City of the Sun by Tommaso Campanella is one of the earliest utopian novels — and one of the rarest, since only 20 copies exist. One of those has just come into the library at UC Riverside, where you can read it if you have California ID. (And read Latin.)
Completed in 1602 during Campanella's incarceration for heresy, City of the Sun is a dialogue between a Genoese sea-captain and his host, the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller. The captain tells of his voyage to the City of the Sun, a far-away place in Taprobrane, "immediately under the equator." And he describes the city, as scholar Nicole Pohl puts it, as a "communist theocracy." In which marriage is illegal, and everybody is polygamous, sort of.
As Pohl writes in an essay in the book The Architecture of the Museum:
The Prince Prelate is called the Sun or Metaphysician. He is assisted by three Princes - Pon, Sin and Mor - who regulate military affairs, sciences and the arts, procreation, education and eugenics with the aid of a range of civil servants. The government of the City of the Sun is clearly totalitarian. Whilst there seems to be no written constitution, the juridical system is based on a set of ethical laws displayed on a copper plate on the central temple building. Eugenics and the public education of children are based on principles of collectivity and individual accountability. The pupils even live next to the schools so they can continuously be supervised by the teachers. There is no private property, and all customary institutions such as the family and marriage are dissolved on the grounds that any form of private assets (including a wife) is counterproductive to the collective. Offenders to this basic code are not punished in any traditional sense but are re-educated to strengthen their collective spirit and selfcontrol. The custom of general confession serves to enhance the internalisation of the rules and regulations of the City of the Sun. 'The emphasis is less on reducing the incidence of crime, than on making the lawbreaker aware of his or her responsibility to the community.
Riverside's press release quotes Professor Rob Latham, who studies science fiction, as saying:
"A forerunner of the countercultural utopias of the 19th and 20th centuries, it gives us tantalizing glimpses of an emerging modern world... Despite its seeming piety, the book was controversial, as were Campanella's beliefs more generally, and he spent decades in prison and several sessions on the inquisitor's rack for espousing heretical views. But his vision survives in 'City of the Sun' — a work that, in its first edition, is extremely rare — and having a copy now at UCR further confirms the Eaton Collection's standing as the preeminent research archive on science fiction and utopian writing in the world."
A Riverside student who reads Latin and studies science fiction is writing an article about City of the Sun for the journal Science Fiction Studies, added Latham.
[via Highlander News]