ways in which Icaromenippus dramatizes the poetics of Twice accused. In Icaromenippus, dialogue – which was formerly the vehicle for philosophy – has become the medium for philosophical satire, and Lucian combines this with a fantastical flight which is modelled on Old Comedy and the kataskopia or satirical ‘view from above’ that was characteristic of Menippean satire. Moreover, Menippus’ flight upwards, followed by his act of looking down upon the Earth from the Moon, acts out the dizzying poetics of Lucianic mixis, which Dialogue described in Twice accused using the metaphor of flight and fall. Reading Icaromenippus intertextually with Twice accused in fact illuminates hidden dimensions of Menippus’ celestial ascent and subsequent skyfall, and helps explain too his association with ‘Icarus’ in the title, which has puzzled readers. The philosophical affiliations of Icaromenippus play out in various ways, some more apparent than others. Obviously, Menippus’ experience of studying natural philosophy is central to the work, and the plot itself takes the shape of the pursuit of knowledge, albeit a fantastical one. Closer scrutiny reveals finer philosophical threads in its intertextual fabric as well. Menippus’ epistemological trajectory from commitment to natural philosophy to disillusionment with it is modelled on Socrates’ self-same 

 

Prom. es  (hippocentaur); Prom. Es  (hippocamp, tragelaph). Ní Mheallaigh (, –) contains detailed discussion of the aesthetic implications of Lucian’s prolaliai for reading his own work, with further bibliography. Zeux. . Bompaire (, –) draws attention, briefly, to the connection between the two works, but does not develop the point.

Astro-poetics: Icaromenippus, the Moon and Lucianic Mixis



trajectory in Plato’s Phaedo (b–c). There, Socrates recalls how, in his youth, he turned to astronomy to understand the cosmic order, placing his hopes in the teaching of Anaxagoras, whose model of intelligent design (nous) appealed to him. However, after extensive study, he discovered that Anaxagoras’ cosmology was methodologically flawed, since he failed to examine first principles. Ἀπὸ δὴ θαυμαστῆς ἐλπίδος. . . ᾠχόμην φερόμενος, ἐπειδὴ προϊὼν καὶ ἀναγιγνώσκων ὁρῶ ἄνδρα τῷ μὲν νῷ οὐδὲν χρώμενον οὐδέ τινας αἰτίας ἐπαιτιώμενον εἰς τὸ διακοσμεῖν τὰ πράγματα, ἀέρας δὲ καὶ αἰθέρας καὶ ὕδατα αἰτιώμενον καὶ ἄλλα πολλὰ καὶ ἄτοπα So I went away, bereft of my wonderful hopes . . . for as I advanced in my reading I saw the man made no use of the intellect at all. He gave no reasons to explain the nature of the cosmos, but instead attributed causation to ‘airs’ and ‘aithers’ and ‘waters’ and many other strange things.

Following his renunciation of natural science, Socrates directed philosophical inquiry to more mundane matters, including scrutiny of the self. He thereby ‘dragged Philosophy down to Earth from the Heavens’, as Cicero claims (Tusc. ..). Dialogue makes this same accusation in Twice accused, where Lucian is presented as ‘a new Socrates’ bringing philosophical literature ‘down to earth’. Lucian’s intervention converts philosophy from the Socratic brand of gently humorous inquiry into philosophical comedy and satire. And even though I do not interpret Lucian’s work as ‘didactic’ in any straightforward way, it can be viewed as a neo-Socratic species of philosophy, for it is both ethically revealing and epistemologically exercising in its own elusive way – ‘serious about laughing matters’, as Lucian himself tells us. In Icaromenippus, Menippus’ encounter with philosophy began when he found himself sickened by people’s petty obsessions with power and wealth, and so turned his back on the material world, and began to contemplate the mysteries of the universe instead. Menippus presents astronomy as a species of the contemplative life (theōrētikos bios), where the gaze is literally directed aloft towards the purer zones of the Heavens. This taps into a well-known narrative about astronomy, which is found in

 

 Phaedo c. See Relihan (, ) and Braun (, –). See Lucian’s epigram ‘on his own book’ (Photius, Bibl. cod. , b–), the authorship of which may not be authentic. The late antique writer Eunapius (Lives of the sophists ..) described Lucian as ‘serious about being ridiculous’ (σπουδαῖος ἐς τὸ γελασθῆναι). On Lucian’s serio-comic humour, see Branham () and Halliwell (, –) who emphasize Lucian’s ‘existential laughter’.



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

Lucian’s contemporary, the astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, but also had a long pedigree in Greek intellectual history. Thales, for example, who anecdotally fell into a well whilst contemplating the stars, is the earliest embodiment of the astronomer-as-otherworldly-being (more about this famous accident later). In a similar spirit, Anaxagoras reputedly gave away his inheritance to his relatives, and withdrew from public life in order to dedicate himself to astronomical research. When asked why he showed such disregard for his homeland, he averred, pointing to the Heavens that ‘My homeland is a great concern to me.’ Menippus embodies this astronomical spirit, but his avowed frustration with the philosophers’ ‘principles’, ‘final causes’, ‘atoms’, ‘voids’, ‘materials and forms and things of that sort’ directly echoes the passage just quoted from Phaedo. In contrast with Socrates, however, Menippus abandons philosophy and science entirely, reverts to old-fashioned Homeric theology, and taking a leaf from the pages of Old Comedy, recasts his intellectual wandering among the stars as an actual astronomical flight to consult with the gods. Through this intertextuality with Phaedo, Menippus becomes a surreal Socrates, who not only exposes the ignorance of his contemporaries, but becomes the hero of his own satirical fantasy as well. Remembering the other generic elements which Dialogue in Twice accused identified as characteristic of Lucianic mixis, the naming of the protagonist Menippus alerts us clearly to the presence of Menippean satire in Icaromenippus as well. Since almost nothing of Menippus’ work survives, it is rather more difficult to pin down the Menippean notes in Lucian’s dialogue with precision; nevertheless, by extrapolating from works which are known to have Menippean influence, the central features of Menippean satire have been reconstructed, and these include: fantasy, the quest for wisdom, satire of pedantry and scholarly expertise (including the narrator’s own) and the motif of cognitive estrangement through kataskopia, or the ‘view from above’. This was a strong influence on Icaromenippus, with its rich mixture of fantasy and intellectual satire. With characteristic imagination, Lucian innovates on the Menippean kataskopia by selecting the Moon as an extra-terrestrial viewing-point, thereby converting the general ‘view from above’ into the more precise selēnoskopia, or ‘view from the Moon’, which affords Menippus a more panoptic vision   

Taub , – (on the prologue to the Syntaxis) and – (on ethical motivations for the pursuit of astronomy).  See p.  below. Diogenes Laertius .– (DK  A; G; LM P). Relihan (, –). Relihan treats Icaromenippus, along with its partner-piece Menippus, as exponents of Menippean satire; cf. also Lachmann (, ).

Astro-poetics: Icaromenippus, the Moon and Lucianic Mixis



than any previous human character in Greek literature, a view which I shall discuss further in the next chapter. With its hero’s fantastic flight to heaven to consult with the gods, Icaromenippus also has obvious resonances with Old Comedy, whose heroes find solutions by making fantastic journeys to heaven (as in Peace and Birds) or the underworld (as in Frogs). Menippus explicitly invokes Aesopic fable as the inspiration for his flight, since (he says) Aesop had made the Heavens accessible to eagles, beetles and even camels. This constitutes a double-allusion, since it evokes not only Aesopic fable but also the opening scene of Aristophanes’ Peace, where Trygaeus, as he begins his flight to heaven astride a giant dung-beetle, similarly cites Aesop as his model. In both Peace and Icaromenippus, there is also a metaliterary dimension to the flight-motif. Trygaeus’ flight parodies Bellerophon’s heroic flight on Pegasus from Euripides’ Bellerophon, and his dung-beetle embodies the scabrous, scatological nature of Old Comedy as the vehicle for this parody. Similarly, Menippus’ flight, using an artificial apparatus of pied feathers (one eagle-wing and one vulture-wing), is an allegory for Lucian’s experimental and hybrid poetics. The other major comic intertext for Icaromenippus, as we have seen, is Aristophanes’ Clouds (the second, surviving version) with its attack against the pseudo-science of the sophists and Strepsiades’ destruction of Socrates’ phrontistērion. This is echoed not only in Menippus’ vitriol against the philosophers, but also in the gods’ ominous decision to eradicate the philosophers at the end of Icaromenippus, after hearing an account of their misdemeanours and arrogance from Menippus himself. In fact, the second element in the work’s title Icaromenippus or The man above the clouds (Hypernephelos) hints at the dialogue’s hypertextual relationship with Aristophanes’ play: Icaromenippus itself is, in precisely this metaliterary sense, ’beyond (hyper) Clouds’. Given that Lucian widely uses images of travel, ascent and descent to talk about his innovation, as he moves between centre and periphery and modulates between high genres and low, Menippus’ fantastic journey to  



Icar. . Hancock (, esp. chapter ) connects the hybridity that is characteristic of Lucian’s work with the Aesopic tradition. Peace –. The Daedalus/Icarus myth is also a strong influence here: see Luck-Huyse , –. Camerotto (,  n. ) briefly compares Menippus’ flight with quests for knowledge in philosophy and Old Comedy, and elsewhere (, –) discusses Old Comedy’s influence more generally on the characterization of Lucian’s satirical hero. Clouds was originally performed at the Great City Dionysia in  BCE, but our surviving text is a revision, which was made between  and  BCE. The relevant passages of Clouds are ll. – (Strepsiades and the new science) and – (Strepsiades burns down the phrontistērion).



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

the Moon and beyond can be interpreted as a narrative about Lucian’s experimental creativity which he expounds in Twice accused and other works. Menippus’ upward mobility and desire to escape speaks to Lucian’s own desire to break free of the domination of the Classical past by striking out into the underexplored literary territory that is represented by the Moon. Antonius Diogenes had already set the precedent for using the Moon to represent the unchartered terrain which he explored by writing a novel that combined the influences of philosophical, scientific, geographical and romantic literature. In Icaromenippus, Lucian follows Diogenes into that virgin territory. It is telling, therefore, that when Menippus flies to the Moon, he finds it not entirely empty, but already colonized – just barely – by Empedocles’ ghost, shot there by the volcano Etna. Moreover, the Moon herself ventriloquizes the ideas of the very philosophers whom he was trying to escape. As if to reinforce the impossibility of escape, even the Moon’s complaint – as a motif – has been done before, for in it Lucian reworks a passage from Aristophanes’ Clouds where the Cloud-chorus reports the Moon’s complaints against the Athenians for their ingratitude and for interfering with the lunar calendar and thereby wreaking havoc with the dates of the traditional religious festivals. Menippus (like Lucian) may be striking out into new territory, but even so, absolute innovation, Lucian realizes, is impossible. One is always compelled to sustain a dialogue with the past, even as one tries to break away from it – which partially explains the lunar travellers’ compulsion to look back at the Earth from the Moon in both Icaromenippus and True Stories. Their fascination with gazing back at the Earth from the Moon tinctures these narratives of escape with the desire to find fresh ways to sustain a dialogue with the literary past, even after the author has broken free of its orbit. In Icaromenippus, Lucian also stages several times over the cacophony of many voices that compete for dominance, together with an individual’s struggle to make sense of them e.g. the philosophers’ competing theories, which alienate Menippus; the cacophonous experience of Menippus’ selēnoskopia, which is compared to competing choruses or a ‘hodgepodge’;





Mossman (, –) draws attention to the connection between flight and freedoms of other kinds in Lucian’s works, noting for example the flight-narratives in Philopseudes and The Ship, dialogues which explore the freedom of fantasy. Clouds –; cf. Peace – (the Moon and Sun’s conspiracy against the gods). For an introduction to ancient Greek calendars, see Burkert (, –). On Athenian calendars more specifically, especially their flexibility, see Pritchett and Neugebauer (, esp. –) and Mikalson ().

Astro-poetics: Icaromenippus, the Moon and Lucianic Mixis



Zeus’ listening to the many prayers from below on Earth. These struggles hint not only at Lucian’s own effort to create a new genre out of the polyphony of competing traditions, but also at the reader’s effort to make sense out of the incongruent voices in Lucian’s work, a response which Lucian explores more fully in You are a literary Prometheus and Zeuxis. In terms of the problems of aesthetic response, it is also significant that Menippus claims he found the Moon’s mutable form – the ‘multiplicity of its shapes’ – particularly intriguing. The term which he uses for ‘mutability’ is to polyeides, which imbues the Moon’s versatility with a literary air, for polyeideia (meaning literally ‘multiplicity of forms’) was a distinguishing characteristic of the postclassical poetics of, for example, Callimachus who – like Lucian – experimented in a number of different genres. The Moon’s innate hybridity – the mixed nature of its light, its intermediary position between the Sun and the Earth and, above all, its apparent shape-changing throughout the month – may well have suggested it as a metaphor to Lucian. In Philopseudes, when he describes how a Hyperborean wizard performs the ‘Thessalian trick’, the captured Moon, a ‘polymorphous spectacle’ (πολύμορφόν τι θέαμα) changes rapidly from woman to bull to puppy dog – a sign not only of its semiotic overload in ancient thought, but of its Protean mutability as well. In the context of Lucian’s poetics, as I shall argue presently, this makes it a richly metaliterary space which signifies – among other things – liberation from the quotidian, and the infinite pleasures of hybridity. Having examined in closer detail the mixed ingredients of Icaromenippus and how they relate to Lucian’s self-analysis in Twice accused, we can now consider what this work tells us about Lucianic mixis. Icaromenippus is important because it offers us a different perspective on Lucian’s poetics to contrast with Dialogue’s more biased narrative in Twice accused. Contrary to Dialogue’s complaints about his own degradation, Menippus’ upward  

 

Icar.  and  (philosophical polydoxy); Icar.  (chaos of selēnoskopia); Icar.  (Zeus listening at the prayer-holes). Moon (Icar. ), and the Moon mentions this phenomenon again as a topic of much dispute among the philosophers (Icar. ). It is also on the Moon that Menippus experiences – for the first time – the ‘kaleidoscopic pleasure’ (poikilē hēdonē, Icar. ) of the ‘motley and manifold spectacle’ (poikilē kai pantodapē thea, Icar. ) that was life on Earth below. On Callimachus’ polyeideia, see Acosta-Hughes (). On polyeideia as a technical term, see Gutzwiller (, –). Philops. . Ogden (, ) notes that: ‘The combination of forms appropriately and economically embodies the identification of the Moon with Hecate: both alike are lady goddesses, and whilst the canine element salutes Hecate, the bovine element salutes the Moon’s own crescent horns.’ Hancock (, esp. chapter ) examines Lucianic hybridity as a critique of pseudo-philosophers in Icaromenippus and other works.



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

trajectory in the flight of Icaromenippus invites us to read Lucian’s innovation not in terms of deflation, but as a struggle to lift the profile of his serio-comic, hybrid invention instead, and to imbue it with the prestige of high literature. The intertextuality with Twice accused also helps explain Menippus’ connection with the mythical Icarus. Lucian emphasizes this connection not only through the title of the work, but also by making Daedalus, the mythical inventor of a flying-apparatus, the inspiration for Menippus’ design (Icar. ). In this way, Lucian connects Menippus’ flight with an archetypal story of artistic success – and failure – for the title Icaromenippus links his hero not with the successful artist Daedalus, but with the hapless son who ignored his father’s advice to fly neither too high nor too low, and so plunged into the sea to his death. Lucian’s title therefore raises questions about how to interpret Menippus’ mission and, consequently, the narrative of his own literary invention as well. Are they a failure or a success? In fact, Menippus’ story does not entirely match the fate of his mythical namesake. Unlike Icarus who plunges to his death after flying too close to the Sun, Menippus’ flight is successful and he returns to Earth unscathed, with Zeus’ assurance of revenge against the philosophers still ringing in his ears. This disparity cannot but raise questions about why Lucian chose to identify his hero primarily with the tragic son–imitator rather than with the successful father–inventor. One way to unravel this is to understand how Lucian has in fact rewritten the Daedalus and Icarus myth into a new narrative about the triumph – rather than the tragedy – of breaking the paternalistic rules and flying higher than one should. Through the success of Menippus’ flight-mission, Icarus’ bold deviation from his father’s path has been converted into a triumph. The Daedalus-Icarus theme of Icaromenippus therefore plays out Lucian’s own Oedipal struggles with the Classics, but converts them into a success-story. By rewriting the story of the fall of the son, Lucian the literary rebel redeems this myth of mimetic decadence and experimental failure, and recasts it as a revenge-fantasy against the tyranny of the past. The astro-poetics of Icaromenippus (and also True Stories, as we shall see) offer a new way of thinking about literary experimentation which is distinctive from the other metaliterary scenarios which Lucian envisages elsewhere, such as the court-case (Twice accused), sculpture (You are a literary Prometheus, the Portraits dialogues) and painting (Zeuxis). Rather than constraining us to read his innovation polemically from the perspective of either high or low culture, the astro-poetical model accommodates a more mobile range of perspectives; literary experimentation can be read as elevation and descent

Disintegration, Dissent and Creative Hybridity



and movement in between. Indeed, Lucian seems to makes a question out of the very meaning of ‘high’ and ‘low’. Menippus’ lofty flight (for example) looks rather different from the viewpoint of the Moon. In Charon, Lucian exacerbates this confusion by making the underworld resident Charon climb up to reach the level where we stand. What constitutes upward mobility, Lucian suggests, depends entirely on your point of view: what is degrading for Dialogue is elevating for comedy, and so on. Likewise, Menippus’ descent at the end of Icaromenippus is not an Icarian fall, but a triumphant return, escorted by Hermes the god of eloquent speech.

Disintegration, Dissent and Creative Hybridity: Lucian’s Moon as ‘Third Space’ As well as using astronautical travel to articulate his poetics, Lucian also uses the lunar space itself, for the Moon embodies the indeterminate genre and truth-status of Lucian’s work, with both its apparently changeable form and its liminal position between Earth and the gods’ seat in heaven, or between the Earth (in Platonic terms, the realm of deceptive, sensory perception) and Sun (associated with truth and the realm of the forms). Liminality characterizes not only the Moon itself, but its inhabitants too. In Icaromenippus, the Moon has one resident only, but he is an ontologically equivocal entity, the daimon of Empedocles who is neither alive nor dead. In True Stories, the Moon is populated by wildly imaginative hybrids, whose hybridity reinforces the Moon’s meta-literary significance within Lucian’s own signally hybrid work. But we can also move beyond such simple meta-literary analogies as these to identify the Moon as a politically dynamic world in Lucian’s fiction, by examining it within the framework of ‘third space’ theory. The term ‘Thirdspace’ was coined by post-colonial cultural theorist Homi K. Bhabha, who used it to designate conceptual spaces, including the self, which are characterized by hybridity of cultural identity. The theory is extended to reflect on the sociological roles of places such as cafés, bars and bookstores in the modern city – and the agora in the ancient Greek one – which are in-between spaces situated between the poles of work and home, where hierarchies become fluid and dissent can find expression. Thirdspace theory is also applied to contexts where the boundaries between ‘reality’ and ‘virtual reality’ are blurred, like the space  

 On the analogy of the Sun, see Plato, Rep. b–c. Bhabha (). The classic work on such social third spaces is Oldenburg ().



