The Lucian of Samosata Project
Momus' objection to Hephaestus' man was this: he should have made a window in the man's chest, so that, when it was opened, his thoughts and designs, his truth or falsehood, might have been apparent. - Hermotimus 20
A website dedicated to advancing the writings of Lucian of Samosata.
Lucian of Samosata (c. 120 AD - c. 200 AD) was the author of more than 80 known dialogues & treatises and is considered the supreme Ancient Greek satirist. Throughout his writings, Lucian interconnects the stories of gods and men, rich and poor, philosopher and skeptic, tyrant and subject, all with an eye for entertainment and humor. Lucian, an Assyrian by birth, held a strong command over the Greek language and his style harkens back to dialogues by Plato, writings by Attic writers in the Classical Age, and cynical satire by Menippus. With a keen eye to the follies of man and commentary on the universal aspects of human behavior, Lucian left us a treasure trove (Thesaurus) of delightful writings that will challenge and amuse his readers for centuries to come.
Cyrenaics Resource: Only place online to find the majority of references and writings of the Cyrenaics, the ancient hedonists.
Cynic Lives and Writings: A comprehensive library of references to Cynic teachings and persons.
Lucian Wiki: Essays and entries on sundry topics.
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Why read Lucian?
On the Circumstances, Character, and Writings of Lucian of Samosata
Authored by Christoph Martin Wieland
From Wieland's 1820 translation of Lucian of Samosata
All that can be met with certainty of Lucian's biography must be gathered or conjectured from the little that he himself has written down incidentally in his writings. This is certainly not sufficient to allay our curiosity as numerous particulars in the life of a man whose works have excited such very general interest for centuries since his death. These scattered writings, however, being for the most part of such a nature, as, in connection with the authentic material of his own intellectual character, which every author is unconsciously constrained to imprint in his works, to throw some light upon the history of his mind. It will be not ungrateful to the reader to see them here brought together in the most probable point of view.
Lucian was born at Samosata, a city of some consideration at that time, situated on the western shore of the Euphrates, in the Syrian province of Commagene. This district, before Vespasian made it a province of Syria, had been for a long time the seat of several kings of the family of the Seleucidae, and on its coins, which were afterwards struck under Hadrian, Severus, and others, still exulted in the designation of the metropolis of Commagene.
The precise year of Lucian's birth is uncertain. After all the pains that Vossius, Johnsius, Dodwell, La Croze, Du Soul, and others have employed to settle his chronology, nothing accurate or probable can be obtained, more than that he was born about the latter end of Trajan's reign, or very early in that of Hadrian; that he flourished under both the Antonines, and that under Commodus, or shortly after him, he ceased to live.
That he was of average parentage, and apprenticed out to his maternal uncle, a sculptor, to learn statuary, and by what accident his good genius brought him out of the work-shop almost as soon as he had set his foot in it, and placed him in the career he was destined to pursue, is related by himself in the ingenious address to his townsmen of Samosata, which stands at the head of his works: but in none of them does he make any mention either of the means whereby he extricated himself from the obstacles which his penury opposed to his studies, or where, and under what masters he qualified himself for oratory and rhetoric.
For a youth of uncommon natural endowments, who in Lucian's slender circumstances would addict himself to literature, in hopes of soon being able not only without support from his family connections, but trusting entirely to fortunate events, to acquire respect and wealth, there was at that time no readier way, than either forensic eloquence or the profession of a rhetorician, by which those who determined upon the former were initiated into the mysteries of oratory, and qualified for its practice. Lucian accordingly (as he gives us to understand in his The Fisher and in the Double Indictment) began pretty early to enter upon the former method; and it is presumable, that he followed the profession of an advocate some years between the ages of twenty and thirty, not without success. However, as it did not so well answer his expectations in Greece (probably on account of the excessive competition and the prejudice which must have been against him at first as a Syrian, i. e. a semi-barbarous Greek), as to overcome his natural aversion from this profession, which must be continually increasing as he experienced more of the disagreeable affairs in which it involved him: he resolved to leave Greece, and with it his present means of subsistence, and to settle in Gaul, one of the richest provinces of the Roman Empire, and in point of civilization and politeness yielded to no other. And where at Lyons, Toulouse, Nismes, but particularly at Marseilles (on which Cicero had already conferred the title of the Gallic Athens), the literature and the arts of Greece were held in high estimation.
That he must have already conceived the resolution to abandon for ever the temple of trickery, and confine himself entirely to the profession of a teacher of rhetoric, if we had not his own testimony for it, might be concluded from the circumstance, that the Latin language, in which he seems never to have made great proficiency, was the only one used in juridical proceedings in Gaul, as in the rest of the Roman provinces.
