Science Fiction Studies

#10 = Volume 3, Part 3 = November 1976

David Winston

Iambulus’ Islands of the Sun and HellenisticLiterary Utopias

The original of Iambulus’ narrative (written sometime between 165 and 50BC)1 has perished, and were it not for the excerpts made by Diodorus Siculus in his Biblld have to rely on two meagre references in Lucian and Tzetzes. In introducing his parody of imaginary-voyage literature, True Histories, Lucian singles out Ctesias and Iambulus as representative. The latter, says Lucian, wrote much that was incredible about the lands in the great sea, but though obviously fabulous, it was not an unpleasing story. Ionnes Tzetzes (Chiliades §§727-30) noted that Iambulus wrote of round animals found in the islands of the Ethiopians, of double-tongued men who could converse with two different people simultaneously, and numerous other things. From Diodorus’ excerpt, we may, in spite of its disorder, reconstruct the form and content of the work in some detail.

1. Iambulus’ Narrative. Entitled Islands of the Sun or possibly The Adventures of Iambulus in the Southern Ocean, it probably contained chapters in a sequence similar to the following: 1) Birth and Education of Iambulus; 2) Incidents Leading to his Discovery of the Islands of the Sun; 3) Geographical and Astronomical Description of the Islands; 4) Constitution and Customs of the Islanders; 5) Religion of the Islanders; 6) Language and Learning of the Islanders; 7) The Animals of the Islands; 8) Sojourn of Iambulus at Palibothra and his Return to Greece or Asia Minor. These headings will be followed in my account of Iambulus’story, which in Diodorus is narrated in the third person.

Chapters 1-2. There was a certain Iambulus who had an early passion for learning, but who upon the death of his merchant father, plunged into commercial enterprise. On the way through Arabia to the spice-bearing country (i.e. the Somali coast), he was seized by brigands and ultimately carried off to the Ethiopian coast where he was compelled to participate in a ritual for the purification of that land: A boat containing a six-month food supply was rigged for him and a companion, and they were ordered to put to sea and to steer south until they arrived at a blessed isle inhabited by virtuous folk. If they reached the island safely, they would not only secure personal bliss but also confer peace and prosperity upon the Ethiopians for six hundred years. But if they should grow afraid and turn back, they would incur the sharpest penalties and bring disaster on the whole nation. After sailing over a vast and tempestuous sea for four months, they put in at the island foretold them, where some of the natives met them and drew their boat to shore. The islanders, crowding around, were amazed at the strangers, but behaved decently toward them, and shared with them whatever they had.

Chapter 3. The island was circular in form, with a circumference of about five thousand stades (1000 kilometers). It was part of an archipelago consisting of seven islands, all of about equal size, equidistant from each other, and following the same laws and customs. Although at the equator, the natives enjoyed a most temperate climate; moreover, the fruits there ripened the year through, even as the poet writes: "Pear upon pear grows old, and apple on apple, yea, and clustered grapes on grapes, and fig upon fig" (Odyssey §§7:120-21). Day and night are of equal length, and at noon nothing casts a shadow, since the sun is directly overhead. Of the constellations known to us, the Bears and many others are entirely invisible.

The natives spend their time in the meadows, the land supplying many things for sustenance. For by reason of the island’s productivity and the mild climate, foods are produced of themselves in greater quantities than necessary. A certain reed growing there in great plenty, a span broad, bears abundant fruit resembling white vetch; it waxes and wanes with the moon. After gathering this reed, the natives steep it in warm water, until it becomes the size of a pigeon’s egg: then, having crushed it and kneaded it skillfully with their hands, they mould it into loaves which when baked are of excellent sweetness. The island also has abundant streams, the warm ones good for bathing and overcoming fatigue, while the cold ones are deliciously sweet and healthful. Even the sea about the island, which has violent currents and ebbs, is sweet to the taste. Fruit trees grow there abundantly and spontaneously, including the olive tree and vine. The natives catch many varieties of fish and birds. The immense snakes are harmless to man, and have deliciously sweet flesh. Clothing is made from certain reeds having a bright velvety down in the center, which they gather and mix with pounded oyster shells, thus making wonderful purple garments.

