Surveying the night sky, a charming philosopher and his hostess, the Marquise, are considering thep ossibility of travelers from the moon. "What if they were skillful enough to navigate on the outer surface of our air, and from there, through their curiosity to see us, they angled for us like fish? Would that please you?" asks the philosopher. "Why not?" the Marquise replies. "As for me, I'd put myself into their nets of my own volition just to have the pleasure of seeing those who caught me."
In this imaginary conversation of three hundred years ago, readers can share the excitement of a new, extremely daring view of the uinverse. Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds (Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes), first published in 1686, is one of the best loved classics of the early French enlightenment. Through a series of informal dialogues that take place on successive evenings in the marquise's moonlit gardens, Fontenelle describes the new cosmology of the Copernican world view with matchles clarity, imagination, and wit. Moreover, he boldly makes his interlocutor a woman, inviting female participation in the almost exclusively male province of scientific discourse.
The popular Fontenelle lived through an entire century, from 1657 to 1757, and wrote prolifically. H. A. Hargreaves's fresh, appealing translation brings the author's masterpiece to new generations of readers, while the introduction by Nina Rattner Gelbart clearly demonstrates the importance of the Conversations for the history of science, of women, of literature, and of French civilization, and for the popularization of culture. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (5)
16th Century Extraterrestrials
The French scholar, Bernard Fontenelle, in the late 16thcentury wrote a scientific treatise of the people who inhabited the planets (i.e. Venus, and Mercury) within our Galaxy. In reference to the inhabitants of Venus he succinctly describes them as:
"I can see what sort of people the inhabitants are. They are much like the Moors (i.e. Black people) of Granada. A little dark, sun-burnt people, scorched with the sun; full of wit and animation, always in love, always making verses, listening to music, having galas, dances and tournaments. Give me leave to tell you that you know but little of the inhabitants of the planet Venus." [End Quote, "Conversations on The Plurality of Worlds", Page 86, 1688]
In the above passage the inhabitants of planet Venus were described as "black midgets" who resembled the black Moors of Spain when they ruled half of Europe for 700 years. This description of our Venusian ancestors also correlates with the modern day research of the little TWA people of Central Africa. An African race of Pygmies who were the oldest recorded inhabitants of the Great Lakes region of central Africa and stand no more than approximately 2-5 feet tall.
In reference to the inhabitants of the planet Mercury Bernard Fontenelle describes them as:
"But what must the inhabitants of Mercury be? They must be also mad with vivacity like most of the negroes. They are without memory, never reflecting, acting by starts and at random. In short Mercury is the bedlam of the universe." [End Quote, "Conversations on The Plurality of Worlds", Page 86, 1688]
In the above passage Bernard Fontenelle knowingly associated the inhabitants of Mercury with the plight of the black race throughout Earth. In all their struggles for Civil Rights in an end to oppression black men and women of Earth "are without memory, never reflecting, acting by starts and at random" [End Quote]. Is it any wonder, then, why the black race of Earth is the only race of people who doesn't know their cultural heritage? They adopt other people's religion, nationality, and customs never understanding the totality of themselves as a people who reach "beyond the stars".
What little is known of black history has been salvaged by numerous eurocentric and afrocentric scholars; but, even then the history is "incomplete". Therefore, when I say that the black race of Earth doesn't know their "cultural heritage" it is to say that the search for our "blackness" has been incomplete up until now.
Bernard Fontenelle, then, goes on to describe the "skin color" of the inhabitants of the planet Mercury:
"The sun appears there nine times larger than it does to us. The light they receive is so brilliant that our finest days would be but twilight in comparison to theirs. For scorched as they are with the fierceness of the sun." [End Quote, "Conversations on The Plurality of Worlds", Page 86, 1688]
Now, let me give an historical background on this ancient text (i.e. Conversations on The Plurality of Worlds):
"It offered an explanation of the heliocentric model of the Universe. It is Bernard Fontenelle's most famous work and is considered to be one of the first major works of the Enlightenment Age. Bernard Fontenelle addresses female readers and suggests that the offered explanations should be easily understood even by those without scientific knowledge. This book written so long ago was a critical success as it explained the heliocentric model of the universe and also muses on the possibility of extraterrestrial life. At the same time, Bernard Fontenelle avoided challenging the Catholic Church and its view of the world. The book was very well received both in France and elsewhere, and was regularly published. In 1691, Bernard Fontenelle was elected to the French Academy." [End Quote, [...]]
