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Lucian

Lucian

Ancient Greek writer
The basics
About
Occupations Writer Science fiction writer Satirist
A.K.A. Lūqyānūs al-Samīsāṭī, Lucianus, Lucianus Samosatensis
Gender male
Birth (Samosata)
Death 001 (Alexandria, Alexandria Governorate, Egypt)
Notable Works True History, Dialogues of the Gods, Dialogues of the Dead
Authority ISNI id Library of congress id NNDB id Openlibrary id VIAF id
Lucian
The details
Biography

Lucian of Samosata (/ˈlʃən, ˈlsiən/; Ancient Greek: Λουκιανὸς ὁ Σαμοσατεύς, Latin: Lucianus Samosatensis; about 125 CE – after 180 CE) was a satirist and rhetorician who wrote in the Greek language during the Second Sophistic.

Although he claimed to be a native Assyrian, his actual nationality is hotly disputed; Lucian wrote exclusively in Ancient Greek. Most of his works are written in the Attic dialect, but On the Syrian Goddess, which is attributed to him, is written in a faux-Ionic dialect.

Noted for his witty and scoffing nature, Lucian frequently poked fun at superstition, religious practices, and belief in the paranormal. He admired the philosophers Democritus and Epicurus, both of whom advocated naturalistic worldviews. His works were wildly popular in antiquity and more than eighty works attributed to him have survived to the present day, a considerably higher quantity than for most other classical writers. His reception among modern scholars has been overwhelmingly positive.

His most famous work is A True Story, a tongue-in-cheek satire against authors who tell incredible tales, which is widely regarded as the earliest known work of science fiction. His framing story The Lover of Lies makes fun of people who believe in the supernatural and contains the oldest known version of the "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", while his letter The Passing of Peregrinus contains one of the earliest known references to Jesus Christ by a pagan author.

Lucian's Dialogues of the Gods makes fun of ancient Greek religion and portrays the traditional Olympian deities as unworthy to be worshipped. His Dialogues of the Dead focusses on the Cynic philosophers Diogenes and Menippus. His story Timon the Misanthrope was the inspiration for William Shakespeare's tragedy Timon of Athens.

Biography

Few details of Lucian's life can be verified with any degree of accuracy, though clues can be found in writings attributed to him. In several works he claims to have been born in Samosata, in the former kingdom of Commagene, which had been absorbed by the Roman Empire and made part of the province of Syria.

Language and nationality

A Nabataean depiction of the goddess Atargatis dating from sometime around 100 A.D., roughly seventy years before Lucian (or possibly Pseudo-Lucian) wrote The Syrian Goddess, currently housed in the Jordan Archaeological Museum

In On the Syrian Goddess, which may or may not have been written by Lucian, the author narrates a trip to the city of Heirpolis in Syria, where he visits the Temple of the Syrian goddess Atargatis, describing in detail the history, rituals, and institutions of the cult. His depictions of the cultural processes involved in the diverse and dynamic cult have many significant parallels to Syria's material culture. However, in a possible mimicry of The Histories of Herodotus, complete with faux-Ionic dialect, the narrator makes doubtful claims to have personally witnessed most of the things he narrates or otherwise learned it from a priest. On the Syrian Goddess parodies the Greek view of foreigners as barbarous, while the narrator concludes that the (As)Syrians and Greeks are actually quite similar. Throughout the account, the narrator often conflates the terms "Assyrian" and "Syrian." At one point, the author even claims to be an Assyrian himself. In the final paragraph of the work, he describes a ritual in which initiates would dedicate a lock of their hair to Hippolytus as part of a pre-marital coming-of-age ritual. The narrator comments, as rendered in Strong and Garstang's 1913 translation, "I performed this act myself when a youth, and my hair remains still in the temple, with my name on the vessel."

Lucian's claim in Double Indictment to be a native speaker of a "barbarian tongue" has been suggested to refer to Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic. A more likely interpretation is that he is referring to speaking an unpolished variety of Greek, considering that there is no evidence Aramaic was spoken in Samosata or Commagene in general. It has been suggested that in referring to himself as a "barbarian", "he was from the Semitic and not the imported Greek population" of Samosata.

Lucian wrote exclusively in Ancient Greek, mainly in the Atticized dialect popular during the Second Sophistic, but On the Syrian Goddess, which is attributed to Lucian, is written in a highly successful imitation of Herodotus's Ionic dialect, leading some scholars to believe that Lucian may not be the real author.

Widespread popularity

There are eighty-two surviving works attributed to him (though several are doubtful): declamations, essays both laudatory and sarcastic, satiric epigrams, and comic dialogues and symposia with a satirical cast, studded with quotations in alarming contexts and allusions set in an unusual light, designed to be surprising and provocative. His name added lustre to any entertaining and sarcastic essay: more than 150 surviving manuscripts attest to his continued popularity. The first printed edition of a selection of his works was issued at Florence in 1499. His best known works are A True Story (a romance, patently not "true" at all, which he admits in his introduction to the story), and Dialogues of the Gods (Θεῶν διάλογοι) and Dialogues of the Dead (Νεκρικοὶ Διάλογοι).

