Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Alberto Camerotto (ed.), Luciano di Samosata, Icaromenippo o l'uomo sopra le nuvole. Hellenica 29. Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2009. Pp. 143. ISBN 9788862740999. €18.00 (pb).
Reviewed by John Henderson, King's College, Cambridge

Camerotto has produced a lively commentary that brings to bear the fruits of a decade and more of adroit research on Lucian the logorrhoeic parodist.1 He pulls together the comments distributed in the notes ad locc. into a preliminary analytic essay targeting Menippus as louche satiric hero. This neatly sets the I-M (Icaromenippo) within Lucian's poetic of intergeneric hybridization as both a narrative thematic and structural variant on the stock paradigms of journeying otherwheres. Specific intertextual pertinence within the corpus extends from the skits featuring Menippus, and above all I-M's twin adventure of the Necyomantia (their shared anatomy is profiled in the table on p.11),2 out through the heavy interlarding with sometimes telling, sometimes autopilot Homeric quotations, tags, and wordage (woodenly ascribed to the bard, no less than six times, besides the nine major paraded citations and the score of incidentals), and is here precisely intercalibrated with, and against, the Aristophanic flights of fancy in Peace, Birds, Clouds then on out to the spattering of Platonic allusions and spray-on clichés and clutter of cosmology and (astro-)physics, from Heraclitus to (you know) the sundry Hellenistic schools of thinking (including the only other paraded quote, from Aratus, at section 24). This groundwork sets up a concise characterization of the Satiric Hero as motley Other -- the way he is kitted out in this particular not-so-drastic version of the self-marginalizing semi-demi-quasi-halfways-outsider, showboating on Lucian's swish astroturf ballpark bounded by muted Odyssean and Cynic-Socratic traits. The urbane spaceman.

Camerotto economizes easily on speculation about Lucian's relation to Menippus' own output,3 and riffs aptly on Bakhtin without climbing aboard or flagging the enlarged version of The Menippean "mode" plotted on any of the loony charts of literary culture offered by grand criticism since, shooting for the moon.4 Rather, by nestling, feathering, and metaphorizing this Menippus's take-off launch and staged landing reception Camerotto's Lucian makes him become, ascend, morph into a comedic fantasy send-up mythic hero who comes close to joining (in with) the gods. Close enough to see how the human anthill looks to telemetry, through boldly going where no man etc etc, acquiring 20/20 interplanetary razorsharp visual bite (ὀχυ-δερκία, sections 13-14), and tracking down first-hand the been there got the t-shirt astronometric truth of the cosmos in its singularity. Not, however, close enough to extend beyond discovery, for this small step enterprise is a one-off stopover mission, truncated when the Olympians clip I-M's' wings and have him escorted off the premises and shuttled back to Athens' Kerameikos. No dung-beetle, rope-ladders, or escalator, folks! No, this Heath Robinson starship trekked there powered on half-eagle uplift, but let down by half-vulture pinions -- and despite the reinforcement of I-M's disgust with Sophophily, first by a sulking Moon's pleas he must relay to Zeus, then by the Supreme Commander and his House Committee's ire, he gets fired right back where he was coming from (and, you bet, belongs), to relay back Almighty vengeance on its way from Coalition WOMD.

I-M brings us (t)his foreclosed story, plus, for the sting in the tale, the good news for (most) earthlings that come springtime the savants will be zapped into oblivion. See, started off with a nice little idea about telling on the professors, but now it's got silly: that'll teach them to make all that weird stuff up? How about an anti-idea proliferation purge before these jargonauts browbeat and bamboozle, deafen and blind, us and our kidz with science? Too silly for words? Camerotto's introductory scene-setting closes by running us through the dialogue's flowchart of mock and jest (pp.42-7), filling us in that laughter here "is an instrument that destroys all it touches" (p.43), just as he will later underline how the montage of the adventure as first-person narration, framed as chat with the friend who catches up with I-M en route to delivering his good news, multi-facets the satire into an "autoironic perspective that rules the whole storytelling" (p.102). So, silliness -- of the nth kind: the way Camerotto tells it us, this Menippus never was a Daedalus, except in his own pre-postlapsarian eyes, and was always already headlined for (self-)unmasking as an Icarus of a Menippus, stuck along with his would-be sceptical-blasé interlocutor-cum-dummy reader, in a reader-trap (συν-αποδήμει τε καὶ συν-επισκόπει, section 11, p.42). Lucian takes us along for the ride and for a ride. I-M's wordwizard stylist of a creator implicates this umpteenth (or) trailblazing text, the trademark serio-silliness of its voicing and semi-pedestrian allusivity, too tightly with both its advertised villains and its borrowed superiors for anyone to escape the net; because it takes one to know one, we're all, one way or another, bound to get it. One way and another.

