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The Vision | Somnium sive Vita Luciani

The Works of Lucian From the Greek by Thomas Franklin, D.D., London, Printed for T. Cadell in the Strand. Text Modernized.

INTRODUCTION: This Dream is very properly placed, in every edition, at the beginning of Lucian's works, as it gives us some little insight into his character and situation in life. It was apparently designed as a humorous kind of parody on the celebrated Choice of Hercules, which we meet with in the Memorabilia of Xenophon. Some of our author's dull commentators have likewise thought fit to call it Bios Lucianos, or, the Life of Lucian, though it contains but one single circumstance of it, viz. that of his early preference of learning and the polite arts, to a profession which his father had originally designed him for; a circumstance, however, very interesting to his readers, as it is to that alone we are, probably, indebted for all the valuable remains of this lively and entertaining writer.

Lucian hearkens back to his childhood conversion to the literary arts


AT the time when I was leaving school, and rising towards manhood, my father consulted with his friends what profession he should bring me up to; most of them seemed to think that an application to letters would be a work of time, attended besides with great labor and expense, and, in short, only fit for such as were possessed of a splendid fortune; that my abilities, moreover, were but very moderate, and would stand in need of immediate assistance and support; whereas if I turned mechanic I might get something by my trade, not live idly at home upon my father, but in a little time be able to repay him for the expense of my education. The next question, therefore, was, which trade was the best, the most cheaply and easily learned, the most liberal, and that would bring in the surest profit; they all then gave their opinions; one preferring one, another another, according to their judgment or experience: when my father, looking steadfastly on my uncle, who was then present, one of the best * statuaries of his time.

* Statuaries] Ergogluphos, literally translated, is a carver of Mercuries. Mercury was such a favorite deity amongst the ancients, probably because he was both a thief and a pimp (characters always in fashion), that the principal business of a sculptor was to make representations of him; insomuch that Statuary and Mercury-maker were, according to Lucian, synonymous terms: there was a time, we know, when the carvers were very curious in the choice of their materials for him; according to the old adage, Ex quovis ligno non fit Mercurius.


Whilst you are here, says he, we ought by no means to prefer any art to yours; take him, therefore, along with you, and make a good sculptor of him; he will do very well, for you know he has a natural turn and genius for it. This my father imagined from having seen some little things I made out of wax, when, after school-time, I used to divert myself with modeling horses, oxen, and sometimes men, which he seemed mightily pleased at, and for which, by the bye, I was often whipped by my school-master. My father's friends, however, took this opportunity of exciting my ambition; and all conceived, from this natural propensity to the art, that I should soon acquire the perfect knowledge of it;


no time, it was determined, could be more proper to enter upon it than the present, and I was accordingly delivered over to my uncle, to which I had not then the least objection: I considered it as a kind of agreeable amusement to be able to gain some reputation in the world, and at the same time to oblige my friends by carrying out images of gods or men, to adorn their houses, or my own; a custom, I knew, always practiced by young beginners. My uncle took me home with him, and gave me a piece of marble, bidding me run over it gently with my tool, and repeating at the fame time the old adage of " * a good beginning is half "the work."

* A good beginning] Lucian attributes this saying to Hesiod, in whose works, however, it is not at present, I believe, to be sound. We meet with it in Plato, Aristotle, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and some other Greek writers. Horace has adopted it in his Dimidiium sacti qui cepit habet. There is likewise a proverb of our own which bears some similitude to it: "A good beginning makes a good ending;" but this is not the exact: sense of the Greek, I have therefore not ventured to adopt it. Ovid has nearly the same sentiment, Fac tantum incipias, sponte disertus eris.

I knew little of the matter, and pressing too hard on the marble, broke it in pieces. My uncle flew into a violent passion, and taking up a switch that happened to lay near him, with no great tenderness fell upon, and belabored me pretty handsomely, by way off * initiating me into the art.

* Initiating me] The Greek word is very strong and expressive, signifying the rites performed at sacrifices just before the victim was slain.


Thus were tears the first fruits of my profession. I ran away home as fast as I could, crying and bawling, shewed the marks of the switch upon my flesh, represented the barbarity of my uncle; and, moreover, took care to insinuate that he did it merely through envy, and for sear I should excel him in his art. My mother resented it highly, and railed at her brother for his cruel treatment: I went to bed in great affliction, full of gloomy thoughts, and at last fell asleep.


What I have already told you is childish and ridiculous, but I shall now acquaint you with something more worthy of your attention; for, to speak in the language of Homer,

* As I slumbered in the shades of night, A dream divine appeared before my sight,

so clear and plain, as to have all the appearance of truth.

* See Homer's Iliad, Book ii. ver. 71, Pope's translation.

