Medieval Science Fiction Existed – Here’s What it Looked Like

Medieval Science Fiction Existed – Here’s What it Looked Like


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Carl Kears & James Paz / The Conversation

Science fiction may seem resolutely modern, but the genre could actually be considered hundreds of years old. There are the alien green “ children of Woolpit ”, who appeared in 12th-century Suffolk and were reported to have spoken a language no one could understand. There’s also the story of Eilmer the 11th-century monk, who constructed a pair of wings and flew from the top of Malmesbury Abbey. And there’s the Voynich Manuscript , a 15th-century book written in an unknowable script, full of illustrations of otherworldly plants and surreal landscapes.

These are just some of the science fictions to be discovered within the literatures and cultures of the Middle Ages . There are also tales to be found of robots entertaining royal courts, communities speculating about utopian or dystopian futures, and literary maps measuring and exploring the outer reaches of time and space.

The influence of the genre we call “fantasy”, which often looks back to the medieval past in order to escape a techno-scientific future, means that the Middle Ages have rarely been associated with science fiction. But, as we have found , peering into the complex history of the genre, while also examining the scientific achievements of the medieval period, reveals that things are not quite what they seem.

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Medieval woman teaching monks geometry.

Origins

Science fiction is particularly troublesome when it comes to matters of classification and origin. Indeed, there remains no agreed-upon definition of the genre. A variety of commentators have located the beginnings of SF in the early-20th-century explosion of pulp magazines , and in the work of Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967), who proposed the term “scientifiction” when editing and publishing the first issue of Amazing Stories, in 1926.

“By ‘scientifiction’,” Gernsback wrote, “I mean the Jules Verne, H G Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story – a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision … Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading – they are always instructive.”

Amazing Stories, April 1926, Volume 1 Number 1.

But here Gernsback was already looking backwards in time to earlier writers to define SF. His “definition”, too, was one that could also be applied to literary creations from much further into the past.

Science and Fiction

Another longstanding idea is that the “science” in science fiction is key: SF can only begin, many historians of the genre proclaim, following the birth of modern science.

Alongside histories of SF, histories of science have long avoided the medieval period (over a thousand years in which, presumably, nothing happened). Yet the Middle Ages was no dark, static, ignorant time of magic and superstition, nor was it an aberration in the neat progression from enlightened ancients to our modern age. It was actually a time of enormous advances in science and technology.

The compass and gunpowder were developed and improved upon, and spectacles, the mechanical clock and blast furnace were invented. The period also laid the foundations for modern science through founding universities, advanced the scientific learning of the classical world, and helped focus natural philosophy on the physics of creation. The medieval science of “computus”, for instance, was a complex measuring of time and space.

Use of medieval abacus and counting board. (Wellcome Collection /CC BY 4.0 )

Scholars have started to reveal the convergence of science, technology and the imagination in medieval literary culture, demonstrating that this era could be characterised by inventiveness and a preoccupation with novelty and discovery. Take the medieval romances that feature Alexander the Great soaring heavenwards in a flying machine and exploring the depths of the ocean in his proto-submarine. Or that of the famous medieval traveller, Sir John Mandeville, who tells of marvellous, automated golden birds that beat their wings at the table of the Great Chan.

Like those of more modern science fictions, medieval writers tempered this sense of wonder with scepticism and rational inquiry. Geoffrey Chaucer describes the procedures and instruments of alchemy (an early form of chemistry) in such precise terms that it is tempting to think that the author must have had some experience of the practice. Yet his Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale also displays a lively distrust of fraudulent alchemists, sending up their pseudo-science while imagining and dramatising its harmful effects in the world.

Alexander in his ‘submarine’. British Library, Royal MS 15 E. vi f. 20v. (Author provided)

The Medieval Future

Modern science fiction has dreamt up many worlds based on the Middle Ages, using it as a place to be revisited, as a space beyond earth, or as an alternate or future history. The representation of the medieval past is not always simplistic, nor always confined to “back then”.

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William M Miller’s immensely detailed medieval future in A Canticle of Leibowitz (1959), for instance, dwells on the way the past consistently reemerges in the fragments, materials and conflicts of a distant future. Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book (1992), meanwhile, follows a time-travelling researcher of the near-future back to a medieval Oxford in the grip of the Black Death.

Although “medieval science fiction” may sound like an impossible fantasy, it’s a concept that can encourage us to ask new questions about an often-overlooked period of literary and scientific history. Who knows? The many wonders, cosmologies and technologies of the Middle Ages may have an important part to play in a future yet to come.


Medieval Science in Medieval Fiction

This article is based on a chapter that originally appeared in Medieval Science Fiction, edited by Carl Kears and James Paz (King's College London Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies, 2016).

o appreciate the way that a culture understands the natural world, we need to look at popular works rather than the tomes of intellectuals. So, to help us get to grips with how medieval people viewed the cosmos, this article mines some of the most significant medieval literature for nuggets of scientific wisdom. However, as much of that wisdom ultimate came from classical sources, we must start our exploration in ancient Rome.


Origins

Science fiction is particularly troublesome when it comes to matters of classification and origin. Indeed, there remains no agreed-upon definition of the genre. A variety of commentators have located the beginnings of SF in the early-20th-century explosion of pulp magazines, and in the work of Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967), who proposed the term “scientifiction” when editing and publishing the first issue of Amazing Stories, in 1926.

“By ‘scientifiction’,” Gernsback wrote, “I mean the Jules Verne, H G Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story – a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision … Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading – they are always instructive.”

But here Gernsback was already looking backwards in time to earlier writers to define SF. His “definition”, too, was one that could also be applied to literary creations from much further into the past.


Contents

Ancient and early modern precursors Edit

There are a number of ancient or early modern texts including a great many epics and poems that contain fantastical or "science-fictional" elements, yet were written before the emergence of science fiction as a distinct genre. These texts often include elements such as a fantastical voyage to the moon or the use of imagined advanced technology. Although fantastical and science fiction-like elements and imagery exist in stories such as Ovid's Metamorphoses (8 AD), the Old English epic heroic poem Beowulf (8th-11th centuries AD), and the Middle German epic poem Nibelungenlied (c. 1230), their relative lack of references to science or technology puts them closer to fantasy rather than science fiction.

One of the earliest and most commonly-cited texts for those looking for early precursors to science fiction is the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, with the earliest text versions identified as being from about 2000 BC. American science fiction author Lester del Rey was one such supporter of using Gilgamesh as an origin point, arguing that "science fiction is precisely as old as the first recorded fiction. That is the Epic of Gilgamesh." [2] French science fiction writer Pierre Versins also argued that Gilgamesh was the first science fiction work due to its treatment of human reason and the quest for immortality. [3] In addition, Gilgamesh features a flood scene that in some ways resembles work of apocalyptic science fiction. However, the lack of explicit science or technology in the work has led some [ who? ] to argue that it is better categorized as fantastic literature.

Ancient Indian poetry such as the Hindu epic Ramayana (5th to 4th century BC) includes Vimana flying machines able to travel into space or under water, and destroy entire cities using advanced weapons. In the first book of the Rigveda collection of Sanskrit hymns (1700–1100 BC), there is a description of "mechanical birds" that are seen "jumping into space speedily with a craft using fire and water. containing twelve stamghas (pillars), one wheel, three machines, 300 pivots, and 60 instruments." [4] The ancient Hindu mythological epic, the Mahabharata (8th and 9th centuries BC) includes the story of King Kakudmi, who travels to heaven to meet the creator Brahma and is shocked to learn that many ages have passed when he returns to Earth, anticipating the concept of time travel. [5]

Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes has several works that include elements often associated with the "fantastic voyage", including air travel to another world. Examples include his The Clouds (423 BC), The Birds (414 BC) and The Peace.

