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Exploring the Interior

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Karl S. Guthke

II. Worlds in the starry skies

7. Nightmare and Utopia: Extraterrestrial Worlds from Galileo to Goethe

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Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Recent Astrophysical Discoveries

  • 1 The first planet outside of the solar system was discovered by Professor Michael Mayor and his pos (...)
  • 2 The discovery of microorganisms on a Martian meteorite was announced by NASA on 6 August 1996. On (...)

1In 1995, the news of the discovery of the first planet outside our solar system spread like wildfire through the world’s media. Even the New Yorker did not consider it beneath its literary dignity to comment on this major event in astrophysics.1 The reason for such lively interest was, of course, the anxious hope that we might at last have come close to discovering forms of intelligent life resembling our own in the depth of the cosmos. A year later, another headline made the front-pages of the international press: tests on a Martian meteorite had revealed the presence of micro-organisms – proof that life as we know it, i.e., carbonbased life, had once existed on Mars. The BBC hailed this discovery as the “news of the century,” and President Bill Clinton swiftly declared an intensified search for ETI (Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) one of his Administration’s political and scientific goals.2 The discovery of ETI had in fact been the aim of NASA’s “High Resolution Microwave Survey,” instituted on 12 October 1992. The survey’s declared purpose was a systematic scan of the microwave spectrum for intelligible (and intelligent) radio signals from the universe.

2These reports and projects testify to the prevalence of the idea that intelligent life may indeed exist beyond our own planet. Yet this is by no means an idea of our recent fin de siècle. As early as 1951, Arthur C. Clarke, the scientist and novelist who also served as chairman of the British Interplanetary Society, had predicted in his book The Exploration of Space that an imaginary historian in the year 3000 would view the twentieth century as the crucial turning point in the history of mankind:

  • 3 Arthur C. Clarke, The Exploration of Space (New York, 1951), 195.

To us a thousand years later, the whole story of Mankind before the twentieth century seems like the prelude to some great drama, played on the narrow strip of stage before the curtain has risen and revealed the scenery. For countless generations of men, that tiny, crowded stage – the planet Earth – was the whole of creation, and they the only actors. Yet towards the close of that fabulous century, the curtain began slowly, inexorably to rise, and Man realised at last that the Earth was only one of many worlds; the Sun only one among many stars. The coming of the rocket brought to an end a million years of isolation. With the landing of the first spaceship on Mars and Venus, the childhood of our race was over and history as we know it began […].3

  • 4 Life Beyond Earth and the Mind of Man, ed. Richard Berendzen (Washington, DC, 1973), 17–19.

3The question whether the end of planet Earth’s historical “isolation” as Clarke describes it may, in the event, prove a propitious or rather a terrifying experience is one that science fiction authors have, over the ages, pondered with widely varying and often radically conflicting results. Apparently, everything hinges on whether our encounter with the extraterrestrials will turn out to be a threat or a blessing. And this, in turn, crucially depends on which of the two parties will prove superior to the other in terms of civilisation and technological capability – or rather, how this superiority will be put to use. Interestingly, most astrophysicists cast “us” as the inferiors. The age-old question of what it is that characterises us as distinctly human thus becomes a highly speculative one, and, what is more, one that reaches far beyond our traditional ideas of humanity with their roots in a time when angels and animals constituted our terms of comparison. In 1973, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, George Wald, declared a potential contact with a technologically developed extraterrestrial civilisation of disproportionately higher levels of knowledge than our own the most terrifying of all “nightmares,” for the resultant culture-shock would shake or even shatter the very foundations of homo sapiens’dignity and self-image, in a word: the whole “human enterprise.”4 At the other end of the spectrum, however, there are those who, like Berendzen (49–50), paint a much rosier picture of our contact with more advanced lifeforms. Here, the hope is not only one of a rapidly accelerated development of all that makes us human, but also of those “others” revealing themselves as our guardian angels and saviours from doom and ultimate self-destruction.

Copernicanism and the Search for Analogous Earths

4Radical as they are, such late twentieth century speculations do, however, come with their own history of sorts – a history, moreover, that reaches back to early modern times or, more precisely, to the scientific revolution that swept the continent in the wake of Copernicus’De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (1543). It was in this period that a discourse was set in motion, which today enjoys unprecedented topicality as a result of our technical capability to receive electromagnetic signals. In principle, however, and from a purely theoretical point of view, this discourse was as plausible and valid in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as it is today. For even then the assumption of extraterrestrial planetary worlds was not, as it had been in the Middle Ages, a matter of purely theological speculation about the omnipotence of the Creator; neither was it grounded in a philosophy of corpuscular behaviour as in classical atomism. Rather, it was a scientifically defensible extrapolation from empirical facts on the basis of analogy, deemed to be a scientific principle. In other words, the assumption of a plurality of worlds was a consequence of Copernicanism: if the Earth is a planet, then planets are earths, not just in our own solar system but also beyond, and why not habitable earths, populated worlds?

5Without Galileo, however, Copernicanism would hardly have brought about a general acceptance of this line of thought so swiftly. Galileo had been one of the first to turn the newly invented telescope skywards rather than on his neighbours’house across the road, and what the professor at Padua espied through his lens in the winter of 1609–1610 confirmed the Copernican theory in every respect – as he himself stated in his observational report Sidereus nuncius (1610) and as Thomas Kuhn has since retraced in detail in his book The Copernican Revolution (1957). This is undoubtedly Galileo’s most lasting scientific achievement. But the impact of his work on the human imagination was no less profound. After all, his observations offered nothing less than visual proof of the Copernican analogy between the Earth and the planets that suggested the idea of life on other celestial bodies in the first place. As his telescope showed, Jupiter was surrounded by moons and was as such not unlike planet Earth. Why, then, should these moons not illuminate the lives of Jupiter-dwelling peoples? Indeed, what else could they illuminate? Our own Moon, meanwhile, with its mountain ranges and, as Galileo initially assumed, oceans, seemed, in its turn, not unlike the Earth: and did not the Moon’s main crater bear an uncanny resemblance to the Bohemian landscape? Finally, ought not the stars, in analogy to the Sun, be conceived as the respective centres of planetary orbits? These analogies, which Galileo describes in his 1610 booklet, were, thanks to the telescope, now observable by everybody, and as the title page attests, it is precisely to everybody that Galileo dedicated his report. Hence, everybody could speculate on the probability of other heavenly bodies being populated by creatures, possibly humans – perhaps even by Bohemians!

