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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

A very ancient modern fantastic creatures

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The action of the film Avatar, written and directed by James Cameron and released in 2009, is developed on Pandora, moon of the planet Polyphemus. Pandora and Polyphemus are two well known characters from Greek mythology

In the myth of Pandora (the word means “who has received all the goods, from Greek pan, all,  and dora, gifts), a box encloses all goods or gifts that may cause harm to men when it is opened by the curiosity of a woman, his mistress Pandora.

In Cameron's film, Pandora is an extraordinary environmental unit which also contains extraordinary goods that will cause the ruin of its inhabitants.

When I saw the so successful film , with special really cool effects, a fable that basically tells an old story, I was amazed among other things by its Banshee  which  immediately remembered me the  "Horse-vultures "  which  Lucian of Samosata created in his science fiction "The true History". Since then I can not imagine otherwise the flying hybrid of Lucian.

These similarities or coincidences made me ask the question: Does Avatar  have something to do with the story of  Lucian? Will Cameron be inspired by the work of Greek Roman satirist?

Moreover, a few years ago the television network Nickelodeon produced a cartoon series created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, titled Avatar: The Last Airbender, also known as Avatar: The Legend Aang.

The series gained remarkable success in much of the world. Here they are dozens of animals created,  resulting hybrid of several different. And this reminded me of the many fantastic creatures that Lucian created with the same procedure, mix several real and increase its size.

The inevitable question was, then: do  Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante have inspired in the work of Lucian?

Let's do a quick and brief analysis of the issue.

Lucian of Samosata is considered by many experts the first literary author of science fiction novels. His “The True History”, or “Verae Historiae”,  which narrates a journey through space and a fantastic stellar battle, among other things, certainly fulfills many of the conditions of this type of literature.

Lucian is a Greek author of Roman times, he lived in the second century, critical and sarcastic spirit, who moves between cynicism and stoicism, who whips with his irony myths and gods and especially conceited and pedants philosophers who only think about money and live from the story.

His "The true History" actually does  to maximize the quantity and quality of the absurdities of history books or mythological narratives caricaturing and making them impossible to believe. Stories like this are for example Homer's Odyssey or the histories of Herodotus himself or Ctesias, who include  in their  Histories legends and myths without any critical spirit and unverified testimony, or The Journey of the Argonauts of Apollonius. With all Lucian intended  amuse his educated readers.

This means that the title of his work is to be interpreted in an ironic sense, in the sense that it also takes into Spanish the term “historias”,"stories", in the plural as fantastic stories as opposed to the real story. The same meaning is in German plural "Gesichten" or French "des histoires". These "stories" are therefore correspond to the English story and not to the "history". Certainly the Greek name of the play “Aléthón diégémáton biblia dyó”  (Two books of true stories true) for anything is referred to several "stories" while "alethón",  true, must be understood as a clear irony in the direction indicated.

Lucian himself warns us about the veracity of his stories when he says:

(4)…I fall back on falsehood — but falsehood of a more consistent variety; for I now make the only true statement you are to expect — that I am a liar. This confession is, I consider, a full defence against all imputations. My subject is, then, what I have neither seen, experienced, nor been told, what neither exists nor could conceivably do so. I humbly solicit my readers’ incredulity. (Translated by Fowler, H W and F G. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1905.)

Returning to the theme, we could specify that Lucian really does not intend to make a science fiction story, not his imagination takes him to serve  or imagine a development of modern science to acceptable limits but difficult to seer currently. His narrative does not try to create the future but to raise as much as existing in their environment.

The influence of this work has been huge in Western literature: Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), whom some consider the true initiator of science fiction with his work Somnium; Thomas More who translated some of the dialogue, Cyrano de Bergerac with his Histoire Comique d'un voyage à la Lune (1657); Rabelais probably with the gigantism of his characters, J. Swift in Gulliver's Travels (1726 Voltaire with his story Micromegas, and famous Jules Verne with nhis “Around the Moon” (1870) and From the Earth to the Moon (1872).

In Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was well known and imitated by Cristobal de Villalon, Mateo Alemán, Miguel de Cervantes and Francisco de Quevedo.

It is not therefore unreasonable to track a possible influence on contemporary forms of cultural creativity as cinema.

I think it should be a brief summary of the story of "Stories" or "true hystory" of Lucian; it does not avoided, of course, a thorough reading of the text. Serve these comments to encourage reading it and the rest of his interesting work.