One frequently cited text is the Syrian-Greek writer Lucian's 2nd-century satire True History, which uses a voyage to outer space and conversations with alien life forms to comment on the use of exaggeration within travel literature and debates. Typical science fiction themes and topoi in True History include travel to outer space, encounter with alien life-forms (including the experience of a first encounter event), interplanetary warfare and planetary imperialism, motif of giganticism, creatures as products of human technology, worlds working by a set of alternative physical laws, and an explicit desire of the protagonist for exploration and adventure. [6] In witnessing one interplanetary battle between the People of the Moon and the People of the Sun as the fight for the right to colonize the Morning Star, Lucian describes giant space spiders who were "appointed to spin a web in the air between the Moon and the Morning Star, which was done in an instant, and made a plain campaign upon which the foot forces were planted. " L. Sprague de Camp and a number of other authors argue this to be one of the earliest if not the earliest example of science fiction or proto-science fiction. [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] However, since the text was intended to be explicitly satirical and hyperbolic, other critics are ambivalent about its rightful place as a science fiction precursor. For example, English critic Kingsley Amis wrote that "It is hardly science-fiction, since it deliberately piles extravagance upon extravagance for comic effect" yet he implicitly acknowledged its SF character by comparing its plot to early 20th-century space operas: "I will merely remark that the sprightliness and sophistication of True History make it read like a joke at the expense of nearly all early-modern science fiction, that written between, say, 1910 and 1940." [11] Lucian translator Bryan Reardon is more explicit, describing the work as "an account of a fantastic journey - to the moon, the underworld, the belly of a whale, and so forth. It is not really science fiction, although it has sometimes been called that there is no 'science' in it." [12]

The early Japanese tale of "Urashima Tarō" involves traveling forwards in time to a distant future, [13] and was first described in the Nihongi (720). [14] It was about a young fisherman named Urashima Taro who visits an undersea palace and stays there for three days. After returning home to his village, he finds himself three hundred years in the future, where he is long forgotten, his house in ruins, and his family long dead. [13] The 10th-century Japanese narrative The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter may also be considered proto-science fiction. The protagonist of the story, Kaguya-hime, is a princess from the Moon who is sent to Earth for safety during a celestial war, and is found and raised by a bamboo cutter in Japan. She is later taken back to the Moon by her real extraterrestrial family. A manuscript illustration depicts a round flying machine similar to a flying saucer. [15]

One Thousand and One Nights Edit

Several stories within the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights, 8th-10th century CE) also feature science fiction elements. One example is "The Adventures of Bulukiya", where the protagonist Bulukiya's quest for the herb of immortality leads him to explore the seas, journey to the Garden of Eden and to Jahannam, and travel across the cosmos to different worlds much larger than his own world, anticipating elements of galactic science fiction [16] along the way, he encounters societies of jinn, [17] mermaids, talking serpents, talking trees, and other forms of life. [16]

In "Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman", the protagonist gains the ability to breathe underwater and discovers an underwater submarine society that is portrayed as an inverted reflection of society on land, in that the underwater society follows a form of primitive communism where concepts like money and clothing do not exist.

Other Arabian Nights tales deal with lost ancient technologies, advanced ancient civilizations that went astray, and catastrophes which overwhelmed them. [18] "The City of Brass" features a group of travellers on an archaeological expedition [19] across the Sahara to find an ancient lost city and attempt to recover a brass vessel that Solomon once used to trap a jinn, [20] and, along the way, encounter a mummified queen, petrified inhabitants, [21] lifelike humanoid robots and automata, seductive marionettes dancing without strings, [22] and a brass robot horseman who directs the party towards the ancient city.

"The Ebony Horse" features a robot [23] in the form of a flying mechanical horse controlled using keys that could fly into outer space and towards the Sun, [24] while the "Third Qalandar's Tale" also features a robot in the form of an uncanny sailor. [23] "The City of Brass" and "The Ebony Horse" can be considered early examples of proto-science fiction. [15] [25] Other examples of early Arabic proto-science fiction include al-Farabi's Opinions of the residents of a splendid city about a utopian society, and certain Arabian Nights elements such as the flying carpet. [26]

Other medieval literature Edit

According to Roubi, [27] the final two chapters of the Arabic theological novel Fādil ibn Nātiq (c. 1270), also known as Theologus Autodidactus, by the Arabian polymath writer Ibn al-Nafis (1213–1288) can be described as science fiction. The theological novel deals with various science fiction elements such as spontaneous generation, futurology, apocalyptic themes, eschatology, resurrection and the afterlife, but rather than giving supernatural or mythological explanations for these events, Ibn al-Nafis attempted to explain these plot elements using his own extensive scientific knowledge in anatomy, biology, physiology, astronomy, cosmology and geology. For example, it was through this novel that Ibn al-Nafis introduces his scientific theory of metabolism, [27] and he makes references to his own scientific discovery of the pulmonary circulation in order to explain bodily resurrection. [28] The novel was later translated into English as Theologus Autodidactus in the early 20th century.

During the European Middle Ages, science fictional themes appeared within many chivalric romance and legends. Robots and automata featured in romances starting in the twelfth century, with Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne and Eneas among the first. [29] The Roman de Troie, another twelfth-century work, features the famous Chambre de Beautes, which contained four automata, one of which held a magic mirror, one of which performed somersaults, one of which played musical instruments, and one which showed people what they most needed. [30] Automata in these works were often ambivalently associated with necromancy, and frequently guarded entrances or provided warning of intruders. [31] This association with necromancy often leads to the appearance of automata guarding tombs, as they do in Eneas, Floris and Blancheflour, and Le Roman d’Alexandre, while in Lancelot they appear in an underground palace. [32] Automata did not have to be human, however. A brass horse is among the marvelous gifts given to the Cambyuskan in Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Squire's Tale". This metal horse is reminiscent of similar metal horses in middle eastern literature, and could take its rider anywhere in the world at extraordinary speed by turning a peg in its ear and whispering certain words in its ear. [33] The brass horse is only one of the technological marvels which appears in The Squire's Tale: the Cambyuskan, or Khan also receives a mirror which reveals distant places, which the witnessing crowd explains as operating by the manipulation of angles and optics, and a sword which deals and heals deadly wounds, which the crowd explains as being possible using advanced smithing techniques.

Technological inventions are also rife in the Alexander romances. In John Gower's Confessio Amantis, for example, Alexander the Great constructs a flying machine by tying two griffins to a platform and dangling meat above them on a pole. This adventure is ended only by the direct intervention of God, who destroys the device and throws Alexander back to the ground. This does not, however, stop the legendary Alexander, who proceeds to have constructed a gigantic orb of glass which he uses to travel beneath the water. There he sees extraordinary marvels which eventually exceed his comprehension. [34]

States similar to suspended animation also appear in medieval romances, such as the Histora Destructionis Troiae and the Roman d’Eneas. In the former, king Priam has the body of the hero Hector entombed in a network of golden tubes that run through his body. Through these tubes ran the semi-legendary fluid balsam which was then reputed to have the power to preserve life. This fluid kept the corpse of Hector preserved as if he was still alive, maintaining him in a persistent vegetative state during which autonomic processes such as the growth of facial hair continued. [35]

The boundaries between medieval fiction with scientific elements and medieval science can be fuzzy at best. In works such as Geoffrey Chaucer "The House of Fame", it is proposed that the titular House of Fame is the natural home of sound, described as a ripping in the air, towards which all sound is eventually attracted, in the same way that the earth was believed to be the natural home of earth to which it was all eventually attracted. [36] Likewise, medieval travel narratives often contained science-fictional themes and elements. Works such as Mandeville's Travels included automata, alternate species and sub-species of humans, including Cynoencephali and Giants, and information about the sexual reproduction of diamonds. [37] However, Mandeville's Travels and other travel narratives in its genre mix real geographical knowledge with knowledge now known to be fictional, and it is therefore difficult to distinguish which portions should be considered science fictional or would have been seen as such in the Middle Ages.