6This, of course, was a prospect fraught with danger. Galileo himself took great pains to refrain from any sort of speculation on the topic, while the Aristotelian philosopher Cesare Cremonini is reputed to have refused to even look into the “perspective” for fear of coming face to face with a reality which the Church had already declared to be nonexistent. Such hesitation notwithstanding, the telescope quickly became not only a favourite toy with the educated classes, but also the symbol of the scientific plausibility of the plurality of worlds and extraterrestrial populations.

  • 5 Letter of Tommaso Campanella to Galileo Galilei, 13 January 1611, in Galileo Galilei, Le Opere. Ed (...)

7Such arguments gained in topicality when the discovery of new worlds in space was viewed in direct analogy to the discovery of America – the most prominent scenario of terrestrial conquest at the time. Tommaso Campanella and others regularly referred to Galileo as “the new Columbus.”5 The suspected new worlds in space thus could be thought of as analogous to the New World with its Native Americans or Antipodes (who had only just, in 1537, been declared humans by Pope Paul III – to whom Copernicus had dedicated his work).

  • 6 Johannes Kepler, Dissertatio cum nuncio sidereo (Prague, 1610), Gesammelte Werke, eds. Walther von (...)

8What is interesting for our purposes, however, is the fact that the game of analogy could be played with reversed roles over the course of the history of human speculation about extraterrestrial worlds. For Kepler, writing in the early seventeenth century, the only possible scenario is one of a kind of cosmic imperialism in which we would set out to discover “them.” Towards the end of the century, however, Fontenelle’s bestselling Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes suggests that, by that time, it was equally conceivable that “they” would travel through space to visit us – in this scenario, “we” could very well turn out to be the Indians, the defeated party in the Conquista. At the end of the nineteenth century, it is indeed – as in the science fiction of, say, H. G. Wells (The War of the Worlds, 1897) or Kurd Lasswitz (Auf zwei Planeten, published in the same year) – the extraterrestrial others that come to us, travelling to Earth in their spaceships and revealing themselves as either technologically advanced predators armed with deadly radiation devices, or as high-tech angels of a Kantian moral persuasion.6 Obviously, the present-day hope of receiving an electromagnetic signal from outer space similarly implies that “they” would reach out or even come to us, the Indians.

9But however the various parts may be allocated in this metaphorical drama, what remains constant across the centuries is the underlying response pattern of “fear and hope” that survives right through to the present day. Yet this is only half of the story, and the less interesting half at that. It should be much more illuminating to retrace the changing fortunes of the fears and hopes related to habitable extraterrestrial worlds, and, centrally in this context, the question of how such fears and hopes – grounded, over time, in divergent anthropological paradigms – articulate an equally diverse set of ideas about what, from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first, has defined the worth, the dignity, and standing of humans. It is some of these historically specific versions of extraterrestrial nightmares and utopias that will be discussed, with a few typical examples, in the following pages. There are, to be sure, the purely theoretical horror or redemption scenarios, existential fears of looming threat on the one hand and emancipatory desires on the other. But in the more interesting cases, the literary ones in particular, such abstractions combine with very concrete forms of imaginative elaboration of the scientifically plausible assumption of inhabited or at least habitable extraterrestrial worlds, which inspired these hopes and fears in the first place. The landscapes and inhabitants of such planetary worlds suddenly come alive and are drawn in vivid detail. And yet, these worlds are relevant first and foremost as intellectual counterworlds to our own and as such they are meant to pose a challenge to our understanding of ourselves as human beings in the most fundamental sense, and it is precisely this fundamental sense, in tandem with the concretely visualised extraterrestrial worlds, that is subject to historical change.

Early Encounters with Extraterrestrials

10In the earliest phase, fear of the new is articulated firmly within the coordinated system of Christian theology. The argument commonly runs as follows: if it is plausible to suppose the existence of other, possibly even more sophisticated “races” in the universe, would not we, the descendants of Adam and Eve, lose our singular privilege of being the apple of God’s eye? This anxiety provides one of the reasons for the Church’s initial hostility towards post-Copernican speculation about the plurality of worlds. Holy Scripture certainly only told of one Creation, one eloquent reptile, one Original Sin, and one Redeemer.

  • 7 Philipp Melanchthon, Initia doctrinae physicae (Frankfurt, 1550), fols. 43–44.
  • 8 Hans Blumenberg, ed. Bruno, Das Aschermittwochsmahl (Frankfurt, 1969), 47, 50, implicitly counteri (...)

11Belief in other worlds and other peoples (who, after all, could hardly be descended from Adam and Eve) was thus tantamount to heresy, long before Thomas Paine and Percy Bysshe Shelley, around 1800, triumphantly declared such belief to be the rock on which Christianity would ultimately founder. And the debate was not simply a matter of theological hair-splitting either, such as we find in Melanchthon’s physics textbook Initia doctrinae physicae, published in 1550, at the height of the age of geographical and ethnological discovery, where Melanchthon worries about what religions the extraterrestrial might have, and whether these may even enter into competition with our own.7 No, this was not a debate confined to the rarified atmosphere of theological nitpicking as a fine art: the flames of hellfire that theoretically awaited the heretic in the next world were already blazing up in this one, namely on 17 February 1600, on the Campo de’Fiori in Rome. As we know from Hans Blumenberg, Giordano Bruno’s heresy consisted not merely, but certainly not least, in his public speculations on the plurality of worlds.8 A passage from Kepler’s 1610 Dissertatio cum nuncio sidereo, verbatim echoes of which continue to haunt the pages not only of Robert Burton but also of H G. Wells, may illustrate the point:

  • 9 Kepler’s Conversation with Galileo’s Sidereal Messenger, ed. Rosen, 43 (Gesammelte Werke, IV, 307)

Well, then, someone may say, if there are globes in the heaven similar to our earth, do we vie with them over who occupies the better portion of the universe? For if their globes are nobler, we are not the noblest of rational creatures. Then how can all things be for man’s sake? How can we be the masters of God’s handiwork?9

  • 10 Conversation, 40 (Gesammelte Werke, IV, 305).
  • 11 John Donne, “The First Anniversary,” lines 209–211, Poems of John Donne, ed. Herbert J. C. Grierso (...)