The name of a sophist, which through Socrates and Plato, had fallen into pretty general contempt, had at this time so far recovered its reputation as to be a title, which even persons of birth, authority and opulence, such men, for instance, as Herodes Atticus, held it an honor to bear. This appellation, which denoted somewhat more than a mere ordinary rhetorician, included together with the several species of oratory, and especially the talent of extemporizing with elegance on any subject, those qualifications which are now comprehended under the term polite literature. Whoever gave himself out for a sophist, excited the expectation of his being a choice wit, bel esprit, an acute critic and arbiter elegantiarum, conversant with the poets and sages of antiquity, furnished with various kinds of knowledge, and master of all the copiousness of the Greek tongue, which had the advantage of being the only language of the learned as well as of the fashionable world. Under the emperor Hadrian, who generally resided in those provinces where Greek was vernacular, was in some measure become the language of the court.
Never, even in the brilliant epochs of the famous sophists Prodicus, Gorgias and Hippias, were the talents, that are comprised under this denomination, more highly prized, or better rewarded than in the era of Lucian. "You see," says he, in his School for Orators, to the young candidates for celebrity, "how numbers who were originally of the dregs of the people, solely by the art of speaking, have raised themselves to the pinnacle of fame, to opulence, and even to elevated rank and nobility." Such examples were naturally encouraging; and with a young man, who to excellent dispositions united such tireless application to study, as may be fairly inferred to have been the case with our author, from a passage in the treatise above cited, could not fail of that success, with which his labors in Gaul had been crowned, and in behalf of which, in his Apology for Scholars who engage in the service of great personages, he appeals to his friend Sabinus as an ocular witness. His residence in that country laid the foundation of the fame, which was afterwards progressively confirmed and extended by his writings, and placed him in such good circumstances as enabled him to spend the greater part of the remainder of his life in an affluent independence, of which all the productions of his genius bear evident marks. It is from the misapprehension of a passage in the above quoted Apology, that Reitz has been led to say, that Lucian gives us to understand he was poor: the combination and tenor of the piece throughout indicates a totally different meaning to that passage; and is anything more wanting for expressly telling us himself, that he accepted the public office, the acceptance of which he is justifying to his friend, not from necessity, but in order to be more at his ease? That as his mode of living was attended with considerable expense, and he had been accustomed to a decent luxury, prudence prompted him in his old age to accept an office, that enabled him with much respect and moderate employment to support and continue his customary way of life.
There is room for surprise, that Philostratus, in his Lives of the Sophists, who were most of them contemporaries of Lucian, should have passed him by in total silence. How could this have happened if Lucian (as we are informed in the Apology to Sabinus) had made so prominent a figure in Gaul as to be reckoned "among the sophists that were the most amply paid?" Had this performance of Lucian been the only one that we possessed, the silence of the biographer of the sophists might certainly have passed for a tolerably plain testimony against our author; but there is now perhaps no question, that, if one of the two must bear the disgrace of it, it would be Philostratus himself, who probably says nothing at all of Lucian, for the same reason that the wretched compiler Suidas is so lavish in his abuse to him. Philostratus was one of those philosophers, weak in head, but strong in faith, or morosophs (as Lucian calls them), to the whole race of whom our author was an everlasting adversary, and the more odious to them, the more formidable the weapons with which he assailed them. Is it therefore surprising, that he resolved to contribute nothing (at least as far as in him lay) to the immortality of so bitter a foe to his order, of a man who even pronounced his grand hero, the divine Apollonius of Tyana, a comedian? Besides, the silence of Philostratus may be accounted for in this manner, that Lucian (as plainly appears from putting together what he says of himself in the Hermotimus, in the The Fisher, in the Apology to Sabinus, and in the Double Indictment), professed rhetoric only in Gaul, but quit that occupation as soon as he had attained his object, prior to his twentieth year, and thenceforward employed himself, during his sojourn in various parts of Greece and Asia, entirely in composing his treatises, which were of such a nature, that neither the rhetoricians nor the philosophers would allow them to be a sufficient qualification for admission into their brotherhood; the former because they looked upon him as a deserter, the latter because they regarded him as a false friend, who only adhered to them in order to spy out their defects, and then deliver them up to the derision of the profane.
Generally speaking, such a one as Lucian might have been a favorite with all men of sound judgment, and the idol of his auditors and the reading part of the public, (as in all probability this was actually the case), and other writers might have had their reasons for making as if they had never heard of him in all their lives. Even two such persons as Plato and Xenophon seem in their writings to know nothing of one another, though they were not only contemporaries and fellow citizens, but had been the scholars of one master, and from the different tracks they pursued, cannot be suspected of jealousy. And does not our author himself observe with regard to Plutarch, who lived not long before him, the same profound silence?
As far as may be gathered from some incidents mentioned in the Nigrinus and Hermotimus it may be inferred, that Lucian was near upon his fortieth year when he left Gaul, where he appears to have tarried between ten and fifteen years. As he took Italy on his return, it was natural that he should not leave Rome unvisited; he seems however to have stayed there only so long as was necessary to convince himself of the inexpressible corruption of that insolent tyrant of the world by personal inspection, and to enable him to contrast it in one of the finest of his moral pictures (the Nigrinus) with the innocence and simplicity of sober Athens.