Proto-science fiction in the Enlightenment and Age of Reason Edit

In the wake of scientific discoveries that characterized the Enlightenment, several new types of literature began to take shape in 16th-century Europe. The humanist thinker Thomas More's 1516 work of fiction and political philosophy entitled Utopia describes a fictional island whose inhabitants have perfected every aspect of their society. The name of the society stuck, giving rise to the Utopia motif that would become so widespread in later science fiction to describe a world that is seemingly perfect but either ultimately unattainable or perversely flawed. The Faust legend (1587) contains an early prototype for the "mad scientist story". [38]

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the so-called "Age of Reason" and widespread interest in scientific discovery fueled the creation of speculative fiction that anticipated many of the tropes of more recent science fiction. Several works expanded on imaginary voyages to the moon, first in Johannes Kepler's Somnium (The Dream, 1634), which both Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov have referred to as the first work of science fiction. Similarly, some [ who? ] identify Francis Godwin's The Man in the Moone (1638) as the first work of science fiction in English, and Cyrano de Bergerac's Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon (1656). [39] Space travel also figures prominently in Voltaire's Micromégas (1752), which is also notable for the suggestion that people of other worlds may be in some ways more advanced than those of earth.

Other works containing proto-science-fiction elements from the Age of Reason of the 17th and 18th centuries include (in chronological order):

    's The Tempest (1610–11) contains a prototype for the "mad scientist story". 's New Atlantis (1627), an incomplete utopian novel. 's The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing-World (1666), a novel that describes an alternate world found in the Arctic by a young noblewoman. 's Voyages et Aventures de Jacques Massé (1710) features a Lost World. 's La Vie, Les Aventures et Le Voyage de Groenland du Révérend Père Cordelier Pierre de Mésange (1720) features a Hollow Earth. 's Gulliver's Travels (1726) contains descriptions of alien cultures and "weird science". 's Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733) in which a narrator from 1728 is given a series of state documents from 1997–1998 by his guardian angel, a plot device which is reminiscent of later time travel novels. However, the story does not explain how the angel obtained these documents. Niels Klim's Underground Travels (1741) is an early example of the Hollow Earth genre. 's L'An 2440 (1771) gives a predictive account of life in the 25th century. 's La Découverte Australe par un Homme Volant (1781) features prophetic inventions. 's Icosameron (1788) is a novel that makes use of the Hollow Earth device

Shelley and Europe in the early 19th century Edit

The 19th century saw a major acceleration of these trends and features, most clearly seen in the groundbreaking publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1818. The short novel features the archetypal "mad scientist" experimenting with advanced technology. [40] In his book Billion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss claims Frankenstein represents "the first seminal work to which the label SF can be logically attached". It is also the first of the "mad scientist" subgenre. Although normally associated with the gothic horror genre, the novel introduces science fiction themes such as the use of technology for achievements beyond the scope of science at the time, and the alien as antagonist, furnishing a view of the human condition from an outside perspective. Aldiss argues that science fiction in general derives its conventions from the gothic novel. Mary Shelley's short story "Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman" (1826) sees a man frozen in ice revived in the present day, incorporating the now common science fiction theme of cryonics whilst also exemplifying Shelley's use of science as a conceit to drive her stories. Another futuristic Shelley novel, The Last Man, is also often cited [ who? ] as the first true science fiction novel.

In 1836 Alexander Veltman published Predki Kalimerosa: Aleksandr Filippovich Makedonskii (The forebears of Kalimeros: Alexander, son of Philip of Macedon), which has been called the first original Russian science fiction novel and the first novel to use time travel. [41] In it the narrator rides to ancient Greece on a hippogriff, meets Aristotle, and goes on a voyage with Alexander the Great before returning to the 19th century.

Somehow influenced by the scientific theories of the 19th century, but most certainly by the idea of human progress, Victor Hugo wrote in The Legend of the Centuries (1859) a long poem in two parts that can be viewed like a dystopia/utopia fiction, called 20th century. It shows in a first scene the body of a broken huge ship, the greatest product of the prideful and foolish mankind that called it Leviathan, wandering in a desert world where the winds blow and the anger of the wounded Nature is humanity, finally reunited and pacified, has gone toward the stars in a starship, to look for and to bring liberty into the light.

Other notable proto-science fiction authors and works of the early 19th century include:


Medieval SciFi

Can Science Fiction trace its origins back further than Jules Verne? Further than Edgar Allan Poe? Further than Mary Shelley? Could you have read SciFi books if you lived in the Middle Ages?

Medieval scholars Carl Kears and James Paz think so. They wrote a fascinating article in The Conversation called “Science fiction was around in medieval times – here’s what it looked like.” They also co-wrote the book Medieval Science Fiction .

Their article cites some fascinating medieval examples of what we’ve come to know as science fiction. Moreover, some of these examples may be familiar to readers of stories by (ahem) me.

They reference “…the story of Eilmer the 11th-century monk, who constructed a pair of wings and flew from the top of Malmesbury Abbey.” My readers know all about Brother Eilmer from my fictionalized account of this legend in “Instability” which appears in the anthology Dark Luminous Wings .

The article’s authors also cite “…medieval romances that feature Alexander the Great…exploring the depths of the ocean in his proto-submarine.” Once again, readers will recall my story “ Alexander’s Odyssey ” in which the sea-god Poseidon becomes angry with Alexander for invading his realm.

Wait, some of you are thinking, Alexander the Great didn’t live in medieval times! True, but his ancient Greek contemporaries never mentioned his descent in a diving bell. Arabic writers in the Middle Ages became fascinated with Alexander and fantasized all sorts of stories about him. Among those was the submarine tale.

Here are some other examples of books one might classify as Medieval Science Fiction:

Roman de Troie, written by Benoît de Sainte-Maure in the 12th Century. It features automata.
Theologus Autodidactus, written by Ibn al-Nafis in the late 13th Century. In it, the main character is spontaneously generated, rather than born. He predicts the future, uses his reason and senses to deduce the religion of Islam, and explains bodily resurrection using cloning.
One Thousand and One Nights, compiled between the 9th and 14th Centuries. It mentions immortality, interplanetary travel, underwater breathing capability, and humanoid robots.
The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, written by Sir John Mandeville in the 14th Century. It includes automata, alternate human species, and diamonds that reproduce sexually.
• “The House of Fame” a poem written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14th Century. In it, a house is constructed such that all sound flows into it. The occupants can hear all noises from everywhere.

You might think I’m stretching things to call a story “Science Fiction” if it dates from a time before the development of Science. If SciFi is concerned with potential future technological or scientific advances, then an author couldn’t possibly write in that genre before Galileo came up with the scientific method in the early 17th Century. Right?

Well, maybe, but the genre of science fiction is quite broad, and considering the modern stories that get pigeonholed there, it seems unfair not to include the examples I’ve given above and those cited by Kears and Paz.

Living in the 21st Century, most of us regard Science Fiction as a modern genre, no more than two centuries old. If we could converse with some well-read folks from the 5th through 15th Centuries, they might disagree. Of course, if you do have such a conversation somehow, please tell—


Re-Launch and Dark Stories

Pole to Pole Publishing has done it again. They’ve launched another new anthology, this one called Re-Launch . It’s chock full of science fiction stories about launches and new beginnings.

Beginnings are always messy.

Spacecrafts hurtling toward alien worlds. Second chances for civilizations. First contact. Rebirth. Non-humans looking for a new life. Opportunities for fresh starts and do-overs far from Earth. These stories and more explore the theme of Re-Launch.

Send your imagination into orbit with 18 science fiction tales from an international roster of authors.

Featuring fiction from Douglas Smith, James Dorr, Kris Austen Radcliffe, Eando Bender, Wendy Nikel, Stewart C. Baker, Meriah Crawford, Gregory L. Norris, Jennifer Rachel Baumer, Jonathan Shipley, Vonnie Winslow Crist, Lawrence Dagstine, CB Droege, Jude-Marie Green, Steven R. Southard, Calie Voorhis, Anthony Cardno, and Andrew Gudgel.

Re-Launch reminds readers that new beginnings rarely go as planned and danger waits for the unwary on all worlds.

Yes, that’s my name listed along with those great authors. My story “Target Practice” is in this anthology. In that tale, inmate number 806739 lives in an underwater prison of the future that forces convicts to operate unarmed mini-subs in cat-and-mouse chases against men in armed subs training for battle.

Re-Launch is the science fiction part of the Pole to Pole’s planned Re-Imagined series, along with Re-Quest (fantasy quests and searches), Re-Terrify (monsters) and Re-Enchant (magic and fae).

Also, for those who haven’t yet bought some of Pole to Pole’s previous anthologies, like Hides the Dark Tower, In a Cat’s Eye, and Dark Luminous Wings, you can now purchase all three in a boxed set called Dark Stories . I’m fortunate to have a story in each one of those anthologies.

