Authors: Lucian

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Greek satirist and critic

ca. 120 ce

Samosata, Commagene, Syria (now Samsat, Turkey)

ca. 180 ce

Athens, Greece


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. {$I[AN]9810000117} {$I[A]Lucian} {$I[geo]GREECE;Lucian} {$I[tim]0120 c.e.;Lucian}


(Library of Congress)

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.

Author Works Nonfiction: Nekrikoi dialogoi (Dialogues of the Dead, 1684) Enalioi dialogoi (Dialogues of the Sea Gods, 1684) Theōn dialogoi (Dialogues of the Gods, 1684) Hetairikoi dialogoi (Dialogues of the Courtesans, 1684) Dikē phōnēentōn (The Consonants at Law, 1684) Lexiphanes Pōs dei historian sungraphein (History as It Should Be Written, 1684) Rhētorōn didaskalos (A Professor of Public Speaking, 1684) Pseudologistēs ē peri tēs apophrados (The Mistaken Critic, 1684) Demosthenous enkfmion (In Praise of Demosthenes, 1684) Pseudosophistēs ē soloikistēs (The Sham Sophist, 1684) De dea Syria (On the Syrian Goddess, 1976) Long Fiction: Alēthōn diēgēmatōn (A True History, 1634) Miscellaneous: Certaine Select Dialogues of Lucian, Together with His True Historie, 1634 Lucian’s Works, 1684 Works of Lucian, 1710–11 Bibliography Boissoneault, Lorraine. "The Intergalactic Battle of Ancient Rome.", 14 Dec. 2016, Accessed 10 Oct. 2017. Describes Lucian's True History and evaluates whether and to what extent it fits within the science-fiction genre. Branham, R. Bracht. Unruly Eloquence: Lucian and the Comedy of Traditions. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989. Discusses Lucian’s relation to Epicurean philosophy and to comic traditions. Emphasizes the role of laughter in a successful life. Branham, R. Bracht, and Marie-Odile Goulet-Cazé, eds. The Cynics: The Cynic Movement in Antiquity and Its Legacy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Collection of essays examines the ethical, social, and cultural practices inspired by the Cynics. Includes introduction, appendices, index, and annotated bibliography. Gay, Peter. The Bridge of Criticism: Dialogues Among Lucian, Erasmus, and Voltaire on the Enlightenment. New York: Harper, 1970. Written by an influential historian, this book shows how the satiric tradition has contributed to the freedom of thought. Georgiadou, A., and D. H. J. Larmour. Lucian’s Science Fiction Novel: True Histories. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1998. Contextualizes Lucian's Verae Historiae in the wider body of his work and elucidates the many allusions and parodies Lucian makes in that text. Highet, Gilbert. The Anatomy of Satire. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967. A history of satire, written by a great classicist. Offers a good introduction to the Menippian satire written by Lucian. Jones, C. P. Culture and Society in Lucian. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986. A careful study of social satire in Lucian’s dialogues. Discusses his historical context and his comments on the writing of history. Mcleod, M. D., ed. Lucian: A Selection. Warminster, England: Aris and Phillips, 1991. Includes critical comment on selected works. Marsh, David. Lucian and the Latins: Humor and Humanism in the Early Renaissance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999. A study of Lucian’s influence on later writers. Payne, F. Anne. Chaucer and Menippean Satire. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981. Provides background on Lucian’s tradition in satire and his influence on the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages. Relihan, Joel C. Ancient Menippean Satire. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. Discusses the early development of the sixteenth century literary genre Menippean satire, including its continuity from early classical roots. Covers Menippus, Seneca, Lucian, and other writers. Includes bibliography and index. Robinson, Christopher. Lucian and His Influence in Europe. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979. A study of Lucian’s times and works, with attention to his influence on the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Includes chapters on Erasmus and Fielding.

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