Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Adam Bartley (ed.), A Lucian For Our Times. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. Pp. xii, 208. ISBN 9781443814331. £39.99.
Reviewed by James Jope

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Lucianic scholarship is undergoing a renaissance, and it is commonly remarked that he has not been receiving the attention he deserves. Although this is true, some excellent scholarship about Lucian has likewise been neglected. Jennifer Hall's Lucian's Satire (1981), one of the best complete studies of Lucian, is absent from many university libraries and rare on the second-hand market. The collection of papers from the Lucianic conference at Lyon in 19931 is not even listed separately in the bibliography of the present book, only in the entries for particular essays. But it may still be more useful than the present collection for those who wish to become acquainted with the issues that have occupied traditional Lucianic scholarship--if they can find it.

"For our times" is not just a catchy title phrase. These papers, presented at a conference at the University of Kent in 2007, are very contemporary. Some are previews of forthcoming books. Some apply postmodern literary and interpretive theories to reach challenging but sometimes implausible conclusions. Some use interdisciplinary techniques imaginatively to arrive at new ideas; others read anachronistic views or concepts into Lucian. Inevitably, coverage of Lucian's works is uneven, and three of the essays are devoted to the True Story alone.

Unfortunately, the book is very badly proofread. The heading of the first chapter on p. 3 alerts the reader to this immediately by prominently running together the last word of the title and the first name of the author. I observed 78 errata, including 24 in the editor's own 11-page paper. As if to make classicists feel at home, there is even a lacuna in the text near the bottom of p. 175, and there are spots which make no sense without emendation (try "when being attacked..." on p. 33). Blank squares in the Greek may represent square brackets marking effaced characters when they appear in a fragmentary text on p. 114; those in ordinary Greek on p. 105 and 179 represent the OCR (optical character recognition) program crying for help. Its cries were left to mingle with those of the readers. One of the contributors, Orestis Karavas, is even omitted from the contributors' biographies (see this site for information).

There is only one bibliography and index for the volume, so that apart from the footnotes, each author's range of sources cannot be known, with the exception of Steven D. Smith, who provides his own selection in a preliminary footnote.

Although the essays are grouped into sections, they are so diverse that I shall turn directly to the individual papers.

Anderson ("'It's how you tell them': Some Aspects of Lucian's Anecdotes") complements the volume's emphasis on the True Story by examining Lucian's handling of traditional tales in other works, especially the Lover of Lies. He compares Lucian's version with others to show his originality. This short paper demonstrates how a seasoned scholar can still use old philological techniques effectively.

Ní-Mheallaigh's "Monumental Fallacy: The Teleology of Origins in Lucian's Verae Historiae" is in sharp contrast. Here the reader must cope with a murky stream of jargon as the author allegorizes the True Story as a metafictional message about "contemporary culture's negotiation of its own epigonality" (p. 27), with Lucian as the proud innovator wielding his "figurative phallus" (p. 19) against the "literary canon's murderous voracity" and the "stultifying domination of tradition" (p. 20). There is indeed metafictional commentary in the True Story, such as Lucian's use of his true name 'Loukianos' precisely in this mendacious narrative; but the textual indications cited by Ní-Mheallaigh for her interpretation are as arbitrary as any ancient allegorist's. (In some dialogues, Lucian is represented by 'Lykinos' or the like, but it is never 'Lacan'-- although elsewhere in this book we are instructed that the proper Greek spelling of Lucian's name is 'Loukianovi' (sic) [p. 146].)

Lucian set forth his own perspective on tradition and originality in the Zeuxis, but Ni-Mheallaigh does not discuss that.

Porod ("Lucian and the Limits of Fiction in Ancient Historiography") relates Lucian's principles on How to Write History to previous historiographers including Polybius, as well as Cynic values. He regards Cynicism as both reinforcing Lucian's critique of mediocre historians and at the same time inviting educated readers to deconstruct Lucian's own "didactic mask". Since Lucian shows sympathy with Cynic values throughout most of his works, I doubt the latter aim. Nonetheless, the paper is a substantial contribution--so that it is all the more regrettable that it is written in broken English. Editorial assistance should have been offered and accepted.

Mossman ("Narrative Island-Hopping: Contextualising Lucian's Treatment of Space in the Verae Historiae") analyzes the narrative structure of the True Story as a travel narrative, comparing especially the Odyssey and periplus literature. The ending without closure suggests an indeterminate plot, but the island-hopping spatial sequence helps to demarcate episodes. Narratology has been criticized for restating the obvious (see BMCR 2010.02.27), and this essay seems to be open to that criticism.

Evans' "Ritual Lament in Lucian" is an engaging "archeology" of the funeral rituals described by Lucian. He reconstructs Greco-Roman second-century ritual within a broader discussion ranging from Homer to modern Greek Orthodoxy. He brings a unique understanding of spirituality, but his dismissal of the satiric component as merely "entertaining" (p. 77) underrates the seriousness of Lucian's philosophical didactic.

For Smith ("Lucian's True Story and the Ethics of Empire"), the True Story is about political morality. He argues that the experience of the narrator shows progressive awareness of the injustice of imperialism and a growing ability to see "the self" in "the other". Smith deploys a quaint mixture of ancient and modern concepts: For example, he describes the mature ethic toward which the story advances as "a liberal ideology... towards a humane and ethically responsible oikoumene" (p. 82). I am, I confess, not sure whether this anachronism impairs his argument.