12In other words: he who supposes the existence of populated worlds in the universe on the basis of scientific extrapolation must, ipso facto, come under the suspicion that Kepler was careful to reject: “For the revered mysteries of sacred history [and thus the fundamentals of the Christian faith] are not a laughing matter to me.”10 Such anxieties prompted some remarkable intellectual acrobatics on the part of astronomers and theologians alike. If, unlike Athanasius Kircher, for example, one did not reject a limine the theoretical possibility of a populated cosmic world on the grounds that this would be incompatible with the teachings of the Bible, the symbolism inferred from the earth’s position within the cosmic constellation had to serve, as in Kepler’s Dissertatio, for example, as proof of our privileged existence as God’s favourite creatures in the universe. And yet, even if one could console oneself by quoting similar sentiments from the Bible itself, vague worries nevertheless persisted in the minds of many intellectuals. John Donne writes in “The First Anniversary”: “And freely men confesse that this world’s spent,/ When in the Planets, and the Firmament,/They seeke so many new.” Pascal, meanwhile, was frightened by the idea that the “infinite spaces” might contain countless other inhabited realms, “royaumes,” intelligent worlds that “know nothing of us.”11

  • 12 Cp. Jörg Hienger, “Das Motiv der ersten Begegnung in Bewohnbarkeitsphantasien der Science Fiction, (...)

13On the other hand, Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius would not necessarily have spread such theological anxiety or worry. It could equally well have been read as a new gospel, particularly by those endowed with a specifically literary imagination. Among these we should count Kepler himself, who, in 1609, wrote his Somnium, the world’s first ever science-fiction novel, to which a “Geographical Appendix” was added in the 1620s. In this book, the Moon is populated by creatures that have unmistakably human characteristics. Admittedly, ever since the publication of Marjorie Nicolson’s pioneering work on Voyages to the Moon, conventional wisdom has held that Kepler’s Lunarians are definitely “not humans” but, at best, mere amphibians.12 Yet a reading (and not just between the lines) of the Latin original reveals that Kepler indicated quite unequivocally that the inhabitants of his Moon are creatures of a higher order, intelligent beings, interested in astronomy and unmistakably human – Swiss, in fact. For when his Lunarians build the craters that are supposed to shelter them from the sun and from robbers, their skilled communal land surveying and construction efforts suggest a civic-spiritedness that has a decidedly Helvetic flavour.

  • 13 Kepler’s Somnium, trans. with commentary by Edward Rosen (Madison, Milwaukee, and London, 1967), 15 (...)

14Kepler’s Moon-dwellers, at least the Subvolvans among them, not only live in crater-cities with suburban gardens and other familiar paraphernalia; they also, and quite literally, have divided the Moon into orderly “cantons.” Does it thus follow that Earth-dwelling man will henceforth have to share with his Lunar neighbours the privilege of being the pride of creation – and feel himself diminished as a result? Not at all; in fact, quite the opposite is the case: our prime cosmic location has ensured the development of an incomparably more advanced culture than the Lunarian peoples – for people they are – could imagine even in their wildest dreams. As Kepler describes in vivid detail, the Lunarians, within (and outside) their craters, eke out a dreary existence with barely enough for human subsistence: in perpetual flight from the unremitting rays of the sun, they are caught in a treadmill of seeking out shadowy shelter and thus wander from place to place forever, like primitive nomads or, as Kepler has it, “peripatetics in the true sense of the word.”13 This is the most they can ever hope to achieve. Not a trace of high culture – though, it may be added, not a trace of religious witchhunts either (shadows of which were, of course, looming over Kepler’s family at this time). All in all, then, it is clear that we earthlings lead an almost utopian existence by comparison – in spite of our ancestors’expulsion from Paradise, and thus in spite of our sins.

15In spite of our sins – this is the cue for another early modern attempt to transform, in a literary manner, the theological anxieties over man’s place in a universe of multiple worlds into trust in God’s loving kindness. As late as the eighteenth century (and certainly somewhat belatedly in terms of the history of ideas), theologians such as Joachim Böldicke (Abermaliger Versuch einer Theodicee, 1746) and Andrew Fuller (The Gospel Its Own Witness, 1799) resolve the threat to our uniqueness by suggesting that the humanities of other planetary worlds must be without sin and hence not in need of redemption as we are: we ought to take pride in our sinfulness. We are God’s problem children – and hence his favourite ones: we alone are (as Pierre Gassendi in particular emphasised in the seventeenth century) the object of that divine love that had placed Jesus Christ in our midst, on our planet, to save us from the malaise that had had its beginnings in the apple-orchard of Eden. The others, in their better worlds, may be without sin, but they do not receive preferential treatment on account of it. We are the preferred ones – we sinners, who may, at present, not amount to much, but who nevertheless can look forward to a future in heaven if we manage to behave ourselves on Earth.

  • 14 Eberhard Christian Kindermann, Geschwinde Reise auf dem Luft-Schiff nach der obern Welt (Rudolstad (...)

16Literary practitioners eagerly embraced this blank spot on the map of Christian dogma and piously set about transforming it into an imaginary theological utopia. In German, we have Eberhard Christian Kindermann’s solidly researched 1744 science-fiction novel Geschwinde Reise auf dem Luft-Schiff nach der obern Welt. Here, a spacecraft lands on the newly discovered Martian moon, where the astronauts encounter a fairy-tale world of colourful vegetation, the perfect shoot also for the once-a-month huntsman, populated by strange mythical creatures – and humans. At first, the astronauts are frightened by what they see, but their fears soon turn out to be unfounded. For the Martian moon-dwellers wander about their natural paradise in “love and amicability,” without “want or ailment,” god-fearing, happy people with not the slightest interest in space-travel technology – all unmistakable signs that they exist in a state of sinlessness, rather than being “fallen” like us. And yet, for the space-travelling earthlings barred from such blessings, the experience of this utopian world is by no means depressing. Rather, Kindermann takes precisely the insights of terrestrial science that had posited the “twinkling stars” as “populated by creatures” to suggest that we, too, will soon return to Paradise – and, this time round, to a serpent-free Paradise.14

  • 15 Miles Wilson, The History of Israel Jobson, the Wandering Jew. Translated from the Original Chines (...)