Lucian was trained as a rhetorician, a vocation whose practitioners pleaded in court, composed pleas for others, and taught the art of pleading. Lucian's practice was to travel about, giving amusing discourses and witty lectures improvised on the spot, somewhat as a rhapsode had done in declaiming poetry at an earlier period. In this way Lucian travelled through Ionia and mainland Greece, to Italy and even to Gaul, and won much wealth and fame.

Philosophical affiliations

Bust of Epicurus, an Athenian philosopher whom Lucian greatly admired

Lucian admired the works of Epicurus, for he breaks off a witty satire against Alexander of Abonoteichus, who burned a book of Epicurus, to exclaim:

What blessings that book creates for its readers and what peace, tranquillity, and freedom it engenders in them, liberating them as it does from terrors and apparitions and portents, from vain hopes and extravagant cravings, developing in them intelligence and truth, and truly purifying their understanding, not with torches and squills [i. e. sea onions] and that sort of foolery, but with straight thinking, truthfulness and frankness.

Works

Illustration from 1894 by Aubrey Vincent Beardsley depicting a battle scene from Book One of Lucian of Samosata's A True Story

There are 80 surviving works attributed to Lucian. He wrote in a variety of styles which included comic dialogues, rhetorical essays, and prose fiction.

Lucian was also one of the earliest novelists in Western civilization. In A True Story, a fictional narrative work written in prose, he parodies some of the fantastic tales told by Homer in the Odyssey and also the not-so-fantastic tales from the historian Thucydides. He anticipated "modern" science fiction themes including voyages to the moon and Venus, extraterrestrial life, interplanetary warfare, and artificial life, nearly two millennia before Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. The novel is widely regarded as the earliest known work of science fiction.

His dialogue Philopseudes (Φιλοψευδὴς ἤ Ἀπιστῶν, The Lover of Lies) is a frame story satirizing belief in the supernatural. The work is particularly notable because it includes the oldest known version of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," along with several of the oldest known ghost stories.

Lucian also wrote a satirical letter entitled The Passing of Peregrinus, in which the lead character, Peregrinus Proteus, takes advantage of the generosity of Christians. The letter contains one of the earliest surviving pagan perceptions of Christianity as well as one of the earliest non-Christian allusions to Jesus Christ.

Lucian's On Dance (Περὶ Ὀρχήσεως) contains one of very few literary discussions of dance - specifically pantomime - that treats Roman dance in detail. His Symposium (Συμπόσιον) stands in stark contrast with Plato's discourse; instead of discussing philosophy, the diners get drunk, tell smutty tales, and behave badly.

Lucian's writings had a profound influence on later writers. His prose narrative Timon the Misanthrope was the inspiration for William Shakespeare's tragedy Timon of Athens. His Kataplous or Downward Journey was deathbed-reading for David Hume and the source of Nietzsche's Übermensch or Overman.

Pseudo-Lucian

There is debate over the authorship of some works transmitted under Lucian's name, such as the Amores and the Ass. These are usually not considered genuine works of Lucian and are normally cited under the name of "Pseudo-Lucian". The Ass (Λούκιος ἢ ῎Oνος) is probably a summarized version of a story by Lucian, and contains largely the same basic plot elements as The Golden Ass (or Metamorphoses) of Apuleius, but with fewer inset tales and a different ending.

The Macrobii (Μακρόβιοι, "long-livers"), which is devoted to longevity, has been attributed to Lucian, although it is generally agreed that he was not the author. It gives some mythical examples like that of Nestor who lived three generations or Tiresias, the blind seer of Thebes, who lived six generations. It tells about the Seres (Chinese) "who are said to live 300 years" or the people of Athos, "who are also said to live 130 years". Most of the examples of "real" men lived between 80 and 100 years, but ten cases of alleged centenarians are given. It also gives some advice concerning food intake and moderation in general.

Еditions

  • Neil Hopkinson (ed.), Lucian: A Selection. Cambridge Greek and Latin Texts (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
  • Fowler, H. W. & F. G. (trans.), The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Complete with exceptions specified in the preface (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905). Four volumes.

Notes and references

Works cited

  • Lucian, Works, Loeb Classical Library, 8 volumes.
  • Graham Anderson, 1976, Lucian: Theme and Variation in the Second Sophistic, Brill.
  • Graham Anderson, 1976, Studies in Lucian's Comic Fiction, Brill.
  • Adam Bartley, 2009, A Commentary of Lucian's Dialogi Marini, Cambridge Scholar's Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4438-0960-3
  • Adam Bartley, 2003, The implications of the influence of Thucydides on Lucian's Vera Historia, Hermes, Heft 131, pp. 222–234.
  • Jane Lightfoot, 2000, Lucian: On the Syrian Goddess, Oxford, University Press.
  • Daniel Ogden,2007, In Search of the Sorcerer's Apprentice: The Traditional Tales of Lucian's Lover of Lies, Classical Press of Wales.
  • D.S. Richter, "Lives and Afterlives of Lucian of Samosata," Arion (2005) 13.1:75-100.
  • P.P. Fuentes González, 2005, art. "Lucien de Samosate", in R. Goulet (ed.), Dictionnaire des Philosophes Antiques IV, Paris, CNRS, pp. 131–160.
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