At this date a new period of his life commences, that namely, of which his writings, or at least the greater part of them, are at once the fruit, and in a certain sense, the history. I think it probable, that he passed a considerable portion of it in Greece, and principally at Athens, where he informs us that he lived some years with the aged Demonax, his ideal abstract of a genuine sage, and where many of his finest performances received their existence. On this point the Abb. Massieu, is indeed of a different opinion, but I believe without sufficient grounds; or rather I think I perceive in Lucian's works a number of diminutive circumstances and intimations that appear to contradict his opinion. Massieu assumes, that Lucian immediately upon his arrival from Gaul and Italy, through Macedonia, returned to Samosata, and remained settled in his native place, enjoying in peace the renown he had acquired and the fruits of his labors; till he was called by the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who held him in high estimation, to a splendid and lucrative post, a prefecture in Egypt, which that emperor is said to have conferred upon him. All this is affirmed without proof. Lucian came back to his own country; this is an ascertained fact. But in what epoch of his life, and for what length of time? For ascertaining this no sufficient data are to be found in his writings; and what is there said about it, so far from supporting the assertion of M. Massieu, makes directly against it. Where is the probability, that a man of Lucian's genius and character, who had been used to the advantages and pleasures of the best company at Massilia and Athens, and the conversation of an extremely cultivated and polished class of people, could have so long endured to remain in a provincial town, so far from the chief seat of the muses, of refined taste and elegant manners, among such a mongrel race of Greeks and barbarians, as, in his Double Indictment, he describes his countrymen to have been? And who can imagine, that an author like him, since it depended entirely on his own option where he would live, should pitch upon such a place as Samosata, merely because he was born there, and on his return found his next relations still amongst the lowest description of the inhabitants, to be the theater of his celebrity, the place for composing and rehearsing his works? For that the greater part and the best of his writings, not excepting even his Dialogues of the Gods and Dialogues of the Dead, were not composed till after his return from Gaul, must I think be immediately obvious to every attentive reader of his works, and especially those pieces in which he touches upon the several periods of his literary life; unless his judgment is previously biased to some contrary notion. From among several similar arguments for this ray opinion, to adduce but one, which is, for example, that the dialogue Hermotimus, which must be universally acknowledged as one of the most ingenious and learned of our author's works, and as the production of an understanding arrived at its full maturity, was not composed, according to his own express declaration, till after his fortieth year; consequently posterior to his having relinquished the profession of a rhetor; for, that he had entirely given it up when he wrote his Dialogues, he tells us himself in so many words in the Double Indictment, already so often referred to. But that he owed the celebrity which he brought back with him to Samosata, far less to the reputation he had acquired by teaching rhetoric in Gaul, than to the applause attending on his writings, may be pretty safely inferred from his manner of speaking upon it, at the conclusion of his Dream: he could not, without exposing himself to the reproach of the most ridiculous vanity, speak in such terms of himself and his successes, till after his works had procured him so general and decided a celebrity, that he might think he had expressed himself with perfect modesty on so delicate a point.
All circumstances taken together it appears highly probable, that Lucian, immediately after his return from Gaul, lived some years in Greece, and principally at Athens, where he composed the greater part of his finest Dialogues. Certain it is that he was residing in Greece in the year 165, since he was a spectator of the solemn spontaneous combustion of that crack-brained enthusiast Peregrine. Now those Olympic Games, as he himself says, were the fourth which he had lived to see. Supposing, as it may well be, that he for the first time was present at these games in his youth, therefore prior to his departure for Gaul, then in order to see the other three, in the years 157, 161, and 165, he must have been come back to Greece, and have remained there upwards of eight whole years. If we add to this, that he was about forty years of age, when he wrote the Hermotimus: I believe the following chronology of Lucian, although different from Du Soul's calculation, will come near the truth. Suidas being not always in the wrong, I admit the year of Trajan's death, or of the vulgar era 117, as that of Lucian's birth. He was fourteen or fifteen when his inclination to study got the better of the manual labor to which his family had doomed him. Of the ten or twelve years that composed the interval between them and his twenty-fifth year, he may have spent some in Ionia and Achaia, and in the year 141 have seen for the first time the Olympic Games. Now putting his journey to Gaul in 142 or 143, I think I cannot allow him less than twelve years for the course he ran through in that country. He may therefore have been thirty-eight or forty when he returned to Athens, where he seems to have stayed till the year 165, when Peregrine acted his tragicomedy at Olympia, and perhaps longer, at least the greater part of that period. We may with good reason admit that he had already attained the zenith of his celebrity towards his fiftieth year, and now found it convenient, or perhaps was moved by family circumstances, to show himself once more in his native town. Whether his abode in Macedonia, to which his Herodotus refers, was earlier, or at this time took place, cannot be determined: but that the stay which he made at Samosata, at least was not interrupted, is deducible from hence, that we find him a few years afterwards again on his travels through Cappadocia, Paphlagonia, and Bithynia, having with him his aged father and his family: a circumstance that would rather lead to the conclusion, that he resolved to take a final leave of the town that gave him birth, than that he intended to make it his permanent residence.
