Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The point of A True History, as Lucian explains in his preface, is to make fun of the extravagant lies put out by poets, philosophers, and historians who write about fantastic creatures and improbable events. Lucian probably has in mind such authors as Antonius Diogenes, whose Wonders Beyond Thule appears to have been a particularly notorious example of fictionalizing narrative. A True History, the author warns, is nothing of the sort; rather, everything in it is emphatically untrue. The reader, however, should enjoy it as a form of mental relaxation and because it makes fun of such earlier writers as Homer and Plato.

Lucian’s narrative of a sea voyage inevitably recalls the journey of Odysseus, and, in fact, there are many allusions to Homer’s epics throughout the story. In the second book, when the travelers are in the land of the dead, the narrator actually meets Homer and has the opportunity to ask him some questions. Lucian also frequently parodies philosophers. His description of the descent into the belly of the whale and the eventual reemergence into the open clearly makes fun of Plato’s myth of the cave, which elaborated on ideas of knowledge and perception. Throughout A True History, there are references to philosophical schools and the quarrels among them. The battle between the forces of the sun and of the moon, with their grotesque armies of hybrid creatures, can, for example, be seen as a satirical depiction of the arguments among philosophers about stars, their size and nature, their inhabitants, and their connections with the earth.

A True History is also a comment on the writing of history, a topic addressed specifically in a treatise entitled History as It Should Be Written, which was, however, itself a not entirely serious work. As Lucian outlines, his prime concern is the need for the historian to be truthful and to avoid the excesses of poetry and fiction. In A True History, he begins in a manner that suggests he is following his own precepts and that the narrator will be a careful recorder of facts and figures. Soon, however, the narrative becomes outright fantasy, as the ship of the travelers is carried...

(The entire section is 906 words.)