17Kindermann’s credentials, by the way, also included a handbook on astronomy. And it was just such a manual that Miles Wilson, a Yorkshire vicar, sought to combine with some practical instruction on the lives and customs of the inhabitants of the various planets of our solar system in his 1757 novel The History of Israel Jobson. Travelling in a flying chariot, Elias’preferred and Biblically tried and tested method of transport, Wilson visits one planetary human race after another. Yet he, too, is primarily interested in these peoples’theological status. Accordingly, his extraterrestrials inhabit, without exception, a universe conceived in specifically Christian terms of reference. The Moon-dwellers, admittedly only three feet tall with bodies made of rattling metal, are just as sinful as ourselves; the inhabitants of Jupiter hardly fare any better; the Martians may be praising God from dawn to dusk but still only manage to equal the virtuous heathens whom Christian theology commonly regarded with a sort of grudging charity. The Saturnians, by contrast, enjoy pride of place in the Wilsonian universe: sporting one eye on the forehead and one in the back of their heads, they live in a state of complete innocence; the Fall of Man never occurred on their planet. Neither did it on yet another faraway star in the Milky Way, which Wilson describes in the most exotic and alluring colours of his day: a paradise with exquisite gardens, pearls and golden sand covering the riverbeds, rocks made of sheer diamond, and “plants of an immortal Verdure.”15 As with Kindermann, then, the plurality of worlds does not pose a threat to our sinful selves: we are God’s prodigal children and may, in time, qualify for re-entry into Paradise – as a reward for a conduct worthy of redemption, which, on reflection, is a far more attractive prospect than partaking in such paradisiacal bliss solely on account of the absence of Original Sin. And it certainly is no coincidence that Wilson allows us a brief glimpse of the Garden of Eden before his heavenly carriage finally begins its steep descent into Yorkshire under the watchful eyes of a guardian angel.

18The grand master of the literary transformation of fear into gospel is, of course, Klopstock in his Messiah (1748–1773). He, too, populates the heavenly bodies with those, and only those, human species that still fall within the remit of Christian dogma. And all his love belongs to the numerous unfallen peoples of the universe. Here is an example from the furthest reaches of the Milky Way: a patriarchal family scene that takes the form of a proto-Helvetic idyll visited by God:

  • 16 Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, The Messiah: A Poem (London, 1826), I, 179–180 (translator’s name no (...)

A planet habited by men, of shape
Like ours, but innocent, and free from death.
Their great progenitor, though o’er his head
Unnumber’d years had roll’d, still fresh in strength
And manhood’s bloom, stood mid his guiltless sons. […]
Fair, on his right, his spouse beside him stood,
As when from her Creator’s hand she rose.
His eldest son, spotless ininnocence,
His father’s image, on his left appear’d;
While far around, on gaily smiling hills,
His younger progeny reclining sat,
Their ringlets fair, with budding garlands twin’ d,
Their breasts with ardour throbbing to attain
Their father’s virtues. E’en the infant tribe,
Who but one spring had seen, their mothers brought
To share the fond caress, the blessing mild,
Of their great ancestor.16

19A family portrait with God – and again, as in Wilson, one that poses no threat to us sinners: for we, too, are promised similar rewards for a life led in a manner pleasing in the sight of God.

  • 17 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Philip S. Foner (New Y (...)

20These theologically motivated literary utopias, which filled the blanks on the map of Christian dogma in as inoffensive a fashion as possible, were all published during the eighteenth century. The theoretical questions they pose (“Are all cosmic races descended from Adam? Are they without Original Sin? Are they in need of Redemption?”) are, however, much more at home in the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, they already seemed somewhat outdated: Thomas Paine even asked rather more than half jokingly whether one ought to imagine Jesus Christ as an interplanetary traveller in redemptive goods who was perpetually being crucified on every planet, “with scarcely a momentary interval of life”; and Gottsched ridiculed Athanasius Kircher’s concerns as to the suitability of the water on Venus for a “valid and effective” baptism.17

Man the Measure?

  • 18 Christian Wolff, Elementa astronomiae, in Wolff, Elementa matheseos universae, editio nova (Halle, (...)

21In the eighteenth century, the characteristic fears and the equally characteristic hopes that attached themselves to the idea of populated worlds in the universe (up-to-date fears and hopes, as it were) took a rather different form. Christian dogma, generally revered up to this time, no longer played a part. Rather, if the scientifically trained imagination posited, by analogy, worlds in our own or other planetary systems, with inhabitants superior to us not only in such physical particulars as height and dilation of the pupils, as Christian Wolff believed,18 but also intellectually, the question had to arise whether man ought still to be regarded as the measure of all things. As the measure of all things the Enlightenment had, after all, commonly defined man (and had thereby also released us from the burden of Original Sin). The rational man was homo mensura.

  • 19 Henry St. John Bolingbroke, The Works of the Late Right Honourable Henry St. John, Lord Viscount B (...)
  • 20 Voltaire, Micromégas (London, 1752), ch. 7.
  • 21 Johann Elert Bode, Anleitung zur Kenntniss des gestirnten Himmels [1772], 9th ed. (Berlin and Stet (...)
  • 22 Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man (London, 1733–1734), Epistle II, lines 31, 34.
  • 23 Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, Les éstats et empires de la Lune (Paris, 1657), http://gallica.bnf.fr (...)

22But how so, if it had become plausible that the rationality governing life on other planets might be far superior to our own and, as Lord Bolingbroke believed, its place “in the intellectual system […] even above our conceptions?”19 For Voltaire in his Micromégas (1752), Saturn presented just such a world of unheard-of intellectual prowess – to say nothing of Sirius, from the lofty heights of which Sorbonne theology looked like a paragon of naivety.20 In his frequently reprinted Anleitung zur Kenntniss des gestirnten Himmels (1772), the astronomer Johann Elert Bode concluded on similar grounds that we are by no means the touchstone or measure of all things – and that ours is by no means the best of all worlds.21 Alexander Pope, meanwhile, painted a drastic picture of a significantly superior cosmic world in his Essay on Man (1733–1734): “Superior beings […] shew’d a Newton as we show an Ape.”22 As we might put an ape, albeit an intelligent one, on show for the entertainment of the hoi polloi, the extraterrestrials have a Newton as their fairground attraction. The idea was not original. Cyrano de Bergerac’s Moon novel of 1657 struck a remarkably similar chord: there, an earthling astronaut, just landed on the Moon, has fallen into the hands of a Lunar vaudevillian who teaches him the tricks he then has to perform, on a leash like a circus animal, in front of an audience of intellectually superior Lunarians, while in the sun the astronaut from Earth falls prey to birds that are at least as cruel and intelligent as their human predators.23

  • 24 Fontenelle, Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (n. 6), 135 : “Cela me confond, me trouble, m’é (...)
  • 25 Edward Young, The Complaint; or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (1742–1745), IX, l (...)
  • 26 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l’homme et l’or (...)
  • 27 John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford, 1975), bk. III (...)
  • 28 Barthold Hinrich Brockes, Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott, bestehend in physicalisch und moralischen G (...)

