(Λουκιανός), usually called Lucian. A Greek writer, born at Samosata, the capital of Commagene, in Syria. The dates of his birth and death are uncertain; but it has been conjectured, with much probability, that he was born about A.D. 120, and that he lived till towards the end of that century. We know that some of his more celebrated works were written in the reign of M. Aurelius. Lucian's parents were poor, and he was at first apprenticed to his maternal uncle, who was a statuary. He afterwards became an advocate, and practised at Being unsuccessful in this calling, he employed himself in writing speeches for others, instead of delivering them himself. But he did not remain long at Antioch; and at an early period of his life he set out upon his travels, and visited the greater part of Greece, Italy, and Gaul. At that period it was customary for professors of the rhetorical art to proceed to different cities, where they attracted audiences by their displays, much in the same manner as musicians or itinerant lecturers in modern times. He appears to have acquired a good deal of money as well as fame. On his return to his native country, probably about his fortieth year, he abandoned the rhetorical profession, the artifices of which, he tells us, were foreign to his temper. He now devoted most of his time to the composition of his works. He still, however, occasionally travelled; for it appears that he was in Achaia and Ionia about the close of the Parthian War, 160-165, on which occasion, too, he seems to have visited Olympia, and beheld the self-immolation of Peregrinus. About the year 170, or a little previously, he visited the false oracle of the impostor Alexander, in Paphlagonia. Late in life he obtained the office of procurator of part of Egypt, which office was probably bestowed upon him by the emperor Commodus.
The nature of Lucian's writings inevitably made for him many enemies, by whom he has been painted in the darkest colours. According to Suidas, he was surnamed “the Blasphemer,” and was torn to pieces by dogs, as a punishment for his impiety; but to this account no credence can be given. Other writers state that Lucian apostatized from Christianity; but there is no proof in support of this charge; and the dialogue entitled Philopatris, which would appear to prove that the author had once been a Christian, was certainly not written by Lucian, and was probably composed in the reign of Julian the Apostate.
As many as eighty-two works have come down to us under the name of Lucian; but some of these are spurious. The most important of them are his Dialogues. They are of very various degrees of merit, and are treated in the greatest possible variety of style, from seriousness down to the broadest humour and buffoonery. Their subjects and tendency, too, vary considerably; for while some are employed in attacking the heathen philosophy and religion, others are mere pictures of manners without any polemic drift. Our limits only allow us to mention a few of the more important of these dialogues: The Dialogues of the Gods (Θεῶν Διάλογοι), twenty-six in number, consist of short dramatic narratives of some of the most popular incidents in the heathen mythology. The reader, however, is generally left to draw his own conclusions from the story, the author only taking care to put it in the most absurd point of view.—In the Zeus Convicted (Ζεὺς Ἐλεγχόμενος) a bolder style of attack is adopted; and the cynic proves to Zeus's face that everything being under the dominion of fate, he has no power whatever. As this dialogue shows Zeus's want of power, so the Zeus the Tragedian (Ζεὺς Τραγῳδός) strikes at his very existence, and that of the other deities.—The Βίων Πρᾶσις, or Sale of the Philosophers, is an attack upon the ancient philosophers. In this humorous piece the heads of the different sects are put up for sale, Hermes being the auctioneer.—The Fisherman (Ἁλιεύς) is a sort of apology for the preceding piece, and may be reckoned among Lucian's best dialogues. The philosophers are represented as having obtained a day's life for the purpose of taking vengeance upon Lucian, who confesses that he has borrowed the chief beauties of his writings from them.— The Banquet (Συμπόσιον) is one of Lucian's most humorous attacks on the philosophers. The scene is a wedding feast, at which a representative of each of the principal philosophic sects is present. A discussion ensues, which sets all the philosophers by the ears, and ends in a pitched battle.—The Nigrinus is also an attack on philosophic pride; but its main purpose is to satirize the Romans, whose pomp, vainglory, and luxury are unfavourably contrasted with the simple habits of the Athenians.
The more miscellaneous class of Lucian's dialogues, in which the attacks upon mythology and philosophy are not direct but incidental, or which are mere pictures of manners, contains some of his best. At the head must be placed Timon, which may perhaps be regarded as Lucian's masterpiece.—The Dialogues of the Dead (Νεκρικοὶ Διάλογοι) are perhaps the best known of all Lucian's works. The subject affords great scope for moral reflection and for satire on the vanity of human pursuits. Wealth, power, beauty, strength, not forgetting the vain disputations of philosophy, afford the materials. Among the moderns these dialogues have been imitated by Fontenelle, Lord Lyttelton, and Walter Savage Landor.—The Icaro-Menippus is in Lucian's best vein and a masterpiece of Aristophanic humour. Menippus, disgusted with the disputes and pretensions of the philosophers, resolves on a visit to the stars for the purpose of seeing how far their theories are correct. By the mechanical aid of a pair of wings he reaches the moon, and thence surveys the miserable passions and quarrels of men. Thence he proceeds to Olympus, and is introduced to the Thunderer himself. Here he is witness of the manner in which human prayers are received in heaven. They ascend by enormous vent-holes, and become audible when Zeus removes the covers. Zeus himself is represented as a partial judge, and as influenced by the largeness of the rewards promised to him. At the end he pronounces judgment against the philosophers, and threatens in four days to destroy them all.—Charon is a much admired dialogue, but of a graver turn than the preceding. Charon visits the earth to see the course of life there, and what it is that always makes men weep when they enter his boat. Hermes acts as his cicerone. For his True History (Ἀληθὴς Ἱστορία) and Asinus (Λούκιος ἢ Ὄνος), see Novels and Romances.
Lucian's merits as a writer consist in his knowledge of human nature, his strong common-sense, the fertility of his invention, the raciness of his humour, and the simplicity and Attic grace of his diction. There was very much to justify his attacks in the systems against which they were directed. Yet he establishes nothing in their stead. His aim is only to pull down; to spread a universal scepticism. Nor were his assaults confined to religion and philosophy, but extended to everything old and venerated, the poems of Homer and Hesiod, and the history of Herodotus.
True History, Lucian of Samosata
Trips to the Moon , Lucian of Samosata
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire
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