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Lucian (LEW-shen) grew up in the Roman province of Syria, during the reign of the emperor Hadrian. After being apprenticed to a sculptor, he became a student of rhetoric, at which he excelled. Earning his living as a traveling speaker, he delighted audiences with his satirical dialogs and parodies of the Greek literary and philosophical tradition.

Lucian belongs to the Greek intellectual movement known as the Second Sophistic (first to third centuries c.e.), whose models were the writers of Classical Athens. His writings are pervaded by cynicism, and he pokes fun at human gullibility and the pointless pursuit of wealth and power.

Eighty works survive, ranging from rhetorical exercises through a series of satirical dialogs, Theōn dialogoi (Dialogues of the Gods, 1684), to longer biographies of philosophers (Nigrinus) and religious charlatans (Peregrinus). Of particular interest are a treatise, Pōs dei historian sungraphein (History as It Should Be Written, 1684), and Hermotimus, which subjects Stoic philosophy to ironic scrutiny. His most celebrated work is Alīthōn diīgīmatōn (A True History, 1634), a parodic fantastic voyage to the Moon and the underworld, in which “nothing is true.”


Lucian remained popular through the Renaissance, and his A True History became the model for the fantastic journeys of Gulliver, Baron Munchausen, and Jules Verne.

Further Reading:

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.

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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