Even at this distance of time, what I saw is actually before my eyes; and every thing I heard, still sounding in my ears; so powerful was the effect it had upon me.


Two women, methought, laid violent hands on me, each dragging me with all her force towards them, as if they would tear me in pieces; they struggled hard, one of them got the better, and held me fast for a little time, and then the other. They both made a great noise, one crying out that she would have her own; the other, that she had no right to that which belonged to her only. One of them had a masculine air, like some working person, with hard hands, and dirty hair, covered with dust, as my uncle used to be when he was polishing marble; the other had a beautiful face, a modest appearance, and was dressed in a neat and becoming garb. At length they agreed to submit the affair to my decision, and the first of them thus addressed me;


"Know, my dear child, that I am Sculpture, that art which you yesterday began to learn, no stranger to yourself, and well known to your family; your grandfather (and named his name) was a statuary, and so were both your uncles also, whom I rendered illustrious; if therefore you will leave that idle trade which she (pointing to the other) would fain teach you, to follow and live with me; by being brought up to toil and labor you will grow strong and robust, and will live free from the attacks of malice and envy: you need not leave your country and your friends to go into foreign parts, nor shall you gain a reputation by mere words alone.


Despise not my external appearance, or this mean and sordid habit; thus was the great * Phidias clad, so famous for his statue of Jove, and Polycletus, no less celebrated for his Juno; Myro and Praxiteles are universally admired, and even adored, together with the deities whom they represented; and shall not you, when one of them, inherit the same praise and adoration from all men? You will make your father happy, and immortalize your country."

* Phidias] The statue of Jupiter Olympius, by Phidias, is celebrated by almost ail the best Greek writers as the chef-d'oeuvre of antiquity; great encomiums are likewise bestowed on Polycletus's Juno, the famous cow by Myro, and the Venus of Praxiteles.

Thus, uncouthly, and with a barbarous accent, did Sculpture address me, adding many other things to the fame purpose, in order to seduce me; but I have forgot half what she said: when she had finished the other began, pretty nearly in these words,


"I, my son, am Eloquence, not unknown to, though at present not fully possessed by you; what advantages you will reap by turning statuary she has already told you: to be nothing but a low mechanic, living on the work of your hands, and confining all your hopes and desires to that alone; getting a mean and scanty maintenance in obscurity, poor and dejected, neither serviceable to your friends, nor formidable to your enemies, neither courted nor envied by your fellow-citizens; a low plebeian, always, like the timid hare, in dread of your superiors, and looking up with adoration to the great and eloquent above you, on whom you must depend for support: should you even produce the noblest works, and become a Phidias or Polycletus, all men will admire your skill, but not one, whilst they are in their senses, will wish to change conditions with you; for, after all, you will be considered as a vulgar mechanic, * who lives by the labor of his hands.

* Lives by the labor] The word in the original is remarkable, and could not be translated literally, Cheironax, dominus five rex manuum, one who is master of nothing but his hands.


Whilst, on the other hand, if you follow me, I will shew you all the wonderful works of antiquity, illustrate and explain to you the maxims of the sages, and adorn your mind, that best and noblest part of you, with modesty, justice, piety, gentleness, prudence, fortitude, the love of virtue, and a thirst after everything that is praise-worthy; these are the imperishable embellishments of the human foul. Nothing that is past shall lay hidden from thee, in what is present and to be done I will instruct you; every thing divine or human shall soon be known unto you:


you who are now poor and unknown, the son of an obscure and indigent father, going to embrace a mean and illiberal profession, shall soon be the envy and admiration of all men, crowned with glory and honor, praised and caressed by the rich and great, clothed in such a garment as this, and (shewing her own splendid vest) you shall be placed placed in the first seat, adorned with, and raised to rank and precedency. If you travel, even in foreign countries you shall not live unknown or inglorious; for I will render you so illustrious, that whosoever beholds you shall point you out to his neighbor, and say, * "that is he."

* That is he] Digito monstrari & dicier: hie est. Pers. fati,
Muneris hoc tui est
Quod monstror digito praetereuntiumr
Hor. lib. iv. od. 3


In everything that is of moment or concern, either to your friends or country, the eyes of all shall be turned on you; when you speak they shall listen with eagerness and attention, admiring the power of your eloquence, and envying your father's felicity in having such a son as you are. Men, you know, have been raised to gods, and on you will I confer immorality; for when you depart out of this life, you shall still converse only with the great and good. Think on Demosthenes, whose son he was, and to what eminence I advanced him. Think * of Aeschines, whose mother was a player on the timbrel; by my assistance how was he courted by the great Philip!

* Aeschines] A great orator, and rival of Demosthenes, whose Philippics so stung the powerful invader of the liberties of Greece, that he applied to Aeschines to answer them. See Aelian.