"The true History" appears traditionally divided into two books, two rolls in the old format, which come to occupy in the current form of "book" about fifty pages, affordable amount even for the current more comfortable reader accustomed to the stunted prevailing tweets.

Lucian of Samosata is the first known author who imagined a trip into space. For this alone he would be worthy of being remembered. However it is generally assumed by scholars that Lucian knew and had reference to the work of Antonius Diogenes The Incredible Wonders Beyond Thule, that  already imagines  the trip to the Moon, as Photius says. Lucian would ridicule  precisely this passage. But not everyone accepts this hypothesis.

He tells the story of the fabulous journey of a maritime ship who have passed the Pillars of Hercules and entered the " mare ignotum or mare tenebrosum", the unknown Atlantic, suffering a long storm, and comes to an island where they see a trail with a worn inscription that marks the limit reached by Heracles and Dionisos. They reached a wine river fed by vines which on top were perfect women from the waist. It pushed by winds, rises from the sea to the sidereal space, visit the Sun and the Moon. After his arrival to the Moon, the "astronauts" are involved into a "galactic" war between Selenites (inhabitants of Selene, the Moon) and Heliotes (inhabitants of de Sun), together  with the most curious interstellar fighters.

(5) Starting on a certain date from the Pillars of Heracles, I sailed with a fair wind into the Atlantic. The motives of my voyage were a certain intellectual restlessness, a passion for novelty, a curiosity about the limits of the ocean and the peoples who might dwell beyond it. …

(6) ---We surrendered ourselves to the elements, let her run, and were storm-driven for more than eleven weeks. On the eightieth day the sun came out quite suddenly, and we found ourselves close to a lofty wooded island, …

(7) We had advanced half a mile inland through woods, when we came upon a brazen pillar, inscribed in Greek characters — which however were worn and dim —‘Heracles and Dionysus reached this point.’

(9)… But about midday, when we were out of sight of the island, a waterspout suddenly came upon us, which swept the ship round and up to a height of some three hundred and fifty miles above the earth. She did not fall back into the sea, but was suspended aloft, and at the same time carried along by a wind which struck and filled the sails. -

(10) For a whole week we pursued our airy course, and on the eighth day descried land; it was an island with air for sea, glistening, spherical, and bathed in light. We reached it, cast anchor, and landed; inspection soon showed that it was inhabited and cultivated. In the daytime nothing could be discerned outside of it; but night revealed many neighbouring islands, some larger and some smaller than ours; there was also another land below us containing cities, rivers, seas, forests, and mountains; and this we concluded to be our Earth.

(11) We were intending to continue our voyage, when we were discovered and detained by the Horse-vultures, as they are called. These are men mounted on huge vultures, which they ride like horses; the great birds have ordinarily three heads. It will give you some idea of their size if I state that each of their quill-feathers is longer and thicker than the mast of a large merchantman. …

It seemed he too was a mortal, named Endymion, who had been conveyed up from our Earth in his sleep, and after his arrival had become king of the country; this was, he told us, what we knew on our Earth as the moon.

(12) …We asked about the enemy, and the quarrel. ‘Phaethon,’ he replied, ‘king of the Sun (which is inhabited, like the Moon), has long been at war with us. The occasion was this: I wished at one time to collect the poorest of my subjects and send them as a colony to Lucifer, which is uninhabited. Phaethon took umbrage at this, met the emigrants half way with a troop of Horse-ants, and forbade them to proceed. On that occasion, being in inferior force, we were worsted and had to retreat; but I now intend to take the offensive and send my colony. …

(13) …Our army numbered 100,000 (exclusive of camp-followers, engineers, infantry, and allies), the Horse-vultures amounting to 80,000, and the remaining 20,000 being mounted on Salad-wings. These latter are also enormous birds, fledged with various herbs, and with quill-feathers resembling lettuce leaves. Next these were the Millet-throwers and the Garlic-men. Endymion had also a contingent from the North of 30,000 Flea-archers and 50,000 Wind-coursers. The former have their name from the great fleas, each of the bulk of a dozen elephants, which they ride. The Wind-coursers are infantry, moving through the air without wings; they effect this by so girding their shirts, which reach to the ankle, that they hold the wind like a sail and propel their wearers ship-fashion. These troops are usually employed as skirmishers. 70,000 Ostrich-slingers and 50,000 Horse-cranes were said to be on their way from the stars over Cappadocia. But as they failed to arrive I did not actually see them; and a description from hearsay I am not prepared to give, as the marvels related of them put some strain on belief.

