Over my last few lunches I’ve been reading Hollow Earth, by David Standish. It’s a nice overview, tracing the the idea of habitable lands inside the Earth from Edmund Halley through modern fiction. I was particularly pleased by this passage on Giacomo Casanova’s Icosameron, a peculiar utopian tale published in 1788. I quote Standish’s description:
The novel recounts the experiences of a teenage brother and sister who fall into the earth’s interior through a watery abyss. There they find an inner world inhabited by many-colored hermaphroditic dwarves called Megamicres, who live in a color-coded social hierarchy with the red ones at the top of the heap. Their primary method of eating consists of sucking on each other’s breasts. They’re also nudists. Edward and Elizabeth promptly rip off their own clothes, declare themselves married, and set about propagating as fast as they can. Each year during their eighty-one year stay, Elizabeth gives birth to twins, who in turn marry at age twelve and begin having twins. Finally Ed and Liz make their way back to London, leaving behind millions of offspring. Not only do they cause a population glut down there, they screw up a previously balanced society in other ways as well, introducing gunpowder and war, among other things.
I’ve never read Casanova, but this certainly makes me want to look up a copy.
(Portrait of Casanova at age 63 by Johann Berka is courtesy of Wikipedia. The portrait is from 1788, and was used as the frontispiece of L’Icosameron.)
UPDATE: I’ve scared up a link to an online version of Icosameron (in French, I hope you don’t mind). The interface is unconscionably dreadful; it’s a scan of the original text (all five volumes totalling more than 1,800 pages) with each page as its own PDF. Tome 1; Tome 2; Tome 3; Tome 4; Tome 5.