Another anachronism is more disturbing. Echoing Ní-Mheallaigh's hostility to literary 'origins', Smith casually includes among imperialist forces (such as Athens, Sparta, or Rome) the Greek literary tradition. It is salutary that modern scholarship has taken critical stances on ancient social and political issues, but it seems implausible to find a sweeping rejection of the literary tradition in any Second Sophistic author and it is disappointing to encounter it among professional classicists.

The main purpose of Mestre and Gómez ("Power and the Abuse of Power in the Works of Lucian") is to marshal evidence to identify the tyrant Megapenthes of the Downward Journey with Herodes Atticus; however, the argument is couched within an informative broader discussion of the figure of the tyrant in Lucian and in second-century Greece. The authors mention many parallels between Megapenthes and Herodes, but pass over differences: e.g., since Herodes' wife predeceased him, he could not plead to return to life to rejoin her.

Sidwell's "The Dead Philosophers' Society: New Thoughts on Lucian's Piscator and Eupolis' Demes" is a preview of his forthcoming book, in which he aims to expand one-way Quellenforschung into a two-way study of intertextuality; i.e., to learn from Lucian about lost Old Comedy as well as to learn about Lucian's meaning from his sources. Here he investigates how Lucian's Fisherman recalls Eupolis' Demes.

Nesselrath's study of the Nigrinus and On Salaried Posts in Great Houses ("A Tale of Two Cities -- Lucian on Athens and Rome") concludes that Lucian deprecates Rome in contrast to a more sober and cultured Athens, but that Athens too is morally flawed and can be bettered by outsiders like Toxaris--and Lucian.

Karavas (ΝΗΦΕ ΚΑΙ ΜΕΜΝΗΣΟ ΑΠΙΣΤΕΙΝ" (Hermot. 47): "La religiosité de Lucien") offers an unusual interpretation of Lucian's satirizing of religious thinking in On Funerals and On Sacrifices: Lucian was searching for a satisfying source of spirituality but could not find it. Interestingly, all of the evidence which Karavas marshals to show that Lucian was seeking something "tout à fait différente des croyances des Grecs" (p. 141) points to Epicureanism, which, like Cynicism, was a Greek belief system that he knew and admired: his convictions that death is not the worst evil, that it is better to not be thirsty than to drink, that true piety has nothing to do with sacrifice or imagining that gods need concern themselves with human affairs, and his invocation of "a Heraclitus" or "a Democritus" to see through superstitious folly (Karavas here is citing On Sacrifice, but compare Alexander 17).

Gassino ("Lucien et la langue latine") believes that Lucian respected the Latin language, but never used it because he valued the purity of the language in which he wrote. Perhaps the most interesting feature of this paper is its method. The difficult question of Lucian and Latin forces the author into a penetrating interpretation of Lucian's own inconsistencies and occasional "mauvaise foi"--a hazardous procedure which is unavoidable with this author, and which Gassino performs well.

Pretzler ("Form over Substance? Deconstructing Ecphrasis in Lucian's Zeuxis and Eikones") studies Lucian's ecphraseis in the Zeuxis and Essays in Portraiture with an admirable combination of literary sensitivity and art expertise. She contrasts Philostratus' descriptions and their conventional interest in viewers' reactions with Lucian's exceptional ability to analyze technical aspects of painting. In an intriguing digression, she suggests that Lucian's description of Zeuxis' Centaur painting may be fictional.

Bartley ("Lucian's Contemporary Dialects") invokes concepts of cognitive linguistics to analyze Lucian's use of Attic and Ionic in the Alexander and the Syrian Goddess respectively, and the messages which it would have signaled to educated contemporaries. This is an interesting paper, albeit sadly mauled by careless editing.

There are essays here which will be valuable for scholars working on specific issues or for those who wish to keep up to date on Lucianic scholarship. If you would feel cheated paying for a text which reads more like a hasty e-mail than a ktema eis aei, use a library copy.

Part I: Lucian and his Literary Contemporaries

'It's how you tell them': Some Aspects of Lucian's Anecdotes. Graham Anderson

Monumental Fallacy: The Teleology of Origins in Lucian's Verae Historiae. Karen Ní-Mheallaigh

Lucian and the Limits of Fiction in Ancient Historiography. Robert Porod

Narrative Island-Hopping: Contextualising Lucian's Treatment of Space in the Verae Historiae. Hannah Mossman

Part II: Philosophy, Religion, History and Lucian

Ritual Lament in Lucian. Stephen Evans

Lucian's True Story and the Ethics of Empire. Steven D. Smith

Power and the Abuse of Power in the Works of Lucian. Francesca Mestre and Pilar Gómez

The Dead Philosophers' Society: New Thoughts on Lucian's Piscator and Eupolis' Demes. Keith Sidwell

Part III: Lucian and Contemporary Roman Society

A Tale of Two Cities--Lucian on Athens and Rome. Heinz-Günther Nesselrath

ΝΗΦΕ ΚΑΙ ΜΕΜΝΗΣΟ ΑΠΙΣΤΕΙΝ (Hermot. 47): La Religiosite De Lucien Orestis Karavas

Lucien et la langue latine. Isabelle Gassino

Form over Substance? Deconstructing Ecphrasis in Lucian's Zeuxis and Eikones. Maria Pretzler

Lucian's Contemporary Dialects. Adam Bartley


1.   Lucien de Samosate: Actes du colloque international de Lyon organizé au Centre d'Études Romaines et Gallo-romaines le 30 septembre-1er octobre 1993, ed. Alain Billault. Lyon 1994.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.