As narratological and tropological aggiornamento, then, Camerotto provides a cute and lively package for readers and teaching programs, accessing a full bibliography through the commentary (pp.49-57). Unforced good temper prevails, short of hustle and clear of bathos: fear no grand claims for "the laughter of life and death here".5 But I-M sure could do with more obtrusive keying than it gets, to the Apollo 8, 12 through 17 tune of spacetravel in urban myth through NASA's half-century of Buzz, Neil and Elvis hoax-conspiracy syndromes, as also to sci-fi globaloney from Kepler to Koestler, Clarke and Kubrick, Captain Kirk. That's where this text should score, maybe even dent the True Histories monopoly a little: "You can see the strings, people," Phoebe (Buffay) told us. Of course the moon landings were shot on a set on Mars.6

On the other hand, an all-round commentary this is not. Camerotto doesn't dwell on ground control Realien (so no note on the Kerameikos beyond "in Greece", p.141, let alone Palmer's Thucydidean replacement of the Cynosure at section 18 with Kunouria). While he glides through the slogans and logarithms attached to the usual theorist insurgents and to the charred helpmeet Empedocles, I-M's sublunary-stage booster and etherial parasang buster, he only wings it on historiographical reportage bashing. As someone keen to agree that a little of Philosophy Lite goes a long way -- "less a critic of mortal error and more a symbol of the restless, if ultimately fruitless, quest for a single, all-embracing truth"7 -- and given that any test-trial (e.g., "The translunar narrative is at the outset an epistemological enterprise. Lucian's satirical approach, however, evokes questions about both the possibility of knowledge and the means wherewith to judge the validity of truth claims"8) will show that anyone's pontification on the cosmicomic tease will hit Lucian's Pseuds Corner in seconds flat, "more frigid than Plato's Laws or Chrysippus' Syllogisms" (section 24), I have no objection to Camerotto's plainer idiom. But with Rhetoric, there should be no dispensing, since that -- i.e. abuse of, and with, Rhetoric -- is what makes I-M go round, as it acts out its auto-charade. And here Camerotto's rather a let-down. For a start, the capture in writing of supernal panoramas of planet Google Earth as medium for cartoon-stereotype synoptic mapping of the species, across sociography, geopolitics and chronology, and expressly "beyond description" (section 16), also bleeds into meta-caricature of the ekphrastic tradition working away down the centuries from the stellar Homeric shield of Achilles (sections 15-19, with 16), before we segue into slick routines from "Vanity of Human Wishes" satire (sections 25-6).9 Such highlights of, and on, thinking and performing mimesis and graphesis ought to be enough to land I-M a spot on the art-text canon. Yet, I add with no hint of aggeration, prize units of diction should bag most of the space going, since amassing high-flown words for high-flying thoughts, airs, and amplified megaphoneydom is precisely how I-M generates its metapoetic aerobatics across the up-itself stratosphere of cultural prestige. For sure, Camerotto does profile some salient word-histories for their intertextuality and generic aura (e.g. the keyword μετεωρο-λέσχης, section 5, on pp. 106-07), but, above and over all, HYPE's the word.

