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Lucian

(c. 120—180)


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Of Samosata in Syria (b. c.ad 120), accomplished belletrist and wit in the context of the Second Sophistic (revival of Greek oratory in the 2nd-3rd cent. ad). The details of his life are extremely sketchy, and his own presentations of his biography are literary and therefore suspect. His native language was not Greek but probably Aramaic; but he practised in the courts, then as an itinerant lecturer on literary-philosophical themes as far afield as Gaul. He presents a ‘conversion’ to philosophy around the age of 40, and his natural milieu is Athens. He was known to Galen for a successful literary fraud. We find him late in life in a minor administrative post in Roman Egypt; he survived the emperor Marcus Aurelius.

works Lucian's work is difficult both to categorize and to assign to any sort of literary ‘development’. Throughout he is a master of sensibly flexible Atticism (the imitation of Classical Athenian Greek). His œuvre runs to some 80 pieces, most of which are genuine. While some can be classified under traditional rhetorical headings such as meletai (‘exercises’) and prolaliai (‘preambles’), the most characteristic products of his repertoire are literary dialogues which fuse Old Comic and popular and/or ‘literary’ philosophy to produce an apparently novel blend of comic prose dialogue. But he is also an accomplished miniaturist, essayist, and raconteur: the Enalioi dialogoi (‘Dialogues of the Sea-Gods’) are particularly successful in exploiting the art of prose paraphrase of verse classics from Homer to Theocritus; the Pōs dei historian syngraphein (‘How to Write History’) gives a wittily commonsensical rather than commonplace treatment of a topical subject; while the Philopseudeis (‘Lovers of Lies’) successfully combines satire of superstition with racy novella. When he chooses he can be a lively and revealing commentator on his cultural and religious environment as when he attacks successful sophists, or figures such as Peregrinus or the oraclemonger Alexander of Abonuteichos whom he sees as charlatans. In the Alēthē diēgēmata (‘True Histories’) he produced a masterpiece of Munchausenesque parody. His literary personality is engaging but elusive: he is cultivated but cynical, perhaps with a chip on his shoulder, but difficult to excel in his chosen field of versatile prose entertainment. His weakest moments to contemporary taste are perhaps as a repetitive and superficial moralist, his most successful when he plays with the full range of Classical Greek literature in a characteristically amusing way.

Walter Manoel Edwards; Robert Browning; Graham Anderson

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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