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Apology for ‘The Dependent Scholar’ | Apologia

The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Translated by Fowler, H W and F G. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1905.

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Some time after the appearance of the "Dependent Scholar", and when Lucian himself was far along in his years, he had good fortune to be preferred by Emperor M. Aurelius to a place of great honor and profit, which seems, by his own account of it, to be a post at some government outpost in an extensive province. Lucian's enemies did not fail to reproach him for accepting this position in this province, which they considered to be incompatible with freedom and independence. Lucian warmly praises freedom and independence in this writings and that's what makes his critics so virile. In the Letter below, Lucian artfully puts the objections of his enemies into the mouth of his friend, every one of which he afterwards fairly refutes, by proving at long last that the arguments they made use if did not at all reach him as taking wages from a private patron and submitting to the meanest offices for hire was very different than filling an honorable post for the emperor himself.
- Based on Francklin


Dear Sabinus,

I have been guessing how you are likely to have expressed yourself upon reading my essay about dependants. I feel prettysure you read it all and had a laugh over it; but it is your running and general comment in words that I am trying to pieceon to it. If I am any good at divination, this is the sort of thing: To think that a man can set down such a scathingindictment of the life, and then forget it all, get hold of the other end of the stick, and plunge headlong into suchmanifest conspicuous slavery! Take Midas, Croesus, golden Pactolus, roll them into one, multiply them, and could they inducehim to relinquish the freedom which he has loved and consorted with from a child? He is nearly in the clutches of Aeacus,one foot is on the ferryman’s boat, and it is now that he lets himself be dragged submissively about by a goldencollar. There is some slight inconsistency between his life and his treatise; the rivers are runningup-hill; topsy-turvydom prevails; our recantations are new-fashioned; the first palinodist mended words with words for Helen of Troy; but we spoil words (those words we thought sowise) with deeds.


Such, I imagine, were your inward remarks. And I dare say you will give me some overt advice to the same effect; well, itwill not be ill-timed; it will illustrate your friendship, and do you credit as a good man and a philosopher. If I renderyour part respectably for you, that will do, and we will pay our homage to the God of words; if Ifail, you will fill in the deficiency for yourself. There, the stage is ready; I am to hold my tongue, and submit to anynecessary carving and cauterizing for my good, and you are to plaster me, and have your scalpel handy, and your ironred-hot. Sabinus takes the word, and thus addresses me:


My dear friend, this treatise of yours has quite rightly been earning you a fine reputation, from its first deliverybefore the great audience I had described to me, to its private use by the educated who have consulted and thumbed it since.For indeed it presents the case meritoriously; there is study of detail and experience of life in abundance; your views arethe reverse of vague; and above all the book is practically useful, chiefly but not exclusively to the educated whom itmight save from an unforeseen slavery. However, your mind is changed; the life you described is now the better; good-bye tofreedom; your motto is that contemptible line:

Give me but gain, I’ll turn from free to slave.

Let none hear the lecture from you again, then; see to it that no copy of it comes under the eyes of any one aware ofyour present life; ask Hermes to bring Lethe-water from below, enough to drug your former hearers; else you will remind usof the Corinthian tale, and your writing, like Bellerophon’s, be your own condemnation. I assure you I see no decent defenceyou can make, at least if your detractors have the humour to commend the independence of the writings while the writer is aslave and a voluntary beast of burden before their eyes.


They will say with some plausibility: Either the book is some other good man’s work, and you a jackdaw strutting inborrowed, plumes; or, if it is really yours, you are a second Salaethus; the Crotoniate legislator made most severe lawsagainst adultery, was much looked up to on the strength of it, and was shortly after taken in adultery with his brother’swife. You are an exact reproduction of Salaethus, they will say; or rather he was not half so bad as you, seeing that he wasmastered by passion, as he pleaded in court, and moreover preferred to leap into the flames, like a brave man, when theCrotoniates were moved to compassion and gave him the alternative of exile. The difference between your precept andpractice is infinitely more ridiculous; you draw a realistic word-picture of that servile life; you pour contempt on the manwho runs into the trap of a rich man’s house, where a thousand degradations, half of them self-inflicted, await him; andthen in extreme old age, when you are on the border between life and death, you take this miserable servitude upon you andmake a sort of circus exhibition of your chains. The conspicuousness of your position will only make the more ridiculousthat contrast between your book and your life.