Chapter 4. The inhabitants of this island are very different from those who live in our part of the inhabited world, both in the peculiar nature of their bodies and in their way of life. They are over six feet tall, and their bones flex to a certain extent and straighten out again like the sinewy parts. Their bodies are very soft to the touch, yet far more vigorous than ours; if they lay hold of any object with their hands, no one can force it from their grip. They have hair on the head, eyebrows, eyelids, and chin, but on the other parts of the body not even the slightest down is visible. They are remarkably handsome and well-proportioned in their body contours. The openings of their ears [or nostrils?] are much wider than ours and have valve-like coverings. Their tongues are two-pronged up to a point, and they cut up the inner portion even further so that it is doubled up to the root. Their phonetic potential is accordingly very diversified, for they can reproduce not only every articulate language used by man, but even the multi-toned warbling of birds, and in general every phoneme. But the most incredible feat of all is their ability to carry on conversation simultaneously with two people, responding to the questions of one with one fork of the tongue, while conversing familiarly about current events with the other fork.2

They live in clan groupings, not more than four hundred to a group. Each grouping is ruled by its oldest member, who is something like a king, and obeyed by all. On completion of his one hundred and fiftieth year the ruler puts an end to his life in accordance with the law, and the next oldest succeeds to the rule. They alternately serve one another, some of them fishing, others working at the crafts, others occupying themselves in other useful matters, and still others—except for the very aged—performing public duties in cyclic rotation. They do not marry, but possess their women in common, and raising the children as communal wards they love them equally. While still infants, they are frequently exchanged by their nurses, so that not even the mothers will recognize their own. Since there is thus no rivalry among them, they live free from partisan strife, placing the highest value upon inner harmony. Each grouping maintains a peculiar large bird, whereby a test is made to determine the psychic state of the infant children. They mount the babies upon the birds, and those who endure the aerial flight they rear, but those who get airsick and panicky they cast out as of an undeserving temperament and unlikely to live long.

Although everything is abundantly and spontaneously supplied to them, the islanders nevertheless do not indulge their pleasures without restraint, but practice simplicity and eat only to sufficiency. They prepare meats and all roasted or boiled foods, but they do not know other dishes, such as the numerous condiments and sauces concocted by cooks. Their whole way of life follows a prescribed order: not that they eat in a public area or the same foods, but specified days have been constituted for eating sometimes fish, sometimes fowl, at other times the flesh of land animals, and at others olives with the simplest side dishes.

They are extremely long-lived and mostly free from disease. Anyone maimed or with any bodily defect is compelled by an irrevocable law to do away with himself. When they reach the age of one hundred and fifty, it is their custom to voluntarily remove themselves by using a strange plant: whoever lies upon it falls imperceptibly and gently asleep and dies. They bury their dead at low tide, covering them with sand; when the tide comes in a mound is formed.

Chapter 5. As gods they revere the all-encompassing heavens, the Sun, and in general, all the celestial bodies. At their feasts and festivals, hymns and songs of praise to the gods are recited and sung, but especially to the Sun, after whom they name both the islands and themselves.

Chapter 6. Every branch of learning is diligently pursued by them, but their chief concern is with astrology. They employ an alphabet representing twenty-eight different phonetic values but comprising only seven characters, each of which can assume four different forms. They do not write their lines horizontally as we do, but vertically downward.

Chapter 7. They have a very odd sort of small animal: it is round and very similar to a tortoise, and its skin is crossed by two yellow diagonal lines, at each end of which it has an eye and a mouth. Though seeing with four eyes and using four mouths, it collects all its food through one gullet into one intestine. All its inner organs are similarly single; but all around its underbelly there are many feet enabling it to walk in any direction it pleases.3 The blood of this animal has a wondrous property: it immediately glues together any living member that has been severed; even if a hand or a similar organ is severed, by means of this blood it can be glued on again while the cut is fresh. The same is true of any other part of the body excepting the vital regions.

Chapter 8. After a seven-year stay, Iambulus and his friend were shipwrecked in shoals off India, and while his companion perished, Iambulus was taken up from the coast by native villagers to the king at Palibothra, a distance of many days from the sea. Since the king was fond of the Greeks and a supporter of learning, he regarded Iambulus with great favor. Finally, after receiving safe conduct, Iambulus traveled first to Persia and later safely home to Greece [or a Greek-speaking country]. Iambulus considered his adventures worth recording, and added a good deal of information about India unknown to his contemporaries.

