2. PROBABLE ORDER OF WRITINGS.
3. CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE TIME.
4. LUCIAN AS A WRITER.
It is not to be understood that all statements here made are either ascertained facts or universally admitted conjectures. The introduction is intended merely to put those who are not scholars, and probably have not books of reference at hand, in a position to approach the translation at as little disadvantage as may be. Accordingly, we give the account that commends itself to us, without discussion or reference to authorities. Those who would like a more complete idea of Lucian should read Croiset's Essai sur la vie et les oeuvres de Lucien, on which the first two sections of this introduction are very largely based. The only objections to the book (if they are objections) are that it is in French, and of 400 octavo pages. It is eminently readable.
With the exception of a very small number of statements, of which the truth is by no means certain, all that we know of Lucian is derived from his own writings. And any reader who prefers to have his facts at first rather than at second hand can consequently get them by reading certain of his pieces, and making the natural deductions from them. Those that contain biographical matter are, in the order corresponding to
the periods of his life on which they throw light, The Vision, Demosthenes, Nigrinus, The Portrait-study and Defence (in which Lucian is Lycinus), The Way to write History, The double Indictment (in which he is The Syrian), The Fisher (Parrhesiades), Swans and Amber, Alexander, Hermotimus (Lycinus), Menippus and Icaromenippus (in which Menippus represents him), A literary Prometheus, Herodotus, Zeuxis, Harmonides, The Scythian, The Death of Peregrine, The Book-fancier, Demonax, The Rhetorician's Vade mecum, Dionysus, Heracles, A Slip of the Tongue, Apology for 'The dependent Scholar.' Of these The Vision is a direct piece of autobiography; there is intentional but veiled autobiography in several of the other pieces; in others again conclusions can be drawn from comparison of his statements with facts known from external sources.
Lucian lived from about 125 to about 200 A.D., under the Roman Emperors Antoninus Pius, M. Aurelius and Lucius Verus, Commodus, and perhaps Pertinax. He was a Syrian, born at Samosata on the Euphrates, of parents to whom it was of importance that he should earn his living without spending much time or money on education. His maternal uncle being a statuary, he was apprenticed to him, having shown an aptitude for modelling in the wax that he surreptitiously scraped from his school writing-tablets. The apprenticeship lasted one day. It is clear that he was impulsive all through life; and when his uncle corrected him with a stick for breaking a piece of marble, he ran off home, disposed already to think he had had enough of statuary. His mother took his part, and he made up his mind by the aid of a vision that came to him the same night.
It was the age of the rhetoricians. If war was not a thing of the past, the shadow of the pax Romana was over all the small states, and the aspiring provincial's readiest road to fame was through words rather than deeds. The arrival of a famous
rhetorician to lecture was one of the important events in any great city's annals; and Lucian's works are full of references to the impression these men produced, and the envy they enjoyed. He himself was evidently consumed, during his youth and early manhood, with desire for a position like theirs. To him, sleeping with memories of the stick, appeared two women, corresponding to Virtue and Pleasure in Prodicus's Choice of Heracles--the working woman Statuary, and the lady Culture. They advanced their claims to him in turn; but before Culture had completed her reply, the choice was made: he was to be a rhetorician. From her reminding him that she was even now not all unknown to him, we may perhaps assume that he spoke some sort of Greek, or was being taught it; but he assures us that after leaving Syria he was still a barbarian; we have also a casual mention of his offering a lock of his hair to the Syrian goddess in his youth.
He was allowed to follow his bent and go to Ionia. Great Ionian cities like Smyrna and Ephesus were full of admired sophists or teachers of rhetoric. But it is unlikely that Lucian's means would have enabled him to become the pupil of these. He probably acquired his skill to a great extent by the laborious method, which he ironically deprecates in The Rhetorician's Vade mecum, of studying exhaustively the old Attic orators, poets, and historians.