You’re going to enjoy Re-Launch and Dark Stories. That’s a promise from—

Poseidon’s Scribe


Origins

Amazing Stories, April 1926, Volume 1 Number 1. Wikimedia Commons

Science fiction is particularly troublesome when it comes to matters of classification and origin. Indeed, there remains no agreed-upon definition of the genre. A variety of commentators have located the beginnings of SF in the early-20th-century explosion of pulp magazines, and in the work of Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967), who proposed the term “scientifiction” when editing and publishing the first issue of Amazing Stories, in 1926.

“By ‘scientifiction’,” Gernsback wrote, “I mean the Jules Verne, H G Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story – a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision … Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading – they are always instructive.”

But here Gernsback was already looking backwards in time to earlier writers to define SF. His “definition”, too, was one that could also be applied to literary creations from much further into the past.


Dr James Paz

After receiving my PhD from King’s College London in 2013, I lectured for a brief spell at the University of Leeds, before being appointed as Lecturer in Early Medieval English Literature at the University of Manchester in September 2014.


I am the author of Nonhuman Voices in Anglo-Saxon Literature and Material Culture (Manchester University Press, 2017) and the co-editor of Medieval Science Fiction (KCLMS, 2016). I have published peer-reviewed articles in Exemplaria, New Medieval Literatures and the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and have published chapters in various edited collections.

My second monograph examines the relationship between craft (cræft) and work (weorc) in Old English literature. I am also writing an article which looks at how modern poets transform the nonhuman voices of the Exeter Book riddles through translation.


At Manchester, I teach a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses on topics such as Beowulf, Old English literature, Middle English literature, modern medievalism, translation and critical theory. Since March 2018, I have been a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

I welcome proposals from research students interested in working on any aspect of Old English or medieval literary culture, including (but not limited to) the following topics: the links between early medieval literature and material culture the relationships between humans and nonhumans in early medieval literature modern medievalism (especially in science fiction and fantasy) theoretical approaches to medieval literatures (especially new materialism and ecocriticism).


Contents

The following is a list of some important medieval technologies. The approximate date or first mention of a technology in medieval Europe is given. Technologies were often a matter of cultural exchange and date and place of first inventions are not listed here (see main links for a more complete history of each).

Agriculture Edit

Carruca (6th to 9th centuries)

A type of heavy wheeled plough commonly found in Northern Europe. [4] The device consisted of four major parts. The first part was a coulter at the bottom of the plough. [5] This knife was used to vertically cut into the top sod to allow for the plowshare to work. [5] The plowshare was the second pair of knives which cut the sod horizontally, detaching it from the ground below. [5] The third part was the moldboard, which curled the sod outward. [5] The fourth part of the device was the team of eight oxen guided by the farmer. [6] This type of plough eliminated the need for cross-plowing by turning over the furrow instead of merely pushing it outward. [6] This type of wheeled plough made seed placement more consistent throughout the farm as the blade could be locked in at a certain level relative to the wheels. A disadvantage to this type of plough was its poor maneuverability. Since this equipment was large and led by a small herd of oxen, turning the plough was difficult and time-consuming. This caused many farmers to turn away from traditional square fields and adopt a longer, more rectangular field to ensure maximum efficiency. [7]

While ploughs have been used since ancient times, during the medieval period plough technology improved rapidly. [8] The medieval plough, constructed from wooden beams, could be yoked to either humans or a team of oxen and pulled through any type of terrain. This allowed for faster clearing of forest lands for agriculture in parts of Northern Europe where the soil contained rocks and dense tree roots. [9] With more food being produced, more people were able to live in these areas.

Horse collar (6th to 9th centuries) [5]

Once oxen started to be replaced by horses on farms and in fields, the yoke became obsolete due to its shape not working well with a horses' posture. [10] The first design for a horse collar was a throat-and-girth-harness. [10] These types of harnesses were unreliable though due to them not being sufficiently set in place. [10] The loose straps were prone to slipping and shifting positions as the horse was working and often caused asphyxiation. [10] Around the eighth century, the introduction of the rigid collar eliminated the problem of choking. [10] The rigid collar was "placed over the horses head and rested on its shoulders. [10] This permitted unobstructed breathing and placed the weight of the plow or wagon where the horse could best support it." [10]

While horses are already able to travel on all terrain without a protective covering on the hooves, horseshoes allowed horses to travel faster along the more difficult terrains. [11] The practice of shoeing horses was initially practiced in the Roman Empire but lost popularity throughout the Middle Ages until around the 11th century. [10] Although horses in the southern lands could easily work while on the softer soil, the rocky soil of the north proved to be damaging to the horses' hooves. [12] Since the north was the problematic area, this is where shoeing horses first became popular. [12] The introduction of gravel roadways was also cause for the popularity of horseshoeing. [12] The loads a shoed horse could take on these roads were significantly higher than one that was barefoot. [12] By the 14th century, not only did horses have shoes, but many farmers were shoeing oxen and donkeys in order to help prolong the life of their hooves. [12] The size and weight of the horseshoe changed significantly over the course of the Middle Ages. [12] In the 10th century, horseshoes were secured by six nails and weighed around one-quarter of a pound, but throughout the years, the shoes grew larger and by the 14th century, the shoes were being secured with eight nails and weighed nearly half a pound. [12]

Two-field system (8th century)

Crop rotation involved farmers to plant half of the field with a crop while the other half would be fallowed for the season. This was also called the two-field system. This system included the farmers' field being divided into two separate crops. [13] One field would grow a crop while the other was allowed to lie fallow and was used to feed livestock and regain lost nutrients. [13] Every year, the two fields would switch in order to ensure fields did not become nutrient deficient. [13] In the 11th century, this system was introduced into Sweden and spread to become the most popular form of farming. [13] The system of crop rotation is still used today by many farmers, who will grow corn one year in a field and will then grow beans or other legumes in the field the next year, this system is how farmers allow for nutrients to be replenished in the soil. [14]

Three-field system (11th century)

While the two-field system was used by medieval farmers, there was also a different system that was being developed at the same time. Around each village in medieval Europe there were three fields that could be used to grow food. One part holds a spring crop, such as barley or oats, another part holds a winter crop, such as wheat or rye, and the third part is an off-field that is left alone to grow and is used to help feed livestock. [13] By rotating the three crops to a new part of the land after each year, the off-field regains some of the nutrients lost during the growing of the two crops. [13] This system increases agricultural productivity over the two-field system by only having one-third of the field not being used instead of one half. [13] Another advantage of crop rotation is that many scholars believe it helped increase yields by up to 50%. [13]

The act of making wine was people stepping on grapes inside of a box and then draining the fruit juice and allowing the fermentation process to begin. During the medieval period the wine press had been constantly evolving into a more modern and efficient machine that would give wine makers more wine with less work. [15] This device was the first practical means of Pressing (wine) on a plane surface. [16] The wine press was made of a giant wooden basket that was bound together by wooden or metal rings that held the basket together. At the top of the basket was a large disc that would depress the contents in the basket crushing the grapes and making the juice to be fermented. [15] The wine press was an expensive piece of machinery that only the wealthy could afford. [16] The method of Grape stomping was often used as a less expensive alternative. [16] While white wines required the use of a wine press in order to preserve the color of the wine by removing the juices quickly from the skin, red wine did not need to be pressed until the end of the juice removal process since the color did not matter. [16] Many red wine winemakers used their feet to smash the grapes then used a press to remove any juice that remained in the grape skins. [16]

Qanat (water ducts) (5th century)

Ancient and medieval civilizations needed and used water to grow the human population as well as to partake in daily activities. One of the ways that ancient and medieval people gained access to water was through qanats, which were a water duct system that would bring water from an underground source or river source to villages or cities. [17] A qanat is a tunnel that is just big enough that a single digger could travel through the tunnel and find the source of water as well as allow for water to travel through the duct system to farm land or villages for irrigation or drinking purposes. These tunnels had a gradual slope which used gravity to pull the water from either an aquifer or water well. [18] This system was originally found in middle eastern areas and is still used today in places where surface water is hard to find. [17] Qanats were very helpful in not losing water while being transported as well. The most famous water duct system was the Roman aqueduct system, and medieval inventors used the aqueduct system as a blueprint to make getting water to villages quicker and easier than diverting rivers. After aqueducts and qanats many other water based technology was created and used in medieval periods including water mills, dams, wells and other such technology for easy access to water. [19]

Architecture and construction Edit

Pendentive architecture (6th century)

A specific spherical form in the upper corners to support a dome. Although the first experimentation was made in the 3rd century, it wasn't until the 6th century in the Byzantine Empire that its full potential was achieved.