2. Extraordinary Voyages and Utopian Themes in Greek Literature. The Hellenistic age witnessed an extraordinary flowering of geographical and travel literature, very striking in its profuseness and variety. This kind of literature was not, to be sure, a new interest with the Greeks. To appreciate the fascination such writings had always had for the Greek mind, one need only recall the epic adventures of Odysseus, the Arimaspeia of Aristeas of Proconnesus, the almost painful elaboration on Io’s peregrinations in Aeschylus’ Prometheus, and the texts of the Ionian pioneers of historical-geographical writing culminating in Herodotus’ medley. With the conquests of Alexander, however, this literature attained new dimensions. Eyewitness accounts of Greek generals, admirals, roving ambassadors and special envoys followed each other in rapid succession. A bare enumeration of their names would suffice to indicate the magnitude of a vast literature which has almost totally disappeared.4 This Hellenistic overflow may well be compared to a similar phenomenon which occurred in 16th-17th century Europe.

By a very natural development, there sprang up from the main branch of travel literature two considerable offshoots, the travel fantasy — a frankly fictive account of exotic travel adventures with no attempt to lend an air of reality to the narrative — and the voyage extraordinaire. Though the travel fantasy has perished, the name of Antiphanes of Berge and his famed tall tale survive to testify to the many travel yarns which flourished in this age.5 Our chief concern, however, is with the "extraordinary voyage," since it was this form that Iambulus chose for his utopian narratives. The choice was a logical one, for unlike the travel fantasy, the mark of authenticity carefully contrived by its author commends the extraordinary voyage to a wider audience and lends its imaginary contents the prestige of the real and concrete: the utopian community it described is not a wild dream which can be shrugged off, but a cold, hard fact. Before proceeding to examine Iambulus’ methods of authentication, let us observe the similar methods employed by the extraordinary voyages before him.

The earliest known utopian composition written in the form of an extraordinary voyage is the Peri Hyperboreon of Hecataeus of Abdera, a contemporary of Alexander the Great. Painting an elaborately idealized picture of the mythical Hyperboreans, Hecataeus added much geographical and astronomical data, which were sufficiently striking in their simulated authenticity to cause geographers to make detailed attempts at identification with specific sites. Combining the various fragments, we get the following geographical-astronomical picture: in the northern Amalchian sea, there lies opposite the land of the Celts an island not smaller than Sicily, called Helixoia. It is inhabited by the Hyperboreans, i.e. people who live beyond the point whence the north wind (Boreas) blows. The island is very fertile and productive, and owing to its extremely temperate climate it yields two crops a year. It is said that the Moon appears from this island to be only a very short distance from the Earth, so that its Earth-like prominences are visible, and that Apollo visits the island every nineteen years, the period in which the stars complete their heavenly movements returning to their former positions. The Hyperboreans speak a language peculiar to themselves, and are very friendly to the Greeks, especially the Athenians and Delians, who inherited this good will from the most ancient times. In fact, certain Greeks are said to have visited the Hyperboreans, leaving behind them costly votive offerings with Greek inscriptions.

So turn now6 to the Hiera Anagraphe of Euhemerus of Messana (ca. 300 BC), an extraordinary voyage with a special philosophical-religious theory as its purpose. It seems to have been an elaborately detailed work in at least three books, and exhibits every mark of a careful effort at authentication. Euhemerus speaks of his many voyages in his official capacity on behalf of King Cassander of Macedonia (301-297 BC) and specifically of a long southerly ocean-voyage he once made from the eastern coast of Arabia Eudaemon (i.e. from that NE part of Arabia lying opposite the modern Baluchistan), which took him to the Panchaean isles. A detailed description of three of these islands follows, including the names of the notable cities Hyracia, Dalis, Oceanis, and especially Panara, whose citizens are called "Suppliants of Zeus Triphylius" (Zeus of the three tribes). Whenever he can, Euhemerus gives exact dimensions and distances on and between the three islands; from Panchaea’s eastern promontory one can catch a glimpse of India through the misty distance. Another realistic touch is the elaborate description of the nature of frankincense and its preparation on the island of Hiera, to which may also be added that there is nothing very strange or incredible in Euhemerus’ account of the political setup of the Panchaeans. Finally, perhaps following the lead of Hecataeus, Euhemerus provides scientific documentation for his religious theory that the gods were nothing more than great rulers from the remote past deified for their admirable deeds on behalf of men, by referring all his information in this area—aside from supposed conversations with the priests—to various inscriptions, and especially to a gold stele in the sanctuary of Zeus Triphylius on which are inscribed in summary fashion, in the writing employed by the Panchaeans (apparently Egyptian hieroglyphics), the deeds of Uranus, Cronus and Zeus. Combining geographical and botanical detail with sober political narrative, Euhemerus produced a most persuasive voyage extraordinaire, which easily deceived Diodorus into taking it as straight history.

