My History of Science Fiction #8

The story so far:

We continue our journey with a brief excursus through the European Middle Ages, a period that lasted from the 5th to the 15th century CE.

The highest literary form among the aristocratic people of Medieval Europe, was the chivalric romance. In these narratives, the rich of the time could be transported into fantastic worlds filled with adventures, led by heroes on a quest. And it is in these books that science fiction themes make an appearance. Let’s see what they are:

An automaton writing a letter in Swiss Museum CIMA

1) Robot – mechanical machines – and automata – self-operating non-electronic machines. These were often used as guardians of sorts; they had mainly human shapes, but animal ones were not uncommon.

Charlemagne’s Voyage to Jerusalem and Constantinople, is a French epic poem composed around 1140. In it we read that when Charlemagne and his group reach Constantinople, they are invited to the king’s palace, a building fixed on the top of a pole and which revolves when the wind blows. Roman de Troie (12th century), also contains automatas performing basic actions such as performing summersaults or playing instruments. The story The Squire’s Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer, contains a brass horse, reminiscent of The Ebony Horse LINK we found while exploring the Arabian Nights, a mirror that shows distant places and a sword can cut or heal wounds. (1SF)

“Alexandria Serbskaya”, novel about A.the Great. 17 century. Alexander descends into the sea in a glass vessel.

2) Technological inventions are to be found in the form of flying machines or underwater capsules. The latter is to be found in one of the Alexander Romances, in which Alexander the Great builds himself a glass machine to move under water. (1SF)

The Grief and Recriminations of Andromache over the Body of Hector Her Husband (1783) by Jacques-Louis David.

3) Last but not least, the slowing or stopping of life without causing death, also known as suspended animation. The best example of this is to be found in the ever-present Troy Story (see what I did there?). Hector, the mighty warrior prince of Troy and son of King Priam, finds his death by Achille’s hand. His body is preserved with the use of balsam, a legendary fluid that is made to run in tubes throughout his body (E. R. Truitt (2009). The Virtues of Balm in Medieval Literature, 727-8). (1SF)

Conclusion: Three points for three SF concepts. With this chapter, we reach a middle point in discovering the origin of SF in ancient literature. Ahead of us lies the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason.