ELCS4023 - Men on the Moon: Cosmic Voyages in the Early Modern Period
Value: 0.5 course units
Tutor: Dr Thibaut Maus de Rolley
Assessment: 1 assessed essay of 3000 words and a desk examination of 1.5 hours (Term 3)
Available to: The module is also open to MA students.
The literary tradition of the space-travel narrative developed well before man could fly. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, authors of fictions of cosmic voyages were propelled by the wings of imagination, but also by artefacts such as maps, which offered the possibility to look at the Earth from above – as if flying in the air – and telescopes, whose ‘wings of glass’ allowed to ‘fly to the heaven quick as lightning’ and explore, at least with the eye, other worlds than our own (Tesauro, 1654). In this module, we will read and discuss several fictions of lunar voyages. Starting with Lucian’s satirical Icaromenippus and True History (2nd c. AD), the models of most early modern tales of celestial journeys, we will then study the lunar episode of Ariosto’s Orlando furioso (1516-32; cantos 33-36), where the knight Astolfo ascends to the Moon in order to retrieve Orlando’s lost wits; Johannes Kepler’s Somnium or Dream (1609-34), an attempt to demonstrate an astronomical hypothesis – heliocentrism – by the means of fiction; Francis Godwin’s Man in the Moone (1638), the picaresque account of a lunar journey; and Cyrano de Bergerac’s Voyage to the Moon (1657), where the narrator travels to the Moon in order to answer a dizzying question: What if the Moon were another world for which ours served as a moon? One of the main functions of these flights of fancy is to produce a ‘decentering’ of the world, by stimulating the invention of alternative worlds and societies, and offering the possibility to see the Earth from a radically different (and often critical) point of view. These tales are consummate fables, where travellers are carried through the air by feathered wings (Lucian), flaming chariots (Ariosto), demons (Kepler), flying machines towed by fowls (Godwin) or fireworks and beef-marrow (Cyrano). And yet, as we shall see, they allow to explore the complex interactions between literature and science in the period, not only because they may appear as early examples of science fiction writing (a category that we shall define and discuss), but also because most of them constitute vehicles and instruments of knowledge in a period of major scientific upheaval – the so-called ‘scientific revolution'.
Objectives of the module
Students following this module should:
- Gain or develop a knowledge of early modern European literature, history and culture;
- Develop their ability to critically analyse and discuss literary texts, using the relevant secondary sources;
- Develop their ability to analyse texts with a comparative approach;
- Gain an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the genre of the imaginary voyage, and develop their knowledge of related genres (e. g. travel writing, utopian literature, satire, science fiction), in the early modern period and beyond;
- Acquire notions of early modern history of science (geography, astronomy);
- Familiarize themselves with literary approaches to scientific discourse, as well as with epistemological readings of literary texts.
- Lucian. Selected Dialogues, ed. and trans. C. D. N. Costa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. [Icaromenippus, or High above the clouds, 45-60; A True History, 203-233.]
- Ariosto, Lodovico. Orlando furioso, trans. Guido Waldman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. [Cantos 33-35.] Suggested Italian edition: Orlando furioso e Cinque Canti, ed. R. Ceserani and S. Zatti. Torino: UTET, 1997.
- Kepler, Johannes. Kepler’s Somnium: The Dream, ed. and trans. E. Rosen. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2003.
- Godwin, Francis. The Man in the Moone , ed. William Poole. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2009.
- Cyrano de Bergerac, Savinien de. Journey to the Moon , trans. Andrew Brown. London: Hesperus Press, 2007. (Or any other modern edition.) Suggested French edition: Any modern critical edition.
Initial Secondary Bibliography
- Ait-Touati, Frédérique. Fictions of the Cosmos: Science and Literature in the Seventeenth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.
- Campbell, Mary B. Wonder and Science: Imagining Worlds in Early Modern Europe. Cornell University Press, 1999.
- Maus de Rolley, Thibaut. Elévations: L’écriture du voyage aérien à la Renaissance. Geneva: Droz, 2011.
- Montgomery, Scott L. The Moon and the Western Imagination. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1999.
- Parrett, Aaron. The Translunar Narrative in the Western Tradition. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
- Principe, Lawrence M. The Scientific Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.