Iambulus’ extraordinary voyage can now be seen in its proper setting. Uniting all the techniques of his predecessors, he uses astronomical, geographical, botanical, zoological and anthropological data of all sorts to authenticate his narrative. It should be noted that one of the most accurate and influential of the genuine voyage narratives, the Paraplous of Nearchus, was especially rich in scientific information, above all astronomy, meteorology, and botany. Iambulus’ marked use of such data, therefore, is clearly understandable. The scientific charlatan employs an abundant scientific terminology to convince the audience that he is rigorously scientific;7 similarly, Iambulus affects the best scientific-voyage terminology of the age in an effort to win the confidence of his audience. His unusual success can today be measured only by the long list of geographers who have taken him in full earnest and have bravely defended him against his defamers.8

In general, Greek literary genres are sharply defined, and each has a set of themes (topoi) peculiar to itself. Conforming to this usage, Iambulus’ work exhibits themes frequently found in the Greek utopia. The Sun-islands are circular in form, the favorite geometrical pattern for a utopian country. So, for example, Plato’s Atlantis is composed of a series of concentric circles of land and sea, and Hecataeus’ temple of Apollo on the island of the Hyperboreans is spheroid. Similarly, the utopian climate is always pleasant, there is always an abundance of sweet and healthful spring water, and a super-abundant food supply. Further, utopians are usually tall and well-built. Iambulus’ Sun-men are also long-lived and free from disease, but most utopians outstrip them in this matter: the Uttarakuru of Sanskrit sources live one thousand (or 10,000) years, and so too the Hyperboreans; according to Herodotus the Ethiopians live to 120 years or more, and Onesicritus in Pos Alexandros ekhthe (in Strabo, Geography §15:1:34) attributes 130 years to the people of Musicanus; the Meropes of Theopompus live twice as long as ordinary mortals, and never know disease. Utopians, however, not only live pleasantly, but also die pleasantly. On the island paradise of Syria (Odyssey §§15:403-14), Apollo of the silver bow and Artemis slay the happy natives with their gentle shafts; in Hesiod’s Golden Age men die as overcome with sleep (Works and Days §116); the inhabitants of Theopompus’ Eusebes die laughing. Similarly, Iambulus’ Sun-men have a magical plant which induces the sleep of death.

Finally, most utopians expel their visitors as evil-doers. After a stay of seven years, Iambulus and his comrade are cast out as incorrigibly prone to evil ways. Homer’s Phaeacians similarly send strangers back where they came from (Odyssey §§7:32-33). Examples from later, 18th century utopias are Swift’s Gulliver and Foigny’s Sadeur, ultimately ejected as unfit for a perfect, rational society.

Iambulus’ Sun symbolism is especially understandable when we realize its specific connection with justice and righteousness. The prophet Malachi (§3:20) spoke of "the Sun of Justice," a figure of speech then current in the Near East, from the ancient Babylonian literature to the Orphic hymns.9

Summing up, Iambulus’ main source beside travel narratives on India was the Greek utopian tradition of extraordinary voyages which preceded him (as well as various philosophical works). Shaped by his imaginative genius, however, these varied elements blended into a distinct utopian art-form, which found a permanent place in European literature.