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

that is shared by communicators on the internet, which is described as ‘postreality’. Borges’ Aleph – which I have connected here with the Moon in Icaromenippus – has itself been adopted as an icon of Thirdspace by Edward Soja, who uses it to provoke thought about Thirdspace and Thirdspace epistemologies. In a variation of this, I would like to suggest here that Thirdspace theory provides us with a fruitful approach to Lucian’s Moon. In Icaromenippus and True Stories Lucian is using space already as a way to provoke us to think about literature, as I have already argued. In Icaromenippus especially (and to a quieter degree in True Stories as well), the Moon embodies the perspective of the satirical fantasist who is both inside and outside society: inside, because Menippus is, after all, a Greek and ‘one of us’; but outside, because he dissents from contemporary cultural trends and is critical of them. The Moon, therefore, offers him the opportunity ‘to get out in order to look in’. In True Stories, the Moon’s uniqueness as a space makes it perfectly apt for embodying the equivocality of Lucian’s fiction which (as Lucian tells us in the preface) is neither wholly truth nor lies but a more slippery, in-between type of ‘honest lie’. The Moon is not a place of this world (which correlates to the realm of historia, narratives of fact), nor yet is it an entirely imaginary place like other spaces in True Stories, such as Lamptown and the Island of Dreams (which correlate to the realm of mythos, narratives of fantasy). Instead, the Moon is uniquely liminal: a demonstrably real world, for we can observe it nightly, but because (until the last century, at least) it has always been beyond normal human experience, it seems to hover on the threshold between the real and the unreal at the same time. It correlates, therefore, to the more nebulous realm of plasma, non-factual but nevertheless verisimilar narrative, a category at which Lucian pushes in True Stories. By locating his narrator’s first extended adventure on the Moon, Lucian gives a distinctive topography to the categories which are central to his work, fiction and hoax (which is the substitution of fiction for fact). By so doing, he converts these concepts from the abstract into three-dimensional virtual experience for the reader. Beyond its metafictional dimension, the Moon is equally a place for dissent and the disintegration of formal categories in Lucian’s work. It    

See Randall Packer (), ‘Net behaviour(s)’, www.randallpacker.com/netbehaviours/ Soja (, –). The Aleph is also seminal for the analysis of the city-space of Los Angeles in Soja . Duncan (, ), quoted by Branham (, ). Fusillo (, ) on the pleasure of hybridity. Fusillo notes, in passing, a similarity with Alice in Wonderland, whose fantasy embodies the disintegration of categories in Lewis Carroll’s Victorian world.

Disintegration, Dissent and Creative Hybridity



provides an extra-terrestrial perspective on our world and a unique critical insight for the viewer who, in Icaromenippus in particular, can see farther and with greater clarity than he ever could when immersed in terrestrial life. When Menippus laughs on the Moon as he sees people quarrelling over land-boundaries far below (Icar. ), we may perhaps hear Lucian’s own derision for the boundaries of genre which he has trampled with abandon. In True Stories, all sorts of familiar terrestrial categories collapse and dissolve on the Moon, including bodily boundaries, gender and sexual categories, and a blurring of fundamental distinctions between life and death, consumption and excretion, subject and object, self and other. Although hybrid creatures are a pervasive feature of Lucian’s fictional worlds in this text (whether on the Moon or Sun, inside the whale or on the multiple fantasy islands that dot the ocean), in his ethnography of the Moon-men he perforates bodily boundaries with particular Rabelaisian delight, as James Romm has argued. We discover, for example, that the Moon-men have marsupial-like, furry stomach-pouches in which they keep their young snug (VH .). There is perhaps a similarity here with Aristotle’s description of the dolphin and porpoise, who produce milk to suckle their young and can ‘take’ their young inside of themselves when they are small. However, a more plausible source for this remarkable feature, as Peter von Möllendorff has suggested, is the Aristophanic fantasy in Plato’s Symposium, itself a story of boundary-collapse with the hewing in half and reconfiguration of the primeval human body, so that the newly divided humans have stomachs stitched up at the navel like drawstringpurses. The Moon-men also have removable eyes (VH .), an idea that Lucian probably derived from the practice of using glass lentoids,



 



For a thought-provoking interpretation of the blurring of some of these boundaries (esp. between subject/object and self/other) within the explicitly colonializing framework of the lunar narrative, see Smith , esp. –. Romm (,  n. ). HA  b–: Ἔχει δ’ ὁ δελφὶς καὶ ἡ φώκαινα γάλα, καὶ θηλάζονται· καὶ εἰσδέχονται δὲ τὰ τέκνα μικρὰ ὄντα. See Stengel (, –); von Möllendorff (, ). Pace von Möllendorff, however, the dolphin and porpoise, albeit viviparous, are distinct from the ‘selachian fish’, since they have blow-holes and lungs rather than gills (HA  a–;  b– and –). Unfortunately, this rules out the possibility of a lunar connection with the name ‘selachian’ (σελάχη), which was believed to be derived from selas meaning ‘radiance’ (since these fish were phosphorescent), the same noun as was thought to be origin for Selēnē, ‘Moon’ (Galen Alim. Fac. . (=. Ku¨hn) and cf. Chapter , p.  with n. ). Plato, Symp.  e–; see von Möllendorff (, –). Plato’s androgynous humans, who are descended from the Moon (Symp.  a–b), probably underlie Lucian’s hermaphroditic Moon-men (see contra von Möllendorff (, –), who connects this, less persuasively to my mind, with the ‘andyogynous’ Treemen on the Moon).



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

sometimes known as ‘eyeballs’ (oculi), to decorate the eyes of statues, though mythical precedents, such as the monstrous Lamia, have plausibly been suggested as well. Some of the Moon-men, Lucian tells us, own many pairs of these eyes and can switch between pairs at will, suggesting a highly diverse sense perception, in contrast with Earthlings who are stuck with the pair of eyes they are born with. Then there is the absolute fluidity of gender roles between the hermaphroditic Moon-men themselves, who are all male, but have a uterine organ too, as we shall see. What is perforated on Earth is closed on the Moon and vice versa: the Moon-men have no anal orifice where we do; instead, it has been transferred to an opening at the ham of the leg (VH .). And there is interbreeding of species, for example the Tree-men who are cultivated hybrids of anthropoid and vegetable life (VH . ). Bodily excretions are interchangeable with bodily sustenance, since the Moon-men’s bodies exude milk instead of sweat, and combine this with the pungent honey from their noses to prepare a fine cheese (VH . ). What is frangible here on Earth (e.g. glass) is malleable on the Moon, and vice versa: what is hard on Earth (e.g. bronze) is soft enough to be woven into textile clothing on the Moon. Even the boundaries of birth and death are blurred, since Moon-babies are born dead, and subsequently brought to life by being exposed, mouth agape, to the wind (VH .). This emphatic lability, instability and permeability of life the Moon not only reflects essential qualities of the Moon itself, since it is a constantly shape-shifting entity in the sky; it is also politically charged, especially in light of Lucian’s exploitation of images of hybrid plasticity (hippocentaurs, tragelaphs, wax sculptures) in other works as a way to explore his own 

   

Perhaps Lucian’s avowed sculptural experience, if that can be taken au pied de la lettre, is relevant here (Somnium –). On the practice itself, see Plantzos (, –). According to Pliny (NH .), shards of glass could be heated into glass pebbles, probably for this purpose, for they were sometimes called ‘eyeballs’ (oculi). Plantzos also cites Pliny NH . for the report of a marble statue of a lion, which had inserted eyes of ‘smaragdus’ (probably not emeralds in this case). On Lamia, the child-killing monster who can pull out her own eyes, see von Möllendorff (, –) with further references. See pp. – below. In his Indika, evidently an important hypotext for the VH (VH .), Ctesias reported a similar absence of anal orifice among the Dog-headed people (ap. Photius, Bibl. cod. , p. b–). VH .: ὑαλίνη μαλθακή; χαλκῆ ὑφαντή. Lucian’s ‘soft glass’ is a metafictionally charged substance, for there are several ‘unbelievable’ stories in antiquity about the invention of malleable glass: Petronius, Sat. ; Pliny, NH .; Cassius Dio, Roman History ..–. In an as yet unpublished (and eagerly anticipated) paper, David Scourfield proposes that these represent an ancient urban legend: J.H.D. Scourfield, ‘Petronius and the poodle in the microwave: the tale of the unbreakable glass (Sat. ).’ On the Dalí-esque connotations of molten bronze, cf. Chapter , p.  with n. .

Disintegration, Dissent and Creative Hybridity



boundary-breaking poetics. If I am right that the dangerous hybrid females in other worlds of True Stories, the Vine-Women and Ass-legs, represent the insidious pull of the literary canon (as I have argued elsewhere), then the emphatic absence of women on the Moon (where they do not even know the word ‘woman’) reinforces the author’s sense of freedom from literary influence. In True Stories, in short, the Moon above all is a place where Lucian can indulge his imagination, populating it with hybrids of his own creation and transgressing boundaries because the stricter poetics of his own literary culture on Earth no longer apply. In this sense, the Moon represents a counter-cultural space, whose poetics of absolute hybridity threaten those of the Greek world. This threat is not negligible, since Lucian notes that there are occasional leakages between the Earth and the Moon in both directions, for example the arrival of Endymion (and Lucian himself ), the fall of hail from the lunar vines (VH .) and even cultural contamination through the transmission of the anatomical term gastroknēmia from the Moon to the Earth (VH . ). Small wonder, then, that the narrator is curious about whether the Earth-dwellers he spies on through the lunar mirror can see what’s up there in turn, for if they could glimpse this other world, Lucian’s lunar poetics might break free and run amok in the word below. In Icaromenippus, a version of such celestial destruction is envisaged when, as a result of Menippus’ flight, the gods threaten to wreak havoc on the philosophers and eradicate their thought-world (Icar. ). By shaping the Moon into a ‘Thirdspace’ which is characterized by absolute hybridity, poetic freedom and critical dissent in this way, Lucian lays the foundation for writers in the later European satirical tradition, in whose hands the Moon would become a haven for the exploration of more dangerously heterodox beliefs. His Moon also anticipates the Thirdspace quality which characterizes extra-terrestrial space in our modern culture in a tangibly real way, for once we leave Earth, many of the familiar boundaries which we use to define ourselves and regulate our behaviour – such as nationality, race, religion and even jurisdiction – are called into question. Our experience of the third space of the Moon in the s and s catalysed some of the great counter-cultural movements of the last century. True Stories also initiates a long tradition of association between   

Romm () is especially illuminating; see also ní Mheallaigh (, –). For discussion of the Vine-Women and Ass-legs as representatives of the literary canon, see ní Mheallaigh (, –). See Chapter , pp. –.



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

the Moon and pseudo-factual narratives, which would find expression most famously in the ‘Great Moon Hoax’ of , a narrative which shows the influence of Lucian’s work, as well as in the industry of conspiracy-theories relating to the lunar landings in our own era. There can be little doubt that Lucian, who had himself been the perpetrator of an academic hoax involving a forged treatise of Heraclitus, would have been satisfied with both legacies.

Lucian’s Scientific Imagination: Cosmic War, Lunar Anatomy and a Proto-telescope If Antonius Diogenes had opened up a portal to the Moon as a previously unvisited space in the literary imagination (going where no one had gone before), it was Lucian who, as we have seen, explored, populated and charted the Moon, out of the immense resources of his own creativity. In this section, I will explore how his lunar expedition in True Stories converts scientific theories into scientific fantasy. In Icaromenippus, Lucian shows that he was comfortably acquainted with a range of astronomical ideas. When Menippus begins to contemplate the mysteries of the universe, he finds himself perplexed by all sorts of confusing phenomena. What is the Sun made of? Why does the Moon change shape each month? What causes thunder, lightning, hail and snow? But he is disillusioned by the philosophers’ answers (Icar. -): Καὶ μήν, ὦ ἑταῖρε, γελάσῃ ἀκούσας τήν τε ἀλαζονείαν αὐτῶν καὶ τὴν ἐν τοῖς λόγοις τερατουργίαν, οἵ γε πρῶτα μὲν ἐπὶ γῆς βεβηκότες καὶ μηδὲν τῶν χαμαὶ ἐρχομένων ἡμῶν ὑπερέχοντες, ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ ὀξύτερον τοῦ πλησίον δεδορκότες, ἔνιοι δὲ καὶ ὑπὸ γήρως ἢ ἀργίας ἀμβλυώττοντες, ὅμως οὐρανοῦ τε πέρατα διορᾶν ἔφασκον καὶ τὸν ἥλιον περιεμέτρουν καὶ τοῖς ὑπὲρ τὴν σελήνην ἐπεβάτευον καὶ ὥσπερ ἐκ τῶν ἀστέρων καταπεσόντες μεγέθη τε αὐτῶν διεξῄεσαν, καὶ πολλάκις, εἰ τύχοι, μηδὲ ὁπόσοι στάδιοι Μεγαρόθεν Ἀθήναζέ εἰσιν ἀκριβῶς ἐπιστάμενοι τὸ μεταξὺ τῆς σελήνης καὶ τοῦ ἡλίου χωρίον ὁπόσων εἴη πηχῶν τὸ μέγεθος ἐτόλμων λέγειν, ἀέρος τε ὕψη καὶ θαλάττης βάθη καὶ γῆς περιόδους ἀναμετροῦντες, ἔτι δὲ κύκλους καταγράφοντες καὶ τρίγωνα ἐπὶ τετραγώνοις διασχηματίζοντες καὶ σφαίρας τινὰς ποικίλας τὸν οὐρανὸν δῆθεν αὐτὸν ἐπιμετροῦντες. Ἔπειτα δὲ κἀκεῖνο πῶς οὐκ ἄγνωμον αὐτῶν καὶ παντελῶς τετυφωμένον τὸ περὶ τῶν οὕτως ἀδήλων λέγοντας . . . μονονουχὶ διομνυμένους μύδρον μὲν εἶναι τὸν ἥλιον, κατοικεῖσθαι δὲ τὴν σελήνην, ὑδατοποτεῖν δὲ τοὺς ἀστέρας τοῦ  

See pp. –. On Lucian’s Heraclitean hoax, see Strohmaier () and Macleod ().

Lucian’s Scientific Imagination



ἡλίου καθάπερ ἱμονιᾷ τινι τὴν ἰκμάδα ἐκ τῆς θαλάττης ἀνασπῶντος καὶ ἅπασιν αὐτοῖς τὸ ποτὸν ἑξῆς διανέμοντος. In many cases, even though they did not know the exact distance in stades between Megara and Athens, they still had the audacity to assert the distance between the Sun and the Moon to the nearest cubit, measuring heights of air and depths of sea and circumferences of Earth, then drawing circles and a triangle in squares, and making models of multi-coloured spheres, and measuring the sky itself from this. What else was it but dishonesty and utter bombast, to pontificate about matters that are so obscure . . . all but swearing that the Sun is a molten mass, that the moon is inhabited and that the stars drink water, with the Sun drawing moisture up out of the sea as if by a well-rope and distributing the drink to all of them one by one . . .

For Menippus, the problem is not only the inherent implausibility of the philosophers’ individual claims, but the bewildering variety of ‘truths’ proffered to account for the wonders of the sky. With so many different theories jostling for attention, and each professor swearing he is right and all the others are wrong, how can the student hope to discover the truth? As well as demonstrating Lucian’s astronomical knowledge, Menippus’ description of his experiences as a student dramatizes the experience itself of trying to get to grips with astronomy, perhaps particularly the experience of studying doxographical works, such as Aëtius’ Opinions, which were beginning to emerge in the first and second century CE, and which required the reader – like Menippus – to navigate a bewildering farrago of opinions. In True Stories, as I shall presently argue, much of this doxographical material is brought to life and realized in a literal way on the Moon. This passage also provides a humorous glimpse inside the ancient lecture-hall. Menippus the tiro astronomer is the ideal reader for whom astronomical handbooks, such as Geminus’ Introduction to astronomy and Cleomedes’ lectures On the heavens, were designed. The ‘multi-coloured spheres’ which he mentions hint fascinatingly at the use of models as teaching-aids during lectures. These globes also owe their appearance to Socrates’ extraordinary vision of the Earth as a ‘multi-coloured ball’ in Plato’s Phaedo; their presence here therefore reminds the reader of the intertextual presence of Phaedo in Lucian’s dialogue, and hints proleptically at Menippus’ marvellous vision of the Earth from the Moon.   

This philosophical quandary is the central theme in Hermotimus. On the use of astronomical teaching-aids in advanced education in antiquity, see Buck (, –) (where this passage is not noted). Phaedo b–d; see Chapter , pp. –.



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

Finally, Menippus’ encounter with the spirit of Empedocles is itself a nod to the astrophysical subtext of this imaginative work. Primarily, Lucian is tapping into the eschatological theories that made the Moon the residence of disembodied souls, especially the souls of the wise, as we have seen in Chapter . Empedocles specifically is an appropriate philosophical presence, given his scientific interests in the Moon during his lifetime. His transportation to the Moon via the Etna volcano provides a terrific post-script to his biography – according to which Empedocles jumped into the caldera in an attempt to prove that he had become a god. The fact that the volcano projected him thence to the Moon might be construed as an antique version of the rocket-propulsion required to transport modern astronauts, both real and (as in a ground-breaking George Méliès film) imaginary; the transport problem was one that all lunar voyagers had to solve, with varying degrees of ingenuity and plausibility. But it also hints at the theory that the celestial bodies, including the Moon and the Sun, were themselves fiery pumice-stones which had been shot from cosmic volcanoes, which was the doctrine of the fifth century BCE philosopher Diogenes of Apollonia. Lucian treats the philosophers’ theories in reverse chronological order, making them increasingly silly, the farther back they go in time. Mathematical astronomers come under attack first for their mind-boggling calculations. Lucian probably has Aristarchus in mind, the author of the treatise On the size and distances of the Sun and the Moon, as well as Eratosthenes and others who measured the Heavens using trigonometry – the befuddling circles, squares and triangles which Menippus ridicules. The notion that ‘the Sun is a molten mass’ is an allusion to the famous Anaxagorean heresy of the fifth century BCE., and the reference to the inhabited Moon strongly evokes both Anaxagoras and the Pythagoreans who first developed this idea, as we saw in Chapter . The culminating image of the stars ‘drinking’ up water which the Sun draws from the sea, as if in a bucket, brings us back to the meteorological model of astronomy of  



DK  A and A (G and ; LM P). In True Stories (VH .), when Empedocles tries to join the festivities on the Isle of the Blessed, he is still smoking and charred from his volcanic leap. In Icaromenippus, Menippus devises a Daedalic contraption of bird-wings (one eagle and one vulture-wing), which is echoed by Domingo Gonsales’ airborne chariot pulled by his faithful gansas in Francis Godwin’s The man in the Moone (). In VH, Lucian is simply at the mercy of a storm-wind that carries his ship aloft to the Moon. Cyrano de Bergerac (Les états et empires de la Lune, ) envisages several methods of Moonward transport (with varying success), e.g. dewfilled phials that ascend when heated by the Sun; a device fuelled by rockets; magnetic energy; see MacPhail (). On ancient flight-narratives, see Luck-Huyse (). DK  A– (G –; LM D –).

Lucian’s Scientific Imagination



the sixth century BCE; it is a pure Old Comedy-style fantasy version of the ‘pasture theory,’ which taught that the stars feed on vapours which rise from the Earth, a theory which was shared by Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus and Xenophanes. Lucian’s surreal fantasy and the reader’s appreciation of its humour ride on the back of shared astronomical erudition. This erudition resurfaces again later in Icaromenippus where the Moon, personified, asks Menippus to pass on to Zeus a report of the grievances which she has suffered at the hands of the philosophers (Icar. ): ἀπείρηκα γὰρ ἤδη, Μένιππε, πολλὰ καὶ δεινὰ παρὰ τῶν φιλοσόφων ἀκούουσα, οἷς οὐδὲν ἕτερόν ἐστιν ἔργον ἢ τἀμὰ πολυπραγμονεῖν, τίς εἰμι καὶ πηλίκη, καὶ δι’ ἥντινα αἰτίαν διχότομος ἢ ἀμφίκυρτος γίγνομαι. καὶ οἱ μὲν κατοικεῖσθαί μέ φασιν, οἱ δὲ κατόπτρου δίκην ἐπικρέμασθαι τῇ θαλάττῃ, οἱ δὲ ὅ τι ἂν ἕκαστος ἐπινοήσῃ τοῦτό μοι προσάπτουσι. τὰ τελευταῖα δὲ καὶ τὸ φῶς αὐτὸ κλοπιμαῖόν τε καὶ νόθον εἶναί μοί φασιν ἄνωθεν ἧκον παρὰ τοῦ Ἡλίου, καὶ οὐ παύονται καὶ πρὸς τοῦτόν με ἀδελφὸν ὄντα συγκροῦσαι καὶ στασιάσαι προαιρούμενοι· οὐ γὰρ ἱκανὰ ἦν αὐτοῖς ἃ περὶ αὐτοῦ εἰρήκασι τοῦ Ἡλίου, λίθον αὐτὸν εἶναι καὶ μύδρον διάπυρον. I despair, Menippus, when I hear so many dreadful slanders from the philosophers who have nothing better to do than to pry into my affairs. Who am I? What size am I? What’s the reason I become half-moon and gibbous? Some claim I am inhabited, while others say that I hang over the sea like a mirror, and yet others attach to me whatever theory they come up with. But the last straw is their claim that my very light is stolen and forged, derived from above from the Sun, and they take no end of pleasure in making me clash and quarrel with him, even though he is my brother. For it was not enough for them to claim that the Sun is a stone and an ‘incandescent mass’.

