This is one of the chapters from A Traveller’s True Tale by Lucian and translated by Alfred J. Church.
For two days we sailed, the sea being smooth as ever I saw, but on the third day we saw towards the East, where the Sun had just risen, a multitude of great beasts, monsters of the sea, and among them one of the most prodigious size, being one hundred and eighty-eight miles and four furlongs in length. This came towards us with its mouth wide open, making a terrible commotion in the water a long way before it as it moved, the sea being white with foam for miles on either side. Also, we could see its teeth, which were long and sharp as stakes and white as ivory.
When we saw this, we gave up ourselves for lost, and so, embracing each other and having said farewell, we awaited our fate. In a very short space, it was upon us and swallowed us, with our ship and all its tackling. By great good luck, it did not close its teeth upon us, or it had certainly broken us to pieces, but we went down whole into the monster’s belly. There at the first all was darkness, nor could we see anything. But after a while the beast opened his jaws, and we saw into what manner of place we had come.
‘Twas a great chamber, very broad and long, and high also. And in the middle there was a multitude of small fishes and of other creatures, all of them broken up, and masts of ships, and anchors, and men’s bones, and cargo of all sorts. Also, there was some land with small hills rising out of it. This last, I take it, came from the mud which the beast swallowed when he went down to the bottom of the sea. On this land there was a forest and trees of all kinds and many sorts of plants. In truth, it seemed to be a well-tilled parcel of ground. Afterward, we measured this island and found that the circuit was about eighty miles. We saw also a multitude of seabirds, as cormorants and kingfishers, that had built their nests and were hatching their young ones on the trees.
For a while, when we found ourselves in this plight, we could do nothing but weep. But I took heart after a time and roused my companions. First, we propped the ship on either side, that it should not fall. Afterward, we lit a fire and prepared for ourselves a meal of such things as were at hand; and indeed, there was a vast store of fish from which to choose, and as for water, we yet had some of that which we took on board from the Morning Star.
After we had eaten, we started on a journey and came as near as might be to the monster’s throat, from which, looking out when he chanced to open his mouth, we saw sometimes the land and hills rising from it, and sometimes the sky only. Often we saw islands, for indeed, as we found, the beast was going with amazing swiftness to all parts of the sea.
At the first, we were overwhelmed with fear, but after a while, growing used to our abode, judged it best to explore it further. I took, therefore, some of my companions and went into the wood, being resolved to make myself acquainted with the whole place.
After we had gone half a mile or thereabouts, I found a temple to Poseidon (for so much we learned from the writing inscribed upon it). And then again, in a short space, we came to tombs with columns upon them, and close by to a spring of clear water; also I heard the barking of a dog and saw the smoke of a chimney, from which I gathered that we were coming near to some dwelling.
We were all eager to know what this might mean, and made all the haste that we could; nor had we gone far before we saw an old man and a young man with him, who were working with right goodwill in a meadow, which they were watering by conduits from the spring of which I have just spoken. ‘Twas a great pleasure to us to see them, and yet we were also somewhat afraid. And they, I take it, were much in the same case, for they stood looking at us without a word. But at last the old man said:
“And who are you, my friends? Seagods or mere unlucky mortals like as we are? For we are men that were born and bred on dry land, but are now become a sort of sea creatures, as it were, living in the middle of this great monster and always swimming about with him. Indeed, I do not rightly know what has befallen us or even whether we are dead or alive. It seems likely enough that we are dead, but for all that I feel as if I were alive.”
“Father,” I said, “we are newcomers in this place, for only this morning the monster swallowed us down with our ship. And when we saw this wood, how great and thickly grown it was, we desired to know what there might be to be seen in it, and so we came as you perceive. And, as I take it, ’tis a good providence that has led us to this place, where we have made your acquaintance and learned that there are others also who are prisoners in this great monster. Pray tell us your fortunes, and how you came hither, and how you have fared?”