And this cup runneth right "over" all in its flightpath (ὑπερ-ευ-φραίνομαι τὸ πέρα πίστεως εὐτυχεῖν, section 2), as our over-the-rainbow (ὑπερ-νέφελος, ib.) "Hyper-Daedalus" (ibid.) outdoes the racket science cells whose labs are all out to corner the self-promotion "moonstakes and beyond" (ὑπὲρ τὴν σελήνην, 6): out, in a word, to ὑπερ-δια-τείνεσθαί, and, in a gloss that tells all (τε καὶ), to μηδεμίαν τοῖς ἄλλοις ὑπερ-βολὴν ἀπολιμπάνειν (section 7); and up, to out their over-cooked competition in superhuman speculation (ἔνιοι δὲ ταῦτα πάντα ὑπερβάντες, section 9). So our not-that-outré hero's goal is "beyond", too, to match (ὑπέρ, section 11): to look down on these suitably polyphemous me-me-meteoric choristers of satire over-doing their own thing "in Bels", τὸν πλησίον ὑπερβαλλέσθαι τῇ μεγαλοφωνίᾳ προθυμουμένου (section 17). I-M's line-up of high-rolling hi-jinks with ὕψι (-αγόρης, 5, ὕψῆ, 6, -βρεμέτης, 10, -πέτης, 11, ὑψηλά, 12), plus uplift then downdraft from ἄνα-, ἄνω, ἄνωθεν ~ κατά- (forty and fifty times, too many to list), stiffens the exotica (διαερίος, 1, οὐρανογνώμων, 5, μετέωρο-, 3, 5, 11, 23 ~ χαμαί, 6, 10, -πετής, 2, 6), throwing up a SDI-style barrage to overpower and do down the spin gurus and their ἀλαζονείαν (in a word) καὶ (aka) τὴν ἐν τοῖς λόγοις τερατουργίαν (in a gloss, section 6). Half the γέλοιον arises from the σπουδή put into these self-satirizing verballistics, and (here is) how. We must all get our hopes up and soar, so Lucian's story session can "dangle us by our ears", till Hermes brings us down, grounded and sore, flight over along with I-M "suspended by the right ear" (ἄνω που τῆς διηγήσεως ἐκ τῶν ὤτων ἀπαρτημένον, 3, cf. 4 ~ τοῦ δεξιοῦ ὠτὸς ἀποκρεμάσας ... κατέθηκεν φέρων, 34). As Camerotto ironically quips, p.103 ad loc: "L'immagine ... qui sembra oscillare ambiguamente, e non senza ironia ..., tra la metafora e la realtà". Just as the story left behind, so left out, its earthly details (παρέλιπον, 13, cf. 7, above), so we get given plenty in half a one-eyed summary (ἅλις, 14; τὰ κεφάλαια, 16), and in and as the end, tearing the wings off will crash the text -- but until it happens, oh, the suspense (μετέωρός εἰμι ὑπὸ τῶν λόγων, 3).

Now I must splashdown with the practical hitch that Camerotto provides no back-up guidance with the Greek whatever. It's fine to roll out the Oxford text without apparatus for Lucian;10 but even Lucian's Greek doesn't read itself in most [read: any] real life contexts, even given enthused Italianate hikers furnished with Camerotto's (so I think) agreeable facing translation.11 I can see why participants in 2008 seminars at Delphi and Amsterdam well-wished Camerotto's take on I-M (p.48), but I can't help musing that this edition lets itself precap way too generously in the introduction what will show up again in the notes, and this comes at the expense of help with the language. Would Camerotto, or Major Tom,12 please stick a full set of helpful remarks on I-M's Greek on the web, so this work can really get off the ground.13