It was one of Lucian’s favourite moves to turn the tables on authority (even his own) in this way, by adducing a superior – and surprising – authority who irrefutably subverts it – in this case, the Moon herself with her devastating riposte to the entire philosophical tradition. In a parallel instance, when Lucian interviews Homer in True Stories about the myths that have grown up around the poet’s life and work, Homer demolishes the literary-critical tradition. These were questions which scholars had disputed for centuries, such as: which poem, the Iliad or Odyssey, did he 

See Chapter , pp. –. Graham (, esp. pp. –) adapts the term ‘pasture-theory’ from Stokes (, –, with n. ). Wälchli (, ) notes the presence of a similar idea in Plutarch’s De fac. c and e–f and c–d.



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

compose first? (The Iliad, Homer assures us.) Why did he choose to start the Iliad with the wrath of Achilles? (It just came to him that way.) What about the verses that Aristarchus and Zenodotus had vigorously expunged from the text? (Actually, they were all authentic.) Where was he born: in Colophon, in Smyrna, or on Chios? (In fact, he was born in Babylon, and his real name is not even Homer; it’s Tigranes.) By giving voice to Homer himself, in the fantasy of True Stories, Lucian gleefully subverts orthodox Homeric scholarship and the culture of literary knowledge that was built on it. He does this again in the pair of Portraits dialogues. In the first of these, ‘Lycinus’ (whose name suggests he is a mouthpiece for the author, Loukianos) constructs a highly flattering verbal picture of the emperor’s mistress, Panthea. In the second essay, In defence of portraits, Panthea herself appears and talks back to the author, complaining that his representation is both inaccurate and improper, and demanding to be rewritten. In each of these fantasies of authoritative source – Homer, Panthea, the Moon – is given a voice to expose the fallacies of the tradition of pseudo-authorities which have grown up around it, and in each case it deals a fatal blow to the reputation of the so-called experts. These passages from Icaromenippus illustrate Lucian’s knowledge of the questions which preoccupied ancient lunar scientists – all of which we have already encountered in the first three chapters of this book. Plutarch’s De facie is dominated by precisely these questions about the Moon’s size and substance, the cause of its phases, the reasons for its blotched appearance (including the mirror theory, which Lucian mentions here) and the question of the inhabited Moon. In Icaromenippus Lucian distorts scientific theory into comedy by refocalizing the great fifth-century principles of heliophotism and antiphraxis through the lens of his querulous, anthropomorphized deities, the Sun and the Moon. The Moon interprets heliophotism as a charge of petty theft and forgery of light from her brother the Sun. Likewise, the philosophers’ breakthrough understanding of the significance of interlocking lunar and solar cycles, which cause the ‘new moon’ phase and, through antiphraxis, eclipse, is trivialized into accusations of sibling aggression, as a series of stand-offs and confrontations between the Sun and Moon. And to blacken the philosophers 



VH .. See ní Mheallaigh (, –). Maciver () reads this conflict between the author and his own metatext as a mise en abyme which dramatizes tensions between the preface and narrative in True Stories itself, and therefore frustrates the search for an authoritative reading of the text. Kim (, –) examines the episode within the broader context of revisionist Homeric fictions in imperial literature. See ní Mheallaigh (, –).

Lucian’s Scientific Imagination



further, the Moon repeats the Anaxagorean heresy – the ultimate insult for an anthropomorphic celestial entity, since it reduces her divine brother to a lump of glowing rock. Lucian could expect his readership to identify the sources of his astronomical pastiche in Icaromenippus, just as he expected them to identify the sources of both his astro-fantasy and literary parody in True Stories. This need not mean that either Lucian or his readers had a particularly specialized knowledge of astronomy: one does not need to be an expert in Elizabethan literature to recognize that ‘To be, or not to be . . .’ is an allusion to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, nor a professor in astrophysics to know something about the ‘Big Bang’ and the ‘Higgs boson’, even if that knowledge extends little beyond name-recognition. As both the necessity for handbooks like those of Geminus and Cleomedes show, educated people in Lucian’s intellectual milieu were in fact expected to acquire a level of astronomical erudition, which was part of the package of cultural sophistication known as paideia. The comical satire of Icaromenippus spoofs this scholarly tradition, along with the conceit of intellectual flight. It has even been suggested that Lucian’s querulous Moon may be a riposte to Plutarch’s De facie specifically, though I do not find that argument convincing: Lucian’s model is surely the complaint of the Moon in Aristophanes’ Clouds. Nevertheless, the assumptions of learning in Icaromenippus are similar to those of its partner-text True Stories. The narrative of True Stories is a fantasy ship-voyage in two books, which takes the narrator to the Moon and other worlds in the sky, then into the belly of a gigantic whale, to the islands of the dead and the Island of Dreams, including encounters with many strange creatures along the way, until they are shipwrecked on the shore of the mysterious continent on the other side of the ocean, where the narrative breaks off. The whole narrative is a spoof of authoritative but specious accounts in the tradition of Homer’s Odyssey, including historiography, philosophical and travelnarratives where outrageously fanciful claims are made to seem true. In his preface, the author of True Stories, who claims he is writing for scholars who want entertaining reading-material, promises to parody such accounts – and challenges his learned readers to recognize the sources of his parody, without him naming them explicitly. He also claims to be  

Clouds –. Wälchli (, –) argues that the De facie is Lucian’s source for the lunar questions which the Moon raises here. Lucian sets out these models explicitly in his preface, VH .–. Fusillo () contains an excellent, succinct discussion of parody and literary distortions in True Stories.



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

more honest than his predecessors – for he admits upfront that everything he says is a lie – which is the only truth he will tell – and he challenges his readers not to believe a word he writes. True Stories is therefore a metafiction, which exposes the different ways in which even the most outrageous fantasy, provided it is reported in the right way, can acquire the air of fact – even for educated readers who have been warned in advance that nothing they read is true. In fact, True Stories is dealing with the phenomenon of hoax, by demonstrating how the instruments of academic authority – such as statistics, rhetorical diffidence, source citation and scrupulous detail – can be exploited in order to authenticate claims that are explicitly false. Lucian (so he claims) does not expect to deceive his cunning readers; he expects them instead to revel in seeing how cunning readers could be deceived. An alternative title to True Stories might therefore be On how to hoax. It is immensely significant, given the narrative’s central preoccupation with the theme of hoax, that Lucian chooses to locate the first extended episode on the Moon. In True Stories, the recognition-game of Icaromenippus takes a more dramatic turn. Here, Lucian unlocks the explosive imaginative energy that is packed into the figurative language of scientific and astronomical discourse, and brings many of the most famous philosophical theories to life in a very literal way, so that the Moon becomes a surreal place of deliteralized metaphor. After a brief and deadly encounter with the Vine-Women on their mysterious island, Lucian’s ship is snatched up into the air by whirlwind, and carried higher and higher until they reach the Moon. When they alight, they are taken to meet Endymion who, in a fantastic version of his own myth, is now King of the Moon. This initiates the reader into the Lucian’s weird fantasy where scientific metaphor is animated through a series of jokes, puns and more complex events. The constellation of Sagittarius (the ‘Archer’), for instance, is converted into leader of an army of Cloud-centaurs who fight on the side of the Sun. The comets (komētai – literally ‘long-haired stars’) are places where longhaired people are considered beautiful, in contrast with the Moon, where baldness is prized, probably in honour of the bald ‘Man in the Moon’ himself, and possibly the glabrous purity (katharos) of the lunar world. Lucian’s narrative of the battle between the Sun and the Moon 



I owe much here to the sensitive exploration of Lucian’s playful treatment of astronomical discourse in von Möllendorff (, –). The following discussions are helpful on Lucian’s ‘concretizing’ tendencies in True Stories more generally: Matteuzzi () and Fusillo (, –) (who views it as a symptom of Lucian’s Epicurean rationalism).  VH .. VH .; cf. p. .

Lucian’s Scientific Imagination



incorporates several punning allusions to astronomical processes too. As von Möllendorff has shown, the initial rout (in Greek, tropē) of the Sunarmy plays on the astronomical metaphor of ‘solstice’, for which the Greek term is also tropē; moreover, the two trophies (tropaia) which the Moonarmy sets up correspond to the two solstices (tropai) annually. Lucian’s conversion of the inert astronomical metaphor of ‘solstice’ (tropē) into an imaginative military ‘rout’ and ‘trophies’ (tropē, tropaia) invites us to reconceptualize the movements of the celestial bodies in terms of the cut-and-thrust of cosmic battle, and the astronomers’ disputes as a concomitant form of meta-warfare – for the battle between the Sun and the Moon in True Stories corresponds to the doxographical battles that were rife in Icaromenippus. With greater complexity, doctrinal disputes and astronomical mechanisms are acted out as narrative events. The entire war between the Moon and the Sun is an excellent example of this. As Lucian quickly discovers (VH .), the Moon is at war with the Sun over the right to colonize the Morning Star. This acts out the ancient dispute over the identity of this celestial body: whether it was two distinct entities (the Morning Star and the Evening Star respectively), or a single one which appeared now in the morning, now in the evening. In the post-war treaty (VH .), it is decided that the Sun and Moon should share colonization rights: the Morning Star therefore belongs to both, equally. This outcome dramatizes the discovery, attributed in antiquity to Parmenides, that the Morning and Evening Star were in fact one and the same body, and so effectively shared by both night and day. At VH ., the solar army constructs an immense cloud-blockade, which cuts off the Sun’s light and casts the Moon into darkness. As a result, the Moon is eclipsed. Thus reduced, the lunar army surrenders. The solar army’s victory over the lunar forces realizes the Sun’s greater magnitude and strength, in comparison with the Moon, and the tribute of dew,   



von Möllendorff (, –). As Georgiadou and Larmour (, ), who note also that the word μάχη is used of the dispute between the philosophers in Icar. . For Georgiadou and Larmour (, –), the Morning Star is a causa belli because it appears at dawn, which is precisely the time when night gives way to day. Von Möllendorff (,  n. ) connects its appearance at this liminal time with the shared ownership agreement of the post-war treaty; he also argues (, ), less persuasively in my view, that the dispute over the Morning Star dramatizes the polysemy of linguistic signs – in other words, their openness to different interpretations. This semantic argument, however, generalizes too far from the specific astronomical context. DK  Aa (Gl LM D–), with Graham (, – and ).



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

which the Moon must pay in recompense to the Sun (VH .), exploits both the ancient notion that dew was associated with the Moon, and the theory that the Sun absorbed this moisture as fuel. There is also an analogy to be made between the decisive role which the eclipse plays in Lucian’s fantasy battle, and the decisive role it played in ancient lunar science as well, inasmuch as it held the key to understanding the physical nature of the Moon, as we saw in Chapter . That is not to imply that Anaxagoras’ discovery of antiphraxis put an end to all disputation about the Moon’s substance and nature, but the eclipse-question thereafter became the touchstone for theories about the nature of the moon. This is especially clear in Plutarch’s De facie, where speakers constantly revert to eclipse-theories in order to support or refute one another’s arguments about the Moon’s relative translucency or opacity. Lucian’s eclipsing cloud-wall is not only a borrowing from the fantasy city-wall of Aristophanes’ Cloudcuckootown; it is also an elaborate astronomical joke. As a fantastical siege-tactic, it dramatizes both the opposition-theory (antiphraxis), which was known since Anaxagoras to cause lunar eclipse, and the cruder obfuscation-theory which had ascribed lunar eclipses to the intervention of thick cloud (rather than to the alignment of celestial bodies), an idea that was espoused, in different versions, by both Anaximander and Anaximenes. However, calling this event a ‘lunar eclipse’ creates a disconcerting narratological effect in True Stories. From Lucian’s imaginary perspective on the Moon, the cloud-wall would have caused a solar eclipse, as it blocked the Sun’s disk from view and casting the lunar world into shadow. This would appear as a lunar eclipse only to someone watching the Moon disappear from the Earth below. This creates a fault-line in the narrative, as Lucian seems to be thinking from both lunar and terrestrial perspectives, inviting us to see through the eyes of both the experiencing character-in-the-text (on the Moon) and the observer-outside-the-text (the reader on the Earth). It would take Kepler, centuries later in his Dream, to correct this slip in the lunar view.    

Cf. Alcman fr.  Page (with Chapter , pp. –) and Georgiadou and Larmour (, ). Birds –. Cloudcuckootown itself features as an aerial world in VH ., prompting Lucian to confirm that Aristophanes was a ‘wise and truthful poet’. See Chapter , pp. –. Somnium , : ‘(eclipses Solis & Voluae) iisdem momentis eveniunt, quibus hic in Telluris globo Eclipses Solis & Lunae: rationibus tamen oppositis plane. Quando enim nobis uidetur deficere Sol totus, deficit ipsis Volua; quando uicissim deficit nobis nostra Luna, deficit apud ipsos Sol.’ ‘Eclipses of the Sun and Volva [the lunar name for ‘Earth’] occur at the same time as eclipses of the Sun and Moon here on the globe of Earth, but in opposite ways, obviously. For when the Sun appears to us to

Lucian’s Scientific Imagination



Was it simply a misunderstanding? Quite possibly. But this schizoid perspective can also be viewed as an extension of the central paradox of True Stories itself, in which a series of ‘true lies’ is narrated by someone who both is, and cannot be, ‘Lucian’. We may even see a correlation between this fantastical lunar eclipse and the narrator’s temporary ‘abandonment’ (ekleipsis) of his proper focalization as a character on the Moon – a ‘narratorial eclipse’, if you will. Formally, we would describe it as an instance of ‘paralepsis’, where the narrator breaks his/her strict focalization by revealing more than (s)he could have known at the time of the experience. Lucian’s lunar eclipse is therefore both a sophisticated astronomical joke and a narratological puzzle which is precisely thematic. In eclipse-like fashion, it is both confusing and revelatory, for the very darkness into which it casts us, as readers, betrays the presence of the covert presence (the lying, narrating I) who is obscuring our view of the truth. Lucian’s ethnographic description of the Moon and those who live there is also built on an infrastructure of ancient scientific theory, combined with historiographical pastiche and exaggerated for comic effect. The first surprising fact he tells us is that there are no women on the Moon (VH .): πρῶτα μὲν τὸ μὴ ἐκ γυναικῶν γεννᾶσθαι αὐτούς, ἀλλ’ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀρρένων· γάμοις γὰρ τοῖς ἄρρεσι χρῶνται καὶ οὐδὲ ὄνομα γυναικὸς ὅλως ἴσασι. Μέχρι μὲν οὖν πέντε καὶ εἴκοσι ἐτῶν γαμεῖται ἕκαστος, ἀπὸ δὲ τούτων γαμεῖ αὐτός· κύουσι δὲ οὐκ ἐν τῇ νηδύϊ, ἀλλ’ ἐν ταῖς γαστροκνημίαις· ἐπειδὰν γὰρ συλλάβῃ τὸ ἔμβρυον, παχύνεται ἡ κνήμη, καὶ χρόνῳ ὕστερον ἀνατεμόντες ἐξάγουσι νεκρά, ἐκθέντες δὲ αὐτὰ πρὸς τὸν ἄνεμον κεχηνότα ζῳοποιοῦσιν. δοκεῖ δέ μοι καὶ ἐς τοὺς Ἕλληνας ἐκεῖθεν ἥκειν τῆς γαστροκνημίας τοὔνομα, ὅτι παρ’ ἐκείνοις ἀντὶ γαστρὸς κυοφορεῖ. First of all is the fact that they are not born from women, but from males, for they engage in all-male marriages, and don’t even know the word for ‘woman’. Up until the age of twenty-five, each man is the passive marriage partner, and afterwards the active. Their pregnancies do not take place in the belly, but in their calves. When the embryo is conceived, the calf grows big, and then they cut it open sometime later, they bring out the babies dead. However, by exposing them to the wind with their mouths open wide, they bring them to life. In my opinion, the word for ‘calf’ [‘leg-belly’



undergo total eclipse, Volva disappears from their view; and when, in turn, our Moon disappears from our view, they lose sight of the Sun.’ See Genette (, –).



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys or ‘booterus’] was introduced among the Greeks from the Moon, since that’s where their gestation takes place, instead of a womb.

Read against the Herodorus’ claim that Moon-women lay eggs, part of the fun of Lucian’s entirely womanless world is its pseudo-scientific correction of the Pythagorean tradition, which is analogous to his later correction of Homer’s description of the City of Dreams, and equally ridiculous. His society of all-male marriages looks superficially like a philosopher’s dream. However, it generates all sorts of logistical challenges for the reader’s imagination: von Möllendorff, for example, comments on the difficulty of understanding how this switch in sexual roles works within the framework of lunar marriages, and speculates that it would require dissolution of the marriage each time, whereas Nesselrath thinks a mere change of partners is involved. There were parallels in ancient zoology for this type of fluid transfer of gender roles among animals. According to Aristotle, ‘many say that the hyena has two sets of genitals, one male and one female. Herodorus of Heraclea says this of the trokhos. He also says that, while the trokhos mates itself, the hyena mates and is mated (okheuein kai okheuesthai) in turn every alternate year.’ It is significant that Aristotle’s source in this case is the same Herodorus who speculated about egg-laying Moon-women and the lunar origins of the vulture. Moreover, Aristotle deplores such reports as ‘gullible and much mistaken,’ which makes them precisely the sort of material which would appeal to the author of True Stories. This, combined with Herodorus’ lunar interests, make Herodorus the likely source for Lucian’s hermaphroditic Moon-men. Lucian’s switch to the more delicate language of ‘marriage’ (gamein kai gameisthai instead of okheuein kai okheuesthai) raises questions implicitly about the distinction between human and animal habits (mating and

 

 

VH .. Gómez (,  n. ) also reads this as counter-Pythagorean polemic. For Herodorus’ claim, Chapter , p. . See Georgiadou and Larmour (,  and ), who also point to the precedence of Aristophanes’ primeval man–woman humans who were born on Moon, since they partook of both sexes (Plato, Symp. e–b), and note that androgyny was a topos of exotic ethnography as well, e.g. Pliny NH . on the African Machyles (Georgiadou and Larmour , –). However, Lucian’s Moon-people are agynous, not androgynous – an important distinction. Von Möllendorff (,  with n. ); Nesselrath (, ). Aristotle, On the generation of animals a–: Εὐηθικῶς δὲ καὶ λίαν διεψευσμένοι καὶ οἱ περὶ τρόχου καὶ ὑαίνης λέγοντες. φασὶ γὰρ τὴν μὲν ὕαιναν πολλοί, τὸν δὲ τρόχον ῾Ηρόδωρος ὁ ῾Ηεακλεώτης, δύο αἰδοῖα ἔχειν, ἄρρενος καὶ θήλεος· καὶ τὸν μὲν τρόχον αὐτὸν αὑτὸν ὀχεύειν, τὴν δ᾽ ὕαιναν ὀχεύειν καὶ ὀχεύεσθαι κατ᾽ ἔτος. Cf. Aelian, On the nature of animals . and the rota in Pliny, NH .. Katz () has identified the trokhos as a badger (Meles meles). Aristotle also alludes to the hermaphroditic hyena-theory (but without naming Herodorus), at HA  b–.

