In an age where we take the search for signs of life beyond the confines of the Earth very seriously—as a scientific frontier—it’s interesting to consider a little of the history of the very concept itself. This isn’t entirely frivolous. The ways that we think about the natural world, and the ways that we formulate our questions, are always going to be biased and orientated by our preconceptions and speculations. Having a better appreciation of those predispositions may help us avoid obvious pitfalls.

Besides, the history of our ideas about aliens is plain fascinating in its own right.

One of the very earliest recorded examples was written in 200 AD by Lucian of Samosata (in eastern Turkey), a writer of satire and a practitioner of rhetoric of Assyrian descent (it is thought). Among his works is a novel called Vera Historia, or “True Story”, that details a journey to the Moon and the discovery of a multitude of life there. That lunar-life includes three headed vultures, birds made of grass with wings of leaves, humans sweating milk, and fleas the size of elephants.

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