* Socrates himself, bred up by a statuary, turned his mind to other things; he quit his profession, and came to me; and is not he the theme of every song?

* Socrates] As Diogenes Laertius informs us, was the son of Sophroniscus, a statuary, and Phanarete, a midwife.


Would you then leave such men as these; would you leave honor, wealth, fame, and power, splendor, rank, and title, all the glory which eloquence shall bring, to put on a mean and sordid garb, to handle tools, saws, and hammers, and stoop to mean and abject: labor; to think on nothing manly, liberal, or great, but merely to see that your work is finished, taking no care to keep your person neat and clean, but being ever as dirty and contemptible as the stones you are carving?"


Scarce had she said this, when not permitting her to go on, I rose up, and leaving the ugly mechanic, flew with rapture to my fair patroness, Eloquence: doubtless with the greater joy, from my remembrance of the blows which I had received the day before. She whom I had deserted seemed: at first enraged at me, doubled her fists, and gnashed with her teeth, till at length, like Niobe of old, she became stiff, and, wonderful to relate, was turned into a block of marble. If this should seem incredible, I desire notwithstanding that you will believe it, for dreams are always miraculous.


The other, then, fixing her eyes on me, said, "You have determined aright, and I will recompense you for it; approach, therefore, and ascend this chariot, (pointing to one drawn by winged horses, like Pegasus)," and see what you would have lost if you had not followed me." As soon as I got up, she took the reins and drove. I was lifted up on high, and carried from east to west, beholding, as I passed along, various nations, kingdoms, and people, like * Triptolemus, scattering his feed over the earth.

* Like Triptolemus] Triptolemus, king of Eleusis, is said to have first brought into Greece the worship of Ceres, who, in return for his civilities, equipped him with a fine chariot drawn by two dragons, in which he drove round the world, and as he flew along scattered seeds upon the earth. The invention of the plough is likewise ascribed to him. The foundation of this story is probably no more than that Triptolemus was one of the first who practiced husbandry, and perhaps wrote some books concerning it, which were transported into foreign countries in a ship called the Dragon.

* What it was I dropped upon them myself I cannot remember; I only know, that wherever I went, men looked up to and addressed me like a deity with prayers and praises.

* What it was] Though Lucian modestly pretends not to know, his readers, however, can tell what it was he dropped on this occasion, viz. a large quantity of good sense, wit, and humor, which are scattered throughout his works.


When she had shewed me these things she brought me back, not clothed as when I set out, but in an elegant and splendid garb, which she took care to shew to my father, who stood waiting for my return, not without hinting to him how mean and unworthy a profession he and his friends had condemned me to. Such, I remember, was the dream which I had when a boy, terrified as I was by the blows I had just received.


But whilst I am relating it, methinks I hear some one crying out, O Hercules, what a tedious judicial dream is this! A winter's one, says another, when the nights are longest, or rather perhaps as long as * Hercules's three nights together.

* Hercules's] Jupiter is said to have spent three nights with Alcmena when he begat Hercules. These three nights Lucian humorously calls Hercules's dream.

What does he mean by trifling so with us, and talking of his boyish dreams; does he think we have nothing to do but to be his interpreter? Such-frigid speeches as these are always ridiculous. But, soft and fair, my good friends; * Xenophon was not of that opinion, when he told you what he dreamed at home and elsewhere; he designed it not merely as an idle fiction, to divert you, as you may suppose by his doing it in the time of war, at a dangerous crisis, and even surrounded by enemies, but because he thought the relation of it might be useful to mankind.

* Xenophon] In the two dreams of Xenophon, as related in the third and fourth books of his Anabasis, or Retreat of the Ten Thousand.


And for the * same reason I have told you my dream, that by it I might persuade our young men to the study of literature; more especially if any of them, induced by poverty, should be inclined to throw away good parts and genius, and embrace some mean and illiberal profession; whoever they may be, I am satisfied they would change their resolution when they heard this discourse, and would follow my example, when they reflected on what I was, when, turning my mind to better things, I applied to literature, without regard to the narrowness of my circumstances, and considering what I am, as I now appear before you, at least preferable, if nothing more, to a statuary.

* For the same reason] That is, Xenophon did not tell his dream to the officers about: him merely to entertain and divert them; it was not a Fiction, (which is the best sense we can put on the word hypocrisis but a real vision; he was in earnest, and so am I; his dream was attended with the best: consequences, and so I hope will mine; his saved the army, and mine perhaps may save many a young man from throwing away his time and talents on views much beneath him! This is Lucian's meaning in his allusion to Xenophon, which does not so well appear at first reading; the Greek is in this place rather obscure.