23This nightmarish scenario of other cosmic life forms degrading us both culturally and intellectually surfaces in a variety of metamorphoses during the Enlightenment period. In his best-selling Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (1686), Fontenelle imports a Trojan horse when he declares that within our solar system, we humans inhabit the climatically most favourable planet and are therefore predestined to enjoy the highest form of happiness. But as the Marquise reminds the astronomer: who could guarantee that other planetary systems may not boast even more favourable climes and therefore even happier people? “That confounds me, troubles me, scares me.” This is the meaning of her ominous last word on the subject: “Ah! If only you knew what the fixed stars are!”24 It is surprising how widespread this idea is: the idea that we are intellectually inferior and that our world simply cannot hold a candle to other cosmic worlds. In his Night Thoughts (1742–1745), Young seems to take the “nobler natives” of other planets pretty much for granted.25 Leibniz, in the Théodocée, thought, much like Bruno before him, that the inhabitants of other planets lead happier lives than we do.26 Locke noted in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) that, viewed on a cosmic scale, we humans occupy a place much closer to the lowest rather than the highest order of being.27 Brockes penned a poem entitled “Vergleichung” (“Comparison”), which culminates in the idea that “they,” i.e., the inhabitants of other worlds, must regard “us” as more witless than we would even regard a fish – a commentary from Hamburg, an important fishing port even then.28 Swift projected such a superior world in the Laputa episode of Gulliver’s Travels (1726), where only one creature in the whole of this highly civilised culture – namely the extraterrestrial village idiot – takes an interest in Gulliver (who is, after all, the pride of Great Britain). As Bishop Berkeley noted, in yet another variation, in his Alciphron (1732): if the universe is a splendid castle complete with lavish state apartments, it stands to reason that it also has a dungeon – and it is here that we eke out our miserable existence. It is Albrecht von Haller who definitely takes the cake, at least stylistically: compared with other worlds, planet Earth is simply “the fatherland of evil.” But:

  • 29 Albrecht von Haller, Gedichte, ed. Ludwig Hirzel (Frauenfeld, 1882), 141: “Vielleicht ist unsre We (...)

Perhaps the Stars are home to sublime Spirits,
As Vice reigns here, there Virtue is the Master!29

  • 30 Quoted by Gottsched in the preface of his translation of Fontenelle, Gespräche von mehr als einer (...)
  • 31 Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, Sämmtliche Schriften (Leipzig, 1784), VII, 29.
  • 32 James Ferguson, Astronomy Explained Upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles [1756], 6th ed. (London, 17 (...)
  • 33 Thomas Mann, Gesammelte Werke in zwölf Bänden (Frankfurt, 1960), IX, 862.
  • 34 Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon, Histoire naturelle, Supplement II (Paris, 1775), 528; Charles Gar (...)

24This sentiment suggests, though, that the Enlightenment nightmare could, just as the earlier Christian one, be reinterpreted as utopia or gospel – albeit as a new and different kind of gospel (although such reinterpretation could, in some respects, also be read as a return to Bruno’s heretic De l’infinito universo e mondi [1584]). This is how: if, as must be assumed (and as even the Jesuits agreed in the Journal de Trévoux),30 the “myriad” stars with their planetary systems are populated worlds (Professor Gellert at Leipzig had counted over 40,000 in total),31 then this is such an irrefutable triumph of God as Creator that we must conclude that all these human races populating the cosmos, whatever else they may be doing with their time, are perpetually praising God in a many-voiced chorus of hallelujahs. The Viennese writer and literary critic Karl Kraus, speaking of angels, found a life spent “rejoicing” unspeakably boring. But by the eighteenth century, when Vienna did not boast quite as many coffee-houses as it did in Kraus’day, this heavenly choir rang pleasantly in everybody’s ears: in Christiaan Huygens’s Kosmotheoros of 1698, in the Reverend Edward Young’s in his Night Thoughts, and in the Newtonianist lyrical poets’such as Brockes, Klopstock, and many others. Their hymn-sheets rehearse the teleological argument: in the words of James Ferguson’s Astronomy Explained, there can be no doubt that other heavenly bodies were “designed” by God “as commodious habitations for creatures endowed with capacities of knowing and adoring their beneficent Creator.”32 For us humans inhabiting our particular planet, this is an edifying thought, not least because it alleviates our fear of possibly finding ourselves “alone” in the universe – a fear causing what Thomas Mann, echoing Chekhov, might have called “honourable insomnia.”33 Witness Buffon, for example, or Charles Garnier (“effroyables solitudes”), or Thomas Paine (“a solitary world rolling […] in the immense ocean of space”).34

  • 35 Cp. Karl S. Guthke, The Last Frontier (Ithaca, NY, 1990), ch. 4.

25But let us pause for a moment and listen to the interplanetary choir offering its song of praise to the Creator: how could we Tellurian creatures join in if, during the eighteenth century in particular, one had to fear that the Earth would be the home of evil and we inferior to other cosmic races? To be sure, Huygens explained the cosmic exultations as follows: the human inhabitants of God’s universe of many worlds are, everywhere and without exception, the same – even down to such details as their talent for astronomy, their passion for the theatre, and their capacity for happiness. But what if we believe ourselves to be inferior to the “others”? A choir requires many voices, and why should some not simply rejoice in the happiness of others? Mostly, however, such noble altruism was not even required, thanks to the hypothesis of the transmigration of the soul. For this allowed us to trust that, after the death of our bodies, our souls, admittedly rather disadvantaged at present, would continue to wander from planet to planet, from constellation to constellation, attaining ever higher levels of perfection in the process. God was just after all, and we in our earthly vale of tears could sing our hosannas to his glory without hesitation or resentment; for one day and on some distant planet, we, too, would come to enjoy perfection thanks to his grace. This, at least, is how such diverse thinkers as Kant and Bonnet, Herder and Lavater, Thomas Wright and even Mercier had worked it out in their various versions of the god-fearing dream of our interplanetary travels: a cosmic armchair-tourism, the itinerary of which had been carefully planned by God himself.35

  • 36 Francis Godwin, The Man in the Moone, or a Discourse of a Voyage Thither, by Domingo Gonsales (Lon (...)