What could induce the Abb. Massieu to say, that Lucian received his prefecture in Egypt from the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, as a mark of his peculiar esteem, it would be difficult to divine, unless peradventure he was misled by a particular passage in the Apology to Sabinus, to regard what Lucian says of every Roman Emperor in general, without reference to the personal character of him who filled that exalted station, as a commendation, which as a commendation, would be very ill suited to the brutal Commodus, but very well to his excellent predecessor. Yet, as before observed, the passage in its entire construction proves neither in behalf of the one nor the other; and even supposing that Commodus (who perhaps did not spoil his eyes with Beading) had happened to see it, and chose to take it for a fine compliment, then could not Lucian at least be accused of intending to flatter him by it; for the question is merely concerning the high recompense that an emperor received for the trouble of (well or ill) governing the world, not whether he deserved it or not. That Lucian however did not obtain that public office which he bore in the latter years of his life, from Antoninus, but from Commodus, is liable to no doubt, when we hear him affirm himself (in the frequently mentioned Apology) that at the time he received it he was at a tolerably advanced age, and according to the expression which he puts into the mouth of his censor, had already one foot in Charon's boat. I readily agree, that this expression should not be taken in its strictest sense; but, if it were not entirely inappropriate, it must at least designate one who was turned of his 65th year. But now Lucian, if he, agreeably to Massieu's assumption, came into the world in the year 120, in the first year of the sole sovereignty of Commodus (180), was only threescore: it is then clear that he must have obtained the said office, probably on the recommendation of some powerful friend, under the latter emperor. He speaks of it as a very considerable post, with a large salary annexed, and even with the possible expectation of being promoted to the prefecture of all Egypt: but concerning the length of time he enjoyed it, no trace is to be found in all his writings.
That he was married is concluded from the last paragraph in his Castrates, where he forms for the benefit of his young son, a curious, but in reality a very rational wish; farther than this of his domestic circumstances nothing is known. The details I have hitherto been giving, will, I fear, seem to most of my readers too micrological, and I feel it necessary therefore to crave their pardon. It is perhaps with me and my favorite authors (Horace and Lucian) as with a lover who is entertaining a third totally indifferent person about the mistress of his heart, and if this other has no opportunity of an early escape by flight, would keep for some hours teasing him to death, before it once struck him, that the trifles, which he is describing as matters of moment, could only be interesting to a lover.
I confess, however, that it is not conceivable to me, how a reader of Lucian's writings with the abatement of Apollonius of Tyana, Peregrine, Alexander, and the whole kin of them Eucrates, Dinomachus, Ion, Cleodemus and Arignotus, for I am not so unreasonable as to suppose these gentlemen to be his friends but how any reader of liberal and sound judgment can make himself acquainted with Lucian from his works, and not be enamored of him, is to me quite inconceivable. His shining qualities are certainly not without blemishes; neither the man nor the author are entirely blameless: who will pretend to deny it, or attempt to justify him in all respects? A head so clear and cool might easily, by his natural abhorrence of everything that bore the appearance of fanaticism, in some cases be led farther than many good people would be inclined to follow him. Such a lively and spirited wit, in the gaiety of his heart, may likewise be betrayed into a dry jest, and a partial judgment; or a too keen rebuke may be apt to slip out. An author of the second century, when good taste was beginning to give way to a passion for being new and original, when the elegant diction of the ancients was beginning to be superseded by a cramped, starched and quaint neological style, overloaded with artificial flowers and frippery, must, notwithstanding his nice tact in the true and beautiful, and with all his earnest endeavors to form himself by the most perfect models of better times, here and there have a dash of the present. All the three cases are sometimes, though but seldom, applicable to our author: but these spots are obliterated by so many substantial beauties and merits, that they come into no consideration. Indeed I know not which of all the old writers can be brought in competition with him for fertility of genius, for a union of the several species of ingenuity, for wit, humor, taste and elegance, for the talent of conferring the grace of novelty on the most common and familiar topics, and for combining all these means of pleasing, with a sound judgment, the most diversified and agreeable branches of knowledge, and with all that polish which a happy constitution of nature, nursed by the muses, can only acquire in the great world and in the conversation of select characters. Though it is not to be denied, that after a lapse of seventeen hundred years, from the alterations that have ensued in customs and manners, in religion and the whole constitution of society, from the advantages which in some respects we have over them, brought on by fortunate conjunctures, the progress of culture, extension of science, and other contingencies, his modern readers must lose not a little : yet as after deducting this loss, so much still remains ; since, notwithstanding so many disadvantages, he has always entertainment and charms for almost every kind of reader ; since, after so great an interval of time, his humor is still diverting, his satire still applicable, his pictures of manners still fresh and vivid, his raillery, in general, still fine and agreeable, and (what is not the least surprising) even his inventions so often copied and imitated by modern writers ; since, familiarized therefore as we are with them, they always retain such an air of originality, such an appropriate action and character, we are enabled to imagine the effects they must have produced upon the people of his time, and how much he must have delighted and enchanted the Greeks, who were so extremely sensible to the charms of genius, and particularly to the siren-strains of wit and eloquence.
