In Association with

Choose another writer in this calendar:

by name:

by birthday from the calendar.

Credits and feedback

for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

This is an archive of a dead website. The original website was published by Petri Liukkonen under Creative Commons BY-ND-NC 1.0 Finland and reproduced here under those terms for non-commercial use. All pages are unmodified as they originally appeared; some links and images may no longer function. A .zip of the website is also available.

Lucian - also Lucianos, Lucianus, Lucian of Samosata (c.120 - c.200 A.D.)


Syrian-Greek rhetorician, pamphleteer, and satirist, famous for his humorous dialogues. Of the eighty works traditionally attributed to him, about ten are of doubtful authenticity, including one of the most famous, the short novel Lucius or the Ass. In the Byzantine world, Lucian was labelled as an Anti-Christ. He was also on the Catholic index of Forbidden Books.

"I want now to tell you the most remarkable fact about the fly's nature, and it is the only point I think Plato overlooks in his discussion of the soul and its immortality. If ash is sprinkled on a dead fly it recovers, and from this second birth it has a whole new life. Everyone accepts this as clear proof that flies too have an immortal soul, since it departs and then returns, recognizes and revives its body, and makes the fly take wing again."(in Selected Dialogues, edited and translated by C.D.N. Costa, 2006)

Lucian was born in Samosata, Commage, Syria (now Samsat in southeastern Turkey). Most of what we know about Lucian's life is derived from his own writings, which cannot always be taken at face value. However, in My Dream Lucian tells that he was apprenticed to his uncle, a stonecutter, after he had stopped going to school. Lucian had shown some talent in modelling cows, horses, and human figures from wax. The apprenticeship lasted one day because he managed to break a slab with his chisel.

Lucian of Samosata lived under the Roman Emperors Antoninus Pius, M. Aurelius and Lucius Verus, Commodus, and perhaps Pertinax. His mother-tongue was probably Aramaic, but as a young man he spent some years in Ionian, acquiring a Greek literary education. He also studied rhetoric and wandered through western Asia as a traveling lecturer. These experiences formed a basis for his later skeptical attitude toward travellers' tales. He taught in Italy and Spain held also a teaching post in Gaul (France). Possibly he lived some time in Rome and worked later unsuccessfully as a lawyer at Antioch in Syria.

In the late '50 of the 2nd century, Lucian settled in Athens. During this period he wrote prolifically. How to Write History, Dialogues of the Dead, True History, and Timon are some of these works. Most of his writings were produced between 160 and 185, but it is difficult to date them accurately. Lucian also watched the Olympic Games, mentioning them in his Anacharsis dialogue. Fifty or so epigrams are attributed to Lucian in the Anthologia Graeca, a collection of poems from the Ancient and Byzantine periods of Greek Literature.

As a writer, Lucian was a skillful, sophisticated craftman, who criticized the follies and foibles of his own day. The knowledge he had acquired in the various professions he utilized in his writings. He blended prose and verse, high and low styles, moving easily from the Platonic dialogue to Menippean satire within the same work. His basic invention was to transform a serious philosophical dialogue into a vehicle of mockery. Lucian himself appeared in a number of his dialogues under the disguise of Lycinus or the Syrian.

In one text he mentions that he suffered from gout in his old age. For a period, Lucian was employed in Alexandria by the imperial administration. His duties included "the initiation of court cases and their arrangement, the recording of all that is done and said, guiding counsels in their speecher, keeping the clearest and most accurate copy of the govermor's decision in all faithfulness and putting them on public record to be preserved for all time." He then returned to Athens c.175, after the prefect of Egypt was banished from his office. Lucien died c.200. According to a statement in Suidas, Lucien was torn to pieces by dogs, but it is supposed that this is a later fabrication due to Lucian's alleged hostility to Christianity.

Lucian did not develop a philosophy of his own. He tended towards the Epicureans, but in general, he was more of a reporter and social critic than an analyst. Lucian satirized philosophy and all religions in several texts, including Icaromenippus,  a dialogue, The Life of Peregrine, Of Sacrifice, Zeus Cross-Examined, and Influence of the Old Comedy Writers. Philopatris, a direct attack on Christianity, was long attributed to Lucian, but it probably dates from the time of Julian the Apostate (cAD 331-363). The Pelegrinus tells of the death a Cynic philopher, who had flirted with Christianity, but eventually decided to roast himself at Olympic Games – "not undeservedly, by Heracles, if it is right for parricides and for atheists to suffer for their hardinesses," notes Lucian. 