26But what about some of the extraterrestrial worlds themselves? What are they like? Faith combined with a very precise imagination again rules the day here, as it did in the seventeenth century. Yet there is a marked difference between the eighteenth and the seventeenth centuries: for the seventeenth century and, by implication, for latecomers such as Klopstock, Wilson, and others, the theological question of man’s dogmatic status within a plurality of worlds was the central one: are “they” in need of redemption, redeemed, or damned for all eternity? Consider, for example, Francis Godwin’s 1638 novel The Man in the Moone: when Godwin’s astronaut, Gonsales by name, takes a look round the Moon, he (or at least his Anglican clergyman author) is most interested in his encounter with the inhabitants: “Jesus Christ!,” Gonsales cries out in amazement when he comes face to face with veritable human beings on the moon – whereupon the Lunarians promptly fall on their knees. (It is, of course, evident what Godwin, the incumbent of nothing less than an episcopate, is driving at).36

27Totally different, however, are the utopian worlds that the enlightened eighteenth century found congenial.

  • 37 Emanuel Swedenborg, De telluribus in mundo nostro solari […] (London, 1758).

28If anyone, it is Swedenborg, the Stockholm mining engineer and most adventurous of armchair-travellers to far-flung places, who, in the eighteenth century, still comes relatively close to Godwin. Judging from his 1758 De telluribus in mundo nostro solari, Swedenborg has visited each and every corner of the cosmos: there is not an extraterrestrial in the universe whom he has not shaken hands with – and his extraterrestrials, too, are Christian to a man, in fact, Christians of a decidedly Swedenborgian persuasion, as it happens. But this is not all we learn about them. Unlike Godwin, for whom, typically for the seventeenth century, theological concerns assume a central role, Swedenborg (as the 1770 German translation even announces on the title page of his book) tells us of “their way of thinking and acting, of their form of government, policy, worship, matrimony, and in general of their lives and customs.” And in what spectacular surroundings! Not even Italy, far less Sweden, could ever hope to rival these places. In one of the worlds the untiring traveller Swedenborg visits, the various tribes only gather once every thirty days for an open-air service. Also, this faraway world is blessed with dairy cows that are woolly like sheep, and if such paradisiac conditions (surpassing even those of New Zealand) were not enough, that world’s inhabitants also enjoy a climate of perpetual spring. Their social customs, to be sure, are less opulent: they set great store by monogamy, and successfully so, it seems; for unlike in other planetary worlds, where whores routinely go to hell, Swedenborg reports nothing of the sort as far as this particular planet is concerned – presumably on account of its lack of whores. Closer to our own planet, we encounter the Swedenborgian Martians: their faces are what Detroit calls “two-tone”: black up to the ears and yellow from there on, and they are accomplished home-makers; their apartments are lit by liquid fire. The Saturnians, meanwhile, mainly live on fruit and pulses; the Mercurians find Christian Wolff’s philosophy too sensual and materialistic for their taste; as a consequence, they are somewhat slimmer in stature than ourselves. The inhabitants of Jupiter have made it part of their religious custom to protect their faces from direct sunlight (rather ahead of their time). And so on with Swedenborg’s criss-crossing imagination. His nominally Christian framework is soon lost to sight.37

  • 38 Jacques-Henri Bernardin de St.-Pierre, Harmonies de la nature, Œuvres complètes, ed. L. Aimé-Marti (...)
  • 39 Harmonies, 348–349: “produits par mon imagination.”

29Bernardin de St.-Pierre’s Harmonies de la nature (1792–1814), by contrast, dispense from the outset with any theological frame of reference. His work, too, describes the peoples and landscapes of foreign worlds in the kind of colourful detail that would do the most gifted of travel agents proud. Venus, for example, combines the attractions of Polynesia and Switzerland in one unbeatable package deal and is still only a stone’s throw away in cosmic terms. Its indigenous people are shepherds; most of the time, however, they sing and dance on the beaches in celebration of some feast or other – unless they are busy organizing swimming contests “like the happy islanders of Tahiti.”38 Mars, by contrast, is the polar region of the solar system, home to sea lions and whales; its inhabitants, however, do not so much resemble the Eskimos as they do Tartars or Northern Germans. On Uranus, a planet that, at the time, had only just been discovered by William Herschel, conditions are reminiscent of Lapland – reindeer and whale-oil lamps set the scene, and, as Bernardin is careful to note, there are no libraries and no war memorials. And so on. All these details are, as the author takes pains to emphasize, based on exact astronomical extrapolation and are by no means “the products of my imagination.”39 One would not be surprised if Filippo Morghen had claimed as much for his Raccolta delle cose più notabili vedute da Giovanni Wilkins […] (ca. 1765), a volume of engravings of Moon-dwellers and their habitat suggested by John Wilkins’s The Discovery of a World in the Moone (1638).

30Bernardin de St.-Pierre’s claim is not entirely aberrant. After all, he simply distributes all the climes and races known on our own planet across the cosmos, thus also implying that the earth forms the blueprint for all inhabited worlds. Faith in planet Earth’s central place in the universe, severely shaken by Copernicus, can thus be restored, at least in ideological terms: in such a universe, man has no more reason to feel alienated or alone than he would at the more exotic travel destinations on his own planet: Club Med, interplanetary style. Furthermore, it would follow that “Providence” has reserved its special attention for “us,” for we are chosen to enjoy, on one single planet, all the attractions that the Guide Michelin would describe as worth a detour. This is undoubtedly the most comforting utopia of all, even for Frequent Flyers.

From Cosmic Doubts to the “Universe Within”

31And yet, such insights also beg the question: why travel in the first place (around the cosmos, that is)?

  • 40 Thomas Mann, Gesammelte Werke, IX, 447.
  • 41 Friedrich Schiller, Sämtliche Werke, Hanser Edition, I, 253: “Schwatzet nicht so viel von Nebelfle (...)