The happiest conceits appear to be the easiest, after they have been produced; everybody thinks he might have produced the same; and yet nothing is more certain than that it is the exclusive prerogative of genius to have such conceits, and to know how to employ them properly. To that alone Lucian was beholden for the celebrity which so advantageously distinguished him above the other sophists of that and the succeeding era. Having come into the world somewhat later than Herodes Atticus, Scopelianus, Polemo, Antiochus and twenty others who had acquired a reputation among the sophists; he would probably have succeeded no farther, than to be one of them, but always remained behind those who were already in possession of the first ranks, had he not found the means to advance himself by a different course from that of the trite declamations of the sophists, extemporaneous or studied. This new way to fame and applause was opened to him by the lucky thought of compounding as it were the Socratic dialogue, or the dialogue of the philosophers, with the drama of Eupolis and Aristophanes, and thus producing a new species of composition, which gave him ample scope for displaying the several capacities of his mind, and enabled him the more surely to attain all the ends he proposed to himself as a writer for the politer part of the public ; since he should (like the ancient comedy) conceal his real purpose, of correcting or lashing them by criticism and satire, under the appearance of only bantering and diverting them. He has explained himself with so much ingenuity and humor, but at the same time so distinctly and satisfactorily, on this contrivance of his, in his Double Indictment, where he makes Rhetoric and Dialogue appear as his accusers, that it would be impossible to set it in a clearer light.
A man of true genius is principally distinguishable by these two points ; first, at certain intervals he examines the state of his faculties, and studies to find out that application and direction of them whereby he may produce the most beneficial effects on mankind, particularly his contemporaries; and next, he knows how to form the proper instruments for effecting these ends, with which another, wishing to use them for the same purpose, will never achieve what he does: as, in order to wield Orlando's trusty blade, we should have Orlando's arm. Lucian forms his Dialogue into such an instrument: but he would never have fallen upon this idea, if he had not, so to speak, been conscious that he had the ability to handle the weapon as well for his peculiar gratification, for the crisis of the time, as for his personal reputation.
As this reflection leads me to some general observations on the character and drift of Lucian's compositions, it seems the more necessary previously to cast a glance on the time and the theater in which he played his part, the nearer the relation wherein the generality and principal of his works stand to the spirit and particular vices of the age in which he lived.
Lucian's life, as we have already seen, comprises the whole period of Hadrian and the two Antonines, a series of more than sixty years, which upon the whole was the golden age of the world under the Roman Augustuses, and in general formed one of the most brilliant passages in the annals of mankind. The fairest provinces of the empire enjoyed during the better half of that happy age all the advantages of a universal peace and a mild government: Greece in particular, so pre-eminently favored by Hadrian, and especially his beloved Athens, had recovered so much of its pristine prosperity and luster, yes in many respects even an increase, that the Greeks in the shade of that liberty they were allowed to enjoy, were in some sort happier than ever, and had little cause to desire a return of the turbulent times of their independence. The learned of all denominations were signally favored in this memorable period. Hadrian, whose unbounded vanity strove after every species of fame, converted his court into an academy of the arts and sciences, of which he was not only a liberal encourager, but likewise pretended to be a great connoisseur in some, and in several even a consummate master. There were swarms of grammarians, rhetoricians, poets, musicians, painters, architects, geometricians, astrologers and philosophers of every sect, whom he loaded with riches and promotion, without using much discriminating sagacity with respect to the degree of their merit. Indeed it appears that some of them, particularly the philosophers, were employed in the various functions of those offices which in great families buffoons and parasites usually filled. Through a certain familiarity which he vouchsafed them, a contempt is discernible, by which he apparently intended to repay himself for his haughtiness. He took great delight in continually jeering them by subtle and ingenious questions, pretending to understand everything better than they did, to puzzle them by strange and odd objections, and either to strike them dumb with shame, or what was worse, to put them out of temper, and thereby furnish him with matter and pretext for insulting them more grossly. For mischievously as he jested with them, he would not endure angry looks. To patronize the philosophers in this manner must naturally have been more prejudicial to them, than if he had not troubled his head at all about them. He thus kept men of real merit at a distance from him, who had rather dispense with his favors than play the despicable part of sycophants and court-fools: on the other hand the pensions of which he was so profuse, and the envied honor of being on such a footing of familiarity with the master of the world, allured to him a sorry set of people, pedants and half-witted philosophers, who, in order to partake in the prosperity of his time, were ready to brook any affront; and as to secure success nothing more was necessary than the gown, the beard and the staff, a little philosophical jargon and a deal of impudence, sophistry and parasitic servility to the emperor's humor, what was more natural than that the Epictetuses should become scarcer, and the false pretenders to the title of philosophers more numerous from day to day? The evil of which Hadrian had laid the foundation, was rather increased than diminished under the mild emperor Antoninus Pius and his successor M. Aurelius, notwithstanding the better temper of these Augustuses. Both made it their duty to encourage the sciences, and to endow professorships for the philosophers of all sects, not excepting even the Epicurean, with considerable salaries; but which were therefore the subject of perpetual intrigues and cabals. A man must be a perfect stranger to the ordinary course of the world, not to deem it natural in such conjunctures, that pedants, charlatans, praters and hypocrites, in short, people of the same stamp as those described by Lucian in so many of his productions, should gain precedence over men of real merit, and the beneficial establishments of those praiseworthy sovereigns should fall short of their good intentions, and on the contrary contribute not a little to the corruption of the times and the decline of genuine science.