3. Cockayne Utopianism. The earliest detailed analysis of Iambulus was that of Rohde, who remarks that Iambulus’ basic theme was that the perfect condition of man lies in the simplest and most primitive state of nature. This was in accord with the doctrines of the elder Stoics, who described the rawest state of nature as the ideal arrangement of human society.10 Farrington is equally convinced that Iambulus’ Sun-isle is a Stoic utopia and adds that "it exhibits in the most unmistakable way the intimate connection between Stoic and Chaldean conceptions of the universe and society." The seven islands correspond with the Sun, Moon and five planets (already noted by Pöhlmann). The reed which waxes and wanes with the Moon illustrates the sympathy imagined to exist in Chaldean astrology between heaven and earth. It is because the inhabitants are Sun-men that their society is based on egalitarian communism, and the island’s location on the equator is a symbol of the equality which prevails there.11

The most penetrating appraisal of Iambulus’ utopia, though somewhat distorted by an overpowering zeal for socialist theory, is that of Pöhlmann, who notes that Iambulus’ narrative is the first political romance known to us, and represents the high-water mark of the Greek poetic utopia. Its author is in fact a socio-economic Jules Verne. Diodorus has unfortunately emphasized the fantastic element, giving little of the social and economic. It is abundantly clear, however that the whole Sun-state is one large communist association (or unification of such associations: "systemata"), whose aim is nothing less than a fully communist regulation of the entire economic and social life—possibly under the influence of Aristonicus’ uprising. The collectivism of the Sun-state is strongly authoritarian, with a ruling "hegemon" in each group whose power is life-long, and who is not elected. But what might have been an irksome collectivism is softened considerably by the richness of the earth’s productivity, which diminishes the necessity of human labour and leaves a maximum amount of leisure for intellectual pursuits. The fantastic element, Pöhlmann further argues, was necessary if Iambulus wanted to satisfy his audience, who expected it in this genre of literature. Moreover, just as much of his novelistic framework was drawn from the current literature, so do his ideas correspond to current streams of thought, reminiscent of Platonic, Cynic, and Stoic ideas, which were then, so to speak, in the air.12

The first to deny that Iambulus’ utopia is stoic was Richter, who agrees with Rohde that the Sun-men are a people in their pristine power and beauty, living in blissful peace, in the simplest sort of organization, based on primal natural rights, but argues that there was nothing specifically Stoic or Cynic in that.13 Tarn points out that Iambulus’ work is a patchwork of ideas typical for the Hellenistic age (true or quasi-scientific details, speculation on the ideal state, travel story, romance, desire for the simple life). Like H.G. Wells, Iambulus was a vivid story-teller, and his utopia is reminiscent of Wells’ Men Like Gods.14 Similarly, Africa writes: "Like Montaigne’s cannibals, Iambulus’ happy Indians are a romanticized composite of travellers’ tales, held up as an existent ideal to mortify corrupt Europeans, and The Isles of the Sun are closer to Melville’s Typee than to More’s Utopia."15

This multiplicity of opinion, at first sight baffling, is essentially the result of a lack of precision in defining the various kinds of utopianism and of an adequate terminology in this area. I propose to designate the utopianism which is unwilling to confine its program to a transformation of social and political patterns, but beguilingly seeks to overhaul the very structure of the natural world, as Cockayne utopianism—borrowing a word from a widespread folk motif, the Land of Cockayne, with which it shares its peculiar flight into fantasy. In Cockayne, Nature is refashioned to the author’s liking, and her beneficence charms our anxieties away. While Cockayne utopianism is an unrestrained expression of man’s hidden desires, utopianism proper is an expression of the reflective mind and in accord with philosophical ideals.16 The utopist’s mood is one of rebellion against the given. His utopian dream is an explosion of the poetic spirit, and beneath the glowing colors lies concealed his quarrel with the Lord: "If only God had plied his craft better!..." I shall now endeavor to show that Iambulus’ Island of the Sun is an unmistakable example of Cockayne utopianism.

The distinguishing mark of Cockayne utopianism is not its vision of a new social order, but of a new natural order which necessarily entails the former.17 It says, in effect, that what we need is a new Heaven and a new Earth—and a new race of men. This is exactly what Iambulus has conjured up before our eyes. His island enjoys perfect climatic conditions, and its automatic productivity yields an overabundance of everything. All foods (including snake-meat) and all liquids (including the seawater) are deliciously sweet and healthful. The islanders themselves are physically no ordinary mortals. They are all well over six feet, built like football players, with an inimitable hand-grip, and a wonderfully pliable bone structure. Severed limbs they glue right back on by means of a potent blood-extract, while their natural resistance makes them practically immune to disease. Ear valves keep out unnecessary noise and a two-forked tongue both speeds up their work and adds an unusual variety and zest to their conversation. Everything, in fact, exemplifies beauty, symmetry, and vigour. The islands form perfect circles (symbols of perfection), are seven in number (a number loaded with every conceivable form of symbolism), are all of about equal size, are equidistant from each other, and follow the same laws and customs. The people, perfectly alike physically and mentally, are divided into groupings, each numbering about four hundred members, who enjoy a life-span of 150 years (though they apparently could live much longer if they had so wished) whereupon they freely and pleasantly take their exit of life. This passion for symmetry, sometimes called the geometrical spirit, is an unfailing characteristic of our genre.18 Though pleasingly held within bounds in Iambulus, it is sometimes carried to enormous extremes.