A thin rod with a hard iron cutting edge is placed in the bore hole and repeatedly struck with a hammer, underground water pressure forces the water up the hole without pumping. Artesian wells are named after the town of Artois in France, where the first one was drilled by Carthusian monks in 1126.

In the early medieval Alpine upland, a simpler central heating system where heat travelled through underfloor channels from the furnace room replaced the Roman hypocaust at some places. In Reichenau Abbey a network of interconnected underfloor channels heated the 300 m 2 large assembly room of the monks during the winter months. The degree of efficiency of the system has been calculated at 90%. [20]

An essential element for the rise of Gothic architecture, rib vaults allowed vaults to be built for the first time over rectangles of unequal lengths. It also greatly facilitated scaffolding and largely replaced the older groin vault.

The first basic chimney appeared in a Swiss monastery in 820. The earliest true chimney did not appear until the 12th century, with the fireplace appearing at the same time. [21]

The Ponte Vecchio in Florence is considered medieval Europe's first stone segmental arch bridge since the end of classical civilizations.

The earliest reference to a treadwheel in archival literature is in France about 1225, [22] followed by an illuminated depiction in a manuscript of probably also French origin dating to 1240. [23] Apart from tread-drums, windlasses and occasionally cranks were employed for powering cranes. [24]

Stationary harbour cranes are considered a new development of the Middle Ages its earliest use being documented for Utrecht in 1244. [25] The typical harbour crane was a pivoting structure equipped with double treadwheels. There were two types: wooden gantry cranes pivoting on a central vertical axle and stone tower cranes which housed the windlass and treadwheels with only the jib arm and roof rotating. [1] These cranes were placed on docksides for the loading and unloading of cargo where they replaced or complemented older lifting methods like see-saws, winches and yards. [25] Slewing cranes which allowed a rotation of the load and were thus particularly suited for dockside work appeared as early as 1340. [26]

Beside the stationary cranes, floating cranes which could be flexibly deployed in the whole port basin came into use by the 14th century. [1]

Some harbour cranes were specialised at mounting masts to newly built sailing ships, such as in Gdańsk, Cologne and Bremen. [1]

The wheelbarrow proved useful in building construction, mining operations, and agriculture. Literary evidence for the use of wheelbarrows appeared between 1170 and 1250 in north-western Europe. The first depiction is in a drawing by Matthew Paris in the mid-13th century.

Art Edit

As early as the 13th century, oil was used to add details to tempera paintings and paint wooden statues. Flemish painter Jan van Eyck developed the use of a stable oil mixture for panel painting around 1410. [27]

Clocks Edit

Reasonably dependable, affordable and accurate measure of time. Unlike water in a clepsydra, the rate of flow of sand is independent of the depth in the upper reservoir, and the instrument is not liable to freeze. Hourglasses are a medieval innovation (first documented in Siena, Italy).

Mechanical clocks (13th to 14th centuries)

A European innovation, these weight-driven clocks were used primarily in clock towers.

Mechanics Edit

The Italian physician Guido da Vigevano combines in his 1335 Texaurus, a collection of war machines intended for the recapture of the Holy Land, two simple cranks to form a compound crank for manually powering war carriages and paddle wheel boats. The devices were fitted directly to the vehicle's axle respectively to the shafts turning the paddle wheels. [28]

Metallurgy Edit

Cast iron had been made in China since before the 4th century BC. [29] European cast iron first appears in Middle Europe (for instance Lapphyttan in Sweden, Dürstel in Switzerland and the Märkische Sauerland in Germany) around 1150, [30] in some places according to recent research even before 1100. [31] The technique is considered to be an independent European development. [32]

Milling Edit

The ship mill is a Byzantine invention, designed to mill grains using hydraulic power. The technology eventually spread to the rest of Europe and was in use until ca. 1800.

The first certain use of a water-powered paper mill, evidence for which is elusive in both Chinese [33] [34] and Muslim paper making, [35] dates to 1282. [36]

Used to produce metal sheet of an even thickness. First used on soft, malleable metals, such as lead, gold and tin. Leonardo da Vinci described a rolling mill for wrought iron.

The earliest tidal mills were excavated on the Irish coast where watermillers knew and employed the two main waterwheel types: a 6th-century tide mill at Killoteran near Waterford was powered by a vertical waterwheel, [37] while the tide changes at Little Island were exploited by a twin-flume horizontal-wheeled mill (c. 630) and a vertical undershot waterwheel alongside it. [38] [39] Another early example is the Nendrum Monastery mill from 787 which is estimated to have developed seven to eight horsepower at its peak. [40] [41]

Invented in Europe as the pivotable post mill, the first surviving mention of one comes from Yorkshire in England in 1185. They were efficient at grinding grain or draining water. Stationary tower mills were also developed in the 13th century.

Water hammer (12th century at the latest)

Used in metallurgy to forge the metal blooms from bloomeries and Catalan forges, they replaced manual hammerwork. The water hammer was eventually superseded by steam hammers in the 19th century.

Navigation Edit

The first European mention of the directional compass is in Alexander Neckam's On the Natures of Things, written in Paris around 1190. [42] It was either transmitted from China or the Arabs or an independent European innovation. Dry compass were invented in the Mediterranean around 1300. [43]

The French scholar Pierre de Maricourt describes in his experimental study Epistola de magnete (1269) three different compass designs he has devised for the purpose of astronomical observation. [44]

The first depiction of a pintle-and-gudgeon rudder on church carvings dates to around 1180. They first appeared with cogs in the North and Baltic Seas and quickly spread to Mediterranean. The iron hinge system was the first stern rudder permanently attached to the ship hull and made a vital contribution to the navigation achievements of the age of discovery and thereafter. [45]

Printing, paper and reading Edit

Johannes Gutenberg's great innovation was not the printing itself, but instead of using carved plates as in woodblock printing, he used separate letters (types) from which the printing plates for pages were made up. This meant the types were recyclable and a page cast could be made up far faster.

Paper was invented in China and transmitted through Islamic Spain in the 13th century. In Europe, the paper-making processes was mechanized by water-powered mills and paper presses (see paper mill).

A rotating disc and string device used to mark the page, column, and precise level in the text where a person left off reading in a text. Materials used were often leather, velum, or paper.

The first spectacles, invented in Florence, used convex lenses which were of help only to the far-sighted. Concave lenses were not developed prior to the 15th century.

This medieval innovation was used to mark paper products and to discourage counterfeiting. It was first introduced in Bologna, Italy.

Science and learning Edit

A scientific theory that was introduced by John Philoponus who made criticism of Aristotelian principles of physics, and it served as an inspiration to medieval scholars as well as to Galileo Galilei who ten centuries later, during the Scientific Revolution, extensively cited Philoponus in his works while making the case as to why Aristotelian physics was flawed. It is the intellectual precursor to the concepts of inertia, momentum and acceleration in classical mechanics.

The first extant treatise of magnetism (13th century)

The first extant treatise describing the properties of magnets was done by Petrus Peregrinus de Maricourt when he wrote Epistola de magnete.

The first recorded mention in Europe was in 976, and they were first widely published in 1202 by Fibonacci with his Liber Abaci.

The first medieval universities were founded between the 11th and 13th centuries leading to a rise in literacy and learning. By 1500, the institution had spread throughout most of Europe and played a key role in the Scientific Revolution. Today, the educational concept and institution has been globally adopted. [46]

Textile industry and garments Edit

German buttons appeared in 13th-century Germany as an indigenous innovation. [47] They soon became widespread with the rise of snug-fitting clothing.