Lucian’s Scientific Imagination



marriage respectively). The Moon-men hover uncertainly between the categories of exotic animal and exotic humanoid, as Lucian the astroethnographer grapples with the peculiar difficulties of describing beings from another world. It required deft thinking indeed to surmount the difficulties which Lucian had created by dispensing entirely with the female reproductive system on the Moon – a decision which is itself ironic, given the Moon’s longstanding connections with both the menstrual cycle and childbirth in ancient thought. But Lucian exploits this as an opportunity for some elaborate physio-linguistic fun. In the absence of a cosy female uterus, gestation – he knowledgeably claims – takes place in the calf of the pregnant father’s leg. According to myth, after Zeus had rescued his embryonic son from Semele’s burning body, he sewed him up in his thigh, where the baby gestated safely. It is usually claimed, therefore, that Dionysus’ miraculous gestation is Lucian’s model for the Moon-men’s crural uterus. However, this ignores a crucial change of detail in Lucian’s account. By placing lunar embryos in the calf instead of the thigh, Lucian offers a (speciously) more accurate anatomical detail, which he backs up with clever etymology: the Greek for the calf of the leg is gastroknēmia, which is a portmanteau of gastēr, meaning ‘belly’ or ‘womb’, and knēmē, meaning ‘leg’ (specifically, the lower leg, between the ankle and the knee). In other words, gastroknēmia actually means ‘leg-belly’; a spoof word like ‘booterus’ would come close to translating the dead metaphor into English. It is presumably so called because the fleshy, muscular calf resembles a belly which is attached to the shinbone. By creating a pseudo-etymology for gastroknēmia which links it with the Moonmen’s weird physiology instead, Lucian deliteralizes a dead metaphor in a way that parodies anatomical and linguistic expertise, whilst also providing a pedantic refinement on mythological precedent. As von Möllendorff notes, this deliteralization has the effect of making the Moon seem – paradoxically – a more literal, ‘truer’ world than ours, since for us the term gastroknēmia (‘booterus’) is figurative only, whereas on the Moon it describes a real physiological function.   



See Georgiadou and Larmour (, ), who note that Lucian uses the verb okheuō, in contrast, to describe reproduction among the Tree-Men. As noted also by Georgiadou and Larmour (, ). See, for example, von Möllendorff (, – and –), who connects this Dionysiac aspect with Lucian’s depiction of the Moon-men as Silenic figures, exploiting the similarity between the words Selēnē/ Silēnoi. Lucian treats the myth of Dionysus’ birth in Dialogues of the gods . Von Möllendorff (, –).



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

Just as the Pythagoreans had imagined, Lucian’s Moon-men are also cleaner and less corporeal than humans – only to a more exaggerated and ridiculous degree. They produce neither urine nor excrement (VH .) because, like Aristotle’s imagined fire-beings, Lucian’s Moon-men do not consume solid foods; they are nourished by inhaling the fumes of roasted moon-frogs, with a dew-like liquid of compressed air to drink (VH .). As we have seen, their other bodily excretions are of ludicrously culinary quality: they perspire milk which, when combined with honey from their noses, makes moon-cheese (VH .). Lucian therefore blurs boundaries between excretion and consumption. When they die, they leave no physical remains; instead, the Moon-men’s subtle atomic matter dissolves into the air (VH .). In Icaromenippus, similarly, the spirit of the philosopher Empedocles, who lives on the Moon, walks on air, feeds on dew and eventually dissolves into smoke (Icar. -). Like the Moon envisaged by Philolaus and Herodorus – and quite contrary to the slight beings envisaged in De facie Lucian’s lunar world is also inhabited by outsized fauna. On Lucian’s Moon, the proportions are truly monstrous: for example, the winged steeds of the lunar police force, the Vulture-riders, have individual feathers the size of ship-masts (VH .). The lunar army includes giant birds called Cabbage-wings, archers who ride astride fleas the size of twelve elephants (VH .), and spiders which are larger  

 

 



For Pythagorean theories about lunar beings, see Chapter , pp. –. For Aristotle’s fire-beings, see Chapter , pp. –. Plutarch also mentions the Moon-men’s inhalation of vapours in De fac. c; see Chapter , pp. –. For parallels, see Geogriadou and Larmour (,  and also  n. ). The source behind the airborne frogs is more obscure. Von Möllendorff (,  with n. ) cites paradoxographer Agatharchides of Cnidos On the Red Sea, where a tribe called the Akridophagoi (Locust-Eaters) hunt locusts out of the air with smoke, pickle them and eat them (apud Photius, Bibl. cod. ,  b–). The nearby region is a desert which is regularly overrun by scorpions and poisonous spiders which fall in deluges from the sky (ap. Photius, Bibl. cod. , b–). The frog’s status as a symbol of the uterus in antiquity (Barb , , n.) may also be relevant here, given the Moon’s uterine associations more generally; see Chapter , pp. –. For this pattern of boundary-breaking associated with Lucian’s Moon, see pp. –. A variety of philosophical beliefs about death underpin this idea, including Epicurean ideas (Sextus Empiricus Adv. Math. ., Platonic ideas about death as a separation (dialysis) of soul from body which is then released like smoke (Phaedo a and d) and Empedocles’ comparison of human life to a wisp of smoke (DK  B. = G). For references and discussion, see Georgiadou and Larmour (, ) and von Möllendorff (, ). For the further scientific significance of Empedocles’ presence on the Moon, see Chapter , p.  with n.  and Chapter , p. . This is a topos of gigantism. As Georgiadou and Larmour note (,  ad loc.), the simile recalls the comparison between the Cyclops’ staff and a ship-mast in Homer, Od. .–. In the Lucianic passage, however, the comparison between soft feathers and heavy, hard masts is much more jarringly incongruous. Again, by linking the tiny flea with the enormous elephant, Lucian aims for optimum hyperbole.

Lucian’s Scientific Imagination



than the Cycladic Islands, whose webs span the distance between the Moon and the Morning Star (VH .). Grotesque and absurdist though his fantasy is, it is built on a bedrock of philosophical and scientific thought, which distinguishes True Stories from some of the more OldComedy-style fantasy of Icaromenippus. Nowhere is this contrast in tendencies between the two works concentrated more clearly than in the selēnoskopia. The next and last chapter of the book will be devoted entirely to the motif of such remote Earth gazing in ancient literature and modern history, and will examine the emotional response and ideas which the act itself engenders. For the moment, however, I wish to focus on the actual means by which it is achieved. In True Stories, as in Icaromenippus, Lucian uses the Moon as a vantage point from which to examine our own world far below. The method which is used to accomplish this differs in each work. In Icaromenippus, Menippus merely has to flap his right arm, which is attached to the eagle-wing, in order to transfer the eagle’s powerful vision to his own right eye, by a sort of sympathetic magic, and the whole world becomes clearly visible to him in all its detail. In contrast, the selenoskopia of True Stories is more exactingly scientific, made possibly by a wondrous audio-visual device – a combined mirror and well – which magnifies sights and amplifies sounds from the Earth below (VH .): καὶ μὴν καὶ ἄλλο θαῦμα ἐν τοῖς βασιλείοις ἐθεασάμην· κάτοπτρον μέγιστον κεῖται ὑπὲρ φρέατος οὐ πάνυ βαθέος. ἂν μὲν οὖν εἰς τὸ φρέαρ καταβῇ τις, ἀκούει πάντων τῶν παρ’ ἡμῖν ἐν τῇ γῇ λεγομένων, ἐὰν δὲ εἰς τὸ κάτοπτρον ἀποβλέψῃ, πάσας μὲν πόλεις, πάντα δὲ ἔθνη ὁρᾷ ὥσπερ ἐφεστὼς ἑκάστοις· τότε καὶ τοὺς οἰκείους ἐγὼ ἐθεασάμην καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν πατρίδα, εἰ δὲ κἀκεῖνοι ἐμὲ ἑώρων, οὐκέτι ἔχω τὸ ἀσφαλὲς εἰπεῖν. ὅστις δὲ ταῦτα μὴ πιστεύει οὕτως ἔχειν, ἄν ποτε καὶ αὐτὸς ἐκεῖσε ἀφίκηται, εἴσεται ὡς ἀληθῆ λέγω. Furthermore, I beheld another marvel in the palace: an enormous mirror is placed above a well that is not very deep. Now if someone goes down into the well, he hears everything that is being said by our people on the Earth, and if someone looks into the mirror, he sees all the cities and all the peoples, just as if he were standing over them. On that occasion I watched my family and my entire homeland, but I can no longer tell for sure if they could see me. Whoever does not believe that this is the way things were, if ever he reaches that place himself, he will know that I am telling the truth.

In the literature on True Stories, much attention has been paid to the lunar mirror. It is usually interpreted as a literary device of key importance, either a mise en abyme for True Stories which mirrors (literally) the



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

distorting force of Lucian’s satire, as a symbol of the microscopic scrutiny of human faults which is a characteristic of Menippean satire, or a metaphor for the paradoxical truthfulness of Lucian’s lying. Peter von Möllendorff argues that Lucian’s mirror evokes the Pythagorean Moon-trick; in light of the trick, which involves an act of writing and reading, he interprets Lucian’s lunar mirror as a mise en abyme for the production and reading of the VH itself. The mirror’s presence on the Moon is also interpreted as a nod to philosophical theories about the Moon’s mirror-like status, suspended over the Earth and reflecting the Earth’s oceans in its orb. However, instead of reflecting the Earth’s shadows in a passive way, this mirror powerfully condenses the whole Earth, Aleph-like, into a single, panoptic vision. As I have argued elsewhere, Lucian exploits the mirror’s associations with falsehood to create a paradoxical inversion in True Stories: in this inversion, our ‘real’ world, the Earth, is demoted to a mere mirror-reflection, which is ontologically inferior to the fantasy world of the Moon, in an extension of the central inversion of truth and lies in the narrative. However, the more strictly technological dimension of Lucian’s viewingapparatus requires closer scrutiny. Wälchli is the scholar who has devoted the most attention to technological analysis of Lucian’s device, which includes not just a mirror but also (often overlooked) a shallow well. The magnifying properties of mirrors in general were well known in antiquity. Wälchli identifies this mirror as a panoramic surveillance device on the basis of similarities with the use of trick-mirrors in temples, such as the one described by Pausanias in his description of the shrine of The Lady (Despoina) in Arcadia, where a mirror suspended on a templewall reflects not the viewer himself, but statues of the gods instead: ἐν δεξιᾷ δὲ ἐξιόντι ἐκ τοῦ ναοῦ κάτοπτρον ἡρμοσμένον ἐστὶν ἐν τῷ τοίχῳ· τοῦτο ἤν τις προσβλέπῃ τὸ κάτοπτρον, ἑαυτὸν μὲν ἤτοι παντάπασιν        

Fusillo (). Koppenfels (, –); cf. Lachmann (, ) on the fantastical Moon-view of Icar. See von Möllendorff (, – and –). Von Möllendorff (, –). On the Pythagorean trick, see Chapter , pp. –. This connection is suggested by Reyhl (, –), and endorsed by von Möllendorff (, –). Wälchli’s objection (, ) is rather too literal in my view. The ‘aleph’ is the eponymous device in a short story by Borges (/), which condenses the entire universe into a single vision; cf. Chapter , pp. –.  Ní Mheallaigh (, –). Wälchli (, –). Probably the most famous exploitation of mirrors for this purpose was by the salacious Hostius Quadra who, according to Seneca (Seneca QN ..--.), used mirrors in his bedroom to magnifying his penis to gigantic proportions.

Lucian’s Scientific Imagination

Fig. 



An optical trick using mirrors, described at Hero, Catoptrica . Reprinted from Schmidt ,  (Fig. a)

ἀμυδρῶς ἢ οὐδὲ ὄψεται [τὴν] ἀρχήν, τὰ δὲ ἀγάλματα τῶν θεῶν καὶ αὐτὰ καὶ τὸν θρόνον ἔστιν ἐναργῶς θεάσασθαι. On the right as one exits the shine there is a mirror fixed to the wall. If one looks at this mirror, one can see oneself very dimly indeed, or one will not see oneself at all – but the actual statues of the gods and the throne can be clearly seen.

As Wälchli notes, a similar optical illusion is accomplished by means of mirrors in Hero Catoptrica , illustrated in the diagram below (Fig. ). As Wälchli observes, there is an essential difference, since Pausanias’ device is mounted in a perpendicular position on the temple wall, but Lucian’s is probably suspended horizontally and at an angle over his well, so as to reflect the Earth to the viewer in the well below. Lucian does seem to have envisaged a full audio-visual experience of the distant Earth, which supports the idea that the viewer looked up into the mirror whilst listening in the well. On this basis, Wälchli argues that the mirror is modelled on the panoramic device described by Hero in Catoptrica , where a mirror suspended high up in a horizontal position enables a viewer who is inside a house to see what is happening in the street outside (see Fig. ). He speculates – rather fancifully, perhaps - that, since Lucian himself held an administrative position in Egypt, he may have observed such panoramic installations, perhaps even Hero’s original itself, if one existed. Lucian’s lunar mirror, which extends and enhances the viewer’s vision like a sort of prosthetic eye, offers us a parallel for the belief (which we have already encountered) that the lunar surface, when viewed from Earth 

Pausanias ...



Wälchli (, –).



Wälchli (, –).



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

Fig.  The panoramic mirror described by Hero, Catoptrica . Reprinted from Schmidt ,  (Fig. )

below, reflected features of our world that lay well beyond the viewer’s normal visual scope. The collocation of the mirror with the well is enigmatic. Fusillo compares the lunar well with the prayer-holes in Icaromenippus, through which voices from the world below can infiltrate the realm of the gods. Others cite as a parallel the catoptromantic oracle at the shrine of Demeter in Patrae: according to Pausanias (..), this involved a spring (pēgē) and a mirror which one lowered down into the spring in order in order to  

See Chapter , pp. –. Fusillo (,  n. ); von Möllendorff (,  n. ) and Wälchli (, ) have reservations.

Lucian’s Scientific Imagination



receive an oracular response. But we should be cautious: Lucian’s mirror is a purely optical instrument, not a divinatory one, and there is no mention of water in his well, so the analogy is not as close as one might wish. To explain the well, Wälchli argues strenuously for the relevance of a passage in Plutarch’s essay On the daemon of Socrates where the transmission of prayers to spirits is compared to the method of transmitting sounds telephonically through the use of shields. As he points out, shields were associated with mirrors in antiquity, which might have suggested to Lucian the audio-visual scenario in True Stories. But in this case the analogy, albeit intriguing, seems even more tenuous: shields are not wells. Wälchli’s thesis that Lucian’s imaginary object was rooted in the technological realities of his own time is surely right, however. That wells amplify sound is commonplace and self-evident, and we do not need to resort to shields to justify its acoustic role here. Instead – and in addition to this acoustic function – I suspect that what Lucian had in mind the dioptra, the ‘seeing tube’ that was principally used in land surveying in antiquity, and also to aid astronomical observation. The dioptra was usually a simple hollow tube which the viewer could hold up to his eye whilst observing the sky. It should not be confused with the telescope, since it did not contain a lens and did not magnify vision in any way; rather, it simply aided observation by focussing the line of vision on a specific segment of the sky and blocking out ambient light. Aristotle explains that it is similar to the effect 





Delatte (, ) suggests that Lucian’s mirror-and-well parodies the catoptromantic ritual at Patras, described at Pausanias .., whilst acknowledging the different role of the mirror in each passage; see also von Möllendorff (, ), with Wälchli (, –). On the Demeter-oracle and catoptromancy, see Addey (); Delatte (, –); FrontisiDucroux and Vernant (, –) and Taylor (, –). On catoptromancy within the broader encompass of Dionysiac ritual, see Taylor (, –), with further bibliography on the practice generally on p. , n. . Wälchli (, –). The passage in question is Plutarch On the daemon of Socrates c-d. This method is also described by Herodotus ..– and Aeneas Tacticus .– (who imitates the Herodotean passage). Delatte (, ) rather wishfully suggests that the auditory experience of the well may reflect conchyliomancy – divination through listening to spirit-voices inside shells – though he finds no evidence for this practice in antiquity. (The aural effects of putting one’s ear to a shell were well known, albeit distinct: viz. Hesychius (kappa, ), who records that the verb κογχαλίζειν denotes the echoing murmur of shells: πεποίηται ἀπὸ τοῦ ἤχου τῶν κόγχων). Hero, Dioptra  elucidates its use in astronomy: πολλὰ δὲ ὤνησεν καὶ τὴν περὶ τὰ οὐράνια θεωρίαν, ἀναμετροῦσα τά [τε] μεταξὺ τῶν ἀστέρων διαστήματα, καὶ τὰ περὶ μεγεθῶν καὶ ἀποστημάτων καὶ ἐκλείψεων ἡλίου καὶ σελήνης· It has many uses in the observation of the heavens, in measuring the distances between the celestial bodies and their sizes and distances from us and eclipses of the Sun and Moon. On the dioptra as the predecessor of the plane astrolabe, see Lewis (, –). On the instrument and its uses generally, see Lewis (, –); Coulton ().



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

achieved by shading one’s eyes with one’s hands: it works by channelling the visual ray directly to or from the eye, rather than allowing it to dissipate. It is for this reason, he claims, that animals with sunken eyes have keener distance-vision than those whose eyes are prominent. In antiquity, this dioptra effect could also be achieved by digging a pit or well: the viewer descended into the well and looked upwards at the sky from the bottom, using its rim as an artificial horizon: ὁ γὰρ αὐτὸς ἐπηλυγασάμενος τὴν χεῖρα ἢ δι’ αὐλοῦ βλέπων τὰς μὲν διαφορὰς οὐθὲν μᾶλλον οὐδ’ ἧττον κρινεῖ τῶν χρωμάτων, ὄψεται δὲ πορρώτερον· οἱ γοῦν ἐκ τῶν ὀρυγμάτων καὶ φρεάτων ἐνίοτε καὶ ἀστέρας ὁρῶσιν. For the man who shades his eyes with his hand or looks through a tube will not distinguish differences of colour any better or worse, but he will see farther; at any rate, people sometimes see stars from pits and wells.

Aristotle’s incidental remark about people seeing stars from the bottom of such pits and wells is of great moment for understanding Lucian’s device. It has even been suggested that the idea lurks beneath the well-known anecdote about Thales falling into a well whilst he gazed at the stars: on this reading, the astronomer was in the well by design, not accident, and his strange predicament was actually misunderstood by the girl in the anecdote; it turns out, therefore, that the last laugh may be on her, and not the absent-minded philosopher, after all. If we return to Lucian’s lunar well – and add his great magnifying mirror into the picture – we can now see that what he offers us is not some outlandish fantasy, but a plausible proto-telescope. He has, in fact, welded together with imaginative ingenuity the disparate apparatus of ancient astronomical observation, to build one super, multi-sensory observatory, combining: elevated platform (the Moon – better than any terrestrial roof or mountain top), a well (a full-body immersive dioptra, which happens to amplify sound as well) and – Lucian’s uncanny innovation – a   

 

Aristotle, On the generation of animals a–. On the generation of animals b–. On the ancient ‘observation well’, see Sayili. Couprie (, ), citing Eisler (,  n. ). The anecdote is preserved in Plato, Theaetetus a-b (DK  A = G); cf. also Aesop, Fab.  ‘Astrologos’, in relation to an anonymous astronomer. For further discussion, see ní Mheallaigh (). According to Posidonius, the astronomer Eudoxus of Cnidos used the roof-top of his house in Cnidos as his observatory (σκοπή); Strabo reports that he also had observatories in the city of Kerkesoura in Libya (Strabo ..; .., with Huxley ). For observation of the night sky from mountain-tops, see above p. , n. .