To sum up, a super-race lives on a super-island, where all is beauty and symmetry. No philosopher, grappling with the complexities of reality and seeking the way to a new and better life in spite of them, would deny that Iambulus’ solution is much simpler and more effective. He would insist, however, that the Cockayne element removes Iambulus’ vision from the realm of serious philosophical speculation. This is not to deny, of course, that Iambulus may genuinely reflect many philosophical ideas. But for him they form part of an imaginative matrix from which he draws the various elements of his utopian construction. Thus his narrative seems shaped by opposed designs. At one end Iambulus seeks to approach the real as best he knows, at the other he seeks to escape it as completely as he can. That is why his techniques of authentication wrought such havoc among later geographic commentators. But his tendency to evade reality in the solution of social problems has been equally mischievous. Some see in his utopia the ideal of primitive simplicity, while others find in it an authoritarian collectivism. Both are wrong. There is nothing primitive about multilingual people, expert in every branch of learning, clad in beautiful purple, and enjoying a varied diet of all sorts of roasts and an abundance of oil and wine. On the other hand, there is nothing authoritarian about collectives which operate without the aid of a judiciary or central government, where every office or duty (however menial) is constantly rotated, and where labour is at a minimum. A most difficult paradox of real life has thus been resolved with the aid of Cockayne, which has graciously bestowed on the Sun-children the boon of natural virtue and absolute equality. These incorruptible utopians walk amid abundance, yet practice moderation and simplicity. Their well-oiled organization, thoroughly communist and all-regulating, operates, nevertheless, through separate and uncoordinated units, without coercion or central control. Everybody loves everybody. All hail to Iambulus!


1. The grounds for this dating may be found in my dissertation, "Iambulus: A Literary Study in Greek Utopianism," Columbia University, 1956.

2. Cf John Ferguson, Utopias of the Classical World (US 1975), p 209, n 14: "The late Sir Richard Paget, owing to a peculiarity of the voice-box, could sound two notes simultaneously. His daughter inherited this capacity, and they used to sing quartets."

3. A delightful sketch of this weird creature, with severed hands and legs strewn all about it, is in Leo Africanus, Description de l’Afrique, ed. Jean Temporal (Lyon 1556), vol 2, La Navigation de Iambol, marchant Grec, p 116.

4. See Franz Susemihl, Geschichte der Grieschischen Literatur in der Alexandrinerzeit (Leipzig 1891), 1:649-701, who lists over forty authors.

5. Antiphanes spoke of a city so cold that human speech freezes there as it is uttered, and only on its melting in the summer can one hear what has been said. For the subsequent elaborations of this story in European and American literature, see Eugene S. McCartney, "Antiphanes’ Cold-Weather Story and its Elaboration," Classical Philology 48(1953):169-72. Lucian’s parody of the fantastic-voyage literature, his True Histories, indicates its extensive proportions and popularity.

6. 1 have omitted from this discussion Amometus’ book on the Attacorae, which was classified by Pliny with Hecataeus’ work on the Hyperboreans (Natural History §6:55) and was probably also written in the form of a voyage extraordinaire. Unfortunately, all we know about it is that the Attocorae were said to have dwelt on the bay of the same name, sheltered by sunbathed hills from every harmful wind, and enjoying the same kind of climate as the Hyperboreans. Magasthenes seems to have referred to them when he mentioned "Indian Hyperboreans" (Strabo, Geography §15:1:57). Fragments of Amometus (lived during the reign of Ptolemy I or II) are in C. Müller, Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum §2:396. For the Sanskrit sources describing the Uttarakuru, see C. Lassen, "Berträge zur Kunde des Indischen Alterthums aus dem Mahabharata," Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 2(1839):62-70. These sources describe an Indian Cockayne: Uttara Kuru is the land of unbroken delights, not too cold or warm, free from disease, sadness, and worry. The earth is dust-free and aromatic, while the rivers flow along golden beds, rolling pearls and precious stones instead of pebbles. The trees always bear both fruits and all sorts of materials and multi-colored clothing, and every morning from their branches hang the most beautiful women, who, through a curse of Indra, must die again every evening. Cf Lucian, True Histories §§1-8. See also Erwin Rohde, Der Griechische Roman and Seine Vorläufer, 3d edn (Leipzig 1914), pp 233-34, and Bimala C. Law, Geographical Essays (UK 1937), 1:29.