To these causes of the continual declension of the old philosophical schools, which in better times had arisen out of the Socratic, and contributed so much to the enlightening of the Greeks and Romans, was associated the great respect to which, as has been already observed, the profession of the sophists had attained since the time of Hadrian. Its affinity to the philosophy properly so called, could not fail of being injurious to the latter. The sophists not infrequently borrowed from the philosophers both matter and resources for their declamations: these, excited to jealousy by the brilliant success of the former, borrowed from them the tricks of an eloquence, more intent upon deceiving, seducing and entertaining, than on informing, convincing and improving their hearers. What wonder then, that this jealousy and this reciprocal borrowing should progressively lessen the distinction between the one and the other; and that though the sophists were not acknowledged as sages, yet those who pretended to be such, and were even paid for it, became sophists?
But what peculiarly characterizes the era of our author was a certain giddy propensity to enthusiasm, to wonderful and incredible occurrences, especially if they came from the East, for novel rites of worship, mysteries, religious brotherhoods and the like; in short, a kind of epidemical distemper of the human understanding, such as is generally rife among a people that under the grinding pressure of a despotic government, by the utmost degree of refinement and luxury, and by all kinds of sensual excesses has lost all vigor of nerve, and which in the upper classes of society is the consequence of that impotence of mind brought on by over exertion and exhaustion of the bodily powers, and with the lower classes is the no less natural result of extreme oppression; a state where the forced deprivation of all the gratifications indispensably necessary to the comfort of life, produces the same effect as the voluntary mortifications of fanatical bonzes and fakirs. It would carry me too far, were I to engage in the development of these and other corresponding causes of the above mentioned evil, in order to demonstrate how it gradually increased from the time of Caesar Augustus; till under the reign of the Antonines it showed itself in those comments described by our author, which would appear almost incredible, were not the possibility of them rendered conceivable by similar phenomena at the present day; suffice it to say, that the truth of the fact cannot be denied by any that are conversant with the records and monuments of those times. Never was the propensity to supernatural prodigies, and the avidity to accredit them, more vehement than in this otherwise very enlightened age. The priest-craft of the ancient Egyptians, the different branches of magic, all kinds of divination and oracles, the pretended occult sciences which associated mankind with a fabulous world of spirits, and pretended to give them the control over the powers of nature, were almost universally respected - persons of all ranks and descriptions, great lords and ladies, statesmen, scholars, openly appointed and paid philosophers of the Pythagorean, Platonic, Stoic, and even of the Aristotelian sect, thought on these topics no better than the simplest of the people; new oracles came into credit, to the prejudice of the old, and exceeded them in the number of their visitors: a firm belief was placed in miraculous images. The genius of the times, like the emperor Hadrian, was made up of all imaginable incongruities; they believed everything and they believed nothing; in company they laughed at objects, at which they trembled when alone or in the dark ; and the vanity of passing for one enlightened, could not with a particular class of persons, who were frightened at the smallest exertion of intellect, be better gratified, than by a commodious middle state between skepticism and credulity, where everything is doubted which ought to be believed, and every thing believed which ought to be doubted; a disposition blind and deaf to the most important truths, when they can only be understood by patient and keen reflexion : whereas they allowed themselves to be deluded by the most absurd chimeras, whenever they presented themselves in a mysterious garb, and promised short north-west passages to sublime all-comprising sciences and superhuman arts.
Enthusiasm and superstition are not only compatible with every degree of mental and moral depravity, of which they are not infrequently the effects, but again become, by the very nature of the case, abundant sources and powerful means of promoting them. The same imbecility of mind which cannot resist the successions of a crazy brain and the visions of a distempered fancy, will be overpowered by every impulse of passion, every allurement of sense. Accordingly, the times when daemonistery and fanaticism have prevailed, have always likewise been distinguished by a high degree of moral corruption : and that this is applicable to the period under consideration, is notorious, and abundantly confirmed by several of our author's pieces, particularly the Nigrinus and the Dialogues of the Dead.