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But the old man declared that he would not tell us a word about himself or hear anything about us till he had given us such entertainment as he could. To this we gladly consented, and he took us into his house, which was very prettily built and sufficiently furnished with all things needful, as beds and the like. There he set food before us, vegetables and fruits and fish, and with all this some good wine also. When we had had our fill of these good things, he would fain hear of our adventures, which I told him from the beginning, how a storm had overtaken us at sea, and of what we saw in the island, and how we had journeyed through the air, and of the great battle in which we had taken a part. In a word, I told him my whole story up to the time when we were swallowed by the monster. He was astonished beyond measure at the things which we related to him, and told us, in return, some of the things which had happened to himself.
And his story ran somewhat after this fashion:
“I was a merchant of Cyprus, in which country I was born, and was accustomed to trade with Greece and Italy and the neighboring parts. This I did with good fortune for some years. But at the last, sailing to Italy with a cargo of merchandise of many kinds, I met with the misfortune which has brought me to this plight. I had with me on shipboard my son, being then a young child, and a crew of my own servants. All went well with us till we came to the island of Sicily, when there encountered us a very fierce storm of wind. For three days we were carried before it till we came to the Pillars of Hercules, and so out into the Western Sea. And here there met us this monster and swallowed us up together with our ship, which doubtless you saw lying wrecked in the beast’s mouth. All the rest of my comrades perished, being hurt by the beast’s teeth as we came down, and I only and my son were saved. So we buried our friends and built a temple to Poseidon as a thank offering for such deliverance as he had given.
“Since that time we have lived as you see; we have this garden with sundry plants and herbs, and we have also fish and fruits. As for this wood which you see, it is of great extent, and has in it abundance of vines from which we get some excellent sweet wine; nor could there be sweeter and colder water than we get from this spring. Our beds we make of leaves; nor have we any stint of fuel for fire. We also take such birds as fly into the beast’s mouth, and we catch live fish with our angling lines from the beast’s gill, bathing also from there, whenever we desire so to do. And not far from this place is a salt lake somewhat less than three miles in circumference, which holds all kinds of fish. Here we bathe and sail at times in a small skiff which I have built for this purpose. ‘Tis now, by my reckoning, the twenty-eighth year since the beast swallowed us up. And I do not deny that it would be such a life as a man might very well endure but for our neighbors, who are a great and grievous trouble to us. For we can have no dealings with them, so savage and fierce are they.
I wondered much to hear him speak thus and asked him, “How say you? Have you neighbors in this country, if I may so call this place?”
“Aye,” he said, “neighbors in plenty, who show no kindness to strangers and are, besides, of the oddest shape you can imagine. To the westward, a hilly country, and part of this wood where we are now, dwell the Saltfish Folk, a people that have the faces of eels and the heads of stag beetles. They are very bold warriors and are accustomed to eat their meat raw. Over against these, along the right side of the beast, are the Triton Weasels, whose upper parts are shaped as a man’s, but their lower parts are like a weasel’s. Of all the tribes in this place, these are the best. To the left of these are the Crab Hands and the Tunny Heads. These have lately made alliance together and are fast friends. The inland region is inhabited by the Shell Tails and the Flea Feet, who are a very warlike tribe and the fastest runners that can be imagined.
“Eastward of them lies the country that is near to the beast’s mouth; therein is but little cultivated land, for the sea commonly overflows it, and it is barren. As to this region that you see, I hold it of the Flea Feet, paying them tribute by the year five hundred oysters. And now that you have heard what I have to tell you about this place, you must weigh the matter well, for you must consider how you will be able to live here, and whether you can fight with all these tribes with any hope of victory.”
“Well,” said I, “tell me how many are there of them in all?”
To this he answered that there were a thousand and more.
“And what arms have they?”
“No arms,” he answered, “but fish bones only.”
“If that be so,” I said, “’twere best to come to blows with them without further delay. For if they have no better arms than fish bones, I take it they will not be able to stand against men equipped as we are. Let us deal with them at once; and if things go as I wish and believe, we shall dwell in peace hereafter.”
To this counsel all agreed. So we departed to our ship and made such preparations as were needed.