Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

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(?115-?200) Greek-Syrian writer, essayist and satirist who for part of his life was an advocate and ended his days as a procurator in Egypt. He is usually called Lucian of Samosata, from his birthplace. It is difficult to date his writings accurately; they probably developed over a period of years, being completed sometime between 160 and 185. He was one of the first great fantasists, producing material that was knowingly fiction, satirizing the old Gods but using supernatural Plot Devices. His most important works were his Dialogues, a form he derived from Plato (427-347BC); they have been imitated by scores of writers from the 15th century on. In Deorum dialogi ["Dialogues of the Gods"], Marinorum dialogi ["Dialogues of the Sea Gods"] and Mortuorum dialogi ["Dialogues of the Dead"] he supposes a series of discussions with the divine and departed spirits in order to lampoon the old Religion and to highlight the shortcomings and vanities of Man and the futility of power. His Menippus sequence, Menippus (vt Necyomantia) and Icaromenippus, shows an old philosopher endeavouring to discover the meaning and realities of life, first through discussions with the dead in the Underworld and then with the gods on Olympus. (It is from this sequence that the term "menippea" was derived.) In Charon the ferryman over the Styx leaves the underworld to explore life. It is perhaps Lucian's most expressive form of reverse Perception, again highlighting the pettiness of humanity. Kataplous ["The Voyage to the Underworld"] describes the attitudes of the recently dead, and bears some surprising comparisons with John Kendrick Bangs's satire A Houseboat on the Styx (1895). Others of Lucian's Dialogues are more philosophical than fantastic, although in Gallo ["The Cock"; also known as "The Dream"] a cobbler is rendered invisible by a cock's magic tail feathers so he can spy on the rich and discover they are less happy than he. Philopseudes ["Lover of Lies"] uses the Story-Cycle in an early form of Club-Story collection. A doctor visits an ailing friend, Eucrates; Eucrates and other friends present try to convince him of the truth of the supernatural by each telling a story. The sequence includes Ghost Stories, walking Statues, Wizards and the earliest known version of the Sorcerer's Apprentice, which may be original to Lucian.

Lucian's most famous work is Verae historiae ["True History"], which takes its intrepid voyagers to the Moon and past the Sun as well as to many distant Islands; it is a Parody of the Travellers' Tales that were already multitudinous in Lucian's day. Lucian is also attributed with writing a version of Lucius e onos ["Lucius or the Ass"]; though this is doubtful, he may have drawn upon the same earlier text, now lost, as Apuleius, who wrote the more famous version at about the same time.

Lucian's works were translated into Latin by Erasmus (1466-1536) and later writers, and were a significant influence on François Rabelais, Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655), Jonathan Swift and others. The first English translation was Certaine Select Dialogues of Lucian, Together with his True Historie (1634 UK) by Francis Hickes (1566-1630). One of the best modern renditions is Works of Lucian of Samosata (1905 4 vols UK) trans H W and F G Fowler. [MA]

further reading: Culture and Society in Lucian (1986) by C P Jones.



This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.