I will now relate events that took place in the 94th Olympiad, in the city of Athens. I am Hipparchos, son of Nicomakos, of the deme Euonymos, and though I am now old, I will never forget that day.
I was strolling with friends near the Acropolis when we heard the sky tear apart. An object of shining silver came out of the rent clouds and landed near us. Before our astonished eyes, a door opened, and someone, or something, came out.
“Your headman to take I toward,” said the little green man. We stared at him. Barbarians are, truly, getting stranger by the day.
He hit a box hanging around his neck.
“Take me to your leader,” he said, and now his tones were the purest Attic Greek.
“To Alexias?” I whispered to Pythodoros.
“No,” he replied, “better not bother him. Take him to Socrates.”
“Will he believe that Socrates is our leader?”
“He’s a barbarian,” Pythodoros said. “He won’t know any better.”
So we escorted the little green man to Socrates. All along the way there, he looked around curiously and scanned things with his little box, nodding excitedly as he did so.
Socrates was holding court before his little crowd.
“This is your leader?” the little green man said dubiously.
“He is preeminent among us for his mind,” said Pythodoros, laughing.
The little green man indicated agreement.
“Tell me,” said Socrates, “who are you among men?”
“I am not a man,” said the little green man.
Socrates nodded. “What is a man?” he asked.
“Homo sapiens sapiens. Homo is the human genus, which also includes Neanderthals and many other extinct species of hominid; H. sapiens is the only surviving species of the genus Homo. Modern humans are the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens, which differentiates them from what has been argued to be their direct ancestor, Homo sapiens idaltu. The ingenuity and adaptability of Homo sapiens has led to its becoming the most influential species on Earth. Homo sapiens sapiens inhabits the planet Terra, in the system Sol, in the Milky Way.”
Many of us were astonished at this speech, but Socrates only nodded again.
“And you are?” he said?
“I am an inhabitant of Xraxas 9, in the Andromeda Galaxy. I am krax kraxis! We laugh at homo sapiens’ feeble knowledge.”
Socrates nodded once more.
“What makes a man a man?” he said.
“Homo sapiens sapiens is distinguished by a lighter skeleton and a smaller brow ridge than homo sapiens neanderthalensis….” Krax continued in this vein for some time.
“Perhaps,” said Socrates. “But is it not behavior that makes a man, rather than his external appearance? Do you have cities on, ah, Xraxas 9?”
“Certainly, Socrates,” he said.
“And do we have cities here, on Terra?”
“And is this city so different from your cities?”
“It is inferior!”
“What is inferiority?”
At this point Pythodoros sneaked away.
“You do not have the technology that we have. With a single finger, I could destroy your entire city.”
“But you are not doing so,” Socrates said mildly. “It is because first, you are acquainted with the nature of virtue, and second, you are disinclined to destroy your fellow humans.”
“I am not human.”
“What is humanity? It is not simply the form of this - ” his tongue stumbled over the unfamiliar syllables “ - homo sapiens sapiens. Is it not also, O man of Xraxas 9, in a shared language, and in shared spirit?”
“I do not speak your language.”
“But I can understand you,” replied Socrates. “What are you speaking, if not my language?”
“It is only through my superior technology that I can understand you.”
“But you acknowledge that we are not beasts? For beasts have no language.”
“And what distinguishes us from you, besides your size and color?”
“I….” The little green man trailed off. He pressed a button on his box and spoke in a guttural language. We heard the screaming in the sky again, and the silver object appeared. The little green man went to join his fellows.
“We will be back!” he said, as they took off into the sky. “Perhaps not in your lifetime, and definitely not in his.” He pointed to Socrates. “But we will return!”
“Ah, Hipparchos,” Socrates said, turning to me. “I find this very instructive.”
I quickly made my excuses.