In an unrelated question, I was thinking of the Horta (ST:TOS, Devil in the Dark), which to paraphrase McCoy in one of the books looks like "an ambulatory pepperoni pizza, extra cheese".

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Given that human looking intelligent aliens are so common as to be a trope, what is the earliest depiction in Literature of an intelligent alien life form as being non humanoid in appearance? (i.e. radically different such as the Horta)

Edit: For non humanoid, I would intend it to be readily distinguishable from the typical two armed/two legged alien depiction. For example, all the members of the Max Rebo band would qualify (two arms, two legs, odd heads but still humanoid). Jabba the Hutt would not qualify as humanoid.

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    First aliens that aren't humanoid? That would be A True History by Lucian. It has dog-like aliens from the Dog Star. Quite literally the first science fiction story ever written.
    – Valorum
    Oct 12, 2017 at 21:36
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    Now the question is too broad; you should break it up into separate questions for film, TV, and literature.
    – user14111
    Oct 12, 2017 at 21:40
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    Do you accept Lucian's dog-like aliens as being "radically different" from humanoid? After all dogs are fellow mammals.
    – user14111
    Oct 12, 2017 at 21:53
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    @user14111 - Yes. You don't look at a dog and get a sense of human. The max rebo band = all humanoid (two arms, two legs, upright), jabba the hutt = not.
    – JohnP
    Oct 12, 2017 at 21:59
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    @Valorum That should be an answer.
    – Spencer
    Oct 12, 2017 at 22:42

5 Answers 5


True History by Lucian of Samosata is officially known as the oldest depiction of alien creatures in literature, dating from second century AD.

In True Stories, Lucian and a company of adventuring heroes sail westward through the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar) in order to explore lands and inhabitants beyond the Ocean, are blown off course by a strong wind, and after 79 days come to an island. This island is home to a river of wine filled with fish and bears, a marker indicating that Heracles and Dionysus have traveled to this point, along with normal footprints and giant footprints.

Shortly after leaving the island, they are lifted up by a whirlwind and after seven days deposited on the Moon. There they find themselves embroiled in a full-scale war between the king of the Moon and the king of the Sun over colonisation of the Morning Star, involving armies including such exotica as stalk-and-mushroom men, acorn-dogs ("dog-faced men fighting on winged acorns"), and cloud-centaurs. Unusually, the Sun, Moon, stars and planets are portrayed as locales, each with its unique geographic details and inhabitants. The war is finally won by the Sun's armies clouding the Moon over. Details of the Moon follow; there are no women, and children grow inside the calves of men.

I'd say "cloud centaurs" qualify as one of the weirdest alien creatures in history... and it was the first!

  • Wow, amazing find. I think that's the first time we've ever had an "officially" oldest depiction/story
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 13, 2017 at 17:54

I would suggest the martians in HG Wells War of the Worlds- as I recall not much of them is seen but what is inhuman- tentacles for example. This was written in the late 1800's and is considered one of the first alien invasion stories, if not the first.

  • I would agree with this. The War of the Worlds aliens are entirely non-human. I'd suggest expanding your answer with a relevant quote from the book.
    – Tim
    Oct 13, 2017 at 0:06

In the work Somnium by Johannes Kepler, Kepler describes creatures from the Moon called Daemons in a way that doesn't sound humanoid. The original book is written in Latin, but an unofficial translation can be found at https://frostydrew.org/papers.dc/papers/paper-somnium/pss-fdo/.

Somnium was written in about 1609.


Dante's Inferno, the first book of The Divine Comedy included at least one of the supervisor demons who was clearly not humanoid, and obviously not born of Earth. I don't recall the name, but this is the one Dante's guide summoned at the precipice, by throwing a rope into the void, and which then gave the two travelers a ride to the bottom of the cliff. This scene was replayed in Inferno, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, with the narrator character, Carpenter/Carpentier mentioning that out of everything in Hell, this one creature was a believable alien.

Though written as religious allegory, the Inferno was clearly fantasy even by the standards of 14th-15th century Catholic doctrine -- the details of the structure of Hell were far beyond what the Church recognized.

The Divine Comedy was completed in 1320 and the first printed edition was published in 1472.

  • For religious purposes, Hell (and therefore Inferno which is Italian for Hell) is on Earth. Thus, creatures from Hell are not extraterrestrial. Or, in any case, we don't know.
    – Devin
    Oct 13, 2017 at 16:28
  • For religious purposes, the devils/demons of Hell are fallen angels, and therefore not "of Earth" -- they existed before the Earth was created. Hence they must be extraterrestrial.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Oct 13, 2017 at 16:44
  • well, that's why I say "we don't know". Keep in mind that before Earth there was nothing, and once Earth was created, everything outside Earth was a decoration. Most beliefs (even today, in several different religions) situate Heaven and Hell outside this plane of existence
    – Devin
    Oct 13, 2017 at 17:31

The Houyhnhnms from Gulliver's Travels (1726) are not humanoid, and are "alien" in that they are outside the norms and territory of humanity.

  • Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the oldest as that was published in 1472.
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 13, 2017 at 14:05

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