But I need not beat my brains for phrases of reprobation; there is one good enough in a noble tragedy:

Wisdom begins at home; no wisdom, else.

And your censors will find no lack of illustrations against you; some will compare you to the tragic actor; on the stagehe is Agamemnon or Creon or great Heracles; but off it, stripped of his mask, he is just Polus or Aristodemus, a hirelingliable to be hissed off, or even whipped on occasion, at the pleasure of the audience. Others will say you have had theexperience of Queen Cleopatra’s monkey: the docile creature used to dance in perfect form and time, and was much admired forthe regularity and decorum of its movements, adapted to the voices and instruments of a bridal chorus; alas, one day itspied a fig or almond a little way off on the ground; flutes and measures and steps were all forgotten, the mask was far offin several pieces, and there was he chewing his find.


You, they will say, are the author (for ‘actor’ would understate the case) who has laid down the laws of noble conduct;and no sooner is the lump of figs presented than the monkey is revealed; your lips are the lips of a philosopher, and yourheart is quite other; it is no injustice to say that those sentiments for which you claim admiration have ‘wetted your lips,and left your palate dry.’ You have not had to wait long for retribution; you spoke unadvisedly in scorn of human needs;and, this little while after, behold you making public renunciation of your freedom! Surely Nemesis was standing behind yourback as you drank in the flattering tributes to your superiority; did she not smile in her divine fore-knowledge of theimpending change, and mark how you forgot to propitiate her before you assailed the victims whom fortune’s mutability hadreduced to such courses?


Now I want you to imagine a rhetorician writing on the theme that Aeschines, after his indictment of Timarchus, washimself proved guilty by eyewitnesses of similar iniquity; would, or would not, the amusement of the audience be heightenedby the fact that he had got Timarchus punished for offences excused by youth, whereas he was himself an old man at the timeof his own guilt? Why, you are like the quack who offered a cough-mixture which was to cure instantaneously, and couldhardly get the promise out for coughing.


Yes, Sabinus, and there is plenty more of the same sort for an accuser like you to urge; the subject is all handles; youcan take hold of it anywhere. I have been looking about for my best line of defence. Had I better turn craven, faceright-about, confess my sin, and have recourse to the regular plea of Chance, Fate, Necessity? Shall I humbly beseech mycritics to pardon me, remembering that nothing is in a man’s own choice — we are led by some stronger power, one of thethree I mentioned, probably, and are not true agents but guiltless altogether, whatever we say or do? Or will you tell methis might do well enough for one of the common herd, but you cannot have me sheltering myself so? I mustnot brief Homer; it will not serve me to plead:

No mortal man e’er yet escaped his fate;

nor again,

His thread was spun, then when his mother bare him.


On the other hand, I might avoid that plea as wanting in plausibility, and say that I did not accept this associationunder the temptation of money or any prospects of that kind, but in pure admiration of the wisdom, strength, and magnanimityof my patron’s character, which inspired the wish to partake his activity. But I fear I should only have brought on myselfthe additional imputation of flattery. It would be a case of ‘one nail drives out one nail,’ and this time the one left inwould be the bigger; for flattery is the most servile, and consequently reckoned the worst, of all vices.


Both these pleas, then, being excluded, what is left me but to confess that I have no sound defence to make? I haveindeed one anchor yet aboard: I may whine over age and ill health, and their attendant poverty, from which a man willpurchase escape at any cost. The situation tempts me to send an invitation to Euripides’s Medea: will she come andrecite certain lines of hers on my behalf, kindly making the slight changes needed?—

Too well I know how monstrous is the deed; My poverty, but not my will, consents.