Such was the posture of affairs then, under the Antonines, the mildest and most benevolent sovereigns the Romans ever had, regarding the greater part of the known world; so wild and giddy was the appearance of most heads, and so greatly were they, who took upon them to be medical practitioners for the mind, in want of a physician themselves, when Lucian conceived the resolution to encounter the reeling genius of his age with the only weapons he was afraid of, and against which his enchanted armor could not protect him the witty derision of cool common sense. Endowed with an upright mind and a sincere love of truth and honesty in all things, the inveterate enemy of all affectation and false pretenses, everything over-strained and unnatural, all imposition upon true-hearted simplicity, all usurpations, which a cunning impostor by artfully disguised methods, or an enthusiastic self-deceiver, by shining natural talents and the contagious ardor of his intellectual fever, had the art to acquire over the dull mass of the poor and weak in spirit he made it the business of his life and the principal aim of his writings to unmask all kinds of falsehood, delusion, and imposture from the theological fictions of the poet to the tales of the ghost-seer and necromancer of his time, and from the wiles and cajoleries of the wheedling sisterhood, a Lais, a Phryne and Glycera, to the infinitely more important tricks of the religious jugglers, oracle-coiners and theophany-actors, but especially, and with the most inexorable severity, the specious wisdom and gravity, the ignorant polymathy, the hypocritical virtue, the low practices and vulgar manners of the trading philosophers of his time, to represent all these several guilds of the great corporation of cheats in their real shape and nakedness, and thereby to become the greater benefactor to his contemporaries, the less he could reckon upon their gratitude, and the more surely contrariwise upon the hatred and persecution of a many-headed and a thousand-handed party. For the very circumstance that, in order the more certainly to attain his serious purpose, he must so frequently conceal it under an appearance of frivolity, and seem to be merely amusing while he was endeavoring to instruct and improve his reader, must, in the eyes of the sober and judicious, greatly enhance his merits; as for the same reason they would be undervalued in the shallow judgment of the great mass, who are ever prone to be deluded by specious appearances.
The range of Lucian's genius is of no less circuit than that wherein the genius of lies and sophistry, of hypocrisy and enthusiasm, of chimeras and juggling of all sorts is at work. How then should he, having so universal a plan to destroy the works of this malignant daemon, only spare the Homeric Jupiter and the rest of the legendary deities? Why and wherefore should their absurd and provoking anthropomorphisms and the ridiculous inconsistency of the fables and tricks with which the originally so much nobler and purer religion of a Phoroneus, Orpheus, Eumolpus, was adulterated and disfigured, be sacred and inviolable to him? Why should he, at a time when no man of education and clear intellect any longer believed in these odds and ends, not take that liberty which the religious Athenians allowed their Aristophanes even upon the stage, and for which, as there is every reason to suppose, all sensible people gave him their thanks? Notwithstanding that in modern times it has been made criminal in him to ridicule the mythological stories of the gods ; and even Bayle on that account thinks him abominable, because, I know not from what revelation, he pretends, that Lucian had not (as had the canonized fathers of the church who did the same) the laudable object in view, of opening the eyes of the heathen, but merely to open a field for his natural petulance and wanton wit; where he might revel and riot to his heart's content. Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione quaerentes?
We will not presume to pry into the innermost replications of the heart, to discover the secret motives that actuated either Lucian or the fathers of the church or Peter Bayle, who here seems paying his court to some of the church-fathers of his time ; the only grounds on which we are able to found our opinion of the designs which we do not see, are the actions that we behold. Lucian's Confabulations of the Gods (his tragedizing and convicted Jupiter, with others included in the pieces belonging to this department) were calculated to open the eyes of everybody that was not incurably blind, to the absurdity, the inconsistency and immorality of the general faith of the public in his time: why should we, merely because he makes wit and humor the vehicle of his physic, refuse him the design of healing? What right have we to turn an author, only because he jocosely and laughingly speaks the truth, into a scramble, and ought we not, for the same reason, to pronounce a like verdict on Horace, Juvenal, Chaucer, Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, Sterne, and all comic and satirical poets in general? For, that the charge brought against him by Bayle in the article above quoted, as having shown no less indifference and aversion to truth than to lies, is a groundless calumny, which could only be expected from the mouth of a Voetius Tillemont and the like of him, I certainly have no need to prove to any impartial reader of Lucian's writings, but appeal to his natural inviolate sense of truth. And, only to notice this one particular, the very earnestness and zeal with which in his Convicted Jupiter, in his dissertation on Sacrifices, and in other places, he attacks the fundamental errors of the vulgar religion, is the strongest proof how little the truth was indifferent to him. Had he launched his wit purely for diversion at the old popular tales and fictions of the poets, he would have given it the same turn with his smaller Dialogues of the Gods. But he saw that the ax must be laid to the root, in order to eradicate the evil; and certainly it was no fault of his