The original language of Venusians, fortunately, hasn't been lost in its entirety. I speculate that maybe their language could have been quite similar to the TWA of Central Africa:
"When the Hutu, a Bantu-speaking people, arrived in the region, they subjugated the Twa. Around the fifteenth century AD, the Tutsi, a cushite-speaking people, subsequently arrived and dominated both the Twa and the Hutu. The Twa speak the same language, Kinyarwanda, as the Hutu and Tutsi." [End Quote, [...]]
On the other hand,the little information that has been salvaged was preserved by Edgar R. Burroughs in his book "Pirates of Venus" published in 2001. He was able to re-create the Venusian alphabet supposedly used by the Venusians (i.e. or "Amtorians"- as "Amtor" is what the natives call their planet). His "Amtor Letters" flow nicely together like cursive writing.
This book was thrilling to me because of the conversational way it told 1600's scientific ideas of outer space.Besides that, the issue of what women are capable of learning was an underlying idea.To top it off, Elizabeth Gunning Plunkett was the translator.I was especially happy to see how she translated such a thought-provoking book.The bonus was that she was probably my ancestor.The book includes a page or more of her bio and a portrait drawing of her.She was considered to be the best of all prior translators of this book, according to the footnote writer.
There is no romance in the book at all.Rather, it is everyday conversations between a man and a woman on the philosophy of living as humans related to the planets.It has no paragraph breaks nor quotation marks when changing from one speaker to another.That and a few words whose meanings I didn't know were the only things that made it difficult to read.
I would recommend this book for ALL readers of all ages.It sparked many conversations between my husband and me about current scientific views of how the planets relate.Our God created a marvelous solar system.To think He cares about such details and still cares for you and me is AMAZING!
The Plurality of Worlds.
_Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds_ is a translation of the work _Entretiens sur la pluralite des mondes_, first published in 1686, by Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle.Fontenelle (1657-1757) was a fascinating figure of the French Enlightenment, who was among the first to popularize scientific ideas.Fontenelle was critical of much of religion and superstition (for example, he wrote critically of people who lived in fear of comets).At the time Fontenelle wrote, religious conflicts existed between Protestants and Catholics; however, Fontenelle faced the possibility of censure in that he maintained that the earth was not the center of the universe.Fontenelle was heavily influenced by the "modern" philosophy of Descartes (particularly Descartes' theory of vortices), as well as the heliocentric astronomy of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, and Kepler, and the ideas of Galileo (including Galileo's use of the scientific method and his use of the telescope for studying the night sky).Fontenelle also entertained more modern "enlightened" ideas regarding the place of women (he places a woman in a central position within these dialogues showing his belief that women could indeed be scholars).However, perhaps most interesting of all are Fontenelle's speculations concerning the plurality of worlds, life on other planets (and moons), and the possibility of other solar systems surrounding other stars (and life on them), as well as the interesting idea that man would someday learn to travel to other planets (or the Moon) by means of flight (far ahead of his time!).Ideas such as these influenced many subsequent writers and thinkers, including the early science-fiction of Jules Verne as well as subsequent utopian literature.Religiously, Fontenelle has proven difficult to pin down given his rejection of superstition and his hostility towards clericalism, leading some to suggest that he was in fact a "pagan".The _Conversations_ presented here were continually updated by Fontenelle throughout his life (and a sixth dialogue was added to the original five, though it does not appear in this edition).This edition features an Introduction by Nina Rattner Gelbart, which explains the context of this book and presents the life of Fontenelle.Further, there is a Translator's Preface by the translator H. A. Hargreaves, which discusses the life of Fontenelle as well as notes some of the peculiarities of the editions of this work and the difficulties in translating the work.This book has proven to be a difficult one to translate and some of that difficulty may be seen here.