He was at any rate successful. The different branches that a rhetorician might choose between or combine were: (1) Speaking in court on behalf of a client; (2) Writing speeches for a client to deliver; (3) Teaching pupils; (4) Giving public displays of his skill. There is a doubtful statement that Lucian failed in (1), and took to (2) in default. His surviving rhetorical pieces (The Tyrannicide, The Disinherited, Phalaris) are declamations on hypothetical cases which might serve either for (3) or (4); and The Hall, The Fly, Dipsas, and perhaps
[paragraph continues] Demosthenes, suggest (4). A common form of exhibition was for a sophist to appear before an audience and let them propose subjects, of which he must choose one and deliver an impromptu oration upon it.
Whatever his exact line was, he earned an income in Ionia, then in Greece, had still greater success in Italy, and appears to have settled for some time in Gaul, perhaps occupying a professorial chair there. The intimate knowledge of Roman life in some aspects which appears in The dependent Scholar suggests that he also lived some time in Rome. He seems to have known some Latin, since he could converse with boatmen on the Po; but his only clear reference (A Slip of the Tongue, 13) implies an imperfect knowledge of it; and there is not a single mention in all his works, which are crammed with literary allusions, of any Latin author. He claims to have been during his time in Gaul one of the rhetoricians who could command high fees; and his descriptions of himself as resigning his place close about his lady's (i.e. Rhetoric's) person, and as casting off his wife Rhetoric because she did not keep herself exclusively to him, show that he regarded himself, or wished to be regarded, as having been at the head of his profession.
This brings us to about the year 160 A.D. We may conceive Lucian now to have had some of that yearning for home which he ascribes in the Patriotism even to the successful exile. He returned home, we suppose, a distinguished man at thirty-five, and enjoyed impressing the fact on his fellow citizens in The Vision. He may then have lived at Antioch as a rhetorician for some years, of which we have a memorial in The Portrait-study. Lucius Verus, M. Aurelius's colleague, was at Antioch in 162 or 163 A.D. on his way to the Parthian war, and The Portrait-study is a panegyric on Verus's mistress Panthea, whom Lucian saw there.
A year or two later we find him migrating to Athens, taking
his father with him, and at Athens he settled and remained many years. It was on this journey that the incident occurred, which he relates with such a curious absence of shame in the Alexander, of his biting that charlatan's hand.
This change in his manner of life corresponds nearly with the change in habit of mind and use of his powers that earned him his immortality. His fortieth year is the date given by himself for his abandonment of Rhetoric and, as he calls it, taking up with Dialogue, or, as we might say, becoming a man of letters. Between Rhetoric and Dialogue there was a feud, which had begun when Socrates five centuries before had fought his battles with the sophists. Rhetoric appeals to the emotions and obscures the issues (such had been Socrates's position); the way to elicit truth is by short question and answer. The Socratic method, illustrated by Plato, had become, if not the only, the accredited instrument of philosophers, who, so far as they are genuine, are truth-seekers; Rhetoric had been left to the legal persons whose object is not truth but victory. Lucian's abandonment of Rhetoric was accordingly in some sort his change from a lawyer to a philosopher. As it turned out, however, philosophy was itself only a transitional stage with him.
Already during his career as a rhetorician, which we may put at 145-164 A.D., he seems both to have had leanings to philosophy, and to have toyed with dialogue. There is reason to suppose that the Nigrinus, with its strong contrast between the noise and vulgarity of Rome and the peace and culture of Athens, its enthusiastic picture of the charm of philosophy for a sensitive and intelligent spirit, was written in 150 A.D., or at any rate described an incident that occurred in that year; and the Portrait-study and its Defence, dialogues written with great care, whatever their other merits, belong to 162 or 163 A.D. But these had been excursions out of his own province. After settling at Athens he seems to have adopted the writing of
dialogues as his regular work. The Toxaris, a collection of stories on friendship, strung together by dialogue, the Anacharsis, a discussion on the value of physical training, and the Pantomime, a description slightly relieved by the dialogue form, may be regarded as experiments with his new instrument. There is no trace in them of the characteristic use that he afterwards made of dialogue, for the purposes of satire.
