World UFO day, ‘dedicated to the Existence of Unidentified Flying Objects’, is celebrated on July 2, the anniversary of the Roswell Incident. On July 2 1947, unidentifiable debris found by a rancher near Roswell, New Mexico, was diagnosed as the remains of an extra-terrestrial flying saucer. Thousands of people remain convinced that there was an alien landing which the Pentagon is covering up. 'Leaked' pictures of the aliens involved still circulate widely in the Internet.
My own childhood interest in UFOs was fostered by short film documentaries suggesting that various archaeological sites in Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica served as landing and launch pads for extra-terrestrials. Once I discovered Classics I started collecting references to unexplained objects from outer space recorded in ancient authors. Since the official website of World UFO Day (http://www.worldufoday.com/ ) politely requests that we spend the day ‘talking with your friends about the possibility of UFOs or alien life’, here’s my contribution: my five favourite classical UFOs in ascending order.
1. In 343 BCE, a giant torch was seen moving through the sky by the Greek general Timoleon, defender of the Greeks against the Carthaginians, and showed the route his fleet needed to take to Sicily. The historian Diodorus does not draw the obvious inference that these ETs responsible preferred the Greeks to the Carthaginians.
2. Cosmic ships were seen sailing across the Italian sky in 214 BCE when the Romans were feeling particularly frightened of—wait for it—the Carthaginians (Livy).
3. Celestial chariots and armed phalanxes charged through the clouds during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE when the Romans defeated the Jews. Whose side were the ETs responsible for the UFOs on? (Josephus)
4. An enormous 100-foot ‘beast’ which looked as though it was made of pottery, emitted darts of fire and had a multioloured upper surface, in company with a Woman in White, was seen on the road between Rome and Capua in about 150 CE (Shepherd of Hermas). The ETs on this occasion were voting for Christianity.
|Attempt at Reconstructing Flying |
5. But the winner for sheer spectacle, and apparent lack of partisan feeling amongst the ETs, is the flame-like wine-jars of silver hue which landed via a suddenly appearing split in the sky between the armies of Lucullus and Mithridates when the Pontic monarch was terrorising the Roman army in Phrygia in 74 BCE. Both armies saw it and its senders did not appear to take sides.
The Unidentified Flying Wine-Jar wins because it is evidence that Extra-Terrestrials either drink wine or were dropping a hint that they would like to. Which is hardly surprising if you consider the alleged Roswell alien, who certainly looks in severe need of a drink.