Fontenelle's book begins with a preface where he compares his situation in putting forth a book of popular philosophy to that of Cicero who wrote in his own tongue.Fontenelle also explains the characters who appear in his dialogues, including the Marquise (the female character in the dialogue), and why he has chosen to place a woman in the dialogue.In this preface, Fontenelle also considers the possible objection that the inhabitants of the Moon would not be sons of Adam (being that the sons of Adam would presumably have never made the journey from the Earth to the Moon).He concludes that the inhabitants of the Moon need not be like men in any way and that he cannot know what they would be like, and that further he is not being entirely serious in this book.Following this, Fontenelle addresses the book to a Monsieur L___, and then begins with the first dialogue which takes place on the first night.During the first evening, the Marquise and the philosopher appear and looking up at the night sky, the philosopher begins explaining the nature of the heavens to her.To begin, the philosopher explains the nature of Natural Philosophy (at that time including Physics and Astronomy within its purview), and notes how "nature has become mechanical" since the time of the ancients, comparing nature to a watch.The philosopher then notes the positions of the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, the planets, and the "fixed stars" in the night sky, and he explains how originally the Ptolemaic view held sway (with the Earth at the center of the universe) only to be replaced by the Copernican view (with the Sun at the center of the solar system and the Earth revolving around it).The philosopher explains how the Earth passes through each sign of the Zodiac as it turns around the Sun, and he answers several objections the Marquise has to this theory, explaining how the heliocentric theory is more parsimonious than the Ptolemaic system.The philosopher ends by making a comparison between Copernicus' views and those of Tycho Brahe and then they adjourn for the evening.The second evening finds the philosopher making the astonishing admission that the Moon is a world just like the Earth and that the Moon is likely inhabited.The philosopher reasons that since the Moon resembles the Earth it must be inhabited like the Earth in this respect.The philosopher goes on to explain various aspects of the Moon in its orbit around the Earth, and then goes on to explain how the inhabitants of the Moon are in a similar condition to the inhabitants of America and the New World before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.In answer to the question as to how the inhabitants of Earth would ever meet the inhabitants of the Moon, Fontenelle proposes this startling account:"We're beginning to fly a bit now; a number of different people have found the secret of strapping on wings that hold them up in the air, and making them move, and crossing over rivers or flying from one belfry to another. . . . The art of flying has only just been born; it will be perfected, and some day we'll go to the Moon."Surely such prophetic remarks (written in 1686!) show that Fontenelle was far ahead of his time.The third evening has the philosopher take back his remarks about inhabitants on the Moon, only to be re-convinced by the Marquise.They also discuss the Sun and Venus.The fourth evening has the philosopher explain the inhabitants of other planets (making note of their different periods around the Sun), including Mercury and Jupiter (and making note of the moons of Jupiter as well), as well as explaining the theory of vortices.It is during the fifth evening however that the philosopher makes perhaps his boldest claim.He contends that the fixed stars are really suns, and that they may contain solar systems of planets just like our own Sun.From this he argues that these planets may each be inhabited.However, he cautions, "Well, if you grant a mathematician the least principle, he'll draw a conclusion from it that you must grant him too, and from that conclusion another, and in spite of yourself he'll lead you so far you'll have trouble believing it."These thoughts disturb the Marquise, but the philosopher ends on a positive note by bringing up the fact of beauty (and her beauty).
These conversations are an important part of the history of science.They offer the reader a unique glimpse into the mind of a true visionary who saw far ahead into the future.They have played a unique role in the development of scientific ideas (as well as the creation of science-fiction) and offer us hope that some day we may come into contact with other intelligent life in the universe.
An important and appealing work in the history of science
We in our modern age are accustomed to thinking about topics such as space travel, life on other worlds, Martian meteorites, and all manner of other modern scientific ideas. This charming translation of a charming and important work in the history of science shows us that our ideas may not be quite as modern as we think they are.
First published in 1686 (that's right, 1686), Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds discusses how the stars in the night sky are other solar systems, probably with planets and people of their own, and that we may visit them, or they us, one day. What makes the work so charming, and of lasting literary as well as scientific value, is that it is written as a dialogue between a philosopher and a lady as they spend several evenings walking together in the lady's garden. "What if," asks the philosopher, the travelers from other worlds "were skillful enough to navigate on the outer surface of our air, and from there, through their curiosity to see us, they angled for us like fish? Would that please you?" "Why not?" the lady replies, "I'd put my myself into their nets of my own volition just to have the pleasure of seeing those who caught me."
If you have any interest in the history of science, or science fiction, or astronomy and space travel, you will enjoy this volume.
I read this book for a class I was taking over the history of scientific thought and dreaded it due to the bland nature of the other works the class had looked at.I was proved very pleasantly surprised, though. Wonderfully written and very sweet, this book is surprisingly forwardthinking in many of it predictions for our modern knowledge of the cosmos. The romance added in with the scientific discussions adds a wonderfultouch, as do the insightful comments into the human experience and psyche.
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