32This, finally, is the hour of our humility. Scientifically inspired speculation about the plurality of populated worlds was, to repeat, extremely widespread during the early modern era, and not just a parlour game for the educated classes. Perhaps the plurality of worlds even constitutes what one might call “the mythology of the Modern Age.” Yet there were many who did not take much interest in it, and among them rank such worthies as Shakespeare and Milton. By the time we get to Goethe and his contemporaries, it is precisely the intellectual elite, if not without exceptions, who categorically reject what Thomas Mann called “Milchstraßenspekulation” – “Milky Way speculation” – about habitable cosmic worlds.40 “Do not chatter so much of nebular spots and suns/[…] friends, for the sublime does not dwell in space” (Friedrich Schiller); on the contrary, “there is also a universe within” (Goethe). “We dream of travelling through the universe; but is the universe not within ourselves?” (Novalis).41 This new anthropocentrism of “classical humanism” seems to look back with some perplexity at early modern speculation about the plurality of cosmic worlds. Witness Goethe in his 1805 speech on Johann Joachim Winckelmann:

  • 42 Goethe, Werke, Hamburg Edition, XII, 98: “Denn wozu dient alle der Aufwand von Sonnen und Planeten (...)

What is the use of this entire expense of suns and planets and moons, stars and milky ways, comets and nebular spots, of worlds that have come into being and worlds about to come into being, if there is not at last a happy man who unconsciously rejoices in his existence?42

  • 43 Stanislaw Lem, Summa technologiae (Frankfurt, 1976), 130: “In der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunde (...)
  • 44 I have developed a considerably more extensive version of this argument in my book The Last Fronti (...)

33Be that as it may. Those of us, however, who are privileged to have been able to gain some insight into the latest scientific developments on the subject of the plurality of worlds will probably look back on this classical credo with some bemusement – and regard the speculations of previous centuries with a fair amount of sympathy. The Polish physicist and philosopher Stanislaw Lem speaks for us as well as for the early moderns: “In the second half of the twentieth century, one can hardly be human in the full sense of the word unless one is mindful, at least from time to time, of that hitherto unknown company of reasonable [extraterrestrials], of which we presumably form a part.”43 To think about extraterrestrials is – and has been for more than 400 years by now – nothing more and nothing less than to think about ourselves.44

Notes

1 The first planet outside of the solar system was discovered by Professor Michael Mayor and his postgraduate student Didier Queloz (University of Geneva). The New Yorker commented on this discovery in its edition of 12 February 1995

2 The discovery of microorganisms on a Martian meteorite was announced by NASA on 6 August 1996. On the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, see the website of “SETI,” an institute with “the mission to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe” (https://www.seti.org).

3 Arthur C. Clarke, The Exploration of Space (New York, 1951), 195.

4 Life Beyond Earth and the Mind of Man, ed. Richard Berendzen (Washington, DC, 1973), 17–19.

5 Letter of Tommaso Campanella to Galileo Galilei, 13 January 1611, in Galileo Galilei, Le Opere. Edizione nazionale, ed. A. Favaro, XI, 21–26. See also Marjorie Nicolson, Science and Imagination (Hamden, CN, 1976), 18–10, 24–25.

6 Johannes Kepler, Dissertatio cum nuncio sidereo (Prague, 1610), Gesammelte Werke, eds. Walther von Dyck and Max Caspar (München, 1938ff.), IV, 305; Kepler’s Conversation with Galileo’s Sidereal Messenger, trans. Edward Rosen (New York, 1965), 39; Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle, Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes, ed. Alexandre Calame (Paris, 1966), 72; H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (London, 1898, first publication as a single volume); Kurd Lasswitz, Auf zwei Planeten (Weimar, 1897).

7 Philipp Melanchthon, Initia doctrinae physicae (Frankfurt, 1550), fols. 43–44.

8 Hans Blumenberg, ed. Bruno, Das Aschermittwochsmahl (Frankfurt, 1969), 47, 50, implicitly countering the influential view of Francis A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London, 1964), 355.

9 Kepler’s Conversation with Galileo’s Sidereal Messenger, ed. Rosen, 43 (Gesammelte Werke, IV, 307).

10 Conversation, 40 (Gesammelte Werke, IV, 305).

11 John Donne, “The First Anniversary,” lines 209–211, Poems of John Donne, ed. Herbert J. C. Grierson (Oxford, 1912), I, 237; Blaise Pascal, The Pensées, trans. J. M. Cohen (Harmondsworth, 1961), no. 90; Pensées, eds. Zacharie Tourneur and Didier Anzieu (Paris, 1960), no. 41: “Combien de royaumes nous ignorent!”; “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie” (no. 199; Cohen, no. 91).

12 Cp. Jörg Hienger, “Das Motiv der ersten Begegnung in Bewohnbarkeitsphantasien der Science Fiction,” Exotische Welten in populären Lektüren, ed. Amselm Maler (Tübingen, 1990), 117. The classic text remains Marjorie Nicolson, Voyages to the Moon (New York, 1948).

13 Kepler’s Somnium, trans. with commentary by Edward Rosen (Madison, Milwaukee, and London, 1967), 152.

14 Eberhard Christian Kindermann, Geschwinde Reise auf dem Luft-Schiff nach der obern Welt (Rudolstadt, 1744), 19–24 (quoted from the facsimile edition, Berlin, 1923).

15 Miles Wilson, The History of Israel Jobson, the Wandering Jew. Translated from the Original Chinese by M. W. (London, 1757), 78–79.

16 Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, The Messiah: A Poem (London, 1826), I, 179–180 (translator’s name not given). The German original reads (V, 153–172): “Gott ging nah an einem Gestirne, wo Menschen waren;/Menschen, wie wir von Gestalt, doch voll Unschuld, nicht sterbliche Menschen. /Und ihr erster Vater stand voll männlicher Jugend,/Ob in dem Rücken des Jünglinges gleich Jahrhunderte waren,/[…]. /An der Rechte [n] des Liebenden stand die Mutter der Menschen,/ […]/Unter ihren blühenden Töchtern der Männinnen Schönste. /An der linken Seite stand ihm sein erstgeborner,/Würdiger Sohn, nach des Vaters Bilde, voll himmlischer Unschuld. /Ausgebreitet zu seinen Füßen, auf lachenden Hügeln,/Leichtumkränzt mit Blumen im Haar, das lockichter wurde,/Und mit klopfendem Herzen, der Tugend des Vaters zu folgen,/Saßen die jüngsten Enkel. Die Mütter brachten sie, eines/Frühlinges alt, der ersten Umarmung des segnenden Vaters.”

17 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Philip S. Foner (New York, 1945), I, 504; Johann Christoph Gottsched, Gespräche von mehr als einer Welt [1726], 3rd ed. (Leipzig, 1738), 107.

