Sunday, November 5, 2017


Markus Hafner, Lukians Schrift "Das traurige Los der Gelehrten": Einführung und Kommentar zu De Mercede Conductis Potentium Familiaribus, lib. 36. Hermes Einzelschrift, 110. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2017. Pp. 411. ISBN 9783515118026. €64.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Martin Hallmannsecker, New College, University of Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This edition, German translation, and commentary of Lucian's Περὶ τῶν ἐπὶ μισθῷ συνόντων (Lat. De mercede conductis potentium familiaribus = Merc.Cond.) is the fruit of a doctoral thesis in Greek philology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich submitted in 2015/16.1 Lucian's apotreptic piece, warning the probably fictitious young philosopher Timokles not to aim at an undignified employment as a house philosopher in a Roman nobleman's domus, has not received a great deal of attention in classical scholarship. So much so, that the book under discussion is actually the first proper historical and philological commentary to this day.

It contains a brief overview of the current state of research on Merc.Cond. (pp. 11–22), a very insightful introduction (pp. 23–85), the Greek text and a German translation (pp. 86–123), an exhaustive commentary on language and content (pp. 124–372), bibliography (pp. 373–392), and indices including a useful 'Stellenregister' (pp. 393–411).

The last major critical edition of the Greek text was undertaken by Matthew D. Macleod for the OCT series in 1974, and this edition forms the basis for Hafner's rendering as well. The 16 changes made to Macleod's text (table on p. 85, where §42.30 is missing) are all variants and emendations brought forward by earlier editors (compared to Austin M. Harmon's Loeb edition from 1921 there are only 8 changes, for example), except for §3.4 where the author prefers the manuscript reading to the emendation accepted by all other editors, and §15.7 where he suggests a completely new emendation, convincingly in my opinion. As Hafner did not strive to replace Macleod's critical edition (the apparatus criticus is in fact limited to the cases in which he disagrees with him), Macleod's will remain the authoritative text, at least until the pertinent volume in the Collection Budé is published.

The author's translation is elegant, yet very accessible, creative, yet not too far from the original. Although there is a tendency to stiltedness and an archaizing choice of words ('radebrechen' §24.14; 'Schmausenden' §15.7), Hafner does not shy away from colloquialisms where appropriate ('pinkeln' §4.23 and §34.16; 'Neidhammel' §29.1) and manages to transfer Lucian's witty irony into German ('wie vulgär' §24.16; 'herrlichste Gicht' §39.13). Here are some of the highlights of the new translation: 'Ganz sicher (siehst Du es etwa nicht?) schmelzen solche Leute dahin vor Verlangen nach der Weisheit Homers, der Redekraft des Demosthenes oder der Geistesgröße Platons.' §25.6–8; 'klagst die Schicksalsgöttin an, sie habe Dich nicht einmal mit wenigen Gunsttropfen benetzt.' §27.7–8; 'du weißt doch, was für einen langen Respektsbart Thesmopolis hatte' §33.11–12. Next to those, the few minor inaccuracies are easily forgiven: 'Kaiser' for βασιλεῖ τῷ μεγάλῳ in §9.7, although it is marked as a reference to the Great King in the commentary; 'Geschlecht' for γένος in §23.2 is quite misleading in this context (it can also mean 'sex' or 'gender'), which surely refers to Greekness here, thus better 'Abstammung' or even 'Griechentum'; 'Feigen' for ἰσχάδων in §24.28, although he rightly translates 'Trockenfeigen' in the commentary; 'gigantische Lächerlichkeit' for ἠρέμα γελοῖον in §28.9, a bit too free and losing the wry nuance ('rather ridiculous'). I could only find one sentence where a wrong syntactical connection had been made: §15.7-9: 'Die Diener der Schmausenden beobachten, wie beeindruckt Du aufgrund deiner Unerfahrenheit bist über das [should be: ‚von dem'], was sich abspielt, und machen sich über Dich lustig...' (οἱ μὲν γὰρ τῶν συνδείπνων ἀκόλουθοι ὁρῶντες ἐκπεπληγμένον εἰς τὴν ἀπειρίαν τῶν δρωμένων ἀποσκώπτουσι… ). As ἐκπλήσσω does not normally take εἰς (LSJ s.v. A II.1), but ἀποσκώπτω does (LSJ s.v. A), εἰς τὴν ἀπειρίαν τῶν δρωμένων surely must go with ἀποσκώπτουσι here.

