Centaurs at the Symposium: Two Types of Hybridity in Lucian

By Hancock, Megan | Ancient Narrative, Annual 2018 | Go to article overview

Centaurs at the Symposium: Two Types of Hybridity in Lucian


Hancock, Megan, Ancient Narrative


Introduction

Hybridity in the works of Lucian takes on many forms; his creation of the seriocomic genre is itself defined as a hybrid (Luc. Prom. Es. 5), and he is himself a hybrid of Syrian and Greek cultures. However, for the following discussion, the focus is upon Lucian's presentation of the hybrid philosopher-sophist. With reference to two particular dialogues, Zeuxis and the Symposium, (1) it becomes clear that there are two types of hybridity in Lucian's works. The first of these presents the hybrid form as something worthy of praise, provided the melding of two disparate forms is done in a way that is seamless and aesthetically pleasing (Mollendorff 2006). The successful hybrid is evident in the Zeuxis, wherein Lucian describes a painting of a family of centaurs. Yet significantly this stands in direct contrast to the presentation of the corrupted hybrid, featured in Lucian's Symposium. Here, the philosopher-sophist is shown to be a corrupted hybrid, responsible for the corruption of contemporary philosophy.

Lucian thus presents two distinct incarnations of the hybrid. In the first instance, the hybrid centaur is portrayed in a positive light, representing source of wisdom reminiscent of Chiron (Fantham 2003). In contrast, the supposedly learned philosopher-sophist comes to embody the traditional characteristics of the hybrid: uncivilised, immoral and corrupted.

The Hybrid

Scholarship upon the hybrid as a metaphor and rhetorical tool has, in recent years, sought to prescribe a strict definition of the hybrid. The hybrid, as Kapchan and Strong state, can refer to "not only animals and plants...but people, cultures, traditions, and languages as well" (Kapchan, Strong 1990, 240). Significantly, the hybrid is "effected whenever two or more historically separate realms come together in any degree that challenges their socially constructed autonomy" (Kapchan 1996, 6). The challenge to a "socially constructed autonomy" is a core feature of formulating a hybrid. Stross notes that the boundaries between the two "parents" (2) of the hybrid must be separate enough in order to qualify as a true hybrid (Stross 1999, 258). He gives the example of two breeds of floppy-eared rabbits, arguing that despite the difference in breeds, the progeny of the two animals is insufficiently different to be considered a true hybrid. However, they must also be significantly similar, noting the impracticality of a hybrid consisting of an elephant and a canary (Stross 1999, 259), and moreover this infeasibility of what he deems "biological" hybridity, must be applied in a similar manner to notions of "cultural" hybridity, that is, the combination of disparate "discourse genres, languages and other cultural phenomena" (Stross 1999, 257). The formulation of the hybrid, therefore, must follow something of a set of rules; the hybrid must successfully challenge the "socially constructed autonomy" through a combination of appropriately "separate realms."

It is in this definition of hybridity that the following discussion is framed, as it allows for the appropriately separate realms of philosophy and sophistry to enter the broader conversation. In what follows, I will consider this preoccupation with hybridity that pervades the Second Sophistic, and then assess its broader function in the works of Lucian.

The predominant 'function' of the hybrid thus lies in the context of using the hybrid creature as a metaphor for the philosopher-sophist, implying that a form of corruption or impurity has taken place in the subject in question. This function of hybridity is evident in Lucian himself, as in Lucian's Fugitivi, the sophist is not unlike the centaur: a hybrid creature, incapable of being wholly dedicated to philosophy or to ignorance, wandering in the interspace between an impersonator and a philosopher (Luc. Fug. 10). This function of hybridity in relation to sophistic philosophical discourse becomes a pervasive one for other authors in the early Roman empire. …

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