A 17th-century fictional portrait of Lucian of Samosata
A 17th-century fictional portrait of Lucian of Samosata
Bornca. 125 AD
Samosata, Roman Empire (modern-day Turkey)
Diedafter 180 AD
probably Athens
OccupationNovelist, rhetorician
Notable worksTrue History,
Dialogues of the Dead, Dialogues of the Gods,
Dialogues of the Courtesans,
Alexander the False Prophet,
Sale of Creeds,
Philopseudes (which includes The Sorcerer's Apprentice)

Lucian of Samosata (/ˈlʃən, ˈlsiən/; Ancient Greek: Λουκιανὸς ὁ Σαμοσατεύς, Latin: Lucianus Samosatensis; c. AD 125 – after AD 180) was a rhetorician[3] and satirist who wrote in the Greek language. He is noted for his witty and scoffing nature. Although he wrote solely in Greek, mainly Attic Greek, he was ethnically Assyrian.[4][5] Lucian claimed to be a native speaker of a "barbarian tongue" (Double Indictment, 27) which was most likely Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic.[6]


Few details of Lucian's life can be verified with any degree of accuracy. He claimed to have been born in Samosata, in the former kingdom of Commagene, which had been absorbed by the Roman Empire and made part of the province of Syria. In his works, Lucian refers to himself as an "Assyrian",[7] and "barbarian", perhaps indicating "he was from the Semitic and not the imported Greek population" of Samosata.[8] There are more than eighty surviving works attributed to him – declamations, essays both laudatory and sarcastic, satiric epigrams, and comic dialogues and symposia with a satirical cast, studded with quotations in alarming contexts and allusions set in an unusual light, designed to be surprising and provocative. His name added lustre to any entertaining and sarcastic essay: more than 150 surviving manuscripts attest to his continued popularity. The first printed edition of a selection of his works was issued at Florence in 1499. His best known works are A True Story (a romance, patently not "true" at all, which he admits in his introduction to the story), and Dialogues of the Gods (Θεῶν διάλογοι) and Dialogues of the Dead (Νεκρικοὶ Διάλογοι).

Lucian was trained as a rhetorician, a vocation where one pleads in court, composing pleas for others, and teaching the art of pleading. Lucian's practice was to travel about, giving amusing discourses and witty lectures improvised on the spot, somewhat as a rhapsode had done in declaiming poetry at an earlier period. In this way Lucian travelled through Ionia and mainland Greece, to Italy and even to Gaul, and won much wealth and fame.

Lucian admired the works of Epicurus, for he breaks off a witty satire against Alexander of Abonoteichus, who burned a book of Epicurus, to exclaim:

What blessings that book creates for its readers and what peace, tranquillity, and freedom it engenders in them, liberating them as it does from terrors and apparitions and portents, from vain hopes and extravagant cravings, developing in them intelligence and truth, and truly purifying their understanding, not with torches and squalls [i. e. sea onions] and that sort of foolery, but with straight thinking, truthfulness and frankness.[9]


Main article: List of works by Lucian

There are 70 surviving works attributed to Lucian[10] He wrote in a variety of styles which included comic dialogues, rhetorical essays and prose fiction.

Lucian was also one of the earliest novelists in Western civilization. In A True Story, a fictional narrative work written in prose, he parodies some of the fantastic tales told by Homer in the Odyssey and also the not so fantastic tales from the historian Thucydides.[11][12] He anticipated "modern" fictional themes like voyages to the moon and Venus, extraterrestrial life and wars between planets, nearly two millennia before Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. His novel is widely regarded as an early, if not the earliest science fiction work.[13][14][15][16][17]

Lucian also wrote a satire called The Passing of Peregrinus,[18] in which the lead character, Peregrinus Proteus, takes advantage of the generosity of Christians. This is one of the earliest surviving pagan perceptions of Christianity. His Philopseudes (Φιλοψευδὴς ἤ Ἀπιστῶν, "Lover of Lies or Cheater") is a frame story which includes the original version of The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

In his Symposium (Συμπόσιον), far from Plato's discourse, the diners get drunk, tell smutty tales and behave badly.

The Macrobii (Μακρόβιοι, "long-livers"), which is devoted to longevity, has been attributed to Lucian, although it is generally agreed that he was not the author.[19] It gives some mythical examples like that of Nestor who lived three generations or Tiresias, the blind seer of Thebes, who lived six generations. It tells about the Seres (Chinese) "who are said to live 300 years" or the people of Athos, "who are also said to live 130 years". Most of the examples of "real" men lived between 80 and 100 years, but ten cases of alleged centenarians are given. It also gives some advice concerning food intake and moderation in general.

