"Micromégas" is a 1752 short story by the French philosopher and satirist Voltaire. Along with his story "Plato's Dream", it is a seminal work in the genre of science fiction, and is a significant development in the history of literature.
The tale recounts the visit to Earth of a being from a planet circling the star Sirius, and of his companion from the planet Saturn.
The technique of using an outsider to comment on aspects of Western culture was popular at this period. Voltaire used it again in Zadig. Montesquieu, too, applied it in Persian Letters, as did José Cadalso in Cartas marruecas and Tomás Antônio Gonzaga in Cartas Chilenas.
The story is organized into seven brief chapters. The first describes Micromégas (small/large), an inhabitant of one of the planets that orbits Sirius. His home world is 21.6 million times greater in circumference than the Earth. Micromégas stands 120,000 feet (about 23 miles) tall . When he is almost 450 years old, approaching the end of his infancy, Micromégas writes a scientific book examining the insects on his planet, which at 100 feet are too small to be detected by ordinary microscopes. This book is considered heresy, and after a 200-year trial, he is banished from the court for a term of 800 years. Micromégas takes this as an incentive to travel around the Universe in a quest to develop his intellect and his spirit.
After extensive celestial travels he arrives on Saturn, where he befriends the secretary of the Academy of Saturn, a man less than a twentieth of his size (a "dwarf" standing only 6,000 feet tall). They discuss the differences between their planets. The Saturnian has 72 senses while the Sirian has 1,000. The Saturnian lives for 15,000 Earth years while the Sirian lives for 10.5 million years; Micromégas reports that he has visited worlds where people live much longer than this, but still consider their lifespans too short. At the end of their conversation, they decide to take a philosophical journey together.
Eventually, they arrive on Earth and circumnavigate it in 36 hours, with the Saturnian only getting his lower legs wet in the deepest ocean and the Sirian barely wetting his ankles. They decide that the planet must be devoid of life, since it is too small for them to see with the naked eye. In the Baltic Sea, the Saturnian happened to spot a tiny speck swimming about, and he picks it up to discover that it is a whale. As they examine it, a boatful of philosophers returning from an Arctic voyage happens to run aground nearby.
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About the Author
He wrote plays, poems, novels, essays, and wrote about historical events and scientific matters. He wrote in excess of 2,000 books and more than 20,000 letters. Through his writing, he courageously criticized Catholicism, intolerance and the established institutions of his time, in spite of the peril of severe repercussions under the strict censorship laws of that time.
He was a courageous man who was hundreds of years ahead of his time. He did not allow the ignorance of the times and fear of consequences to stifle his voice of reason.