1.   See esp. "Le metamorfosi della parola: studi sulla parodia in Luciano di Samosata" (Pisa, 1998), with Tim Whitmarsh in The Classical Review 53 (2003) 78.
2.   On "Voyages extra-terrestres chez Lucien. Voyageurs et antiquité classique", see Monique Roussel in Hervé Duchêne, ed., "Voyageurs et antiquité classique" (Dijon, 2003), pp.100-09; on fiction thereafter, James O. Bailey, "Pilgrims Through Space and Time: Trends and Patterns in Scientific and Utopian Fiction" (Argus Books, 1947), was ahead of its time. For I-M's other main candidate for pairing or cloning, Iuppiter Confutatus, see Graham Anderson, "Some alleged relationships in Lucian's opuscula", American Journal of Philology 97 (1976) 262-75.
3.   B. P. McCarthy, "Lucian and Menippus", Yale Classical Studies 4 (1934) 3-58 good as sorted this issue.
4.   Joel Relihan, "Ancient Menippean Satire" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993) tracks the débouchement of Menippea in accounts of classical writing out into the boundless lit-crit. ocean wastes, from Erasmus to Rabelais and Swift, from Moby Dick to Alice and Ulysses ..., Bakhtin through Frye, ... . Like Camerotto, Alejandro Valverde García gives a focussed account of I-M in "El 'Icaromenipo' de Luciano de Samósata: un ejemplo de sátira menipea", Habis 30 (1999) 225-35.
5.   Stephen Halliwell, Greek Laughter. A Study of Cultural Psychology from Homer to Early Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2009), chapter. 9, esp. pp.429-32.
6.   The hard sell goes that Domingo Gonsales starts up Anglophone sci-fi in Bp Francis Godwin's posthumously published "The Man in the Moone: or a Discourse of a Voyage Thither", just four years after the publication of Francis Hickes' first English translation of I-M, and the appearance of Kepler's "Somnium". The rest is history, moonshine, and everyone's gone there. Teraturgid Wiki articles space out this territory ... (citing turn of the millennium claims that 6% of the U.S. public believed the landings faked, with 5% undecided, and this soared to about 20% after one Fox television show; 28% of the Russian Public did not believe American astronauts have been on the Moon. Why, just this year, a British poll had 25% of Britons not believing humans have walked the Moon, and the Flat Earth Society knows it's a Hollywood script by Arthur C. Clarke ... ). Danny Boyle's "Sunshine" may shoot Icarus II off to nuke the sun and save Earth, but next year the Chinese are due to land their first Menippea on the Moon, so Ben Skywalker's bound to check it out hyperreal soon.
7.   Joel Relihan, "Menippus in Antiquity and the Renaissance. The Cynics", in Bracht Branham and Marie-Odile Goulet-Cazé, eds., The Cynic Movement in Antiquity and its Legacy (University of California Press, 1996), pp.265-93 at p.278, on the I-M-Necyomantia combo.
8.   Aaron Parrett, "The Translunar Narrative in the Western Tradition" (Ashgate Press, 2004), p.14, "Lucian satirizes the idea of flight in the I-M as a means of gaining knowledge ..."; p.18, though, zooms in for a second, locked onto sophistic "commodification of knowledge".
9.   Like many a Hellenist, Camerotto finds barely any time for Latin of any kind. Tota nostra!
10.   So p.49: actually, Camerotto prints Bekker's έν τε at section 15 where Macleod prefers the paradosis έν τῇ.
11.   The Friend's first contribution will do to make the point, besides giving Camerotto a rocket for the one-off mistranslation disaster at the launchpad: πάλαι γὰρ ἐπακροωμαί σου παρακολουτηῶν ἡλίους καὶ σελήνας, ἔτι δὲ τὰ φορτικὰ ταῦτα σταθμούς τινας καὶ παρασάγγας ὑποξενίζοντας ~ "Ti sto a sentire da un pezzo, correndo dietro a soli e lune [sic], e ancora mi sorbisco questa noia di tappe dal suono straniero." Here, anyone interested enough in these "parole 'straniere'" (p.97 ad loc.) to consult LSJ will find the entry: "ὑποξενίζω, talk in a curious way of, τι Luc.Icar.1", which reposes on a Teubner edition which must have preferred the ὑποξενίζοντος of MS "N".
12.   Adriaan Rademaker, by any chance ( www.let.leidenuniv.nl/pdf/gltc/lucianusicaromenippus.pdf, on sections 13-end)? Maybe not in Dutch.
13.   This is an attractive affordable edition and I noticed very few corrigenda, all quisquilian: passim, MacLeod = Macleod; p.42 n.125, no page ref. for Whitmarsh quote; p.51, s.n. Bosman, Pragmatic = pragmatics; p.56, von Koppenfels listed under v- but referred to as Koppenfels; p.105, ἱστωρία = ἱστορία; p.108, ἐναυτίων = ἐναντίων; p.113, Empledocle.


  1. I enjoyed this review. It is not every day you come across allusions to the Bible, Private Eye, James Joyce, Star Wars, Bakhtin and, who knows? possibly David Lodge, Michael Chabon, Hitchhiker’s guides and many more in a review of a classical text. It is a nice conceit to use these in a review of a book on Lucian, although this joke has been made before (by AM Harmon, who translated the Syrian Goddess for the Loeb library in the style of the 14th century Sir John Mandeville, so that the archaising style should ‘be really intelligible’, as Harman writes in his introduction to ‘ the Goddesse of Surreye.’). Both Harman and Henderson, then, raise the question of for what and for whom a reviewer or translator is writing. Harman was sufficiently criticised by his own contemporaries, so I shall concentrate here on Henderson’s review. Is a review intended to clarify to a wide audience, for whom neither English nor Italian may be their native language, what the contents and value of the book in question are? Or is it written for a smaller and select audience of Oxbridge educated scholar as a sort of in-joke, a substitute for the TLS Christmas quiz? There is most certainly a place for loosening up staid scholarly language, as Henderson’s collaborator in other fields, Mary Beard, has done in her book on Pompeii. Beard’s judicious use of colloquial language has made this book eminently accessible, without losing any scholarly solidity. Henderson’s book on Isidore of Seville, in contrast, is very difficult to understand for someone whose native language is not UK English, although critics of this Cambridge scholar published by Cambridge University Press were suitably muted: ‘not easy to read;’ ‘sometimes irritating.’ But in this review, in my opinion, Henderson has gone even further in his use of language. As Catherine Morland says in Northanger Abbey: ‘I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.’ Henderson has spoken here too well for his wider audience.

  2. I've got to agree with the previous comment, except for the last sentence. No one writes well who is capable of producing a sentence like the following: "This neatly sets the I-M (Icaromenippo) within Lucian's poetic of intergeneric hybridization as both a narrative thematic and structural variant on the stock paradigms of journeying otherwheres." This is either self-indulgent cleverness or outright gibberish; in either case, it's not helpful.


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