7. See, for example, the fascinating account of pseudo-science by Martin Gardner, In the Name of Science (US 1952). Two classics of pseudo-science are the 750-page Glazial-Kosmogonie by Hans Horbiger, "filled with photographs and elaborate diagrams, heavy with the thoroughness of German scholarship, and from beginning to end totally without value," and The New Geology by George M. Price, "disproving" evolution (Gardner, pp 37, 128). The analogy is, of course, inexact, since the pseudo-scientist usually believes he is truly scientific.

8. Gian Battista Ramusio, "Navigatione di Iambolo mercantate antichissimo," in his Delle Navigationi et Viaggi (Venezia 1550), 1:188-90; also John Harris, Navigantium atque itinerantium Bibliotheca (London 1764), 1:383-85; E. Jacquet, "De la relation et de l’alphabet indien d’Iamboule, " Nouveau Jornal Asiatique 19, 2d ser., tome 8 (1831), pp 20-30; E. Stechow, "Kannte das Alterturn die Insel Madagascar?" Petermann’s Geographische Mitteilungen (1944), pp 84-85; Christian Lassen, Indische Alterthumskunde (Leipzig 1858), 3:253-71.

9. See Franz Joseph Dölger, Die Sonne der Gerechtigkeit und der Schwarze, Liturgiegeschichtliche Forschungen, Heft 2 (Münster 1918), pp 83-100; also the same author in Antike und Christentum 5(1936):138-40, and W.W. Tarn, "Alexander Helios and the Golden Age," Journal of Roman Studies 22(1932):140+147-48.

10. Rohde (Note 6), pp 243-60.

11. Benjamin Farrington, Head and Hand in Ancient Greece (UK 1947), pp 55-87.

12. Robert von Pöhlmann, Geschichte der Sozialen Frage und des Sozialismus in der Antiken Welt, 3d edn (Munich 1925), 2:305-24. Upon the death of Attalus III (133 BC) and his deeding of the Pergamene kingdom to Rome, Aristonicus, illegitimate member of the royal family, claimed the throne for himself. Compelled to retire to the hinterland and recruit new forces, Aristonicus appealed to the dispossessed poor and slave populations, offering the latter liberty and the former, it seems, a sparkling social program. These new recruits were specifically designated Heliopolitae (Strabo, Geography §14:1:38 C646), a fact which in the opinion of PöhImann (2:404-06) and W.W. Tarn (Alexander the Great [UK 1948], 2:411-14) suggests a definite relationship between Aristonicus’ social program and the Hellenistic utopian literature, especially Iambulus.

On the other hand, M. Rostovtzeff (Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World [UK 1941], 2:808), soberly comments that "the evidence is slight and inconclusive," and that "the name Heliopolitae may equally well be connected with the oriental belief in the Great Sun, the Supreme God of oriental solar henotheism, the God Justice and the protector of those who have suffered wrong." So too writes J.W. Swain ("Antiochus Epiphanes and Egypt," Classical Philology 39[1941]:78): "It seems more likely that the name was taken from some Anatolian cult with which the rebels would be more familiar than they were with Greek philosophy." Rostovtzeff’s explanation is also preferred by D.R. Dudley ("Blossiuis of Cumae," J. of Roman Studies 31[1941]:98), V. Vavřínek (La Revolte d’Aristonicos, Rozpravy Československe Akademie Ved 67 [Prague 1957], p 43), F. Bömer, Untersuchungen über die Religion der Sklaven in Griechenland und Rom [1961], 3:165ff), T.W. Africa ("Aristonicus, Blossius and the City of the Sun," Int. Rev. Soc. History 6[1961]110-24), J. Vogt (Sklaverie und Humanität, Historia Einzelschr. 8 [Weisbaden 1965], p 43), and C. Mossé ("Les Utopies égalitaires a l’époque hellénistique," Revue Historique 93[1969]:297-308).