Follows the story of the battle with the same level of imagination that I miss not being essential to the objective, but it should not be uninteresting to the reader. Still there appear fantastic beings as the Horse-ants, the Sky-gnats, the Sky-pirouetters, firing giant radishes,  the Stalk-fungi, who used mushrooms as shields and  asparagus stalk as spears,  as the Dog-acorns -faced dogs on on winged acorns,  the slingers of the Milky Way and the Cloud-centaurs

(18) Relinquishing the pursuit, we set up two trophies, one for the infantry engagement on the spiders’ webs, and one on the clouds for the air-battle. It was while we were thus engaged that our scouts announced the approach of the Cloud-centaurs, whom Phaethon had expected in time for the battle. They were indeed close upon us, and a strange sight, being compounded of winged horses and men; the human part, from the middle upwards, was as tall as the Colossus of Rhodes, and the equine the size of a large merchantman. … (Translated by Fowler, H W and F G. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1905.)

And further:

Note: the next text number (22)  is a English Translation by A.M. Harmon, 1913

(22) In the interval, while I was living on the moon, I observed some strange and wonderful things that I wish to speak of. In the first place there is the fact that they are not born of women but of men: they marry men and do not even know the word woman at all! Up to the age of twenty-five each is a wife, and thereafter a husband. They carry their children in the calf of the leg instead of the belly. When conception takes place the calf begins to swell. In course of time they cut it open and deliver the child dead, and then they bring it to life by putting it in the wind with its mouth open. It seems to me that the term "belly of the leg " came to us Greeks from there, since the leg performs the function of a belly with them. But I will tell you something else, still more wonderful. They have a kind of men whom they call the Arboreals, who are brought into the world as follows: Exsecting a man's right genital gland, they plant it in the ground. From it grows a very large tree of flesh, resembling the emblem of Priapus: it has branches and leaves, and its fruit is acorns a cubit thick. When these ripen, they harvest them and shell out the men. Another thing, they have artificial parts that are sometimes of ivory and sometimes, with the poor, of wood, and make use of them in their intercourse.

So far the quote Lucian’s  texts. I omit the rest of the story in that they are episodes such  the visit to the Champs Elysees, the land of the dead, the entry into the belly of a huge whale, on which is a huge island, where they visite countries as surreal as the City of lamps  (Lichnópolis) or the Island of Dreams,  where there is a history of the modern Robinson who then is called Spintaros and countless exotic animals, etc. etc ..

In “The true History” they appear among others the following fantastic creatures:

Horse-vultures  (Greek hippógypoi); Horse-ants (hippomyrmekes); Salad-wings (lachanópteroi); Millet-throwers (kenchrobóloi); Garlic-men  (skorodomáchoi); Flea-archers (psyllotoxótai); Wind-coursers  (anemodrómoi); Horse-cranes  (hippogéranoi); Sky-gnats (aerokonopes); Sky-pirouetters (aerokórdakes); Stalk-fungi (kaulomýketes); Dog-acorns ( kynobálanoi); Cloud-centaurs  (nephelokéntauroi); etc.etc.

There are many more interesting details. For example I will discuss the means that the  transport used by Lucian to ascend to the sky and to move around the space is no sophisticated vehicle, but a boat that sails the sea and at some point is driven by the wind itself into the ether. Lucian knew many stories in which the gods and heroes walk the space, but they do so with their wings like Icarus and Phaeton, carried by eagles or in their cars as Helios, the Sun. Lucian has had more luck, your ship has provided the name and model to modern space "ships", but now they are driven by modern rockets or motors driven by atomic or similar energies.

It is also interesting detail that at the beginning of their journey they discover the footsteps of Hercules and Dionysus. I remember also in the "2001 A Space Odyssey" there is also an unearthed monolith and in the famous "Planet of the Apes" is also the Statue of Liberty half buried which informs us that we are in New York. These are facts that do not seem to have much to do, but it is curious this hobby to use these witnesses half-buried in movies with more vivid imagination.

Well, the action of Avatar is set in 2154 on Pandora, a moon or satellite of planet Polyphemus, inhabited by a humanoid race, the Na'vi, one of whose clans lives around a giant tree growing on a site of unobtainium, source of coveted energy coveted by terrestrial. The stellar conflict is inevitable.

