Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Pre-History of Aviation

Berthold Laufer - The Pre-History of Aviation (1928)

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This time Laufer looks at human dreams of flying and attempts to do so.  Just consider chapter titles - "The Romance of Flying in Ancient China", "The Air Mail of Ancient Times", "Kites as Precursors of Aeroplanes" and the positively steampunkish (or even Fortean-sounding) "The Dawn of Airships in Ancient India".  It's full of nice stories such as "the Bodhisatva as a divine horse rescuing merchants from flesh-devouring ogres by carrying them from Ceylon to India, traversing the clouds and passing the sea to the other side" or the reports of St Peter fighting Simon Magus who was flying with "four fiery horses".  There are also more concrete accounts of kites, balloons and carrier pigeons that would eventually result in actual flight.  Laufer's detailed look into Indian and Chinese sources is admirably multicultural in a way that would be even remarkable today - I found one recent book that even starts with a chapter "The Prehistory of Flight" that covers only Europe.