But Pöhlmann’s suggestion is accepted by Joseph Bidez (La Cité du Monde et la Cité du Soleil chez les Stoiciens [Paris 1932]), Hugh Last (Cambridge Ancient History, 9:104), G. Cardinale ("La Morte di Attalo III e la Rivolta di Aristonico," Saggi di Storia Antica e di Archeologia [Rome 1910], pp 300-301), Benjamin Farrington (Note 11), Esther V. Hansen (The Attalids of Pergamon [US 1947]), and most recently John Ferguson (Utopias of the Classical World [US 1975], pp 124-29). Finally, it is regarded as perhaps valid by Julius Beloch ("Sozialismus und Kommunismus in Alterthum," Zeitschr. f. Sozialwissenschaft 4[1901]:360) and Franz Altheim (Alexander und Asien [Tübingen 1953]).

13. Waldemar Richter, Iambulus (Beilage zum Osterprogramm des Gymnasiums Schaffhausen, 1888).

14. Tarn (Note 12, 1st par.); cf Elizabeth Visser, Iamboulos en de eilanden van de Zon (Groningen 1947).

15. Africa (Note 12, 2d par.).

16. These classifications have not been invented but simply introduced from other utopian literatures. The term "voyage extraordinaire" was introduced—according to Geoffrey Atkinson, The Extraordinary Voyage in French Literature Before 1700 (US 1920), page x—by Gustave Lanson in his Manuel Bibliographique de la Littérature Française Moderne (Paris 1914). For a detailed discussion of the problems involved in the classification of the imaginary voyage and cautions about extensions of the classification "voyage extraordinaire" for general use, see P.B. Gove, The Imaginary Voyage in Prose Fiction (US 1941), especially pp 93-122.

17. See Paul Hazard, The European Mind (US 1953), pp 26-27. For its use in Indian and Japanese tradition, see Aware of Utopia, ed. David W. Plath (US 1971), pp 28-29.

18. It is almost certain that many other utopias imitating the style and technique of Iambulus were composed in the Greco-Roman age. The fact that Lucian singles out Iambulus for special mention in the opening pages of True Histories is a clear testimony to his popularity with Greco-Roman readers, and it is inconceivable that he was not imitated by other writers. Further, though Hellenistic utopian literature has for the most part disappeared, Iambulus seems to have had a distinct influence on the 17th-century utopias by Tommaso Campanella (Civitas Solis or Città del Sole, 1623) and Gabriel Foigny (Terre australe connue or Les Aventures de Jacques Sadeur, 1676). Though Campanella lacks entirely the Cockayne concept, many elements of his City of the Sun are strikingly similar to those of Iambulus’ Islands of the Sun, as are many elements of Foigny’s Cockayne utopia and voyage extraordinaire. Iambulus was easily accessible to Campanella in the Italian translation of Ramusio (Note 8) and to Foigny in the French translation of Leo Africanus (Note 3). Although the loss of his work has made Iambulus a shadowy figure in the history of Greek literature, I hope this article has succeeded in restoring some of the flavor of his work and in indicating its importance in the utopian tradition.



The original of Iambulus’ narrative (written sometime between 165 and 50 BC) is not extant, and were it not for excerpts made by Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheke, we should have to rely on two meager references in Lucian and Tzetzes. In introducing True Histories, his parody of imaginary-voyage literature, Lucian singles out Ctesias and Iambulus as representative. The latter, says Lucian, wrote much that was incredible about the lands in the great sea, but, though obviously fabulous, his story was not unpleasing. Ionnes Tzetzes (Chiliades) noted that Iambulus wrote of round animals found in the islands of the Ethiopians, and of double-tongued men who could converse with two different people simultaneously. Finally, from Diodorus’ excerpt (in spite of its disorder) we may reconstruct in some detail the form and content of this early utopian work. In general, Greek literary genres are sharply defined, and each has a set of themes (topoi) peculiar to itself. Conforming to this usage, Iambulus’ work exhibits themes frequently found in Greek utopias. Indeed, Iambulus’ main source—besides travel narratives on India—was the Greek utopian tradition of extraordinary voyages. Shaped by his imaginative genius, however, these disparate traditional elements became a distinct utopian art-form that found a permanent place in European literature.


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