Conclusion: Scientific Fiction and the Moon



mirror to magnify vision through technology. His telescopic fantasy draws on the realities of contemporary technology and astronomical observation in more complex ways than has previously been thought. The addition of a magnifying mirror for the observation of a distant world – a boldly imaginative move – seems to reach forward and anticipate – as an idea, at least – Galileo’s telescope from . Some of these resonances with Lucian’s contemporary technological culture are difficult for modern ears to detect, but for ancient readers, they would surely have imbued his fiction with an air of plausibility, awe-inspiring exactitude and scientific method that enhanced the central joke of the True Stories – a work of lies reported with straight-faced conviction.

Conclusion: Scientific Fiction and the Moon The late first/ second century CE is a period of rapid expansion for the Moon as an imagined space. The eschatological ideas that we encountered in the previous chapter, where Sulla in Plutarch’s De facie outlined a Moon inhabited by souls, continue to make their presence felt in the narratives I have examined here: the Moon to which Varro’s hapless adventurer has recourse in Endymiones, for example, is evidently a place of dreams, whilst Lucian’s Moon-men eschew solid food, relying instead on olfactory nourishment, just like the dead. However, for the first time in this imaginative tradition, the Moon has become a real place where one can go and explore, a place that is subject to historiographical scrutiny, and with whose inhabitants one can communicate. In Lucian’s hands, the Moon becomes politicized as a space that provides latitude for heterodoxy and literary hybridity. I have examined here the ways in which Lucian exploits lunar travel and the Moon’s ancient liquescence for his own experimental poetics (his so-called astro-poetics). I have also explored how his lunar fictions draw on ancient science, philosophy and technology as thematic resources that are fraught with complex epistemological ramifications, to match his play with the categories of truth, lies and fiction in between. The details and events of Lucian’s lunar world are built out of the very fabric of philosophical thought, and his lunar history – especially in Icaromenippus – dramatizes the history of philosophical dissent. His fictions, as a result, read like surreal doxography, where opinions and theories jostle into life, animated by the author’s wizard-like imagination. All of this takes us well beyond the usual observation that Lucian uses the Moon as a site for cognitive estrangement and satire, though that too is undeniably true.



The Imaginary Moon: Lunar Journeys

As I have argued in the last section of this chapter, the mirror-well on Lucian’s Moon, albeit imaginary, is a hybrid technology built out of the prefabricated parts of dioptra and mirror. Ancient science, philosophy and technology played a lively role in shaping Lucian’s lunar world, and the technologically enhanced selēnoskopia of True Stories looks across time to far distant worlds of the future: to the combinations of optical technology and social satire in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (such as in Boccalini’s I ragguagli di Parnasso with its satirical spectacles, or the giants’ diamond-microscope in Voltaire’s Micromégas) – and to the paradigm-shifting views afforded by Galileo’s telescope and the first photographs from the Moon. For Lucian, who was obsessed with images of hybridity and innovation, this composite device powerfully embodies his own novel literary enterprise in True Stories which, like Galileo’s invention, provides the reader with the experience of new literary worlds – both the Moon itself and the new genre he had created. We may see it, therefore, as an emblem of Lucian’s scientific fiction, for this multi-sensory observationinstrument, with its mixture of appeals to sight, sound and awe (thauma), connotes the very experience of reading True Stories itself, of visualizing and listening to a wondrous narrative about a strange new world. Just as his lunar mirror can be seen as an ancestor of the telescope of the modern world, so too True Stories itself can be viewed as an avatar of science fiction, the genre which is arguably most emblematic of the modern world. We shall return to this idea in the conclusion of the book. 

I ragguagli di Parnasso IV r; Micromégas, chapter . The connection with Boccalini and Galileo is noted by Fusillo , . On Boccalini’s fascinating exploitation of contemporary optical technology, see García Santo-Thomás (, –).

 

Selēnoskopia The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

In the previous chapter, we explored the semiotics of the lunar world in ancient fictions, especially Lucian’s works. In this chapter, we leave Earth and consider – with ancient thinkers and modern astronauts – what our reality looks like when viewed from the Moon. Selēnoskopia or the ‘view from the Moon’ became a reality for the first time in the first year of the Apollo missions in , but the imaginative tradition of gazing at the Earth from outer space has a far more ancient pedigree, stretching back to the earliest Greek literature over two-and-a-half millennia ago. In Lucian’s hands, the Moon became our first extra-terrestrial viewing-platform and the focus for an extraordinary continuum of thought that links ancient imagined experience with modern reality. I will begin here with analysis of the first selēnoskopia in European literature, in Lucian’s Icaromenippus. As we shall see, this innovation has ancient roots, as Lucian invites us to read Menippus’ vision in light of a tradition of Earth-viewing that begins with Homer’s Iliad and advances through Plato’s Phaedo, Eratosthenes’ Hermes and Cicero’s Dream of Scipio. After examining landmarks in this tradition, I will then turn to our first historical selēnoskopiai, in which photography and technology replace literature as the lens through which our world is mediated. I have separated this modern tradition into first and second ‘waves’. The ‘first wave’ describes the category of Earth-images generated in the wake of our earliest attempts to leave our planet in the s and early s, and includes photographs of Earth taken by both robotic and human agents 

I coin the term selēnoskopia (‘view from the Moon’) following the model of teikhoskopia (‘view from the city wall’), the term used to describe the scene in Iliad Book  where Helen and the Trojan elders survey the Greek camp from their vantage point on the city walls of Troy. Selēnoskopia is a subset of the more general kataskopia or ‘view from above’ that was dear to the genre of Menippean satire, and linked closely with Old Comedy: cf. Chapter , p.  with n. . Lucian relished the motif for his own satirical purposes, e.g. Charon , where he alludes to the Iliadic teikhoskopia as a paradigm for Charon and Hermes’ fantastical mountain-view (as noted in Halliwell , ).





Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

from Earth-orbit and the Moon. The ‘second wave’ is a more recent category of images (s–early s) taken exclusively by probes from far more remote distances in our solar system, and it is here at last, as our horizons expand to breach the limits of our own galaxy, that the Moon slips quietly out of view. The Lucianic texts examined in this chapter penetrate the ancient mystery about what it is the Moon sees. This optical reversal is a radical version of the cultural, chronological and geographical reversals that are characteristic of Lucian’s work. The Moon, moreover, represents the ultimate outsider-view. All this associates the Moon with the realm of satire, comedy, philosophy and fantasy which, as we saw in the previous chapter, is a quintessentially Lucianic mix. But Lucian’s lunar visits also reach out beyond the limits of his own intellectual milieu. Time, as we shall see, collapses strangely around the Moon; it is a looking-place from which to contemplate with new eyes the familiar environs of our world in the present, to survey the opulent expanse of the literary tradition of the past, and to glimpse the thought-worlds and experiences of the future. Despite the enormous distances in time and space separating ancient and modern selenoskopiai, there is a fascinating dialogue between them and, in these final pages, the Moon becomes a bridge between fantasy and reality, between the ancient world and the new.

Lucian, Icaromenippus and the Ancient Telescopic Tradition Surprisingly, perhaps, the truly magical moment of Icaromenippus is not the point when Menippus lands on the Moon but, when, after meeting the spirit of the deceased philosopher Empedocles there, he learns a magical method for enhancing his eyesight and looks back down on the Earth. Suddenly, the entirety of human existence far below is revealed to him in one panoptic vision. Menippus struggles to convey the overwhelming sense of confusion he experienced at seeing the whole world in this way (Icar. –): ΜΕΝΙΠΠΟΣ Πάντα μὲν ἑξῆς διελθεῖν . . . ἀδύνατον, ὅπου γε καὶ ὁρᾶν αὐτὰ ἔργον ἦν· τὰ μέντοι κεφάλαια τῶν πραγμάτων τοιαῦτα ἐφαίνετο οἷά φησιν Ὅμηρος τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς ἀσπίδος· οὗ μὲν γὰρ ἦσαν εἰλαπίναι καὶ γάμοι, ἑτέρωθι δὲ δικαστήρια καὶ ἐκκλησίαι, καθ’ ἕτερον δὲ μέρος ἔθυέ τις, ἐν γειτόνων δὲ πενθῶν ἄλλος ἐφαίνετο· καὶ ὅτε μὲν ἐς τὴν Γετικὴν ἀποβλέψαιμι, πολεμοῦντας ἂν ἑώρων τοὺς Γέτας· ὅτε δὲ μεταβαίην ἐπὶ τοὺς 

Cf. Chapter , pp. –.

Lucian, Icaromenippus and the Ancient Telescopic Tradition



Σκύθας, πλανωμένους ἐπὶ τῶν ἁμαξῶν ἦν ἰδεῖν· μικρὸν δὲ ἐγκλίνας τὸν ὀφθαλμὸν ἐπὶ θάτερα τοὺς Αἰγυπτίους γεωργοῦντας ἐπέβλεπον, καὶ ὁ Φοῖνιξ ἐνεπορεύετο καὶ ὁ Κίλιξ ἐλῄστευεν καὶ ὁ Λάκων ἐμαστιγοῦτο καὶ ὁ Ἀθηναῖος ἐδικάζετο. ἁπάντων δὲ τούτων ὑπὸ τὸν αὐτὸν γινομένων χρόνον ὥρα σοι ἤδη ἐπινοεῖν ὁποῖός τις ὁ κυκεὼν οὗτος ἐφαίνετο. ὥσπερ ἂν εἴ τις παραστησάμενος πολλοὺς χορευτάς, μᾶλλον δὲ πολλοὺς χορούς, ἔπειτα προστάξειε τῶν ᾀδόντων ἑκάστῳ τὴν συνῳδίαν ἀφέντα ἴδιον ᾄδειν μέλος, φιλοτιμουμένου δὲ ἑκάστου καὶ τὸ ἴδιον περαίνοντος καὶ τὸν πλησίον ὑπερβαλέσθαι τῇ μεγαλοφωνίᾳ προθυμουμένου—ἆρα ἐνθυμῇ πρὸς Διὸς οἵα γένοιτ’ ἂν ἡ ᾠδή; ΕΤΑΙΡΟΣ Παντάπασιν, ὦ Μένιππε, παγγέλοιος καὶ τεταραγμένη. It would be impossible . . . to go through it all in sequence, given that it was a challenge even to take it in with my eyes. But the principal details appeared just as Homer describes on the shield: for there were feasts and weddings here, courts and assemblies there, and in another quarter, someone was offering sacrifice, while someone else nearby appeared to be grieving. Whenever I cast my eye towards the land of the Getae, I would see the Getae waging war. And whenever I’d switch to the Scythians, they could be seen wandering about on their wagons. Turning my eye a little to one side, I spied the Egyptians farming, whilst the Phoenician was engaged in trade, the Cilician in piracy, the Spartan was being flogged and the Athenian sitting in court. With all of this going on at the same time, you should picture what a hotchpotch it looked like. It was as if someone stood many singers – or rather, many choirs together – then ordered each of the singers to abandon the harmony and sing his own tune instead. With each individual competing to finish his own song and eager to outdo his neighbour by singing loudly, do you perceive, by Jove, what the song would be like? COMPANION: Totally ridiculous and confused, Mnesippus.

The cluster of similes – the hotchpotch, the choral cacophony, the imago mundi on the shield of Achilles – captures the chaos of Menippus’ experience very effectively. The image of the hotchpotch (kukeōn), a posset of wine, cheese and barley, appeals to the sense of taste and smell as well as sight, while the chorus-singers appeal directly to the sense of hearing. In this way, Lucian triggers imaginatively in the reader a multi-sensory experience which recreates the impression of aesthetic overload at the sight of the whole world.



The contemporary Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius contemplates the chaos of the world when viewed from above in terms that are similarly reminiscent of the Iliadic shield (Med. .): Καὶ δὴ περὶ ἀνθρώπων τοὺς λόγους ποιούμενον ἐπισκοπεῖν [δεῖ] καὶ τὰ ἐπίγεια ὥσπερ ποθὲν ἄνωθεν κάτω· ἀγέλας, στρατεύματα, γεώργια, γάμους, διαλύσεις, γενέσεις, θανάτους, δικαστηρίων



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

Lucian is the first writer in the European tradition to use the Earth-view to explore the crisis of infinity in this way. Menippus says that it proved almost too much for his eye to take in (ὁρᾶν αὐτὰ ἔργον ἦν). Syntactic narrative proves inadequate for the task, since it imposes too rigid a straitjacket on what the eye sees: it is impossible to describe everything in sequence (παντα . . . ἑξῆς διελθεῖν . . . ἀδύνατον). Instead, he resorts to reporting merely ‘a summary of things’ (τὰ . . . κεφάλαια τῶν πραγμάτων) which, he says, appeared just as they did on the Homeric shield – an imaginary artefact that famously defies spatial realization. Menippus’ distinction between the moment of sensory impact and the slower cognitive processes of converting what he sees into impressionistic pastiche or ordered narrative is a fascinating analysis of what the ekphrastic eye does. His allusion to the Iliadic shield is significant for several reasons, not least, given the shield’s long association with both ekphrasis and the ineffability of vision. Here it is shorthand for a sight which is otherwise impossible to describe. Menippus’ vision of the whole world is the ekphrasis to beat all other ekphrases, and the shield’s intertextual presence tints it with the problems of ekphrasis itself, imbuing it with a meta-ekphrastic edge and reinforcing the sense of language’s deficiency as a vehicle for the infinite. This theme would recur in both the literature of the modern era and the documented experiences of astronauts themselves. In his short story ‘The Aleph’, Borges confronts the problem of converting the infinite into a narrative, or even into language itself. The ‘aleph’ in his tale is a panoptic device, which compresses the entire universe into a single eyeshot. As the narrator attempts to describe what he saw in this one moment,

 

 

θόρυβον, ἐρήμους χώρας, βαρβάρων ἔθνη ποικίλα, ἑορτάς, θρήνους, ἀγοράς, τὸ παμμιγὲς καὶ τὸ ἐκ τῶν ἐναντίων συγκοσμούμενον. And so, when you are making judgements about people, you should survey earthly matters as if looking down from some height at herds, armies, farms, weddings, divorces, births, deaths, noisy courts, lonely spaces, the varied tribes of barbarians, festivals, funerals, marketplaces . . . the great medley of things mingled together out of opposites. On the notorious ‘spatial indeterminacy’ of the Homeric ekphrasis, see Lynn-George (, ); Heffernan (, ); Squire (, –). See Squire (, –) on the meta-ekphrastic dimension of the passage. For discussion, inter alia, of the mechanics of the ekphrastic gaze in the literature of the imperial period, see Goldhill (). Vout () explores similar tensions in overviews of the city of Rome. For discussion of the meta-poetic and ekphrastic dimensions of the shield-description, see Becker () and Francis (), with further references. On the literature and art of infinity, see Eco (), which takes as its starting-point the description of Achilles’ shield in Iliad  (pp. –). The discussion of meta-ekphrasis in Webb (, –, esp. –) is particularly apposite here. Francis (, ) detects meta-ekphrastic notes in the shield description itself, seeing the relationship between word and image in it as ‘complex and interdependent, presenting sophisticated reflection on the conception and process of both verbal and visual representation’.

Lucian, Icaromenippus and the Ancient Telescopic Tradition



he struggles – as Menippus did – with the breakdown of narrative and language: And here begins my despair as a writer . . . How . . . can I translate into words the limitless Aleph, which my floundering mind can barely encompass? . . . In that single gigantic instant I saw millions of acts both delightful and awful; not one of them amazed me more than the fact that all of them occupied the same point in space . . . What my eyes beheld was simultaneous, but what I shall now write down will be successive, because language is successive . . .’

Borges’ distinction between the instantaneous, sensory experience, and the slower cognitive process of description, echoes Menippus’ difficulties closely. In a postscript, Borges would later acknowledge the influence of Lucian’s True Stories on his story (though Icaromenippus resonates more closely, in fact). By alluding to Achilles’ shield, Lucian also situates his selēnoskopia within a tradition of telescopic Earth-viewing in Graeco-Roman literature which begins with Iliad , and includes Trygaeus’ aerial view in Aristophanes’ Peace, Socrates’ magnificent vision of the Earth in Plato’s Phaedo, Eratosthenes’ scientific poem Hermes and Cicero’s Dream of Scipio. In Iliad , the shield is the central attraction among the weapons fashioned by the smith-god Hephaestus for Achilles. On it, Hephaestus carves a representation of the cosmos as he sees it, exploiting his privileged view of the universe as a divinity (ll.–). The description compresses the entire cosmos and the totality of human existence into a collage of marriages, disputes, war, urban life and agriculture, all framed by the elements of the natural cosmos: the Sun, Moon and constellations, and the great stream of Ocean around the outer rim. It was identified by ancient readers as a model of the cosmos (kosmou mimēma) but, as Alex Purves has argued, it also captures the cartographic thrust of the Iliad itself, a poem in which we are repeatedly invited to view the actions around Troy from a perspective that is detached and compressed (e.g. through the eyes of the gods or the elders along the city-walls, in Helen’s tapestry in Book  or through the sweeping Catalogue of Ships in Book ). For several reasons, therefore, the shield is a highly appropriate analogue for Menippus’ cosmic view. This view in turn evokes the kaleidoscopic intertextuality of Lucian’s work, as Menippus’ cartographic command of the Earth mirrors Lucian’s command over the entire expanse of Greek literature,  

Borges (/, –). Purves (, –).



Borges, ‘The Aleph, Postscript of March first ’.



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

which is enfolded into this mega-ekphrasis. For an educated Greek of this time, the world is quite literally constructed out of the literature of the past. If, then, the Moon marked the outer reaches of geographical exploration in spatial terms for Antonius Diogenes, in Lucian’s selenoskopic fantasy it marks the outer limit of what is in fact knowable. As the ultimate cartographic achievement, the view from the Moon is an imperialist and globalizing fantasy, compressing space, time and the vast sweep of the literary canon into one visual moment. This in turn converts the Moon into the ultimate archive; there Lucian captures the contemporary scholar’s desire for abbreviated access to encyclopaedic knowledge. The intertextual presence of Achilles’ shield also imports into Lucian’s fantasy some of the more poignant questions that are at the core of the Iliad, such as the importance of heroic endeavour within human culture, and the importance of human culture within the cosmos. The shield’s answer to these questions may be optimistic or pessimistic, depending on the reader’s view. Optimistically, Hephaestus’ carvings show us that, no matter how small we may be as individuals, collectively humans matter in the cosmic scale. At the same time, the enclosure of the entire cosmos as an artefact within a poem about one man – Achilles – generates a crisis of interpretation for the poem’s audience or readers: how are we to evaluate the importance of this one man Achilles’ anger – against that the shield’s universal themes? Or to put it another way: what does one life matter, on a universal scale? We shall return to these questions shortly, for as we shall see, they have a habit of cropping up when we are confronted with a view of the totality of existence, whether that is through literature or a photographic image. Another important telescopic intertext is Socrates’ vision of the upper Earth in Plato’s Phaedo. Although it is not evoked in the same explicit manner in precisely this passage of Icaromenippus, Lucian has already evoked its intertextual presence by modelling Menippus’ trajectory from philosophical zeal to disillusionment on Socrates’ own experience as narrated in Phaedo. Moreover, the ‘multi-coloured spheres’ in the lecturehalls, which Menippus mentions at Icar. , owe something to Socrates’ extraordinary vision of the Earth as a ‘multi-coloured ball’ in one of the most famous passages from Plato’s work. In Phaedo Socrates explains that 



On the relationships between the ordering of knowledge and particular social and political practices, see König and Whitmarsh (, –, esp. pp. –), which explores who ‘the empire of knowledge [is] mirrored in the mini-empires of textual ordering’ (p. ). Cf. Chapter , pp. –.

