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Lucian of Syria





Lucian of Samosata : Introduction and Manuscripts

LUCIAN was born at Samosata in Commagene and calls himself a Syrian; he may or may not have been of Semitic stock. The exact duration of his life is unknown, but it is probable that he was born not long before 125 A.D. and died not long after 180. Something of his life-history is given us in his own writings, notably in the Dream, the Doubly Indicted, the Fisher, and the Apology. If what he tells us in the Dream is to be taken seriously (and it is usually so taken), he began his career as apprentice to his uncle, a sculptor, but soon became disgusted with his prospects in that calling and gave it up for Rhetoric, the branch of the literary profession then most in favour. Theoretically the vocation of a rhetorician was to plead in court, to compose pleas for others and to teach the art of pleading; but in practice his vocation was far less important in his own eyes and those of the public than his avocation, which consisted in going about from place to place and often from country to country displaying his ability as a speaker before the educated classes. In this way Lucian travelled through Ionia and Greece, to Italy and even to Gaul, and won much wealth and fame. Samples of his repertory are still extant among his works--declamations like the Phalaris, essays on abstract themes like Slander, descriptions, appreciations, and depreciations. But although a field like this afforded ample scope for the ordinary rhetorician, it could not display the full talent of a Lucian. His bent for satire, which crops out even in his writings of this period, had to find expression, and ultimately found it in the satiric dialogue. In a sense, then, what he says is true, that he abandoned Rhetoric: but only in a very limited sense. In reality he changed only his repertory, not his profession, for his productions continued to be presented in the same manner and for the same purpose as of old--from a lecture-platform to entertain an audience.

Rightly to understand and appreciate Lucian, one must recognise that he was not a philosopher nor even a moralist, but a rhetorician, that his mission in life was not to reform society nor to chastise it, but simply to amuse it. He himself admits on every page that he is serious only in his desire to please, and he would answer all charges but that of dullness with an ou) fronti\j 'Ippoklei/dh|. Judged from his own stand-point, he is successful; not only in his own times but in all the ensuing ages his witty, well-­phrased comments on life, more akin to comedy than to true satire, have brought him time applause that he craved.

Among the eighty-two pieces that have come down to us under the name of Lucian, there are not a few of which his authorship has been disputed. Certainly spurious are Halcyon, Nero, Philopatris, and Astrology; and to these, it seems to me, the Consonants at Law should be added. Furthermore. Deinostitenes, Gharidemus, Cynic, Love, Octogenarians, Hippias, Ungrammatical Man, Swiftfoot, amid the epigrams are generally considered spurious, and there are several others (Disowned and My Country in particular) which, to say the least, are of doubtful authenticity.

Beside satiric dialogues, which form the bulk of his work, and early rhetorical writings, we have from the pen of Lucian two romances, A True Story and Lucius, or the Ass (if indeed the latter is his), some introductions to readings and a number of miscellaneous treatises. Very few of his writings can be dated with any accuracy. An effort to group them on a chronological basis has been made by M. Croiset, but it cannot be called entirely successful. The order in which they are to be presented in this edition is that of the best manuscript (Vaticanus 90), which, through its adoption in Rabes edition of the scholia to Lucian and in NilÚn's edition of the text, bids fair to become standard.

There are a hundred and fifty manuscripts of Lucian, more or less, which give us a tradition that is none too good. There is no satisfactory critical edition of Lucian except NilÚn's, which is now in progress. His text has been followed, as far as it was available, through the True Story. Beyond this point it has been necessary to make a new text for this edition. In order that text and translation may as far as possible correspond, conjectures have been admitted with considerable freedom: for the fact that a good many of them bear the initials of the translator he need not apologize if they are good; if they are not no apology will avail him. He is deeply indebted to Professor Edward Capps for reviewing his translation in the proof.


Chief manuscripts :--  

g group-- 

Vaticanus 90 (G), 9/10th century.
Harleianus 5694 (E), 9/10th century.
Laurentianus C. S. 77 (
F), 10th century.
Marcianus 434 (
W), 10/11th century.
Mutinensis 193 (S), 10th century.
Laurentianus 57, 51(L), 11th century (?).

▀ group-- 

Vindobonensis 123 (B), 11th century (?).
Vaticanus 1324 (U), 11/12th century.
Vaticanus 76 (P).
Vaticanus 1323 (Z).
Parisinus 2957 (N). 

Principal editions :-- 

Florentine, of 1496, the first edition by J. Lascaris, from the press of L. de Alopa.
Hemsterhuys-Reitz, Amsterdam 1743, containing a Latin translation by Gesner, critical notes, variorum commentary and a word-index (C. C. Reitz, 1746).
Lehmann, Leipzig 1822-1831, a convenient variorum edition which contains Gesners translation but lacks Reitzs index.
Jacobitz, Leipzig 1836-1841, with critical notes, a subject-index and a word-index; it contains the scholia.
Jacobitz, Leipzig 1851, in the Teubner series of classical texts.
Bekker, Leipzig 1853.
Dindorf, Leipzig 1858, in the Tauchnitz series.
Fritzsche, Rostock 1860-1882, an incomplete edition containing only thirty pieces; excellent critical notes and prolegomena.
Sommerbrodt, Berlin 1886--1899, also incomplete, but lacking only fifteen pieces; with critical appendices.
NilÚn, Leipzig 1906- , the new Teubner text, with very full critical notes, and part of the Prolegomena in a separate gathering; the text is to appear in eight parts.


edited by Rabe, Leipzig 1906.


Mras, Die Ueberlieferung Lucians, Vienna, 1911.
Croiset, Essai sur la Vie et les uvres de Lucian, Paris 1882.
Foerster, Lucian in der Renaissance, Kiel 1886
Helm, Lucian und Menipp, Leipzig 1906.



MACLEOD, M.D., 1972-, New edition in Oxford Classical Texts series.
G. W. Bowersock, The Sophists in the Roman Empire, Oxford 1969 (chapter 9)


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