Lucian of Samosata, 120-180 CE

Biographical note

Assyrian rhetorician, and satirist who wrote in the Greek language. He is noted for his witty and scoffing nature.

Lucian almost certainly did not write all the more than eighty works attributed to him — 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 luster to any entertaining and sarcastic essay: over 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 (Νεκρικοί Διάλογοι).

Lucian was also one of the first novelists in occidental civilization. In A True Story, a fictional narrative work written in prose, he parodied some fantastic tales told by Homer in the Odyssey and some feeble fantasies that were popular in his time. He anticipated "modern" fictional themes like voyages to the moon and Venus, extraterrestrial life and wars between planets centuries before Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. His novel is widely regarded as an early, if not the earliest science fiction work.

Lucian also wrote a satire called The Passing of Peregrinus, in which the lead character, Peregrinus Proteus, takes advantage of the generosity and gullibility of Christians. This is one of the earliest surviving pagan perceptions of Christianity. His Philopseudes (Φιλοψευδής ἤ Ἀπιστῶν "Lover of Lies or Cheater") is a frame story which includes the original version of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice".

In his Symposium (Συμπόσιον), far from Plato's discourse, the diners get drunk, tell smutty tales and behave badly.

Lucian is also the presumed author of Macrobii (Μακρόβιοι) "long-livers" which is devoted to longevity. He gives some mythical examples like that of Nestor who lived three centuries or Tiresias the blind seer of Thebes who lived 600 years. Most of the examples are normal lives (80-100 yrs). He tells his readers about the Seres (Chinese) who live 300 years. He also gives some advice concerning food intake and moderation in general.

The Amores and the Ass, transmitted among the works of Lucian, are usually not considered genuine works of Lucian and are normally cited under the name of Pseudo-Lucian. There is also debate over the authorship of De Dea Syria ("On the Syrian goddess").

© 2014 The University of Adelaide
CRICOS Provider Number 00123M