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Did the Greeks or Romans have any literature describing events in the future? The modern era has produced a number of books and movies concerning a future society with flying cars or other technological advances — or post-apocalyptic dystopia. It occurred to me that I had never heard of anything similar in ancient literature.

Of course, I don't expect them to imagine a similar future than people two millennia later would, but some people must have had ideas about how life will be different in the future. If there are no full books, plays, or other that take place in the author's future, are there at least some passages?

I am curious to find what the ancient people imagined future might hold, however short or long the time jump is.

(It occurs to me that ancient literature might not have had fiction as an established genre the way we do today. Much of the literature seems to concern history, mythology, philosophy, and matters of the present life. Perhaps the playwrights could have had something a little different? Or maybe future would be discussed in the form of a prophecy?)

  • Of interest may be Plato's visions of the ideal city of the future in his Republic. I'm not entirely sure whether I would call it fiction, though. – Cerberus Feb 8 at 21:09
  • I'm not sure the Greeks had much of an idea of fiction at all. Both they and the Romans had a hazy idea of myth as opposed to history. Fiction definitely existed in Rome, I believe we even have at least bits of something that approximates to our idea of a novel, but it was pretty rare during the republic as far as I know. – SamBC Feb 8 at 21:32
  • As to future fiction, SF and similar didn't start to happen really until we were well into the industrial revolution. For the first time there were people who'd seen the world change incredibly, in a way that would generally be seen as progress (albeit uncomfortable progress at times), in one lifetime. In one generation, even. It is not surprising that some then wondered "how much will it change in another generation, or five, or ten?". – SamBC Feb 8 at 21:35
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    @SamBC There are actually more extant Greek novels than Latin novels, but they all date from Imperial times. – TKR Feb 8 at 22:23
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    @SamBC: Wouldn't you say that comedy was largely fiction? A few possibly historical elements shouldn't disqualify a work as fiction. And then there are novels. – Cerberus Feb 14 at 4:15
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Hesiod famously divided time into five ages. The bleak picture of the fifth age is told in the future tense.

Thereafter, would that I were not among the men of the fifth generation, but either had died before or been born afterwards. For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labor and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them. But, notwithstanding, even these shall have some good mingled with their evils. And Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men also when they come to have grey hair on the temples at their birth. The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime. Men will dishonor their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them, chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing the fear of the gods. They will not repay their aged parents the cost of their nurture, for might shall be their right: and one man will sack another's city. There will be no favor for the man who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Strength will be right, and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them. Envy, foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all. And then Aidos and Nemesis, with their sweet forms wrapped in white robes, will go from the wide-pathed earth and forsake mankind to join the company of the deathless gods: and bitter sorrows will be left for mortal men, and there will be no help against evil. (Works and Days 174-201)

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The Romans might have occupied their leisure with entertainment of all kinds, but when it is not dealing with history, war and so on, their literature includes poetry (ranging from the scurrilous to the sublime), and plays (mainly derivative), but is almost entirely lacking in fictional prose. In fact, apart from the Satyricon and the Metamorphosen of Apuleius (the Golden Ass) I would call it non-existent.

The Romans were severely practical people, one might say more engineers than philosophers, very down-to-earth in their interests. Life for all classes was a struggle lived very close to the land. The basis of their religious beliefs was quite foreign to that of modern (western) civilisation, being a sort of 'compact with the gods' for whom they constructed shrines and temples and whom they consulted rather than worshipped: guidance rather than instruction was what they were after. Why waste time dreaming, when you could (if you knew how to go about it correctly) ask the all-knowing beings with whom you shared the world?

They were not completely incurious, and the De Rerum Naturae of Lucretius is certainly speculative about the Universe, but even that is more explanatory than prophetic. They looked back on a history of hundreds of years, without much in the way of 'light-bulb moments' but seeing a long and difficult process of defending themselves. There was plenty enough to think about in staying alive, even for the well-off; it's hard to think that they would want to spend much time imagining the future if there was no reason to think it was going to be much different to the past.

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