Aratus

Tagged: Author

Pseudonym of the unidentified author (?   -?   ) of A Voyage to the Moon, Strongly Recommended to All Lovers of Real Freedom (1793 chap) a thinly disguised Satire on British Politics and society (see Sociology). Written at the time of both the French and American Revolutions and during the anti-radical administration of William Pitt the Younger, it is a polemic for freedom (see Libertarian SF), alluding to Great Britain as a Dystopia. The first-person narrator travels to the Moon by Balloon in 17 days 6 hours 2 minutes and 3 seconds and lands on the island of Barsilia (clearly representative of the British Isles) near its capital Augustina (London). He discovers that all inhabitants are snakes that walk upright. Whilst there are several tiers of snakes, ruled by the Great Snake, the majority are slaves (see Slavery). The narrator discusses freedom and liberty with various inhabitants he encounters and is soon arrested for seditious libel and imprisoned. There follows a sequence of discussions on the nature of freedom which continue until he eventually gains his liberty and returns to Earth.

The writer behind Aratus has not been identified. It might be assumed that he was British, not only because the small book was published in London, but because in the book's Dedication he states that all Americans should be "severely reprobated, if not totally exterminated", a comment clearly counter to the thrust of the book's argument. A poem also credited to Aratus, "On the Year 1793" (8 January 1793 Edinburgh Gazetteer) has been attributed to the poet Robert Burns (1759-1796), though with minimal evidence. It is possible that the book is by an American, as the Dedication also refers to Barsilia being "an Island far remote from ours". Whilst that applies initially to its being on the Moon, it might also refer to the fledgling United States. It is known that James Monroe (1758-1831), the future fifth president of the United States, wrote several articles in 1791 under the alias Aratus, all in support of the French Revolution; but no evidence has come to light that he also wrote this book. A more likely candidate is the publisher himself, James Ridgway (1755-1838), or one of his circle of pamphleteers. Ridgway was sentenced to four years in prison in May 1793 for seditious libel and continued his activities in Newgate; his reference in the pamphlet to living in a "snug country mansion" may have been simple sarcastic wit. The alias is derived from the ancient Greek statesman Aratus of Sicyon (271 BCE-213 BCE), a renowned champion of liberty. [MA]

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