Avatar is a classic tale of fantastic adventures in the general framework of imperialist domination of some beings by others and the defense of biodiversity threatened by modern development. From this point of view Avatar has been interpreted and valued in many ways, but it is not my intention to delve into it, but to have a relationship, at least formally, if it is present with the work of Lucian, for whom the goals are very different .

So the story of the movie Avatar is set in a place called Pandora, its inhabitants, the Na'vi, are hybrids of human and other beings with tails, ie are humanoid, as always it happens in every work of science fiction, the transport to heaven is done by huge volatile carriers, called Banshee, whose images impress us by  its dimensions, its agility and beauty; the direhorses are a kind of six-legged horses, hybrid beings also; the tree that houses the life of the Na'vi is as dimensional fantastic as the island of Lucian in the belly of the whale and other  beings. It seems to me that the belly of the whale actually resembles the belly or inside the tree that welcomes the Na’vi.

Some of the fantastic animals in the film are:

The Banshee of Mountain, Ikran in the Na'vi’s language; it is perfectly adapted to flight by its aerodynamics. It is the most spectacular animal, connected lifetime only with one Na'vi. It is used for hunting and travel over long distances. It seems me similar to Horse-vultures  of Lucian.

The leonopteryx  rex , ,flying king lion" (from the Greek word λέων, leon, meaning lion, πτέρυξ, pteryx, meaning wing, and the Latin word rex, meaning king);  it is extraordinarily beautiful and powerful jaws capable of halving a banshee in flight.

The sturmbeest, mixture of rhino and buffalo, blue, living in herds

The tetraperton, similar to a  type of four wings flamingo.

The direhorse, tuype of horse, three times larger than terrestrial horses, with neural antennae and six legs perfectly adapted to the terrain.

The Hammerhead Titanothere, huge creature eleven meter long with hammerhead able to break the trees.

Fan Lizard, dancing lizard which unfolds like a Chinese fan.

Hellfire Wasp, similar to a Earth wasp, but with the size of a sparrow

The hexapede, beautiful and fragile creatures that appears on flags and coats of some clans, whose skin has diverse uses.

The prolemuris, which  has four arms to move nimbly through the trees.

The stingbat, aerial predator with a system of highly developed visual navigation.

The thanator, the huge and powerful Pandora's terrible predator, reminiscent of the Terran panther.

The viperwolf, with six legs and a powerful torso, predator walking long distances.

To some readers it will might seem little substantiated this relationship between Lucian of Samosata and James Cameron. I see many similarities. As I said above, I can not imagine in any other way the Horse-vultures  rather than the "Banshee"

Well, the other work, the series "Avatar: The Last Airbender", are heavily influenced by Chinese art, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism and Yoga, but it has  a great resemblance with Lucian’s story.

The  influence is  evident in the process of creating fantastic creatures: in both series, in Lucian in the other one,  many animals are the result of the mixture of several real animals, but with its dimensions increased. The similarity with Lucian therefore seems more than coincidental. Lucian extremes his imagination giving the funniest names to these beings, resulting from the mixture of several. It is true that the Greek language lends itself perfectly to this type of verbal creations that current philologists attempt to decipher. It also seems that the English language lends itself perfectly to these creations.
 

In the series, found among others in the Earth Kingdom: ostrich-horses, used as transportation;  Hog monkeyBuzazard wasp, singers marmots which attract tourists from all over with their music, purple Pentapus shaped small octopus five eye-five tentacles, platypus bear saber-tooth moose lion, very dangerous animals living in the woods, wolfbat, as large carnivores like wolves and bat with wings, badgermoles, Goat Gorillawooly-pig, pigster, pigs-chickens, and bull-pig, Unagi, a giant eel, Koi fish with the size of an elephant, dragonfly, serpentine lizard that resembles a dragon, sparrowkeet, Canyon crawler, giant insect with four legs, the shirshu, which is a cross between a huge anteater and star-nosed mole, turkey duck, fox antelope, boar-qupine, flying boar, lion vulture, like griffin, mythical creature half lion half eagle, giant rhinoceros beetle, etc. etc. etc.

As I said about Cameron's film, it maybe some opine that the similarity seems very forced; I still think that without the many mythological monsters of Greek, modern imagination would be much reduced and limited.

   
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