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LUCIAN
Form: Gr. Loukianos.
One of the most interesting of Greek writers, born about 120 A.D. at Samosata, on the Euphrates in Syria. Owing to the poverty of his parents, he was apprenticed to a stonemason; but, thanks to his irresistible eagerness for higher culture, contrived to devote himself to the art of rhetoric. After practising for some time as an advocate, he traversed Greece, Italy, and Southern Gaul in the guise of a sophist, and gained wealth and renown by his public declamations. In his fortieth year he removed to Athens, to devote himself to the study of philosophy, and attached himself closely to the Stoic Demonax. In his old age the state of his finances compelled him once more to travel as a professional orator. At last, when far advanced in years, he was given an important and influential post in the administration of justice in Egypt; this he seems to have retained till death. Under his name we still possess more than eighty works (including three collections of seventy-one shorter dialogues). Twenty of these are, however, either certainly spurious or of doubtful authenticity. They date from every period of his life, the best and cleverest from the time of his sojourn in Athens. They fall into two classes, rhetorical and satirical. Of the latter the majority are in dramatic form, recalling in dialogue and outward dress the Old Comedy, of which Lucian had a thorough knowledge, and to which his genius was closely akin. These writings present an admirable picture of the tendencies and the absurdities of the time. In the field of religion, he directed his mockery (especially in the Dialogues of the Gods) against the tenets of the popular religion, the artificial revival of which was attempted in the time of Hadrian and the Antonines. He further attacked the popular conceptions of life after death in the Dialogues of the Dead. He assails with special bitterness the superstitions which had penetrated from the East, among which he reckons, it is true, Christianity, but without any real knowledge of its nature. In Peregrinus Proteus, he attacks mystical enthusiasm; in Alexander, or the Prophet of Lies, the impostors and oracle-mongers who preyed upon the superstition of the time, which he portrays in a masterly style in his Lover of Lies and his True Stories (Veroe Historiae). Another object of his satiric lance was the current philosophy, in which he had sought relief when sated with rhetoric. He had only found in it, however, a petrified dogmatism, a passion for strife and disputation, with the most absolute contradiction between theoretical teaching and the practice of life. This was true even of the Stoics, and still more of the Cynics, whose meanness and love of pleasure, which they concealed under a pretended absence of personal wants, he is never weary of deriding. Especially instructive for his attitude towards philosophy and his general view of life are the Auction of Philosophers, the Fisherman (with his defence of the latter), and Charon, or the Spectator of the World. All these are works of marked ability. The last named is a brilliant exposition, from his negative point of view, of the vanity of all human existence. He even exposes his own class, the Sophists, for attempting to conceal their miserable poverty of intellect by their bold readiness of tongue, and by their patchwork of fragmentary quotations borrowed from the writers of antiquity. In fact, there is scarcely a side of the literary and social life of the time that he does not attack in its weak points, confining himself, however, for the most part to demonstrating what ought not to be, without showing how the existing evils were to be cured. To sit in judgment on the false culture and want of taste in his contemporaries,he was certainly fitted above all others; for, apart from a wide range of knowledge, he possessed keen observation, and an unusual measure of wit and humour. He had moreover an extraordinary gift of invention, remarkable aptitude for vivid delineation of character, and a singular grace and elegance. In spite of his Syrian origin, his zealous study of the best models gave him a purity of language which for his time is remarkable.
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