Horizontal looms operated by foot-treadles were faster and more efficient.

Manufacture of silk began in Eastern Europe in the 6th century and in Western Europe in the 11th or 12th century. Silk had been imported over the Silk Road since antiquity. The technology of "silk throwing" was mastered in Tuscany in the 13th century. The silk works used waterpower and some regard these as the first mechanized textile mills.

Brought to Europe probably from India.

Miscellaneous Edit

The earliest predecessors of the game originated in 6th-century AD India and spread via Persia and the Muslim world to Europe. Here the game evolved into its current form in the 15th century.

This type of glass uses wood ash and sand as the main raw materials and is characterised by a variety of greenish-yellow colours.

Grindstones are a rough stone, usually sandstone, used to sharpen iron. The first rotary grindstone (turned with a leveraged handle) occurs in the Utrecht Psalter, illustrated between 816 and 834. [48] According to Hägermann, the pen drawing is a copy of a late-antique manuscript. [49] A second crank which was mounted on the other end of the axle is depicted in the Luttrell Psalter from around 1340. [50]

Primitive forms of distillation were known to the Babylonians, [51] as well as Indians in the first centuries AD. [52] Early evidence of distillation also comes from alchemists working in Alexandria, Roman Egypt, in the 1st century. [53] The medieval Arabs adopted the distillation process, [54] which later spread to Europe. Texts on the distillation of waters, wine, and other spirits were written in Salerno and Cologne in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. [54]

Liquor consumption rose dramatically in Europe in and after the mid-14th century, when distilled liquors were commonly used as remedies for the Black Death. These spirits would have had a much lower alcohol content (about 40% ABV) than the alchemists' pure distillations, and they were likely first thought of as medicinal elixirs. Around 1400, methods to distill spirits from wheat, barley, and rye were discovered. Thus began the "national" drinks of Europe, including gin (England) and grappa (Italy). In 1437, "burned water" (brandy) was mentioned in the records of the County of Katzenelnbogen in Germany. [55]

Magnets were first referenced in the Roman d'Enéas, composed between 1155 and 1160.

The first mention of a "glass" mirror is in 1180 by Alexander Neckham who said "Take away the lead which is behind the glass and there will be no image of the one looking in."

Illustrated surgical atlas (1345)

Guido da Vigevano (c. 1280 − 1349) was the first author to add illustrations to his anatomical descriptions. His Anathomia provides pictures of neuroanatomical structures and techniques such as the dissection of the head by means of trephination, and depictions of the meninges, cerebrum, and spinal cord. [56]

Initially a 40-day-period, the quarantine was introduced by the Republic of Ragusa as a measure of disease prevention related to the Black Death. It was later adopted by Venice from where the practice spread all around in Europe.

The first mention of a rat trap is in the medieval romance Yvain, the Knight of the Lion by Chrétien de Troyes.

Armour Edit

There was a vast amount of armour technology available through the 5th to 16th centuries. Most soldiers during this time wore padded or quilted armor. This was the cheapest and most available armor for the majority of soldiers. Quilted armour was usually just a jacket made of thick linen and wool meant to pad or soften the impact of blunt weapons and light blows. Although, this technology predated the 5th century, it was still extremely prevalent because of the low cost and the weapon technology at the time made the bronze armor of the Greeks and Romans obsolete. Quilted armour was also used in conjunction with other types of armour. Usually worn over or under leather, mail, and later plate armour. [57]

Hardened leather armour also called Cuir Bouilli was a step up from quilted armour. Made by boiling leather in either water, wax or oil to soften it so it can be shaped, it would then be allowed to dry and become very hard. [58] Large pieces of armour could be made such as breast plates, helmets, and leg guards, but many times smaller pieces would be sewn into the quilting of quilted armour or strips would be sewn together on the outside of a linen jacket. This was not as affordable as the quilted armour but offered much better protection against edged slashing weapons.

The most common type during the 11th through the 16th centuries was the Hauberk, also known earlier than the 11th century as the Carolingian byrnie. [59] Made of interlinked rings of metal, it sometimes consisted of a coif that covered the head and a tunic that covered the torso, arms, and legs down to the knees. Chain mail was very effective at protecting against light slashing blows but ineffective against stabbing or thrusting blows. The great advantage was that it allowed a great freedom of movement and was relatively light with significant protection over quilted or hardened leather armour. It was far more expensive than the hardened leather or quilted armour because of the massive amount of labor it required to create. This made it unattainable for most soldiers and only the more wealthy soldiers could afford it. Later, toward the end of the 13th century banded mail became popular. [60] Constructed of washer shaped rings of iron overlapped and woven together by straps of leather as opposed to the interlinked metal rings of chain mail, banded mail was much more affordable to manufacture. The washers were so tightly woven together that it was very difficult penetrate and offered greater protection from arrow and bolt attacks. [61]

The Jazerant or Jazeraint was an adaptation of chain mail in which the chain mail would be sewn in between layers of linen or quilted armour. [62] Exceptional protection against light slashing weapons and slightly improved protection against small thrusting weapons, but little protection against large blunt weapons such as maces and axes. This gave birth to reinforced chain mail and became more prevalent in the 12th and 13th century. Reinforced armour was made up of chain mail with metal plates or hardened leather plates sewn in. This greatly improved protection from stabbing and thrusting blows.

A type of Lamellar armour, [63] was made up entirely of small, overlapping plates. Either sewn together, usually with leather straps, or attached to a backing such as linen, or a quilted armor. Scale armour does not require the labor to produce that chain mail does and therefore is more affordable. It also affords much better protection against thrusting blows and pointed weapons. Though, it is much heavier, more restrictive and impedes free movement.

Plate armour covered the entire body. Although parts of the body were already covered in plate armour as early as 1250, such as the Poleyns for covering the knees and Couters – plates that protected the elbows, [64] the first complete full suit without any textiles was seen around 1410–1430. [65] Components of medieval armour that made up a full suit consisted of a cuirass, a gorget, vambraces, gauntlets, cuisses, greaves, and sabatons held together by internal leather straps. Improved weaponry such as crossbows and the long bow had greatly increased range and power. This made penetration of the chain mail hauberk much easier and more common. [66] By the mid 1400s most plate was worn alone and without the need of a hauberk. [67] Advances in metal working such as the blast furnace and new techniques for carburizing made plate armour nearly impenetrable and the best armour protection available at the time. Although plate armour was fairly heavy, because each suit was custom tailored to the wearer, it was very easy to move around in. A full suit of plate armour was extremely expensive and mostly unattainable for the majority of soldiers. Only very wealthy land owners and nobility could afford it. The quality of plate armour increases as more armour makers became more proficient in metal working. A suit of plate armour became a symbol of social status and the best made were personalized with embellishments and engravings. Plate armour saw continued use in battle until the 17th century.

Cavalry Edit

The arched saddle enabled mounted knights to wield lances underarm and prevent the charge from turning into an unintentional pole-vault. This innovation gave birth to true shock cavalry, enabling fighters to charge on full gallop.

Spurs were invented by the Normans and appeared at the same time as the cantled saddle. They enabled the horseman to control his horse with his feet, replacing the whip and leaving his arms free. Rowel spurs familiar from cowboy films were already known in the 13th century. Gilded spurs were the ultimate symbol of the knighthood – even today someone is said to "earn his spurs" by proving his or her worthiness.

Stirrups were invented by steppe nomads in what is today Mongolia and northern China in the 4th century. They were introduced in Byzantium in the 6th century and in the Carolingian Empire in the 8th. They allowed a mounted knight to wield a sword and strike from a distance leading to a great advantage for mounted cavalry.

Gunpowder weapons Edit

Cannons are first recorded in Europe at the siege of Metz in 1324. In 1350 Petrarch wrote "these instruments which discharge balls of metal with most tremendous noise and flashes of fire. were a few years ago very rare and were viewed with greatest astonishment and admiration, but now they are become as common and familiar as kinds of arms." [1]

First practiced in Western Europe, corning the black powder allowed for more powerful and faster ignition of cannons. It also facilitated the storage and transportation of black powder. Corning constituted a crucial step in the evolution of gunpowder warfare.

very large-calibre cannon (late 14th century)

Extant examples include the wrought-iron Pumhart von Steyr, Dulle Griet and Mons Meg as well as the cast-bronze Faule Mette and Faule Grete (all from the 15th century).