Lucian took the side reason against superstition and mysticism, he mocked authors who used archaic style, ridiculed charlatans and philosophers, and parodied the fantastic and fanciful travel stories of earlier writers, such as the Greek historian Herodotus. In How to Write History, a treatise on historiography, which dates around 166-68, Lucian makes a distinction between history and rhetoric, and emphasizes truthfulness – "The historian's one task is to tell the thing as it happened." Lucian's down-to-earth approach is still valid and advises excellent, although the work is out of date for practical purposes.

True History (Alethes historia), in which the narrator visits the Moon, Lucian satirized the myths of Homer and utopian societies, starting the story by declaring that "as I have no truth to put on record, having lived a very humdrum life, I fall back on falsehood – but falsehood of a more consistent variety; for I now make the only true statement you are to expect – that I am a liar. " The notes that the female sex is unknown; men marry men and reproduce unisexually. "But what is far more surprising, there is amongst them a singular species of men, called Dendrites, and which are produced in this manner. They plant the testicle of a man into the ground ; from whence by insensible degrees springs up a large fleshy tree, having the form of a phallus, with branches and leaves, and bearing an acorn-like fruit an ell in length." After returning back to Earth, the narrator with his party is swallowed by a gigantic whale. He manages to escape and has then adventures on islands. Also in the dialogue Icaromenippus Lucian's hero acquires a pair of wings and flies to the Moon.

Lucius or the Ass (Loukios, e Onos), a comic novel, has been attributed to Lucian, but not without doubts. He may have drawn upon the same text as Apuleius's more famous story The Golden Ass, written in the mid-2nd century AD. Onos tells of a young man, a certain Lucius of Patrae, who is turned into a donkey. Passing from owner to owner, he suffers much before he becomes again a human being. The epitomist of the text, called nowadays as Pseudo-Lucian, reduced it by about one-third of its original lenght.

In spite of Lucian's anti-Christian reputation, his writings survived the bonfires of the Church. In the 15th and 16th century Lucien enjoyed a wide popularity and his works were printed in many editions, such as Palinurus, printed in 1,500 copies at Avignon in 1497. One edition was published in small, portable form, so that it could be read during long horseback rides, or even in the middle of a session of the city council, as a Venetian senator did according to an anecdote.

Lucian's treatise De Calumnia (About not being too quick to believe a calumny), in which he descibed in detail a painting by Apelles, inspired Botticelli's La Calunnia di Apelle (the Calumny of Apelles, c.1494-1495). This tempera painting shows several allegorical figures grouped against a backround of classica arcades. Calumny is portrayed as an extraordinarily  beautiful lady carrying a lighted torch. The Christian humanist Erasmus (c.1469-1536) was one of the first to translate Lucian from Greek into Latin. During his stay in England in 1505 and 1506 he translated ten of Lucian's dialogues, in Flocence he translated eighteen short dialogues, and then  additional eight treatises. Lucian's influence is seen in Saint Thomas More's Utopia (1516), Rabelais's Pantagruel (1532) and Gargantua (1534), Cyrano de Bergerac's (1619-55) L'Autre Monde, Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726), in the works of Voltaire (1694-1778), and S. Butler's Erewhon (1872). Samuel Briscoe said in the 1711 English translation, that Lucian "has been the Darling Pleasure of Men of sense in every Nation."