Yet the main achievement of this book lies not in the edition or translation, but undoubtedly in the substantial and comprehensive commentary. In an exemplary manner, practically every sentence receives analysis on a grammatical, stylistic, literary, and/or historical level. In many cases the passages are productively put in context with Lucian's other writings as well as with the works of a number of (contemporary) Greek and Latin authors such as Athenaios, Cicero, Dio of Prusa, Epictetus, Galen, Aulus Gellius, Horace, Juvenal, Martial, Petronius, Plautus, both the Younger and the Elder Pliny, Plutarch, and Suetonius to name but the most important.

We learn about the origins of the proverbial 'birds' milk' (p. 199), the status of guinea fowl and pheasant in Roman cuisine (p. 220), air and soap bubbles as metaphors for the ephemeral nature of mankind in ancient literature (p. 242), and depilation by means of pitch-plasters (p. 305). The notion that names formed in Mandro- derive from an unattested Anatolian godhead 'Mandros' (p. 241) has been disproved by Peter Thonemann, in Neilomandros: A contribution to the history of Greek personal names. (Chiron 36, 2006, pp. 11–43), who convincingly argued that they cannot but be traced back to the river Maeander. Especially the last paragraph of Merc.Cond. with an ekphrasis modelled on the less well known Table of Cebes allows Hafner to display his scholarly meticulousness, just as it allowed Lucian to display his rhetorical skills.2 The short summaries of each paragraph preceding the individual lemmata make the commentary even more accessible.

The introduction neatly contextualizes Merc.Cond. within contemporary cultural and historical discourses. Only the section on Roman perceptions of Greekness (pp. 31–41) appears a bit unbalanced, as just the stereotypical derogatory notions of decadent Easterners are discussed, but the creative tension created by this and the current Roman Philhellenism (the appreciation of classical Greek military achievements and especially paideia) is omitted completely.3 Another opportunity was missed by not discussing in greater detail the issues of gender and sexuality raised by the mentions of kinaidoi (§§ 27, 33–34) and the passage on noblewomen (§§ 33–36) which would have invited further reflections on Lucian's ideas and ideals of masculinity beyond the fundamental work of Maud W. Gleason, Making Men. Sophists and Self-Representation in Ancient Rome.4 This notwithstanding, the introduction provides interesting and insightful aids to interpretation such as the neat characterisation of the main part of the text as a drama with three 'acts' (esp. pp. 62–68; p. 68: 'Lesedrama'), and the discussion of the comparison between house philosophers and initiates of mystery cults (pp. 46–47).

The book is neatly arranged and there are remarkably few typos: p. 21 'protretischer'; p. 29 'zur einer erfolgreichen'; p. 61 wrong word division ('verge-sslichen'); p. 73 missing space ('vermeintlichensummum'); but the one grievance for which the publishing house is to be blamed is the excessively small font for the Greek text which makes reading rather painful.

These minor points aside, this is a very meritorious example of meticulous German scholarship. Hafner successfully provides a holistic analysis of Merc.Cond. contributing to the appreciation of Lucian's work beyond a purely biographistic approach.


1.   The original dissertation also treated the closely related Ἀπολογία, a justification of Merc.Cond., which the author managed to publish as a separate monograph: M. Hafner, Lukians "Apologie": Einleitung, Übersetzung und Erläuterungen. Classica Monacensia 50. Tübingen: Narr/Francke/Attempto, 2017.
2.   He also published an article on this subject in 2013: M. Hafner, τί ποτε αὕτη ἡ μυθολογία δύναται – Die Macht der Rede in der „Tabula Cebetis". Hermes 141/1, 2013, pp. 65–82.
3.   See e.g. A. Spawforth, Greece and the Augustan Cultural Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 11–18. Reviewed in BMCR 2012.12.04.
4.   Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995. Reviewed in BMCR 95.06.19.

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