Mechanical artillery Edit

Powered solely by the force of gravity, these catapults revolutionized medieval siege warfare and construction of fortifications by hurling huge stones unprecedented distances. Originating somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean basin, counterweight trebuchets were introduced in the Byzantine Empire around 1100 CE, and was later adopted by the Crusader states and as well by the other armies of Europe and Asia. [68]

Missile weapons Edit

An incendiary weapon which could even burn on water is also attributed to the Byzantines, where they installed it on their ships. It played a crucial role in the Byzantine Empire's victory over the Umayyad Caliphate during the 717-718 Siege of Constantinople.

Rudimentary incendiary grenades appeared in the Byzantine Empire, as the Byzantine soldiers learned that Greek fire, a Byzantine invention of the previous century, could not only be thrown by flamethrowers at the enemy, but also in stone and ceramic jars.

Longbow with massed, disciplined archery (13th century)

Having a high rate of fire and penetration power, the longbow contributed to the eventual demise of the medieval knight class. [ dubious – discuss ] Used particularly by the English to great effect against the French cavalry during the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453).

European innovation came with several different cocking aids to enhance draw power, making the weapons also the first hand-held mechanical crossbows.

Miscellaneous Edit

Combined arms tactics (14th century)

The battle of Halidon Hill 1333 was the first battle where intentional and disciplined combined arms infantry tactics were employed. [ dubious – discuss ] The English men-at-arms dismounted aside the archers, combining thus the staying power of super-heavy infantry and striking power of their two-handed weapons with the missiles and mobility of the archers using longbows and shortbows. Combining dismounted knights and men-at-arms with archers was the archetypal Western Medieval battle tactics until the battle of Flodden 1513 and final emergence of firearms.


Contents

Ancient and early modern precursors Edit

There are a number of ancient or early modern texts including a great many epics and poems that contain fantastical or "science-fictional" elements, yet were written before the emergence of science fiction as a distinct genre. These texts often include elements such as a fantastical voyage to the moon or the use of imagined advanced technology. Although fantastical and science fiction-like elements and imagery exist in stories such as Ovid's Metamorphoses (8 AD), the Old English epic heroic poem Beowulf (8th-11th centuries AD), and the Middle German epic poem Nibelungenlied (c. 1230), their relative lack of references to science or technology puts them closer to fantasy rather than science fiction.

One of the earliest and most commonly-cited texts for those looking for early precursors to science fiction is the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, with the earliest text versions identified as being from about 2000 BC. American science fiction author Lester del Rey was one such supporter of using Gilgamesh as an origin point, arguing that "science fiction is precisely as old as the first recorded fiction. That is the Epic of Gilgamesh." [2] French science fiction writer Pierre Versins also argued that Gilgamesh was the first science fiction work due to its treatment of human reason and the quest for immortality. [3] In addition, Gilgamesh features a flood scene that in some ways resembles work of apocalyptic science fiction. However, the lack of explicit science or technology in the work has led some [ who? ] to argue that it is better categorized as fantastic literature.

Ancient Indian poetry such as the Hindu epic Ramayana (5th to 4th century BC) includes Vimana flying machines able to travel into space or under water, and destroy entire cities using advanced weapons. In the first book of the Rigveda collection of Sanskrit hymns (1700–1100 BC), there is a description of "mechanical birds" that are seen "jumping into space speedily with a craft using fire and water. containing twelve stamghas (pillars), one wheel, three machines, 300 pivots, and 60 instruments." [4] The ancient Hindu mythological epic, the Mahabharata (8th and 9th centuries BC) includes the story of King Kakudmi, who travels to heaven to meet the creator Brahma and is shocked to learn that many ages have passed when he returns to Earth, anticipating the concept of time travel. [5]

Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes has several works that include elements often associated with the "fantastic voyage", including air travel to another world. Examples include his The Clouds (423 BC), The Birds (414 BC) and The Peace.

One frequently cited text is the Syrian-Greek writer Lucian's 2nd-century satire True History, which uses a voyage to outer space and conversations with alien life forms to comment on the use of exaggeration within travel literature and debates. Typical science fiction themes and topoi in True History include travel to outer space, encounter with alien life-forms (including the experience of a first encounter event), interplanetary warfare and planetary imperialism, motif of giganticism, creatures as products of human technology, worlds working by a set of alternative physical laws, and an explicit desire of the protagonist for exploration and adventure. [6] In witnessing one interplanetary battle between the People of the Moon and the People of the Sun as the fight for the right to colonize the Morning Star, Lucian describes giant space spiders who were "appointed to spin a web in the air between the Moon and the Morning Star, which was done in an instant, and made a plain campaign upon which the foot forces were planted. " L. Sprague de Camp and a number of other authors argue this to be one of the earliest if not the earliest example of science fiction or proto-science fiction. [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] However, since the text was intended to be explicitly satirical and hyperbolic, other critics are ambivalent about its rightful place as a science fiction precursor. For example, English critic Kingsley Amis wrote that "It is hardly science-fiction, since it deliberately piles extravagance upon extravagance for comic effect" yet he implicitly acknowledged its SF character by comparing its plot to early 20th-century space operas: "I will merely remark that the sprightliness and sophistication of True History make it read like a joke at the expense of nearly all early-modern science fiction, that written between, say, 1910 and 1940." [11] Lucian translator Bryan Reardon is more explicit, describing the work as "an account of a fantastic journey - to the moon, the underworld, the belly of a whale, and so forth. It is not really science fiction, although it has sometimes been called that there is no 'science' in it." [12]

The early Japanese tale of "Urashima Tarō" involves traveling forwards in time to a distant future, [13] and was first described in the Nihongi (720). [14] It was about a young fisherman named Urashima Taro who visits an undersea palace and stays there for three days. After returning home to his village, he finds himself three hundred years in the future, where he is long forgotten, his house in ruins, and his family long dead. [13] The 10th-century Japanese narrative The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter may also be considered proto-science fiction. The protagonist of the story, Kaguya-hime, is a princess from the Moon who is sent to Earth for safety during a celestial war, and is found and raised by a bamboo cutter in Japan. She is later taken back to the Moon by her real extraterrestrial family. A manuscript illustration depicts a round flying machine similar to a flying saucer. [15]

One Thousand and One Nights Edit

Several stories within the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights, 8th-10th century CE) also feature science fiction elements. One example is "The Adventures of Bulukiya", where the protagonist Bulukiya's quest for the herb of immortality leads him to explore the seas, journey to the Garden of Eden and to Jahannam, and travel across the cosmos to different worlds much larger than his own world, anticipating elements of galactic science fiction [16] along the way, he encounters societies of jinn, [17] mermaids, talking serpents, talking trees, and other forms of life. [16]

In "Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman", the protagonist gains the ability to breathe underwater and discovers an underwater submarine society that is portrayed as an inverted reflection of society on land, in that the underwater society follows a form of primitive communism where concepts like money and clothing do not exist.

Other Arabian Nights tales deal with lost ancient technologies, advanced ancient civilizations that went astray, and catastrophes which overwhelmed them. [18] "The City of Brass" features a group of travellers on an archaeological expedition [19] across the Sahara to find an ancient lost city and attempt to recover a brass vessel that Solomon once used to trap a jinn, [20] and, along the way, encounter a mummified queen, petrified inhabitants, [21] lifelike humanoid robots and automata, seductive marionettes dancing without strings, [22] and a brass robot horseman who directs the party towards the ancient city.

