Last week I read a discussion on a mailing list in which an author asked for opinions on mpreg. It’s not a genre I pay much attention to, not since a scarring experience several years ago with a LOTR fanfic involving Legolas and Aragorn, but the recent discussion reminded me of what could possibly be the very first recorded mention of mpreg in literary history.
As with most non-fandom examples, the context is science fiction… of a sort. The author is Lucian of Samosata (c.125-180), a noted satirist who wrote dozens of rude and witty works, many of which served as a somewhat caustic commentary on the religious, political, and social mores of the provinces of the Roman Empire. In particular he poked fun at the beliefs of the Greeks, especially in his romance (in the oldest sense of the word!) A True Story—a spoof travelogue that’s regarded as the earliest known sci-fi text.
In his prologue, Lucian informs his readers that they’re about to read a bunch of fibs. He’s read so many stories purporting to tell the truth when they blatantly tell lies that he’s decided to have a go at writing his own completely fictional worlds:
I did not find much fault with [several named Classical authors, including Homer] for their lying, as I saw that this was already a common practice even among men who profess philosophy. I did wonder, though, that they thought they could write untruths and not get caught at it. Therefore, as I myself, thanks to my vanity, was eager to hand something down to posterity, that I might not be the only one excluded from the privileges of poetic licence, and as I had nothing true to tell, not having had any adventures of significance, I took to lying. But my lying is far more honest than theirs, for though I tell the truth in nothing else, I shall at least be truthful in saying that I am a liar.
Thus warned of the falsehoods awaiting them, the readers plunge into a crazy adventure in which Lucian and his heroic companions sail through the Pillars of Hercules and are blown off-course. Their ship is carried into the air by a giant waterspout and they land on the Moon, where they get involved in a war between the Moonites and their arch-enemies, the people inhabiting the Sun, over the rights to colonise the Morning Star.
Like any good travel writer, Lucian spends some time observing the inhabitants of the Moon and Sun. He writes about soldiers who fly on three-headed vultures, a bird made of grass with lettuce leaves for wings, archers mounted on gigantic fleas, infantrymen armed with mushroom shields and asparagus spears, and dog-faced men who fight from the back of winged acorns. During the war, Lucian is taken captive by the Sun armies but is later released, to the delight of the King of the Moon:
He wanted me to stay with him and join the colony, promising to give me his own son in marriage—for there are no women in their country.
Lucian goes on to describe gay marriage and mpreg amongst the Moonites:
First of all, they are not born of woman but of man; their marriages are of male and male, and they do not even know the word ‘woman’ at all. Up to the age of twenty-five they all act as females, and thereafter as husbands. Pregnancy occurs not in the womb but in the calf of the leg, for after conception the calf grows fat. After a time they cut it open and bring out a lifeless body, which they lay with its mouth open facing the wind, and thus it comes to life.
This section of A True Story is an artful commentary on Greek modes of life, specifically the tall tales of armchair historians such as Herodotus (known as the ‘Father of Lies’ for the inclusion of various mythological creatures and races in his history of the Persian Wars), and homosexuality within a given set of social constraints—age, in this case, which suggests that Lucian is modelling his Moonite society on the particular ‘state sanctioned’ form of homosexuality practiced in classical Athens, flourishing some 500 years before Lucian wrote his story.
It also takes a swipe at religion and mythology, pointing to the peculiar nascence of some of the gods (the Moonites being born from the calf seems to be a reference to Dionysos, who was born from Zeus’ thigh), and it also dismisses the philosophy of wind-fertilisation, an ancient belief first recorded in the Iliad that was considered ‘probable’ by no less an authority than Aristotle, who believed the wind could influence the gender of an unborn child.
The young Moonites are born dead; their life comes only from the wind, which, according to popular beliefs right across the ancient world, teems with the souls of those already passed into the afterlife. This neatly attacks both the philosophical element and the homosexual, suggesting that a male-male union is sterile and needs outside support in order to generate future lives, while dismissing as a fantasy the whole concept of wind-fertilisation.
Like all writers, Lucian had a point or two to make with his works. While those who write mpreg today in a sci-fi or fannish context may do so from an interest in gender equality, Lucian was more concerned with raising a laugh amongst his audience, albeit with a sly didactic twist:
Men interested in athletics and in the care of their bodies think not only of condition and exercise but also of relaxation in season; in fact, they consider this the principal part of training. In like manner students, I think, after much reading of serious works, may profitably relax their minds and put them in better trim for future labour. It would be appropriate recreation for them if they were to take up the sort of reading that, instead of affording just pure amusement based on wit and humour, also boasts a little food for thought.
Read Lucian’s A True Story in all its mad glory here. The m/m Moonites can be found at Book I.22 of the text.