Lucian, Icaromenippus and the Ancient Telescopic Tradition



the Earth consists of a network of huge, interconnected, and dimly lit craters (e–c). We may believe we inhabit the surface of the Earth, but actually we dwell deep down in one of these crater-like depressions. The people of the Mediterranean, in fact, are like frogs clustered around a pond (b). We have no idea what the upper world actually looks like, for we have never yet emerged from our crater to contemplate it. From the mist-filled depths, we see everything dimly. Like fish looking up from the sea-bed toward the surface of the ocean and believing that is the sky, what we call the ‘sky’ is in fact merely the sediment of the upper world’s surface (c–d). If one of us, however, climbed up to the rim of our crater-world and looked out over the top, he would behold a world that is more exuberantly bright and beautiful than he has imagined possible, and the world he has left behind would seem murky in contrast, just like the world underwater (a). According to Socrates, this upper world, viewed from afar, would appear like a ball whose surface is a patchwork of crimson and gold and dazzling white, and swirled with many other colours that we have never before seen. From such a distance, our dank craters merely dapple the world’s surface with dimples of mist and glints of the water far below. Those who inhabit this upper world dwell on islands that are buffeted on the air, breathing in pure ether. As a result, they are superior beings: longer-living and healthier, with vastly superior senses. They see the Sun, Moon and Stars as they really are, and not just ‘through a glass darkly’ as we troglodytes do (a–c). Socrates’ vision of the Earth is clearly fashioned after views of the Moon: the terrestrial craters are analogous to the marks on the Moon’s face, and the ether-breathing dwellers in the Earth’s upper regions clearly resemble the pure and long-lived Moon men of both the Pythagorean and Aristotelian traditions. Two other texts that belong to the same tradition of telescopic fantasy are Eratosthenes’ poem Hermes and the sixth book of Cicero’s Republic, better known as ‘The dream of Scipio’ (Somnium Scipionis). Hermes falls into the Iliadic tradition, as Eratosthenes delivers his geographical and astronomical doctrine within the imaginative frame of the god’s cosmic panorama. Somnium Scipionis, as the title suggests, is a dream-vision. Here the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus, leader of the Third Punic War, dreams that his dead grandfather, Scipio Africanus, leads him on a tour through the Milky Way, offering him a glimpse of the glory that awaits him, provided he shows genuine statesman-like qualities throughout his life. The Milky Way, his grandfather explains, is the celestial 

See Chapter , pp. –.



See Chapter , p. .



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

destination for all great souls after death. From this place, ‘a circle shining out among the flames with the most dazzling brilliance’, Scipio gets a clear view of the wonders of the cosmos, including stars of unimaginable size which he had never before seen from Earth, the Moon, and finally – dwarfed by the stellar orbs – our own planet, which looks so tiny that Scipio feels a pang at the pointlessness of his imperial conquests, through which he had acquired a mere dot in space. That feeling is enhanced as, listening to the harmony of the cosmos, Scipio’s eyes are drawn to the Earth again and again, and his grandfather explains (Rep. .–): Vides habitari in terra raris et angustis in locis et in ipsis quasi maculis, ubi habitatur, vastas solitudines interiectas . . . hic autem alter subiectus aquiloni, quem incolitis, cerne quam tenui vos parte contingat! Omnis enim terra, quae colitur a vobis, angustata verticibus, lateribus latior, parva quaedam insula est circumfusa illo mari, quod ‘Atlanticum’, quod ‘magnum’, quem ‘Oceanum’ appellatis in terris; qui tamen tanto nomine quam sit parvus, vides. You see that the Earth is inhabited in disparate and confined places, and in these inhabited ‘spots’ (maculae), so to speak, vast wildernesses are interposed. . . But this northern part, which you inhabit – look at what a slender portion is allotted to you! For the whole territory inhabited by you is narrow at top and bottom, wider at the sides, and surrounded, like a little island, by that sea, which you in different lands call the ‘Atlantic’ or the ‘Great Sea’ or ‘Ocean’ – though you see how small it is, despite a name of such grandeur.

There are obvious similarities between Scipio’s vision of the Earth here and Socrates’ vision in Plato’s Phaedo: in particular, the microcosmic ‘patches’ of inhabited spaces hark back to the crater-worlds that mottled Socrates’ globe. As Stephen Halliwell has pointed out, the selēnoskopia in Icaromenippus straddles both satirical and philosophical traditions. Menippus’ comparison of the minuscule humans far below with swarms of ants (and their cities with mere ant-hills, Icar. ) is modelled on Plato’s Phaedo  a–b, where Socrates compares the human race to ants or frogs around the 

 

Cic. Rep. .: Iam ipsa terra ita mihi parva visa est, ut me imperii nostri, quo quasi punctum eius attingimus, paeniteret. For discussion of Scipio’s cosmic panorama, especially the models which Cicero follows here, see Bu¨chner (, –) and Zetzel (, –). Luck-Huyse (, –) briefly discusses the variety of emotional responses to views of the Earth in ancient literature, but does not include the Iliadic shield in her discussion. For a similar image, see also Aristotle, De mundo b (noted by Bu¨chner , ). Halliwell (, –) explores the double-edged humour of Menippus’ kataskopia, which lies between the philosophical detachment that is espoused in Nigrinus, and the crisis of existential laughter in Charon.

Modern Selēnoskopic Tradition: The First Wave –



Mediterranean pond. In Aristophanes’ Peace –, similarly, the aerial traveller Trygaeus describes how humans appeared ‘tiny’ (and also increasingly wicked) the higher he ascended: μικροὶ δ’ ὁρᾶν ἄνωθεν ἦστ’. ἔμοιγέ τοι ἀπὸ τοὐρανοῦ ’φαίνεσθε κακοήθεις πάνυ, ἐντευθενὶ δὲ πολύ τι κακοηθέστεροι. You were tiny to look at from above. From Heaven, you seemed terribly wicked to me, and from that position onwards even wickeder still

In a similar vein, Menippus’ telescopic eye homes in on the furtive misdemeanours of scurrilous philosophers – the regular bêtes noires of the Lucianic world – but he is also prompted to ponder more generally the futility of humans’ trivial preoccupations. Lucian, then, shapes this tradition definitively, not only by giving the previously vague viewpoints a new and firm location on the Moon, but by blending the satirical, scientific and philosophical viewpoints into this new selēnoskopic eye. Far from inert, Lucian’s relocation to the Moon powerfully intensifies the experience of cognitive estrangement of Earth-viewing. This is partly because the Moon is quite literally another world, and its spatial remoteness has a more sharply ‘othering’ effect on what had been, until now, a somewhat vague aerial perspective. But it is also due to the fact that the Moon is usually the object and focus of our gaze from Earth, so by relocating his viewer there, Lucian reverses the normal, terra-centric directionality of our gaze. As we shall see presently, Lucian’s creative decision brings the ancient tradition of Earth-viewing that I have surveyed here into contact with the history of lunar exploration, and makes the Moon the bridge between an ancient fantasy and an iconic moment of the modern world.

Modern Selēnoskopic Tradition: The First Wave – Lucian’s fantasy was realized in  – over , years later – when the astronauts of the Apollo  mission became the first humans to land on the 



This connection is noted also by Camerotto (,  n. ). In Lucian’s Charon , Charon, looking down on the Earth from a height, compares humans to wasps. At Herm. , the Stoic Hermotimus claims that, from the summit of the Hill of Virtue, all people appear tiny like ants. See Luck-Huyse (, ). This becomes a commonplace of enlightenment satire, e.g. Swift’s Gulliver’s travels (/), where the gigantic King of Brobdingnag describes humans as: ‘the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth’ (Part II, Chapter . P. ); also Voltaire’s Micromégas (), where the stranger from Sirius sees humans as a ‘fourmilière d’assassins ridicules’ (.).



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

Moon and look back from there at planet Earth. But before that epochal event, three photographs kick-started a brand-new cycle of teleskopic narratives for the modern world. The first photograph of our world from the Moon had been taken in August  by the unmanned NASA spacecraft Lunar Orbiter . However, it had little impact. The original image was grainy, streaked and dark (Fig. a and b); as one journalist recalls, ‘it looked like a newsprint version of a high-contrast snapshot from space, a stark scattering of whites and blacks.’ A second photograph, taken two years later, was dramatically different. It was taken by astronaut William Anders, one of the crew of the Apollo  spacecraft as it orbited Earth, and it showed our planet rising in spectacular colour above the lunar horizon on th December  (Fig. ). The image became known as Earthrise. This was followed by The blue marble, the first image of the whole Earth, which was taken on th December  by the crew of Apollo  and released by NASA on December rd that year (Fig. ). With these early pictures, a millennia-long imaginary tradition of Earthviewing was converted into reality. But in profound and surprising ways, the ancient telescopic tradition had already pre-empted reality. The crisis of expression, which Menippus experiences upon seeing the Earth in Icaromenippus, was itself a well-documented experience among the first men who actually saw the Earth from the Moon. The ‘rhetorical failure’ of the early years of space exploration has been explained partly as a result of the training of the astronauts themselves, who were mainly test pilots in those days, and whose experience therefore had taught them not to emote. Partly too, it was a result of their cramped working-conditions and densely packed schedules, which left very little time or space for deeper contemplation anyway. NASA had not prepared their astronauts for the potential psychological impact of their experience; as a result, they could only exclaim at the beauty and wonder of what they were witnessing, in terms which seemed hopelessly jejune to the millions waiting on Earth. 

 



The quotation is from an editorial, ‘The Moon view’, which appeared in print on page A of the New York Times on  November, . A version of this article can be retrieved here: www .nytimes.com////opinion/wed.html Poole () is an excellent analysis of the subject. Weber () examines literary responses to ‘seeing the Earth’. As Michael Collins (, ) complained: ‘It was like describing what Christiaan Barnard wore while performing the first heart transplant . . . We weren’t trained to emote, we were trained to repress emotions . . . If they wanted an emotional press conference, for Christ’s sake, they should have put together an Apollo crew of a philosopher, a priest, and a poet – not three test pilots.’ For an excellent analysis of this ‘rhetorical failure’, see Poole (, –), whose account I draw on liberally here.

Modern Selēnoskopic Tradition: The First Wave –



Fig.  The first photograph of Earth from the Moon, taken by Lunar Orbiter  in August . The image in the upper register (a) is the original photograph, which was published in . The lower register (b) shows the same image, restored by the Lunar Orbiter Image Restoration Project (LOIRP) and published in November . Image credit: NASA, Lunar Orbiter

Their frustration was exacerbated by the ‘almost unbearable responsibility to communicate what they had learned to the rest of the human race’. Apollo  astronaut Dave Scott felt ‘unable even to begin to convey the wonder I felt looking back at the Earth from this distance . . .’ Prince Sultan Bin Salman al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, a payload specialist on the fifth flight of the space shuttle Discovery in , described his first view of the Earth as ‘really one of the most memorable moments of my entire life. I just said, in Arabic, “Oh, God”, or something like “God is great”. . . It’s beyond description.’ According to NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, ‘“Indescribable” is a word that is used a lot, but I think it’s accurate. You look out the window and pictures just don’t do justice to what you see . . .’ Others described, like Lucian, their struggle to process their experience. Michael Collins, the command module pilot for the first lunar landing with Apollo , remarked that: ‘It is a pity that my eyes have seen more  

 Poole (, ). Poole (, ). Quoted from White (, ) (emphasis mine).



Quoted from White (, ).



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

Fig.  Earthrise,  December . This was the first extra-terrestrial photograph of our world to have major impact on the public consciousness. In fact, the original image issued by NASA had a different orientation: Borman saw the Moon on the right, with the Earth appearing to emerge over its side. For publication, however, the press altered the orientation to meet terra-centric expectations, so that the lunar surface should appear as the ‘ground’ below our feet, and the Earth now appears to rise vertically above the lunar horizon, thus adapting the astronautical experience to a more familiar terrestrial one; see Poole (, –). Image credit: NASA

than my brain has been able to assimilate or evaluate, but like the Druids at Stonehenge, I have attempted to bring order out of what I have observed, even if I have not understood it fully.’ Just as Menippus’ allusion to the Iliadic shield invited us to read his words within the tradition of mimēmata tou kosmou, by inviting us to view his work as a descendant of the structure at Stonehenge, Collins converts it into a sort of textual monument: both structures seek, in different ways, to make sense



Collins (, ). Collins records how he subsequently tried to express what he had seen through painting, but considered his attempts ‘a total flop’ (, –). Al Bean, an astronaut with Apollo , became a well-known artist in later life.

Modern Selēnoskopic Tradition: The First Wave –



Fig.  The blue marble, the first photograph of the whole Earth taken by a manned spacecraft, in this case the crew of Apollo . The photo was taken en route to the Moon on  December , at a distance of ca. , km from the Earth. As with the Earthrise image four years previously, the orientation of The blue marble was changed for publication, in order to conform with terra-centric expectations of ‘up’ and ‘down’. In the original orientation, Antarctica was at the top of the globe, but in the published image, seen here, it appears at the bottom; see Poole (, ). Image credit: NASA

of the universe and to represent it for others here on Earth. For Collins, the massive, silent stones conveyed something of the ineffability of his experience. Given these difficulties of finding adequate words, it was common to resort to music instead. Ronald McNair, a mission specialist on Challenger who was killed in a subsequent mission, played his saxophone in orbit to



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

express ideas which he felt he could not articulate in words. Ken Mattingly recalled selecting particular pieces of music to enhance his experience of visual wonder on Apollo : ‘I had Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” and some other things that I really liked that just matched the mood of seeing this unbelievable scene of things floating by.’ Russell Schweickart was also noted for his careful selection of music to create a soundtrack for the Apollo  mission. More recently, in , a video which went viral on You Tube featured astronaut Chris Hadfield performing David Bowie’s Space Oddity on board the International Space Station, while he gazed at our home-world through the window. Bowie’s famous, plaintive lyric captured, in an instantly recognizable way, the existential loneliness of a man ‘floating in a tin can, far above the world’. Music has played an evocative role in imaginative recreations of outer space as well. Well-known examples include Vangelis’ theme to Carl Sagan’s television series Cosmos, and director Stanley Kubrick’s use of both Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube and Richard Strauss’ overture from Also sprach Zarathustra at significant moments in his  film : Space Odyssey. Each of these pieces seems to express, respectively, the serenely unfolding infinity of space, the synchrony of the interplanetary dance, or the absolute command of the astrophysical laws which bring Earth, Moon and Sun into alignment. There is a rich ancient tradition underlying this tendency to exploit music’s expressive power in this context. The idea that musical harmony is the language of celestial order goes back to the Pythagoreans and even earlier, for as we have already seen, the idea is implicit in the grace and orderly dance of the chorus as well. It so happens that one the very few pieces of ancient musical notation that have survived from antiquity itself has a celestial theme: Mesomedes’ Hymn to the Sun, which dates to the second century CE, probably some decades earlier than Lucian’s Icaromenippus. Music also accompanies the earliest astral travellers on their    

 

See White (, –). Quoted from NASA’s oral histories: www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/MattinglyTK/ MattinglyTK_--.htm Poole (, ). From the very start, music has been central to our mission of cosmic outreach. Each of the Voyager probes carries a golden phonograph record containing, among other sounds of the Earth, ninety minutes of the greatest terrestrial music, including a Navajo chant, a Peruvian wedding song, Beethoven, Bach and Chuck Berry’s rock’n’roll hit ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ (Sagan , –). Chapter , pp. –. Mesomedes, who was a freedman of the Emperor Hadrian (reigned – CE), is dated to the first half of the second century CE; on his life and work, see Regenauer (, –). For a study

Modern Selēnoskopic Tradition: The First Wave –



celestial peregrinations. In Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, as Scipio’s gaze wanders around the universe, a strange music fills his ears, which his grandfather explains by expounding, briefly, the Pythagorean doctrine of the harmony of the spheres: as each of the heavenly spheres rotates (the ninth sphere, the Earth, is at the centre of the cosmos, and does not move), it produces its own particular sound. These notes produce the notes of the musical octave. Heard, imaginatively, in the backdrop to Scipio’s speech, this harmonious music would seem like a celestial ratification of Scipio’s predictions for his grandson’s glorious future. In quite the opposite way, Menippus evokes the dissonant voices of a multitude of choirs as he gazes on the Earth. By doing so, he generates a soundtrack of cacophony for his selēnoskopia: one which expresses not the serenity of the heavens, but the chaos and complexity of our world. Given the prevalence of the Pythagorean theory in antiquity, Lucian’s imaginary soundscape would have been striking indeed. It is a leitmotiv of both ancient and modern Earth-views to pronounce on the surprisingly small appearance of our world when viewed from a distance. Modern narratives tend to emphasize its astonishingly beautiful but ultimately fragile appearance, which seems at odds with our experience of the planet beneath our own feet: ‘As we walk its surface, it seems solid and substantial enough, almost infinite as it extends flatly in all directions. But from space there is no hint of ruggedness to it; smooth as a billiard ball, it seems delicately poised in its circular journey around the sun, and above all it seems fragile.’ Earthrise and The blue marble cast the Earth’s vivid colours into sharp contrast with the dead, grey Moon in the foreground and the deep black of space. Collins recalled this contrast from space, and how he didn’t quite appreciate the beauty of Earth until he saw the Moon: ‘The moon is so scarred, so desolate, so monotonous, that I cannot recall its tortured surface without thinking of the infinite variety the delightful planet Earth offers: misty waterfalls, pine forests, rose gardens, blues and greens and reds and whites that are missing entirely on the gray-tan moon.’ Scipio’s view of the Earth, with its icy caps and

 



of the relationship between the lyrics and music of Mesomedes’ Hymn to the Sun, see Psaroudakes , with Pöhlmann and West (, –) on the musical annotation. Rep. . –. For elucidation of this difficult passage and the theory it contains, see Bu¨chner (, –) and Zetzel (, –). Squire (, ) interprets Lucian’s aural imagery in terms of the multimedial play with the visual and aural in the Homeric description of Achilles’ shield, and as a witty nod ‘to the sheer number of poetic replications of the Homeric ecphrasis’.  Collins (, ). Collins (, ).



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

scorched equatorial zone, hints – in a very restrained way – at such contrasts in the terrestrial landscape, but the closest to this vision is undoubtedly Socrates’ description of the Earth as a ball of mesmeric colour and glamour, light and shade, which seems astonishingly prescient of The blue marble. Both Earthrise and The blue marble revealed Earth’s isolation in the infinite expanse of space which dwarfs it. In a similar way, Collins recalled having to search for Earth on the journey home from the Moon: I looked out of my window and tried to find Earth. The little planet is so small out there in the vastness that at first I couldn’t even locate it . . . I looked away for a moment and, poof, it was gone. I couldn’t find it again without searching closely. At that point I made my discovery. Suddenly I knew what a tiny, fragile thing Earth is.

Neil Armstrong, on the same mission, would recall how, from the Moon, he could block out the entire Earth with his thumb. Russell Schweickart remembered this when describing his own experiences during a spacewalk on Apollo , as the spacecraft orbited the Earth: the contrast between that bright blue and white Christmas tree ornament and the black sky, that infinite universe, really comes through . . . It is so small and so fragile and such a precious little spot in that universe that you can block it out with your thumb, and you realize that on that small spot, that little blue and white thing, is everything that means anything to you – all of history and music and poetry and art and death and birth and love, tears, joy, games, all of it on that little spot out there that you can cover with your thumb.

Stuart Roosa, the command module pilot of Apollo , remembered looking at the Earth ‘like a jewel in the sky’, reflecting that everything he knew was contained there, then covering it up with the palm of his hand. In an allusion to these experiences, in the  film Apollo  (directed by Ron Howard), the character of astronaut Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) uses his thumb early in the film to block the Moon from his position on the Earth – and subsequently to block the Earth from his view as he orbits the Moon. All of these gestures hark back to Menippus’ claim that, from his vantage point on the Moon, ‘the whole of Greece looked no

  

Michael Collins, ‘Our planet: fragile gem in the universe’, Birmingham Post-Herald, st March , cited in Poole (, ). Schweickart (, ). The italics are mine. Quoted from Poole (, ), citing the Washington Post, th December  (a report on Roosa’s death).

