THE earliest surviving biography of Lucian appears in a tenth-century encyclopedia, and reads as follows:
Lucian of Samosata, otherwise known as Lucian the Blasphemer, or the Slanderer, or, more accurately, the Atheist, because in his dialogues he even makes fun of religion. He was born somewhere about the time of Trajan. He practised for a while as a barrister at Antioch in Syria, but did so badly at it that he turned over to literature, and wrote no end of stuff. He is said to have been torn to pieces by mad dogs, because he had been so rabid against the truth - for in his Death of Peregrinus the filthy brute attacks Christianity and blasphemes Christ Himself. So he was adequately punished in this world, and in the next he will inherit eternal fire with Satan.

If we try to disentangle probable facts from pious hopes, we may infer from this that Lucian was born at Samosata, now the village of Samsat in Turkey, shortly before A.D. 117; that he was once a barrister at Antioch; and that he eventually died. His literary output was certainly immense: about eighty of his works survive. His attitude to religion was always satirical, though his references to Christianity are not particularly abusive. He may have been a failure at the bar, but he himself gives other reasons (p. 181) for his change of profession.

Any further information about his life must be extracted from his works, and this is rather a risky process. In The Dream we are told that he was fond of making wax models as a child; but this charming biographical detail turns out to be a reminiscence of a passage in Aristophanes. He says in the Nigrinus that he went to Rome to consult an oculist; but he so often plays upon the metaphorical meaning of bad eyesight that his visit to an oculist may be merely a literary device to prepare for the later statement that Nigrinus opened his eyes to the truth. In the Alexander he says that the Prophet tried to murder him; but such accusations were almost a convention in polemical writing, and we need not take this one much more seriously than Alexander's counter-accusation that Lucian was only interested in 'Beds of

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Satirical Sketches


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