"The Ebony Horse" features a robot [23] in the form of a flying mechanical horse controlled using keys that could fly into outer space and towards the Sun, [24] while the "Third Qalandar's Tale" also features a robot in the form of an uncanny sailor. [23] "The City of Brass" and "The Ebony Horse" can be considered early examples of proto-science fiction. [15] [25] Other examples of early Arabic proto-science fiction include al-Farabi's Opinions of the residents of a splendid city about a utopian society, and certain Arabian Nights elements such as the flying carpet. [26]

Other medieval literature Edit

According to Roubi, [27] the final two chapters of the Arabic theological novel Fādil ibn Nātiq (c. 1270), also known as Theologus Autodidactus, by the Arabian polymath writer Ibn al-Nafis (1213–1288) can be described as science fiction. The theological novel deals with various science fiction elements such as spontaneous generation, futurology, apocalyptic themes, eschatology, resurrection and the afterlife, but rather than giving supernatural or mythological explanations for these events, Ibn al-Nafis attempted to explain these plot elements using his own extensive scientific knowledge in anatomy, biology, physiology, astronomy, cosmology and geology. For example, it was through this novel that Ibn al-Nafis introduces his scientific theory of metabolism, [27] and he makes references to his own scientific discovery of the pulmonary circulation in order to explain bodily resurrection. [28] The novel was later translated into English as Theologus Autodidactus in the early 20th century.

During the European Middle Ages, science fictional themes appeared within many chivalric romance and legends. Robots and automata featured in romances starting in the twelfth century, with Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne and Eneas among the first. [29] The Roman de Troie, another twelfth-century work, features the famous Chambre de Beautes, which contained four automata, one of which held a magic mirror, one of which performed somersaults, one of which played musical instruments, and one which showed people what they most needed. [30] Automata in these works were often ambivalently associated with necromancy, and frequently guarded entrances or provided warning of intruders. [31] This association with necromancy often leads to the appearance of automata guarding tombs, as they do in Eneas, Floris and Blancheflour, and Le Roman d’Alexandre, while in Lancelot they appear in an underground palace. [32] Automata did not have to be human, however. A brass horse is among the marvelous gifts given to the Cambyuskan in Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Squire's Tale". This metal horse is reminiscent of similar metal horses in middle eastern literature, and could take its rider anywhere in the world at extraordinary speed by turning a peg in its ear and whispering certain words in its ear. [33] The brass horse is only one of the technological marvels which appears in The Squire's Tale: the Cambyuskan, or Khan also receives a mirror which reveals distant places, which the witnessing crowd explains as operating by the manipulation of angles and optics, and a sword which deals and heals deadly wounds, which the crowd explains as being possible using advanced smithing techniques.

Technological inventions are also rife in the Alexander romances. In John Gower's Confessio Amantis, for example, Alexander the Great constructs a flying machine by tying two griffins to a platform and dangling meat above them on a pole. This adventure is ended only by the direct intervention of God, who destroys the device and throws Alexander back to the ground. This does not, however, stop the legendary Alexander, who proceeds to have constructed a gigantic orb of glass which he uses to travel beneath the water. There he sees extraordinary marvels which eventually exceed his comprehension. [34]

States similar to suspended animation also appear in medieval romances, such as the Histora Destructionis Troiae and the Roman d’Eneas. In the former, king Priam has the body of the hero Hector entombed in a network of golden tubes that run through his body. Through these tubes ran the semi-legendary fluid balsam which was then reputed to have the power to preserve life. This fluid kept the corpse of Hector preserved as if he was still alive, maintaining him in a persistent vegetative state during which autonomic processes such as the growth of facial hair continued. [35]

The boundaries between medieval fiction with scientific elements and medieval science can be fuzzy at best. In works such as Geoffrey Chaucer "The House of Fame", it is proposed that the titular House of Fame is the natural home of sound, described as a ripping in the air, towards which all sound is eventually attracted, in the same way that the earth was believed to be the natural home of earth to which it was all eventually attracted. [36] Likewise, medieval travel narratives often contained science-fictional themes and elements. Works such as Mandeville's Travels included automata, alternate species and sub-species of humans, including Cynoencephali and Giants, and information about the sexual reproduction of diamonds. [37] However, Mandeville's Travels and other travel narratives in its genre mix real geographical knowledge with knowledge now known to be fictional, and it is therefore difficult to distinguish which portions should be considered science fictional or would have been seen as such in the Middle Ages.

Proto-science fiction in the Enlightenment and Age of Reason Edit

In the wake of scientific discoveries that characterized the Enlightenment, several new types of literature began to take shape in 16th-century Europe. The humanist thinker Thomas More's 1516 work of fiction and political philosophy entitled Utopia describes a fictional island whose inhabitants have perfected every aspect of their society. The name of the society stuck, giving rise to the Utopia motif that would become so widespread in later science fiction to describe a world that is seemingly perfect but either ultimately unattainable or perversely flawed. The Faust legend (1587) contains an early prototype for the "mad scientist story". [38]

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the so-called "Age of Reason" and widespread interest in scientific discovery fueled the creation of speculative fiction that anticipated many of the tropes of more recent science fiction. Several works expanded on imaginary voyages to the moon, first in Johannes Kepler's Somnium (The Dream, 1634), which both Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov have referred to as the first work of science fiction. Similarly, some [ who? ] identify Francis Godwin's The Man in the Moone (1638) as the first work of science fiction in English, and Cyrano de Bergerac's Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon (1656). [39] Space travel also figures prominently in Voltaire's Micromégas (1752), which is also notable for the suggestion that people of other worlds may be in some ways more advanced than those of earth.

Other works containing proto-science-fiction elements from the Age of Reason of the 17th and 18th centuries include (in chronological order):

    's The Tempest (1610–11) contains a prototype for the "mad scientist story". 's New Atlantis (1627), an incomplete utopian novel. 's The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing-World (1666), a novel that describes an alternate world found in the Arctic by a young noblewoman. 's Voyages et Aventures de Jacques Massé (1710) features a Lost World. 's La Vie, Les Aventures et Le Voyage de Groenland du Révérend Père Cordelier Pierre de Mésange (1720) features a Hollow Earth. 's Gulliver's Travels (1726) contains descriptions of alien cultures and "weird science". 's Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733) in which a narrator from 1728 is given a series of state documents from 1997–1998 by his guardian angel, a plot device which is reminiscent of later time travel novels. However, the story does not explain how the angel obtained these documents. Niels Klim's Underground Travels (1741) is an early example of the Hollow Earth genre. 's L'An 2440 (1771) gives a predictive account of life in the 25th century. 's La Découverte Australe par un Homme Volant (1781) features prophetic inventions. 's Icosameron (1788) is a novel that makes use of the Hollow Earth device

Shelley and Europe in the early 19th century Edit

The 19th century saw a major acceleration of these trends and features, most clearly seen in the groundbreaking publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1818. The short novel features the archetypal "mad scientist" experimenting with advanced technology. [40] In his book Billion Year Spree, Brian Aldiss claims Frankenstein represents "the first seminal work to which the label SF can be logically attached". It is also the first of the "mad scientist" subgenre. Although normally associated with the gothic horror genre, the novel introduces science fiction themes such as the use of technology for achievements beyond the scope of science at the time, and the alien as antagonist, furnishing a view of the human condition from an outside perspective. Aldiss argues that science fiction in general derives its conventions from the gothic novel. Mary Shelley's short story "Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman" (1826) sees a man frozen in ice revived in the present day, incorporating the now common science fiction theme of cryonics whilst also exemplifying Shelley's use of science as a conceit to drive her stories. Another futuristic Shelley novel, The Last Man, is also often cited [ who? ] as the first true science fiction novel.

In 1836 Alexander Veltman published Predki Kalimerosa: Aleksandr Filippovich Makedonskii (The forebears of Kalimeros: Alexander, son of Philip of Macedon), which has been called the first original Russian science fiction novel and the first novel to use time travel. [41] In it the narrator rides to ancient Greece on a hippogriff, meets Aristotle, and goes on a voyage with Alexander the Great before returning to the 19th century.

Somehow influenced by the scientific theories of the 19th century, but most certainly by the idea of human progress, Victor Hugo wrote in The Legend of the Centuries (1859) a long poem in two parts that can be viewed like a dystopia/utopia fiction, called 20th century. It shows in a first scene the body of a broken huge ship, the greatest product of the prideful and foolish mankind that called it Leviathan, wandering in a desert world where the winds blow and the anger of the wounded Nature is humanity, finally reunited and pacified, has gone toward the stars in a starship, to look for and to bring liberty into the light.

Other notable proto-science fiction authors and works of the early 19th century include:



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