Barry Baldwin ~ I Love Lucian

Reprinted with kind permission of Barry Baldwin himself, who years ago had to endure yours truly as a student. Errors in transcription naturally accrue to the latter.

(But not Lucy – American readers will understand)

Steve Moore’s splendid article [FT276: 46-51] is my cue to offer more on Lucian (below), the author whom Lord Macaulay dubbed “The Voltaire of Antiquity” and Samuel Bristoe in his 1711 English translation as “The Darling Pleasure of Men of sense in every Nation”.

The Suda, a Byzantine dictionary-cum-encyclopedia (c. AD 1000, cf. my “Aspects of The Suda”. Byzantion 86, 2006, pp11-31) obituarises thus:

“Lucian of Samosata nicknamed blasphemer or slanderer, or rather godless, because in his dialogues be ridiculed everything to do with divinity. Early in his career, this fellow was a lawyer in Syrian Antioch, but, after failing in this, he turned to writing and churned out reams of stuff. It is said that he was killed by dogs, because he aimed his savage pen at The Truth, for in his ‘Life of Peregrinus’ he attacked Christianity and slandered Christ himself, the scum. Consequently, he paid an appropriate penalty for his ranting in this life, but in the life to come he will inherit with Satan a share of the Everlasting Fire” – early example of the killer review.

Being a dogs’ dinner was also the alleged fate of another irreverent Greek, the tragedian Euripides, noted with fortean details of the fates of Aeschylus and Sappho by Virginia Woolf in her essay “On Not Knowing Greek”.

Various Byzantine commentators amassed a total of 39 scurrilous epithets against him (cf. my “The Scholiasts’ Lucian”, Helikon 20/21, 1980/81, pp219-34, for complete inventory and references), ranging from ‘atheist’ to ‘boy buggerer’ to ‘the thrice-accursed’, this list frequently used of the ancient Greeks and others by Fort himself (eg Books, pp55, 151)

His supposed blasphemies earned Lucian place in the Catholic Index of Forbidden Books also evoking a Jesuit Opera  Lucianus Samosatenus Infelix Atheus, produced on 3 September 1766 at Regensburg by the Lyceum und Gymnasium Societatis Jesu – there’s a copy in the British Library.

An image problem, then, in pious quarters. Mainly because of his pamphlet (comparable in viciousness to Alexander) aimed at Peregrinus Proteus. This worthy (cf. my Studies in Lucian, Toronto, 1973. passim), after a career in adultery, boy-fucking, strangling his sexagenarian father “for living too long” – shades of the Stones’ ” What a drag it is. getting old” in “Mother’s Little Helper” — fomenting Greek anti-Roman uprisings, exposing his cock Diogenes-style to a crowd (penis mightier than the sword?), and other sundry activities, he with maximum advance publicity burned himself alive as a postlude to the AD 165 Olympic Games – something like that would much enliven our modern ones, though not sure how you’d decide the winner.

Lucian devotes most space to Peregrinus’s duping of Christians – he is intriguingly said to have written some of their books — a sect mocked for worshipping “a sophist crucified in Palestine” (one pagan evidence for Jesus’s historicity . FT228.25) and as “morons who think they live forever”.

In his Philopseudes (Lover of Lies), Lucian pokes fun at tales of ghosts, poltergeists, and pest-death experiences. This is satire, but satire aimed at contemporary beliefs and claims, some of which might have appeared in Rome’s daily news gazette, the Acta Diurna,  known to have carried tabloid sensations; cf. my article in Chiron 9, 1979, pp.89 203, plus forthcoming FT column. One of his anecdotes herein is the direct ancestor of Faust’s Der Zauberlehring and thence in Disney’s Fantasia.

His True Story, albeit in Baron Munchausen vein, is an early, perhaps the earliest, science fiction novel — cf. my “Ancient SF?” [FT278-45-47) – along with philosophical dialogues which have his Cynic hero Menippus variously descending to Hades and ascending to Olympian heaven –  latter not the medal winners’ podium.

And, if by now I’ve put you to sleep, there’s in alarming awakener in this unique mention (Hippias, or the Bath,ch8) of a water-clock “that bellows like a bull”– I’ll stick to my retro Teasmade, while working out the Greek for “Wakey-Wakey”.

Classical Corner 141: Fortean Times 279 (September, 2011), p. 19.