And every one knows the place in Theognis, whether I quote it or not, where he approves of people’s flinging themselvesto the unplumbed deep from sky-pointing crags, if one may be quit of poverty that way.


That about exhausts the obvious lines of defence; and none of them is very promising. But never fear, my friend, I am notgoing to try any of them. May never Argos be so hard put to it that Cyllarabis must be sown! nor ever I be in such straitsfor a tolerable defence as to be driven upon these evasions! No, I only ask you to consider the vast difference betweenbeing a hireling in a rich man’s house, where one is a slave, and must put up with all that is described in my book —between that and entering the public service, doing one’s best as an administrator, and taking the Emperor’s pay for it. Gofully into the matter; take the two things separately and have a good look at them; you will find that they are two octavesapart, as the musical people say; the two lives are about as like each other as lead is to silver, bronze to gold, ananemone to a rose, a monkey to a man; there is pay, and there is subordination, in each case; but the essence of the twothings is utterly different. In one we have manifest slavery; the new-comers who accept the terms are barely distinguishablefrom the human chattels a man has bought or bred; but persons who have the management of public business, and give theirservices to states and nations, are not to have insinuations aimed at them just because they are paid; that single point ofresemblance is not to level them down to the others. If that is to be the principle, we had better do away with all suchoffices at once; governors of whole provinces, prefects of cities, commanders of legions and armies, will all fall under thesame condemnation; for they are paid. But of course everything is not to be upset to suit a single case; all who receive payare not to be lumped together.


It is all a mistake; I never said that all drawers of salaries lived a degraded life; I only pitied those domestic slaveswho have been caught by compliments on their culture. My position, you see, is entirely different; my private relations areas they were before, though in a public capacity I am now an active part of the great Imperial machine. If you care toinquire, you will find that my charge is not the least important in the government of Egypt. I control the cause-list, seethat trials are properly conducted, keep a record of all proceedings and pleas, exercise censorship over forensic oratory,and edit the Emperor’s rescripts with a view to their official and permanent preservation in the most lucid, accurate, andgenuine form. My salary comes from no private person, but from the Emperor; and it is considerable, amounting to manyhundreds. In the future too there is before me the brilliant prospect of attaining in due course to a governorshipor other distinguished employment.


Accordingly I am now going to throw off reserve, come to grips with the charge against me, and prove my case afortiori. I tell you that nobody does anything for nothing; you may point to people in high places — as high as youlike; the Emperor himself is paid. I am not referring to the taxes and tribute which flow in annually from subjects; thechief item in the Emperor’s pay is panegyrics, world-wide fame, and grateful devotion; the statues, temples, and consecratedground which their subjects bestow upon them, what are these but pay for the care and forethought which they apply to publicpolicy and improvements? To compare small things with great, if you will begin at the top of the heap and work down throughthe grains of which it is composed, you will find that we inferior ones differ from the superior in point of size, but allare wage-earners together.


If the law I laid down had been that no one should do anything, I might fairly have been accused of transgressing it; butas my book contains nothing of the sort, and as goodness consists in doing good, what better use can you make of yourselfthan if you join forces with your friends in the cause of progress, come out into the open, and let men see that you areloyal and zealous and careful of your trust, not what Homer calls a vain cumberer of the earth?


But before all, my critics are to remember that in me they will be criticizing not a wise man (if indeed there is such aperson on earth), but one of the common people, one who has indeed practised rhetoric and won some little reputationtherein, but has never been trained up to the perfect virtue of the really great. Well, I may surely be forgiven for that;if any one ever did come up to the ideal of the wise man, it has not been my fortune to meet him. And I confess further thatI should be disappointed if I found you criticizing my present life; you knew me long ago when I was making a handsomeincome out of the public profession of rhetoric; for on that Atlantic tour of yours which included Gaul, you found menumbered among those teachers who could command high fees. Now, my friend, you have my defence; I am exceedingly busy, butcould not be indifferent to securing your vote of acquittal; as for others, let them all denounce me with one voiceif they will; on them I shall waste no more words than, What cares Hippoclides?