if his writings did not prepare the way to a religion thoroughly purged from all daemonism, all magic, all superstition and all priest-craft. That he was not himself one of those who preached that religion cannot reasonably be made a reproach to him. Non omnia possumus omnes. Some are ordained to attack, others to defend, some to pull down, others to build up. Lucian unmasked the false idols of erroneous opinion and of deisidaemony, the false prophets and spurious philosophers, the Peregrines and the Alexanders; it was surely no trifling service he thus rendered to the world; with what justice could we condemn him for not rendering more ? We should be satisfied with those who employ gifts such as his merely to entertainment agreeable to our taste. Lucian, by doing both, did so much the more ! He instructed, while he entertained, he avenged truth and nature on their most dangerous enemies, he tore up by the roots the weeds that prevented the growth of wholesome plants, protected the docile understanding of the rising generation against the aberrations of their progenitors, warned them of the snares, pitfalls and dens of ambuscade murderers that had proved so fatal to the former, directed them to the even paths of nature, whereon it is impossible to miss the object of sound common sense, of which we are all in pursuit, and we require of him still more? Would that such numbers who are suffered to pass for great teachers of truth, even among those whose brows are ostentatiously decorated with a radiant circle, had done as much service and as little injury to the cause of truth as he! But for counteracting successfully the moral diseases of those times, a man was wanted precisely of Lucian's temper and principles. A Plutarch and an Epictetus taught wisdom and virtue with a bushy beard in a very serious tone, and were as orthodox as the priests of Jupiter, and all the superior and inferior deities could wish; far be it from me to dispute the merits of these venerable personages! But they and their equals remain unmolested by the Alexanders and the Peregrines, and notwithstanding what they did to the furtherance of wisdom and virtue, those most destructive pests to wisdom and virtue, superstition and enthusiasm, quietly pursued their way. In order to combat these as effectually as Lucian did, a man must be born their enemy, and be provided by nature herself (as Ulysses was by Mercury against the enchantments of Circe) with a moly to enervate their magical influence: and whoever is this will indeed attach himself rather, if he is free to choose, to Democritus and Epicurus, his natural relations, than to Pythagoras and Plato, whose ideas are as little coalescent with his as oil with water.
This may suffice for placing the reader at the point of station, whence I think he may take a just view of the character of Lucian's genius, the tendency of his principal writings, their particular reference to the period in which he lived, and their worth and utility for every succeeding age, especially for one that so much resembles his as the present. Few authors have met with more general and lasting applause, and few have better deserved it; few have been more perversely criticized, more unreasonably slandered, and more grossly abused, than Lucian : the most judicious of all ages have been his friends, and one such admirer as Erasmus of Rotterdam, outweighs a whole legion of snarlers, whether wearing cowls or not.
If I make the highest value of our author to consist in what he himself reckoned his greatest merit, and accordingly not only assign the first place in his works to his proper satirical performances, but likewise appreciate more highly the two historical pieces on Peregrine and Alexander than others perhaps have done; it is by no means my design to detract from the merits of the other dialogues and treatises, wherein he shows himself in a different and milder light, now as the man of taste, now as the agreeable and entertaining companion, now as the friend of real merit and the votary of indissoluble wisdom and virtue, and now again simply as a philosopher and moralist; or even those which I look upon merely as remains of his school-exercises in rhetoric. Some of them, for example, his treatise how to compose history, his caution to the learned, who hold it a piece of great good fortune to become commensurate with men of high station, his Dialogue upon Friendship, his Demonax, his Panthea are undoubtedly to be classed among his most instructive and interesting works. In general, it is hoped that the present translation may contribute somewhat towards dispelling the prejudices that may have been conceived against him, from too little acquaintance with him and from mere hear-says, as a jester by profession, and convince the reader, that in the generality of his writings he delivers true Socratic wisdom, pure good sense, and exhibits the most accurate knowledge of the world and mankind, now seasoned with Horatian wit, now with Aristophanic humor ; and in short, that he deducting a few effusions of a too careless, luxuriant joviality, and occasionally a prevention trespassing on the Aristotelian line of demarcation between the too much and too little, against the founders of sects and their votaries is a writer not less wise than witty.
Having been as circumstantial as I thought it necessary in my illustrations and notes upon whatever is to be praised, to be justified, and to be blamed, that he may be rightly understood and criticized, and here and there as far as possible prevented the abuse, which thoughtlessness and ignorance might make of him I should only be obliged to repeat myself, by engaging here in a more particular discussion and confirmation of my foregoing judgment.
Concerning my translation and the pains I have bestowed upon it, I have little to say, since it must speak for itself. It must have been much freer than it is, had my purpose been to have had it read as an original work. The rule I prescribed to myself respecting the epistles and satires of Horace I have constantly kept in view in the works of Lucian.