Modern Selēnoskopic Tradition: The First Wave –



bigger to me than four fingers’ breadth.’ Evidently, human beings have been marvelling at the Moon with their hands for millennia; the history of this gesture is a long one. Humans are invisible from outer space. This worried philosopher Hannah Arendt, who used similar analogies to our ancient authors (comparing humans to rats or snails, instead of frogs or ants) to articulate her anxieties about how the view from outer space would reduce all traces of human output to a minuscule scale. In the end, however, it was the invisibility of political boundaries – at a time when disastrous wars were being fought over them on Earth – that struck viewers hard. ‘You can’t see the boundaries over which we fight wars,’ remarked Don Lind, an astronaut on the Spacelab- science mission. Russell Schweickart’s essay ‘No frames, no boundaries’ – which later became a film of the same name – was one of the most famous explorations of this theme. The absolute absence of humans from outer space provoked greater awareness of the disparity between the appearance of our world from afar, and the experience of it close up. For the audience of the Apollo years in particular, it was just as impossible to square The blue marble with the chaos of the Vietnam war, racial conflict and environmental devastation as it was to separate them; one view of Earth seemed poised in tragic contrast and mutual dialogue with the other. Upon seeing The blue marble, Kurt Vonnegut remarked: ‘Earth is such a pretty blue and pink and white pearl in the pictures NASA sent me. It looks so clean. You can’t see all the hungry, angry earthlings down there – and the smoke and the sewage and trash and sophisticated weaponry.’ People protested at the millions that were spent to send a few men into space. In the ancient Earth-views, in contrast, humans tend not to disappear entirely from view. On the Iliadic shield and in both of Lucian’s selēnoskopiai, humans play a prominent and visible role. The Phaedo is more ambiguous, comprising two distinct views of Earth: one which features humans, and the other which excludes them. We begin with the Earthbound perspective of the crater-dweller, who looks up for the first time and sees the colour and richness of the upper world, including humanoids who live aloft on islands of cloud. But then we switch to a remote (and     

Icar. . Arendt (, ). For an overview of Arendt’s critical response to the mission of space exploration, see Weber (, –).  Quoted from White (, ). See Poole (, –). Vonnegut ( [], ). Gil Scott-Heron’s poem ‘Whitey’s on the Moon,’ from the album Small talk at th and Lenox (Flying Dutchman records, ), is a well-known example of this theme in contemporary poetry.



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

unidentified) perspective from outer space, where the world appears as a multi-coloured ball, devoid of individual presences. In the more scientific Earth-views of Eratosthenes and Cicero, the inhabited regions of the Earth are distinctly noticeable, but no individual humans can be seen. In the surviving fragments of Eratosthenes’ poem, Hermes surveys the five zones of the Earth in their alternating colours of blue, sand and ice; humans inhabit the temperate zones, but the equatorial and polar regions are inaccessible. In Cicero’s Dream, cities and features of the physical geography are visible (Scipio points out Carthage, the Caucasus and Ganges, for example), and inhabited areas appear ‘like blotches’ with vast swathes of empty territory in between. Despite this variation, however, most of the ancient Earth-views comment, implicitly or explicitly, on the futility of fighting over boundaries in a way that is directly analogous to the modern tradition. This is explicit in Icaromenippus and The dream of Scipio, and implicit in the Iliadic shield. The exception, paradoxically, is the Phaedo, though its visual vocabulary is closest to The blue marble; however, for reasons connected with Socrates’ philosophy, as we shall see, it explores none of the poignant ideas which that photograph raised. In general, because humans are more visible in ancient Earth-views, the contrast between remote appearance and immersed reality is less sharply delineated than with modern images. It is a distinct feature only of the Iliadic shield, for only here is there a sense in which the generic scenes of human activity seen on the shield are in conflict with the reality in which Achilles himself and the other actors at Troy are soon to be embroiled, in a (not un-ironic) meditation on the difference between art and life. Paradoxically, Menippus’ selēnoskopia reveals more detail to him about everyday life at home on Earth. This is because Menippus’ magical eye and panoptic position enable him to see events which are ordinarily concealed from him as a human actor below. It is characteristic of Lucian to suggest that art or fiction could be more real than reality itself. There is a similar reversal in True Stories where the reality of our home planet is seen only as a mirror-image, a pale reflection of  

 Eratosthenes fr.  Powell. Cicero, Rep. .-; passage quoted on p. . Ironic, because the Iliad itself is a poem, and therefore the ‘reality’ of the world which it presents is just as much a product of artifice as the images on the shield. The metapoetics of the Iliad therefore embroil the audience/reader in questions about the representational nature of art; see Squire , with further references. The blue marble generates similar ironies: as a photograph, the image which it presents is rhetorically ‘real’, yet this ‘reality’, we know, has been manipulated artificially to conform to our expectation that ‘north’ means ‘up’, etc., which means that The blue marble is not precisely what the astronauts themselves saw.

Modern Selēnoskopic Tradition: The First Wave –



the real world. By stepping outside the narrative of life – quite literally, off the planet – Menippus has entered into a zone of zero-degree focalization on the Moon, and become an omniscient narrator. However, there is still a tension between Menippus’ global view and obviously Hellenocentric interpretation, which reduces the infinite variety of the world’s nations to a sequence of stereotype from the Greek literary canon. Menippus very emphatically reads the world as a Greek, which contrasts vividly with the experience of astronauts like Tom Stafford of Apollo , who declared ‘You don’t look down at the world as an American but as a human being.’ No ancient Earth-view seems to have provoked contemplation on the reality beneath the clouds in as topical a manner as the modern photographs did, either. From the Iliad to Lucian, human activities are envisaged in a merely generic way. Lucian comes closest to offering us a historicized snapshot of our world from outer space, but even then, the world which Menippus sees is explicitly not Lucian’s society of the second century CE; it is the Hellenistic world of some five hundred years or so before, for Alexander’s successor kings and their troubled dynasties are in evidence (Icar. ), and the Colossus of Rhodes is still standing (Icar. ). Menippus sees the world telescoped through the past, which might tell us something about the important role played by the Greek past in constructions of the present. In all likelihood, however, Lucian selects this particular view because it is to this period to which the historical Menippus of Gadara, inventor of Menippean satire, belongs. Nevertheless, in spite of the retro time-shift, what Menippus saw might also have resonated with contemporary events in Lucian’s world. It does not stretch the imagination too far, I think, to suggest that Menippus’ comments about the futility of war (for example) could have had a pointed resonance for readers in Marcus Aurelius’ war-troubled reign, even though the nature of the comment is generic. The selēnoskopia itself, which incorporates the entire world, could also reflect some   



For fuller discussion of the interplay between reality and representation on Lucian’s Moon in True Stories, see ní Mheallaigh (, –). Quoted from Poole (,  with n.). The Colossus of Rhodes was completed in  BCE. and stood a little over half a century. It collapsed in the earthquake of  BCE., but thereafter its gargantuan ruins remained in situ for centuries and became a tourist attraction (Strabo ..; Pliny, NH .). According to Pliny, the thumb was so enormous, visitors could not close their embrace around it, and each finger was larger than most statues. The lighthouse on Pharos (also mentioned in Icar. ) was built a little later in the third century BCE., and stood erect throughout antiquity. The Parthian wars of – CE were a popular theme for contemporary historiographers, to judge from Lucian’s essay How to write history.



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

of the tensions of living in the more globalized context of the Roman empire. That is not to suggest that the differences between peoples are flattened in Menippus’ view, which is an effect we associate with globalization today. On the contrary, cultural differences are emphatically present in Menippus’ view of the world, but they are counterbalanced by an extreme spatial compression that lumps them all together, despite their wondrous heterogeneity, into a single tiny frame. The result is a weirdly zoomed-in and zoomed-out perspective: a disorientating, Escher-like coexistence of the panoramic with the microscopic as Menippus comprehends the totum alongside the tiny detail. Arguably, this reflects the conflict between the global and the local that is central to the experience of being (a Syrian and a) Greek within the Roman empire. But it is also part of a trend seen across Icaromenippus as well as True Stories where the Moon is a site of peculiar, Dalí-esque myopias in which boundaries liquefy, impossible perspectives coexist, and the normal dimensions of things are estranged and distorted. A final point of contact – and difference – between the two traditions of Earth-views lies in their effects on the viewer. The Earth-photographs had a massive impact in the Western world, where it changed the way we think about our home, awakening a new global consciousness that was seminal to nascent New Age and environmental movements in the s and s. Earthrise has been described as ‘the most influential environmental photograph ever taken’, while The blue marble is reputedly the single most reproduced image in human history. The effects of leaving Earth and looking back at it remotely were dramatic at the level of the individual too. Many astronauts from the Apollo years experienced a new dawning of spiritual, ecological or humanitarian thought as a result of their journey into space. Some became artists, in their struggle to express what they   

 

Pitts and Versluys (, –). See Mossman (, –), who connects the bifocality of aerial viewers like Menippus with tensions between local and imperial cultural identities. The evocation of Dalí is not gratuitous: a comparative analysis of Lucian’s Moon in True Stories and the visual world of Dalí’s The persistence of memory, for example, reveals a shared fascination with permeable flesh, the symbiosis of organic material with inorganic, and liquescent materials such as glass and melting/weavable bronze; moreover the Moon, as we have already seen, was associated with putrefaction and liquefaction in ancient thought more generally (Chapter , p.  with n. ). For a fascinating exploration of these connections, see Poole () and White (). The claim about Earthrise was made by photographer Galen Rowell, in Life Magazine’s  Photographs that Changed the World edition (). The assertion about The blue marble is made by Poole (, ), and widespread in other sources as well, though I cannot find any official statistical analyses or source references to support it; cf. Lazier (, ) on the globalization of the image.

Modern Selēnoskopic Tradition: The First Wave –



had seen; others experienced religious conversions or psychological breakdown. Of the ancient Earth-views, several imply a more detached way of evaluating earthly matters. This is clear in the Menippus’ speech as he looks down on Earth from the Moon (Icar. ): Μάλιστα δὲ ἐπ’ ἐκείνοις ἐπῄει μοι γελᾶν τοῖς περὶ γῆς ὅρων ἐρίζουσι καὶ τοῖς μέγα φρονοῦσιν ἐπὶ τῷ τὸ Σικυώνιον πεδίον γεωργεῖν ἢ Μαραθῶνος ἔχειν τὰ περὶ τὴν Οἰνόην ἢ Ἀχαρνῆσι πλέθρα κεκτῆσθαι χίλια· τῆς γοῦν Ἑλλάδος ὅλης ὡς τότε μοι ἄνωθεν ἐφαίνετο δακτύλων οὔσης τὸ μέγεθος τεττάρων, κατὰ λόγον, οἶμαι, ἡ Ἀττικὴ πολλοστημόριον ἦν. ὥστε ἐνενόουν ἐφ’ ὁπόσῳ τοῖς πλουσίοις τούτοις μέγα φρονεῖν κατελείπετο· σχεδὸν γὰρ ὁ πολυπλεθρότατος αὐτῶν μίαν τῶν Ἐπικουρείων ἀτόμων ἐδόκει μοι γεωργεῖν. ἀποβλέψας δὲ δὴ καὶ ἐς τὴν Πελοπόννησον, εἶτα τὴν Κυνουρίαν γῆν ἰδὼν ἀνεμνήσθην περὶ ὅσου χωρίου, κατ’ οὐδὲν Αἰγυπτίου φακοῦ πλατυτέρου, τοσοῦτοι ἔπεσον Ἀργείων καὶ Λακεδαιμονίων μιᾶς ἡμέρας. καὶ μὴν εἴ τινα ἴδοιμι ἐπὶ χρυσῷ μέγα φρονοῦντα, ὅτι δακτυλίους τε εἶχεν ὀκτὼ καὶ φιάλας τέτταρας, πάνυ καὶ ἐπὶ τούτῳ ἂν ἐγέλων· τὸ γὰρ Πάγγαιον ὅλον αὐτοῖς μετάλλοις κεγχριαῖον ἦν τὸ μέγεθος. Most of all, I was overcome with laughter at those who were quarrelling over land-boundaries and those who prided themselves for farming the Sicyon plain or owning a thousand yards of land around Oenoe at Marathon or at Acharnae – because at that moment in time, from my vantage point above, the entirety of Greece looked to me no bigger than four fingers’ breadth, and Attica, proportionately, was a mere fraction of that. So I reflected how little was left for these wealthy men to pride themselves on, for it seemed to me that even the man with the most acreage was farming no more than one Epicurean atom. Looking towards the Peloponnesus, and seeing the territory of Cynouria, I recalled how many Argives and Spartans had fallen in one day over such a meagre patch of land, no broader than an Egyptian bean. And whenever I caught sight of someone preening himself on his gold because he owned eight rings and four dishes, I laughed out loud at him, for the whole of Pangaeum along with its mines was the size of millet-seed.

Menippus’ thoughts echo those of Socrates in Plato’s Theaetetus where, following the anecdote about the astronomer Thales falling into the well, Socrates expounds on the other-worldly nature of those who are dedicated to philosophy. Wealth matters very little to such a person, Socrates explains, for: ‘Whenever he hears that someone who owns ten thousand or more acres of land possesses a marvellous fortune, this sounds very small indeed to him, 

For a survey and discussion of these experiences, see Poole (, –, esp.  ff).



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

since he is accustomed to looking at the entire Earth.’ Menippus’ ventriloquizing of this perspective from his lunar position, where he is afforded a literal view of the entire Earth, suggests that, through his fantastic experiment, he is now becoming a true philosopher and astronomer in this Socratic sense, in contrast with the venal and pusillanimous pseudointellectuals he has left behind. Indeed, Menippus’ flight is a realization of a favoured metaphor for philosophical, and more particularly astronomical, inquiry. As we have seen already in Chapter , this ‘flight of the mind’ metaphor, which may originate with the tradition of soul-travelling sorcerers like Aristeas of Proconnesus, was firmly established in the Greek literary, philosophical and scientific traditions, and can be traced back to the fifth and fourth centuries BCE with Socrates’ parodic air-walking in Aristophanes’ Clouds, with Platonic passages like the one mentioned from Theaetetus or the myth of Er from the Republic, and at the beginning of the Aristotelian On the universe. Lucian was clearly aware of the motif, for in his essay On astrology he rationalizes the ancient flight-myths of Bellerophon, Phrixus and Daedalus as allegories for the love of astronomy. Given Menippus of Gadara’s associations with Cynicism, Lucian’s selēnoskopia is usually interpreted as a variation of the Cynic motif of kataskopia or the ‘view from above’, in which the viewer exploits his position to deride those below. However, Menippus’ thoughtful contemplation of the smallness of earthly territories and the futility of the wars that are fought over them also draws his selēnoskopia close to the more general philosophical exercise of adopting a ‘view from above’, a practice that was advocated especially by Stoics as a method for disentangling oneself from mundane distractions and gaining a clearer perspective on human affairs. This recommendation recurs often in the Meditations of the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was contemporary with Lucian himself. On the other hand, Camerotto reads the kataskopia in Icaromenippus in terms of Menippus’ attainment of the status of a satirical hero, 

   

Plato, Theaetetus e γῆς δὲ ὅταν μυρία πλέθρα ἢ ἔτι πλείω ἀκούσῃ ὥς τις ἄρα κεκτημένος θαυμαστὰ πλήθει κέκτηται, πάνσμικρα δοκεῖ ἀκούειν εἰς ἅπασαν εἰωθὼς τὴν γῆν βλέπειν. This similarity is noted by Camerotto , . References to the ‘flight of the mind’ motif are collated in Miller Jones (), who regards Icaromenippus as a satirical treatment of the theme (p. ). See Chapter , pp. –. On astrology –. Von Koppenfels (, –); see Helm (, –) for Menippean elements in Icaromenippus more generally. Marcus Aurelius, Med. .–; .; .–. For further Stoic advocacy of this mental exercise, cf. Seneca Natural Questions, preface –, with discussion, including this passage of Icaromenippus, in Hadot (, –). On the cosmic viewpoint in Seneca’s work more generally, see Williams ().

Modern Selēnoskopic Tradition: The First Wave –



with the power to observe all things, even covert behaviours, and to speak out, regardless of barriers of class-distinction and social propriety. Entangled with Lucian’s optical games, therefore, are implied questions about how the philosophical or the satirical eye should look at the world: immersed up close, or with cosmic detachment? As we shall see, such questions come into sharper focus in the selēnoskopia in True Stories, which is mediated through an optical device (a mirror). In an intriguing parallel, some astronauts reported an increase in philosophical outlook as a result of their travels in outer space. Michael Collins denied having attained ‘complete guru-like detachment’ from the world, but nevertheless acknowledged a sense of ‘earthly ennui’, which he describes as a minor version of the ‘Buzz syndrome’. This term is a reference to astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s well-documented series of psychiatric difficulties after walking on the Moon, because life thereafter could be nothing but an anti-climax. For Collins, this took the form of a ‘mild melancholy about future possibilities’ instead; he no longer experienced excitement the way he did before Apollo , but he was also ‘more impervious to minor problems’, such as two people squabbling: ‘when two of my people come to me red-faced and huffing over some petty dispute, I feel like telling then, “Well, the earth continues to turn on its axis, undisturbed by your problem; take your cue from it, and work it out by yourselves; it really doesn’t amount to much anyway”. Of course, I don’t say that . . . but not many things seem quite as vital to me anymore. My threshold of measuring what is important has been raised . . .’ Menippus also experiences a deepening of philosophical feeling, albeit concomitant with confirmation of his convictions, not transformation of them. What he formerly suspected, he now knows is true. Only one ancient Earth-view talks about a radical change in worldoutlook: that of the Phaedo. The theory of an epistemological paradigmshift is interwoven into Socrates’ view of the upper world, because its narrative and imagery are so richly entangled with Socrates’ allegory of the Cave from Republic  (a–a). There is a clear analogy between    

Camerotto (, –). Fusillo () explores the lunar mirror in True Stories as the embodiment of Lucian’s satire. Collins (, ). In an interview with astronaut Gene Cernan – the last man on the Moon – Frank White, author of The overview effect, suggested Plato’s cave allegory as an analogy for the experience of the astronaut who tries to explain what he saw to those left behind on Earth: ‘One of the things this research has shown me is that the problem is not that the astronauts aren’t articulate about their experiences, but that we have no context for hearing what you are saying.’ (White ,  and –).



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

the experience of Socrates’ crater-dweller in the Phaedo as he discovers the upper world for the first time, and the experience of the cave-dweller in the Republic, who emerges from the darkness into the sunlit world beyond the cave, only to realize that the reality which he had believed before was nothing but a play of shadows on the cave-wall. As a result of this discovery, he is filled with the desire to return to his cave, to inform the others in there about the truth, and to set them free. Socrates does not provide us with a postscript to the story of the crater-dweller in the Phaedo, but on the basis of the analogy with the cave-dweller, we may surmise that this individual would also have been inspired to impart his new knowledge to his fellow troglodytes, causing a massive paradigm-shift in the craterdwellers’ conceptualization of their world. Now the crater, in comparison with the upper world, will seem dank, isolated and so much more limited than they had previously imagined. Presumably, the next step will be a mass-exodus from the crater and exploration of the upper world. In short, both are narratives about leaving one’s home-world, only to experience a profound cognitive transformation as one views one’s home from outside with new eyes. Both are stories about paradigm-shifts in the way we see reality. There are striking resonances between Socrates’ imagined experience in the Phaedo, and people’s documented responses to seeing our world from outer space for the first time in the modern era. In both cases, the world we formerly knew now seems a much smaller, isolated and more delicate place. In fact, the Platonic metaphor of the cave underlay much of the imagery used to describe the experience of leaving the Earth, whose confinement was likened to a ‘prison’, ‘cradle’ or even a ‘womb’. But there is a fundamental difference between the ancient and modern narratives: Socrates’ crater-dweller discovers a brighter, better world outside, but The blue marble inverted this experience by revealing the darkness that envelops us utterly. As a result, our own little world appeared isolated and small, yes, but suddenly by far the most beautiful place to be. Leaving the known world, both in reality and in the ancient imagination, tends to imbue the adventurer with a sense of evangelistic duty to those left behind, but the message, it turns out, could vary greatly. When the astronauts 

For the Earth as prison, see the following optimistic claim from the newspaper Kansas City Star th December  (cited in Poole , ): ‘Man . . . escaped the prison of his planet. And in looking back across the void, understood that it was a prison only if he let it be.’ For the Earth as cradle, cf. the quote attributed to Russian rocket engineer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky: ‘The earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind will not stay in the cradle forever.’ For the Earth as womb, see Russell Schweickhart on the ‘Cosmic Birth Phenomenon’ in White (, ).

