Last reviewed: June 2018
Greek satirist and critic
Samosata, Commagene, Syria (now Samsat, Turkey)
Outstanding among second-century Greek satirists under the Roman Empire was the wit and Sophist Lucian (LEW-shuhn), or Lucianus. Among his eighty writings, mostly in masterful Attic prose, are rhetorical, critical, and biographical works. Scholars also attribute two mock tragedies about bad government and fifty-three epigrams to him. Lucian
Lucian, born at Samosata, Syria, about 120, began as an apprentice to his uncle, a sculptor, then turned to the study of rhetoric. He practiced law unsuccessfully in Antioch before finding his forte in writing discourses. He also traveled widely in Macedonia, Asia Minor, Italy, and Gaul, where he lectured and wrote a satirical two-volume history that influenced François Rabelais and Jonathan Swift—he told of space ships and battles between moon men and sun dwellers, based in part on Greek scientific and philosophical thought on space. For that reason, some modern literary critics consider Lucian the first science-fiction novelist. His fame, however, rests on attacks on fraud in vigorous satirical dialogues, often imitated, that formed his most mature writing. He was an intellectual mocker.
In 165 Lucian settled in Athens to remain for many years; then, in spite of his expressed scorn for people who sell their opinions to the government, he accepted an official appointment to Egypt. Suidas, who calls him “the Blasphemer,” since “he alleged the stories told of the gods are absurd,” hands out poetic justice by declaring that Lucian died in Egypt about 200, torn to pieces by dogs. Most modern scholars, however, believe it more likely that he died in Athens sometime after 180.