From Lucian’s Wonderland, being a Translation of the ‘Vera Historia,’ by St J. Basil Wynne Willson, M. A., illustrated by A. Payne Garnett; Edinburgh and London: Blackwood and Sons; 1899, pp. 1-8.
S athletes and experts in physical training pay heed not only to health and discipline, but also to reasonable relaxation, which they consider a part (and no unimportant part) of preparation; so, too, those whose tastes are literary should, after the longer study of more serious subjects, relax their minds, and thereby render them fresher for future application. They would find the rest agreeable to them if they had resort to such writings 2 as will not only provide out of their wit and elegance a mere entertainment for the mind, but will also display a spirit of criticism not lacking in culture.
Some such opinion as this, reader, I durst think you will hold on this work. You will find attraction not only in the strangeness of the subject, the cleverness of the idea, or in any specious and plausible treatment of a variety of fictions, but also in the covert allusions (which each of the narratives contains, seasoned with a spice of satire) to some of the old poets, historians, and philosophers, whose works treat of many marvels and myths.
These authors I would have mentioned by name, had I not been sure that they would be perfectly obvious to you.
Ctesias,1 son of Ctesiochus, of Cnidus, in 3 writing on India and its customs, has recorded things that he neither saw himself nor heard from the lips of another.
Again Iambulus2 in his voyage in the Great Ocean tells many incredible stories. The fictitious nature of his narrative is perfectly clear, whilst the design of his composition is far from unpleasing. There are many others who have chosen similar themes to these for their works, professing to relate their own travels and life abroad, and discoursing on monstrous animals, strange men, and savage modes of living.
Their leader and master in such light jesting is Homer’s Ulysses, with his tales of the imprisonment of the winds, of certain wild, one-eyed cannibals, of many-headed animals, and of the transformation of his comrades by Circe’s drugs.3 Many portentous 4 stories of this kind he told to the Phæacians, who were a simple folk.
When I meet with such compositions, I lay no blame on the authors for the lying, seeing that it is a custom with those who profess philosophy. What stirs my wonder is, that they thought their lies would escape detection.
In my vanity I was anxious to bequeath some work to posterity, and I had no wish to be the only one without a share in the licence of imaginative literature; wherefore having had no adventures worthy of note, and thus having no veracious narrative to relate, I turned to fiction in a far more honest spirit than my predecessors. For this one truth I will tell, that I am lying. Thus I think I shall escape the general censure by a voluntary confession of falsity.5
Be it understood, therefore, that I am writing of things that I never saw and never learnt from others; furthermore, they are things that have no shadow of existence, and never could have at all. Therefore, reader, into whose hand this book falls, you must not believe it.
1 Photius preserves some fragments of Ctesias’ ‘History of India.’
2 Iambulus wrote a work ‘De Mirificis Hominum Formis.’
3 Homer’s ‘Odyssey,’ bks. ix-xii.