That was an idea that we may suppose to have occurred to him after the composition of the Hermotimus. This is in form the most philosophic of his dialogues; it might indeed be a dialogue of Plato, of the merely destructive kind; but it is at the same time, in matter, his farewell to philosophy, establishing that the pursuit of it is hopeless for mortal man. From this time onward, though he always professes himself a lover of true philosophy, he concerns himself no more with it, except to expose its false professors. The dialogue that perhaps comes next, The Parasite, is still Platonic in form, but only as a parody; its main interest (for a modern reader is outraged, as in a few other pieces of Lucian's, by the disproportion between subject and treatment) is in the combination for the first time of satire with dialogue.
One more step remained to be taken. In the piece called A literary Prometheus, we are told what Lucian himself regarded as his claim to the title of an original writer. It was the fusing of Comedy and Dialogue--the latter being the prose conversation hat had hitherto been confined to philosophical discussion. The new literary form, then, was conversation, frankly for purposes of entertainment, as in Comedy, but to be read and not acted. In this kind of writing he remains, though he has been often imitated, first in merit as clearly as in time; and nearly all his great masterpieces took this form. They followed in rapid succession, being all written, perhaps, between 165 and 175 A.D. And we make here no further comment upon them, except to
remark that they fall roughly into three groups as he drew inspiration successively from the writers of the New Comedy (or Comedy of ordinary life) like Menander, from the satires of Menippus, and from writers of the Old Comedy (or Comedy of fantastic imagination) like Aristophanes. The best specimens of the first group are The Liar and the Dialogues of the Hetaerae; of the second, the Dialogues of the Dead and of the Gods, Menippus and Icaromenippus, Zeus cross-examined; of the third, Timon, Charon, A Voyage to the lower World, The Sale of Creeds, The Fisher, Zeus Tragoedus, The Cock, The double Indictment, The Ship.
During these ten or more years, though he lived at Athens, he is to be imagined travelling occasionally, to read his dialogues to audiences in various cities, or to see the Olympic Games. And these excursions gave occasion to some works not of the dialogue kind; the Zeuxis and several similar pieces are introductions to series of readings away from Athens; The Way to write History, a piece of literary criticism still very readable, if out of date for practical purposes, resulted from a visit to Ionia, where all the literary men were producing histories of the Parthian war, then in progress (165 A.D.). An attendance at the Olympic Games of 169 A.D. suggested The Death of Peregrine, which in its turn, through the offence given to Cynics, had to be supplemented by the dialogue of The Runaways. The True History, most famous, but, admirable as it is, far from best of his works, presumably belongs to this period also, but cannot be definitely placed. The Book-fancier and The Rhetorician's Vade mecum are unpleasant records of bitter personal quarrels.
After some ten years of this intense literary activity, producing, reading, and publishing, Lucian seems to have given up both the writing of dialogues and the presenting of them to audiences, and to have lived quietly for many years. The only pieces that belong here are the Life of Demonax, the man
whom he held the best of all philosophers, and with whom he had been long intimate at Athens, and that of Alexander, the Asiatic charlatan, who was the prince of impostors as Demonax of philosophers. When quite old, Lucian was appointed by the Emperor Commodus to a well-paid legal post in Egypt. We also learn, from the new introductory lectures called Dionysus and Heracles, that he resumed the practice of reading his dialogues; but he wrote nothing more of importance. It is stated in Suidas that he was torn to pieces by dogs; but, as other statements in the article are discredited, it is supposed that this is the Christian revenge for Lucian's imaginary hostility to Christianity. We have it from himself that he suffered from gout in his old age. He solaced himself characteristically by writing a play on the subject; but whether the goddess Gout, who gave it its name, was appeased by it, or carried him off, we cannot tell.