18 Christian Wolff, Elementa astronomiae, in Wolff, Elementa matheseos universae, editio nova (Halle, 1735), § 527.

19 Henry St. John Bolingbroke, The Works of the Late Right Honourable Henry St. John, Lord Viscount Bolingbroke (London, 1809), VIII, 173–174, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=xSFGAQAAIAAJ

20 Voltaire, Micromégas (London, 1752), ch. 7.

21 Johann Elert Bode, Anleitung zur Kenntniss des gestirnten Himmels [1772], 9th ed. (Berlin and Stettin, 1823), esp. 642, where Bode argues that to speculate from our minute cosmic point of view about the structure of the universe is “als ob der Unendliche, beim Entwurfe des Ganzen, den Punkt, den wir bewohnen, zur Richtschnur oder zum Ebenmaaße hätte nehmen sollen.”

22 Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man (London, 1733–1734), Epistle II, lines 31, 34.

23 Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, Les éstats et empires de la Lune (Paris, 1657), http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k101934s, Les éstats et empires du Soleil (Paris, 1662).

24 Fontenelle, Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (n. 6), 135 : “Cela me confond, me trouble, m’épouvante”; 136 : “Ah! si vous sçaviés ce que c’est que les Etoiles Fixes!”

25 Edward Young, The Complaint; or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (1742–1745), IX, line 1607.

26 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l’homme et l’origine du mal (1710), § 19 : “Il se peut que tous les soleils ne soient habités que par des créatures heureuses, et rien nous oblige de croire qu’il y en a beaucoup de damnées, car peu d’exemples ou peu d’échantillons suffisent pour l’utilité que le bien retire du mal.”

27 John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford, 1975), bk. III, ch. 6, § 12 (p. 447): “Which if it be probable, we have reason to be persuaded, that there are far more Species of Creatures above us than there are beneath; we being in degrees of Perfection much more remote from the infinite Being of GOD, than we are from the lowest state of Being, and that which approaches nearest to nothing.”

28 Barthold Hinrich Brockes, Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott, bestehend in physicalisch und moralischen Gedichten (1735–1748; reprint Bern, 1970), VI, 322: “Ob sie, wofern sie uns nicht dümmer,/Doch wilder, mördrischer und schlimmer,/Als wie die Fische, würden achten?”

29 Albrecht von Haller, Gedichte, ed. Ludwig Hirzel (Frauenfeld, 1882), 141: “Vielleicht ist unsre Welt, die wie ein Körnlein Sand/Im Meer der Himmel schwimmt, des Übels Vaterland!/Die Sterne sind vielleicht ein Sitz verklärter Geister,/Wie hier das Laster herrscht, ist dort die Tugend Meister [.]”

30 Quoted by Gottsched in the preface of his translation of Fontenelle, Gespräche von mehr als einer Welt (n. 17).

31 Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, Sämmtliche Schriften (Leipzig, 1784), VII, 29.

32 James Ferguson, Astronomy Explained Upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles [1756], 6th ed. (London, 1778), 6.

33 Thomas Mann, Gesammelte Werke in zwölf Bänden (Frankfurt, 1960), IX, 862.

34 Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon, Histoire naturelle, Supplement II (Paris, 1775), 528; Charles Garnier, preface to Chevalier de Bethune, Relation du monde de Mercure in vol. XVI of Garnier, ed., Voyages imaginaires, songes, visions, et romans cabalistiques (Amsterdam, 1787), 160; Thomas Paine, The Complete Writings (n. 17), I, 503–504.

35 Cp. Karl S. Guthke, The Last Frontier (Ithaca, NY, 1990), ch. 4.

36 Francis Godwin, The Man in the Moone, or a Discourse of a Voyage Thither, by Domingo Gonsales (London, 1638), ed. Grant McColley, Smith Studies in Modern Languages, XIX: 1 (1937), 73, 82.

37 Emanuel Swedenborg, De telluribus in mundo nostro solari […] (London, 1758).

38 Jacques-Henri Bernardin de St.-Pierre, Harmonies de la nature, Œuvres complètes, ed. L. Aimé-Martin, X (Paris, 1826), 315: “comme les heureux insulaires de Taiti.”

39 Harmonies, 348–349: “produits par mon imagination.”

40 Thomas Mann, Gesammelte Werke, IX, 447.

41 Friedrich Schiller, Sämtliche Werke, Hanser Edition, I, 253: “Schwatzet nicht so viel von Nebelflecken und Sonnen,/Ist die Natur nur groß, weil sie zu zählen euch gibt?/Euer Gegenstand ist der erhabenste freilich im Raume,/Aber, Freunde, im Raum wohnt das Erhabene nicht”; Goethe, “Was wär’ein Gott, der nur von außen stieße […]/Im Innern ist ein Universum auch” (Werke, Hamburg Edition, I, 357); Novalis: Blütenstaub fragment no. 16: “Wir träumen von Reisen durch das Weltall. Ist denn das Weltall nicht in uns?” (Schriften, eds. Paul Kluckhohn and Richard Samuel, II [Berlin, 1981], 417–418).

42 Goethe, Werke, Hamburg Edition, XII, 98: “Denn wozu dient alle der Aufwand von Sonnen und Planeten und Monden, von Sternen und Milchstraßen, von Kometen und Nebelflecken, von gewordenen und werdenden Welten, wenn sich nicht zuletzt ein glücklicher Mensch unbewußt seines Daseins erfreut?”

43 Stanislaw Lem, Summa technologiae (Frankfurt, 1976), 130: “In der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts [kann man] kaum ein vollwertiger Mensch sein, wenn man nicht wenigstens von Zeit zu Zeit jener bisher unbekannten Gemeinschaft der Vernünftigen [im Weltraum] gedenkt, zu der wir vermutlich gehören.”

44 I have developed a considerably more extensive version of this argument in my book The Last Frontier (Ithaca, NY, and London, 1990, trans. Helen Atkins). The present essay, in turn, is a revised version of my “Alptraum und Utopie: Extraterrestrische Welten von Galilei bis zur Goethezeit,” in Guthke, Der Blick in die Fremde: Das Ich und das andere in der Literatur (Tübingen and Basel, 2000), 165–179. I should like to thank the translator, Alexa Alfer, for her excellent work. My thanks also go to the editors of Early Science and Medicine, VIII (2003) for their comments and the rewriting of the introductory paragraphs, as well as for some of the bibliographical references. I have taken the liberty of revising the translation somewhat.

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