For further reading: Lucian's Science Fiction Novel True Histories by Aristoula Georgiadou, David H. J. Larmour (1998); Unruly Eloquence: Lucian and the Comedy of Traditions by R. Bracht (1989); Culture and Society in Lucian by C.P. Jones (1986); Lucian's Satire by Jennifer Hall (1981); Lucian and His Influence in Europe by Christopher Robinson (1979); Studies in Lucian's Comic Fiction by Graham Anderson (1976); Lucian and Menippus by Barbara P. McCarthy (1934); Lucian's Relation to Plato and the Post-Aristotelian Philosophers by Wilson Hamilton (1930); Lucian, Satirist and Artist by Francis G. Allison (1926) - Suomennoksia: "Huone" ja "Timon", 1891 (suom. Kaarlo Forsman); Terve, Lukianos!, 1924 (toim. Ernst Lampén); Miten historiaa on kirjoitettava, 1977 (suom. Kaarle Hirvonen); Jumalatarten kauneuskilpa ja muita satiireja, 1982  (suom. Kaarle Hirvonen); Satiireja, 1996 (suom. Aapo Junkola, esipuhe Martti Leiwo); Satiireja 2, 2003 (suom. Aapo Junkola)

Selected works:

  • Epistolae, ca. 1475
  • Luciani Palinurus. Luciani Scipio Romanus. Luciani Heroica in amorem. Luciani Asinus aureus. Bruti Romani Epistole. Diogenis Cynici Epistole, 1497
  • Luciani opuscula, 1516 (Erasmo Roterodamo interprete)
  • Lvciani Piscator, sev Reuiuiscentes ... Bilibaldo Pirckheymero ... interprete ... Nurenbergae, 1517
  • Luciani opera omnia, 1619 (8 vols.)
  • Certaine Select Dialogues of Lucian: Together With His True Historie, 1634 (tr. Francis Hickes and Jasper Mayne)
  • Lucian's works, 1684-1685 (8 vols., translated by F. Spence)
  • The Works of Lucian, 1710-1711 (tr. from the Greek, by several eminent hands ... with the life of Lucian, by John Dryden)
  • Dialogues of Lucian from the Greek, 1774-1798 (5 vols., tr. John Carr)
  • The Works of Lucian from the Greek, 1780 (ed. Thomas Franklin)
  • The Select Dialogues of Lucian, 1789 (ed. Edward Murray)
  • Lucian of Samosata, 1820 (by William Tooke)
  • Luciani Samosatensis Opera, 1829 (4 vols.)
  • Lucianus, 1886-99 (5 vols., ed. Julius Sommerbrodt)
  • Lucian's Dialogues, 1888 (tr. Howard Williams)
  • Selections from Lucian, 1892 (tr. Emily James Smith)
  • Lucian's True History, 1894 (tr. Francis Hickes)
  • Selections from Lucian, 1896 (tr. Demarchus Clariton Brown)
  • Lucius the Ass, 1902 (with notices by Paul Louis Courier and A. J. Pons, and illustrations by M. Poirson)
  • Lucian; Selected Writings, 1905 (ed. Francis Greenleaf Allinson)
  • The Works of Lucian of Samosata, 1905 (4 vols., ed. Henry W. and Francis G. Fowler)
  • Lucian, 1913-1967 (8 vols., tr. A.M. Harmon)
  • Opera, 1953-67 (8 vols., with an English translation by A.M. Harmon, K. Kilburn, and M.D. Macleod)
  • True History and Lucius or the Ass, 1958 (tr. Paul Turner; illustrated by Hellmuth Weissenborn)
  • Satirical Sketches, 1961 (tr. Paul Turner)
  • Selected Satires of Lucian, 1962 (edited and translated by Lionel Casson)
  • Selected Works, 1965 (translated, with an introd. and notes, by Bryan P. Reardon)
  • Luciani Opera, 1972-87 (4 vols., edited by Matthew Donald Macleod)
  • Seventy Dialogues, 1977 (introd. and commentary by Harry L. Levy)
  • Lucian: Selections, 1988 (ed. K.C. Sidwell)
  • On the Syrian Goddess, 2003 (tr. J.L. Lightfoot)
  • Chattering Courtesans and Other Sardonic Sketches, 2004 (tr. Keith Sidwell)
  • Selected Dialogues: A New Translation, 2006 (tr. C.D.N. Costa)
  • Lucian: A Selection, 2008 (edited by Neil Hopkinson)
In Association with

Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto 2008

Creative Commons License
Authors' Calendar jonka tekijä on Petri Liukkonen on lisensoitu Creative Commons Nimeä-Epäkaupallinen-Ei muutettuja teoksia 1.0 Suomi (Finland) lisenssillä.
May be used for non-commercial purposes. The author must be mentioned. The text may not be altered in any way (e.g. by translation). Click on the logo above for information.