October is a great month for moons and all manner of star gazing––and perhaps, in this vein, also for attempting to throw the mind back to the imagined lives of those ancestors who knew nothing of video footage of astronauts stomping in lunar dust, nothing of the desolate-looking gray surface against black sky, whose thoughts of visiting the orb were in the same category as musings on Atlantis, the afterlife, and other wonderlands. With imagination as the chief informant, one gets documentation like that of Bishop John Wilkins, the distinguished natural philosopher who penned the mid-seventeenth century text, The Discovery of a World in the Moone, Or, a Discourse Tending to prove that ‘Tis Probable there May be Another Habitable World on the Planet. I came across images of the text this morning, in reference to the work that inspired Italian engraver Filippo Morghen’s 1776 Suite of the Most Notable Things, a series of fantastical etchings of moon life, no doubt inspired by discourses by Wilkins and other scientist-dreamers.
In this version of the moon, there are obvious parallels to New World mythology, complete with (predictably, perhaps) savages who ride winged serpents while battling a beast with porcupine spikes. The beasts are so large that the savage lunarians need to fashion a sort of guillotine-device, of a blade as tall as a circus-tent pole suspended by ropes from a tall tree, in order to cleave the bodies “from head to tail,” a process that is presumably a favorite pastime, second only to riding in carriages drawn by sails catching lunar winds, and fishing in vessels of hollowed-out pumpkins with sails attached. One may live in the pumpkins also, which provide excellent protection from any beasts that have managed to escape the giant knives. If a pumpkin sailboat is not to your liking, there are other models, wherein a standard canoe may be fitted with a pair of enormous wings. After a day on the water, one may dock at the pumpkin house, to summon the geese that will pull the carriages to the next planet, with the beat of an enormous drum.
Inspired by this article in The Public Domain Review: “Filippo Morghen’s Fantastical Visions of Lunar Life (1776)”