The Second Wave: Pale Blue Dot and The Day the Earth Smiled  returned home, it was not, on the whole to urge a mass-exodus into space, but to impart instead the sobering truth: that our terrestrial ‘cave’ is all we have, and ‘good planets are hard to find.’ ‘The Earth, it turns out, is lovely, and to see it is to wish also to return.’

The Second Wave: Pale Blue Dot and The Day the Earth Smiled In the second wave of remote Earth-views, cameras point at our world from much vaster distances than the lunar surface. Since the heady years of the Apollo programme, two such photographs have impinged on human consciousness in a comparable way. The first of these was taken on th February , when NASA commanded the space probe Voyager I to turn its camera towards Earth from the edge of interstellar space, about six billion kilometres away, just as it was about to leave our solar system forever. The resulting image was Pale blue dot, so-called because the Earth, at this enormous distance, is almost undetectable; it appears less than a pixel in size, no more than a mote of dust (Fig. ). It may have been scientifically useless, but such a remote view of our planet turned out to have immense rhetorical power. Visually, there is nothing to match it in the ancient tradition. And yet, we find continuities of thought even in responses to Pale blue dot, for in the wake of its publication, astronomer Carl Sagan, whether he knew it or not, echoed, with uncanny precision, the sentiment and even the very imagery of the passage from Icaromenippus quoted earlier on p. : The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no 



The latter phrase was a well-known slogan on contemporary car bumper stickers in the USA (see Lazier , ). Michael Collins recalls: ‘I determined in that moment that I would do all I could to let people know what a wonderful home we have – before it is too late. So I have a personal, simple message to pass on: There is only one Earth. It is a tiny, precious stone. Let us treasure it; there is not another one.’ Collins, ‘Our planet’, quoted from Poole (, ). On ‘Earth Day’ and the ‘Whole Earth’ movement, see Poole (, –).  Lazier (, ). Poole (, –).



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

Fig.  Pale Blue Dot, from the suite of images known as the Solar System ‘family portraits’. The image was taken by Voyager  on th February . The tiny speck which is visible near the middle of the reddish streak farthest right is Earth, seen from a distance of ca. six billion kilometres. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Second Wave: Pale Blue Dot and The Day the Earth Smiled  hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves . . . There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

The phrases I have italicized here mark points of intersection between Sagan’s and Lucian’s texts. Both authors use the same theatrical metaphor of the world as a ‘stage’ to express the feeling of zooming out on human existence. Both reflect upon the pointlessness of warfare and the meaninglessness of human pride in conquest, and are struck in different ways by our petty divisions: for Sagan, this is a poignant realization; for Menippus, it is largely an absurd one, but regrettable too. Both authors use imagery of the infinitesimally small to help visualize the paradoxical tininess of our world: Sagan’s ‘fraction of a dot’, ‘pixel’, ‘point of pale light’, ‘tiny world’ and ‘dot’ correspond to Lucian’s ‘mere fraction’ of four-fingers’ breadth, ‘one atom’, ‘Egyptian bean’ and ‘grain of millet’. There are critical differences too. Sagan emphasizes the lonely darkness that engulfs our world, which is the dominant feature, visually, of Pale blue dot. This in turn prompts him to reflect on our apparent isolation within the universe, and our responsibility to care for our home. There is no such sense of existential loneliness, global fragility and the urge to cherish our world in any ancient Earth-view. The Iliadic shield comes closest, for there human life is framed by the emptiness of the natural world. Similarly, Scipio in Cicero’s Dream points out the vast stretches of emptiness that separate small pockets of human civilization on Earth. But ancient Earthviews do not include the void, which is such an overwhelming and disturbing feature of the reality of space. The second of these significant second wave telescopic Earth-views was a photograph taken on th July  by the Cassini probe as it orbited Saturn. This image is known as The day the Earth smiled, as the entire Earth’s population was invited to smile at the sky on the day it was taken. From the vast distance (. billion kilometres), none of this detail can be seen, and the Earth appears no more than an indiscriminate point of light in the suffocating black of space (Fig. ). Yet we know we are assembled in our billions on that tiny scintilla, where thousands of smiling faces have turned towards the sky. Uniquely, The day the Earth smiled converted outer-space  

Sagan (, –). At Icar. , Menippus describes the ridiculous scenes in the ‘motley and manifold drama’ of humanity (ἐν αὐτῷ γε ποικίλῳ καὶ πολυειδεῖ τῷ θεάτρῳ).



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

Fig.  The day the Earth smiled, taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on th July . Saturn and its rings are in the foreground, and below these in the same frame we can see Earth with its Moon, . billion kilometres in the distance. Close up, the Moon appears as a faint protrusion to the right of the Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

telescopy into a cosmic drama in which we could all participate, connecting humans with our technological offspring orbiting a distant world. It was described as ‘a day of cosmic self-awareness, celebrated planet-wide and marked by an interplanetary salute between robot and maker’, and many activities were planned all around the world to mark the occasion. In Lucian’s view from the Moon in True Stories, the viewer looks into a mirror and sees not only all the cities and peoples of the world, but also his own household and homeland, and he can also hear everything that is being said by everyone. The narrative, albeit brief, suggests a more controlled process of ‘zooming in’ on such detail than the panoptic chaos of Icaromenippus. For reasons to do with the nature of True Stories itself, there is far less detail about the Earth here than in Icaromenippus; instead, the   

For details, see the official website at http://thedaytheearthsmiled.com/ http://diamondskyproductions.com/recent/index.php#mmw VH .: Now if someone goes down into the well, he hears everything that is being said by our people on the earth, and if someone looks into the mirror, he sees all the cities and all the peoples, just as if he were standing over them. On that occasion I watched my family and my entire homeland . . . ἂν μὲν οὖν εἰς τὸ φρέαρ καταβῇ τις, ἀκούει πάντων τῶν παρ’ ἡμῖν ἐν τῇ γῇ λεγομένων, ἐὰν δὲ εἰς τὸ κάτοπτρον ἀποβλέψῃ, πάσας μὲν πόλεις, πάντα δὲ ἔθνη ὁρᾷ ὥσπερ ἐφεστὼς ἑκάστοις· τότε καὶ τοὺς οἰκείους ἐγὼ ἐθεασάμην καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν πατρίδα. . .

Conclusion: Between Entanglement and Detachment



technological apparatus – the mirror and the well – is the prominent feature here (and notably absent from Icaromenippus). This device enhances both the observational realism and the patina of exactitude with which Lucian invests his fantasy, in a manner that is characteristic of, and thematically central to, this narrative of ‘plausible lies’. A unique consequence of this is that Lucian awakens in our imagination the possibility of a remote viewing-technology that is constantly there on the Moon, furnishing unknown and unseen extraterrestrial beings with the opportunity to observe us in intimate detail. In all other ancient Earth-views, we see through the eyes of a temporary accomplice in the text: fleetingly, through the mind of the smith-god Hephaestus in the Iliad, as he works in his forge on the shield; furtively, through the eyes of Socrates’ explorer, peeping out over the rim of our crater-world in Phaedo; in passing, through Scipio’s dream in Cicero, or the eye of Menippus, who is only a temporary visitor to the heavens in Lucian’s Icaromenippus. In each of these cases, as soon as our textual accomplice moves on to some other business, our view of the Earth vanishes with him. But True Stories generates a rather different sort of scenario. Here, Lucian installs a permanent viewingapparatus on the Moon, with specific directions about where to find it, should we ever go there. Even after Lucian leaves the Moon, that remote telescope remains – and who knows what other lunar spies are looking down on us, right now? Furthermore, Lucian also invites us on Earth to imagine the possibility of seeing the other way, for he explicitly wonders, as he looks into the mirror, if those on whom he is spying can see him too. Not only does True Stories create, for the first time, an uncannily prescient sense of a satellite, therefore; it also generates an imaginary optical drama across outer space, which unites viewers on the Earth with viewers on the Moon. In this sense, Lucian’s fiction is linked with The day the Earth smiled, which ‘marked the first time that inhabitants of Earth knew in advance that their planet was being imaged’.

Conclusion: Between Entanglement and Detachment Famously, when the crew of Apollo  first saw the Earth rising over the lunar horizon on Christmas eve , they quoted a passage from the James st edition of the book of Genesis: ‘In the beginning God created the 



My thanks to Emily Greenwood, who suggested this connection between technology and precision to me, when I presented a version of this chapter at the conference Home and away: the epic journey (Yale, April ). http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA



Selēnoskopia: The Moon-View from Fiction to Reality

heaven and the earth . . .’ In fact, a version of this had been done before. When Lucian first gazed at the Earth from the Moon in ancient literature, he evoked the story of the smith-god hammering away in his forge, carving an image of the cosmos. His nod to Homer pushed the role of the author front- and centre-stage, compounding Lucian’s awareness that what he had written represented a supreme ekphrastic moment in a Greek literary tradition, which is now bookended between Homer and Lucian, filling the space between Earth and the Moon. It may have taken two thousand years before Lucian’s fictions of extraterrestrial travel would become historical fact, but as I have argued here, the vision of Earth had its roots very far back in the Greek literary imagination. In their piecemeal fashion, ancient visionaries foresaw the beauty and iridescence of our globe, and the crisis of expression which astronauts would feel when confronted with everything they know. They predicted that the world would look much smaller from space, and the ways that this would affect our perceptions of our ordinary preoccupations. They even anticipated the irrevocable cognitive transformation that would come about as a result of leaving our planetary home and looking back, even if the nature of the conversion – as it turned out – was not the optimistic expansionism Socrates had envisaged. Past and future, fantasy and history, converge around the Moon. In the ancient thought-world, the motif of selēnoskopia closed the circuit in the Moon–Earth dialectic. Through this literary motif, Lucian gave the Moon a distinctive new role in providing philosophical detachment from our world, to offset and counterbalance the older traditions of chronometric, philosophical, scientific, religious and astrological thought that had insistently entangled the Moon with life on Earth over the centuries. Now the dance between Earth and Moon became infinitely more complex, for something had shifted in the Greek thought-world. If the Moon was at last a destination and an extension of our world, it was equally a point of distance, separation and alienation: to go there means always to look back. 

On the preparation for this reading, and its controversial aftermath, see Poole (, –).

Envoi The Legacy of Ancient Selenography

In the Introduction to the book, I promised a symphonic story of lunar thought. I hope, by now, that the reader has come to hear the interconnected harmonies of ancient selenography: how ideas about the Moon as a goddess resurface in the fantastical, querulous Moon of Lucian’s Icaromenippus; how beliefs about the Moon’s moisture and liquescence swell, in Lucian’s hands, into a world of corporeal and political viscosity; how the Moon’s ancient anthropomorphization as a goddess becomes rationalized, in Plutarch’s work, into connections with birth and death; and how the ancient ocular intensity of the Moon makes it into a site for visual science and fantasy. One of ancient literature’s most influential legacies to the early modern world was to terraform the Moon in the imagination: to convert it into a travel-destination, populated by its own diverse inhabitants, and (to use Stephen Halliwell’s elegant turn of phrase), ‘an Archimedean position from which to inspect [our] own condition’. It is in this ancient selenographical tradition – with its particular blend of the literary and philosophical – that we also find the seeds of science fiction as well as the lunar hoax. Plutarch’s Moon, the great cosmic threshold of life and death, was born from this matrix of scientific and philosophical thought. In the fantastical tradition, from Varro’s oneiric ruse (Endymiones), to Antonius Diogenes’ spurious travel-log (The incredible things beyond Thule), to Lucian’s fantasies (in Icarimenippus and True Stories), the lunar world developed from a location just off the geographical map to a politicized ‘third space’. If Plutarch embedded his myth about the Moon in an atmosphere of indeterminate truth-status, these other three writers linked it more explicitly with ludicity and hoax. No one was meant to take these lunar peregrinations as literal truths, but they sailed deliberately close to the wind, exploiting not only the conceit of philosophical mind-flight, but 

Halliwell (, ).





Envoi: The Legacy of Ancient Selenography

also the full panoply of pseudo-documentary tricks and scholarly apparatus in order to suborn the reader’s credence. This aura of scholarly playfulness would characterize the earliest narratives of lunar travel in the modern period, including Kepler’s Dream (), Francis Godwin’s The man in the Moone () and John Wilkins The discovery of a world in the Moone (). It would find its acme in Richard Adams Locke’s Moon hoax (Locke ). Originally a serialized newspaper report by Locke documenting Herschel’s putative discoveries of lunar life with the aid of his new telescope, these articles ran daily in the New York Sun in . This tradition continues in the popular and academic industry of conspiracy theories surrounding NASA’s lunar landings. More subversively still, Aaron Parrett connects Lucian’s parody of philosophy with the crisis between science and humanities in the twentieth century more generally: ‘. . . the first translunar narrative in the Western tradition maintains relevance to the ambiguities that will accompany, for example, the intellectual reaction to the Apollo program eighteen hundred years later.’ As for science fiction, the boundaries of genres are always war-zones, and this is a particularly controversial classification to apply to ancient texts. Classicists tend, not without good reason, to be wary of foisting modern thought-patterns onto ancient literature. Likewise, scholars of science fiction may feel sceptical about attributing ‘scientific’ qualities to products of the premodern thought-world: there is nothing ‘scientific’







 

Continuities are traced in Nicholson (), who is dismissive, however, of the scientific qualities of Lucian’s narrative; Parrett () shows greater sensitivity. Romm () traces Lucian and Plutarch’s influence on Kepler’s Dream specifically. In , due to enormous popular demand, the newspaper reissued the story as a pamphlet. The hoax has been the subject of academic scrutiny: of particular interests are Hilton  (survey of Lucian’s influence on Locke’s narrative); Copeland () (which explores reasons why readers succumbed to the hoax) and Bulgatz (, –) (which explores the hoax along with Orson Welles’ infamous production of The war of the worlds in ). The tradition was initiated in  with the publication of William Charles Kaysing’s book, We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle (Fountain Valley, CA). In , Dr Ken Skeldon and Professor Martin Hendry were awarded a grant by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council of the UK to investigate the veracity of these theories. On th February , they delivered a public lecture at the University of Glasgow (‘Did Man really land on the Moon?’), in which they examined – and refuted – every objection raised by conspiracy theorists. Parrett (, –, cited from p. ). See Roberts (, –), with further references. Parrett (,  n. ) argues that Lucian’s True Stories qualifies as science fiction’s ‘seminal work’ under the definitions provided by Ursula K. LeGuin and Darko Suvin, citing LeGuin’s emphasis on the definitive importance of the genre’s ‘subjunctive reality – [its] as if literalization of metaphor’ and Suvin’s argument that science fiction ‘engenders a belief in the potentialities of reason, with methodical doubt in the most significant cases’.

Envoi: The Legacy of Ancient Selenography



about the nature of Lucian’s flights to the Moon, for example. The creation of an ancient genealogy for a modern genre is itself a divisive matter: some prefer to divest the genre entirely from ancient predecessors and thus preserve its quintessential modernity; alternatively, having roots in the ancient world can be felt to impart prestige to a literary genre that is often critically maligned. One way or another, what science fiction is and when it started is a politically and historically sensitive question, and it is essential to avoid making simplistic connections between the products of such different times and cultures. It is for this reason that I use the more qualified classification scientific fiction to describe Plutarch’s and Lucian’s selenographies. The term indicates literature that engages substantially with the scientific, philosophical and technological resources of its time, without making anachronistic demands about the nature of ancient scientific enquiry, and without implying that these ancient texts are straightforward exemplars of what we now (albeit not without difficulty) tend to recognize as the science fiction genre. We need a middle-ground that can accommodate ‘ideasliterature’ of varied sorts: inquiring philosophical fictions, literary thoughtexperiments and scholarly jeux d’esprit from the premodern world, including philosophical myths (Plato, Cicero, Plutarch), utopian fictions (Iambulus, Euhemerus) and selenography. It is impoverishing to discount this literature on the basis of modern notions about what science ‘is’. Marjorie Nicholson, for example, dismisses the scientific content of Lucian’s True Stories: ‘His description of the people in the moon and of their customs was mere fantasy. There is no stirring here of the modern scientific imagination, no attempt to determine the nature of creatures who live in the moon or the effects upon them of environment.’ But this does not take stock of the genuine philosophical and technological ingredients in Lucian’s fantastical pastiche, which I have explored here and 





Alkon () for example, begins his survey of science fiction before  with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Stableford’s essay ‘Science fiction before the genre’ () begins with works from the seventeenth century, and others push to include works by Voltaire (e.g. Russell ) and Kepler’s Dream (e.g. Bozzetto ). The term ‘science’ is now being interpreted more capaciously to recognize systems of thought that are coherent, reasoned and authoritative within their own societies, even if they would not qualify as scientific in modern terms, e.g. astrology (see Barton ). This is particularly clear in ancient astronomy, where we are moving away from its definition as ‘those parts of human interest in celestial phenomena which are amenable to mathematical treatment’ (Neugebauer , –, though he uses the definition for the pragmatic purposes of delimiting his study only) to incorporate many of the non-mathematical theories of the pre-Socratic philosophers. For discussion, see Lloyd () (on ancient life sciences) and, more broadly, Lloyd (). Nicholson (, ).



Envoi: The Legacy of Ancient Selenography

which his ancient readers would easily have discerned. And Plutarch’s astrobiological discussion certainly does try to work out how the lunar environment shaped its life forms, as we have seen. Nevertheless, in Lucian’s case, it is important to remember that only one major episode of True Stories – the adventure in outer space – can really lay claim to the status of scientific fiction; the texture of other episodes in the work is rather different. Still, this designation encourages us to see potential connections with the modern genre, which I believe is justified, without identifying True Stories as science fiction avant la lettre. In De facie, Icaromenippus and True Stories, then, as the narrator looks back on Earth from the Moon, he is also looking forward to the future – something which Lucian himself, speaking wryly in the preface of True Stories about his legacy to future generations, may dimly have sensed. In the ultimate display of lunar liminality, the Moon bridges the remote imaginings of the ancient world with the wondrous realities of our own.  

For critical and positive consideration of the text’s SF credentials, see Fredericks (), Swanson () and Georgiadou and Larmour (, esp. –). VH ..

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Index

Achilles’ shield. See Homer Aëtius, – Aglaonice, – Alcmaeon of Croton, , – Alcman Partheneia (Maiden Songs), – Alexander of Abonouteichos, – amphiphōntes,  analogical drift,  Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, , –, –, – Anaximander of Miletus, – Anaximenes of Miletus, – Ancient Greek calendar,  See also parapēgmata Antiphanes of Berge, – antiphraxis, – Antonius Diogenes, The incredible things beyond Thule and scholarly hoax, – and the Arctic, – and the Moon, – narrative complexity, – Apollo Noumēnios,  Apuleius lunam despumari, – Aristarchus of Samos, ,  Aristotle fire creatures on the Moon, – on nature of Moon,  theory of elements,  Astraeus,  astral travel. See soul projection astronomical observation, , See mountains astronomy and the contemplative life (theōrētikos bios), – astronomy as flight, –,  Berossus of Babylon,  Book of Enoch,  Borges’ Aleph, , –

Callimachus, – celestial bowls, – Cicero, Somnium Scipionis, –, , See selēnoskopia (or ‘view from Moon’) Cleomedes, ,  cognitive estrangement. See selēnoskopia (view from Moon) Colin Webster, , – Corinna, – cup of Helios,  Cyrano de Bergerac, , n Demetrius Triclinius, n, , – Democritus of Abdera, –,  Diogenes of Apollonia,  dioptra. See Lucian, True Stories earthshine, – Earthy Moon Theory (EMT), –, –, See Plutarch, De facie problems/challenges, , – eclipse lunar eclipse, – mechanism of eclipse, – solar eclipse, , – Empedocles of Acragas, –, , – Empedotimus,  Endymiones, , – Ennius