Lucian's Kataplous or Downward Journey was deathbed-reading for David Hume and the source of Nietzsche's Übermensch or Overman.[20]

There is debate over the authorship of some works transmitted under Lucian's name, such as De Dea Syria ("On the Syrian goddess"), the Amores and the Ass. These are usually not considered genuine works of Lucian and normally cited under the name of Pseudo-Lucian. The Ass (Λούκιος ἢ ῎Oνος) is probably a summarized version of a story by Lucian and contains largely the same basic plot elements as The Golden Ass (or Metamorphoses) of Apuleius, but with fewer inset tales and a different ending.


Lucian wrote in the Atticizing Greek popular during the Second Sophistic. He further imitated Herodotus's Ionic dialect so successfully in his work The Syrian Goddess that some scholars refuse to recognize him as the author.[21]


See also


  • Lucian, Works, Loeb Classical Library, 8 volumes.
  • Graham Anderson, 1976, Lucian: Theme and Variation in the Second Sophistic, Brill.
  • Graham Anderson, 1976, Studies in Lucian's Comic Fiction, Brill.
  • Adam Bartley, 2009, A Commentary of Lucian's Dialogi Marini, Cambridge Scholar's Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4438-0960-3
  • Adam Bartley, 2003, The implications of the influence of Thucydides on Lucian's Vera Historia, Hermes, Heft 131, pp. 222–234.
  • Jane Lightfoot, 2000, Lucian: On the Syrian Goddess, Oxford, University Press.
  • Daniel Ogden,2007, In Search of the Sorcerer's Apprentice: The Traditional Tales of Lucian's Lover of Lies, Classical Press of Wales.
  • D.S. Richter, "Lives and Afterlives of Lucian of Samosata," Arion (2005) 13.1:75-100.
  • P.P. Fuentes González, 2005, art. "Lucien de Samosate", in R. Goulet (ed.), Dictionnaire des Philosophes Antiques IV, Paris, CNRS, p. 131-160.
  1. ^ Guy G. Stroumsa (2009). "Transformations of Ritual". The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformations in Late Antiquity. The University of Chicago Press. p. 79. the pagan Lucian of Samosata, makes him one of our most precious witnesses about various "mystery" cults ((cite book)): |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  2. ^ howard D. Weinbrot (2005). "Introduction. Clearing the Ground: The Genre". Menippean Satire Reconsidered: From Antiquity to the Eighteenth Century. The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 18. the pagan Lucian was a "most execrable villain" who attacked both Christianity and religion in general ((cite book)): |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  3. ^ Paul of Samosata, Zenobia and Aurelian: The Church, Local Culture and Political Allegiance in Third-Century Syria Author(s): Fergus Millar Source: The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 61 (1971), pp. 1-17.
  4. ^ Frye, Richard N. (1992). "Assyria and Syria: Synonyms" (PDF). PhD., Harvard University. First published in Journal of Near Eastern Studies 51 (1992): 281–85. Reprinted together with a “Postscript” in Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies (JAAS) 11/2 (1997): 30–36. Lucian of Samosata…says (par. 1): "I who write (this) am Assyrian." ((cite web)): Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  5. ^ Simo Parpola, National and Ethnic Identity in the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Assyrian Identity in Post-Empire Times, Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, 2004, p.21
  6. ^ Simon Swain, 1996, Hellenism and Empire, pg. 299
  7. ^ Harmon, A. M. "Lucian of Samosata: Introduction and Manuscripts." in Lucian, Works. Loeb Classical Library (1913)
  8. ^ Keith Sidwell, introduction to Lucian: Chattering Courtesans and Other Sardonic Sketches (Penguin Classics, 2005) p.xii
  9. ^ Harmon, A. M. (1925). Lucian Volume IV (Loeb Classical Library)). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-674-99179-8.
  10. ^ The works of Lucian in eight volumes, edited and translated by A.M.Harmon, K. Kilburn and M.D. Macleod (Loeb Classical Library, 1913–1967)
  11. ^ C. ROBINSON, Lucian and his Influence in Europe, (London 1979) 23-25.
  12. ^ A.Bartley, 2003, The Implications of the Reception of Thucydides within Lucian's 'Vera Historia', Hermes Heft, 131, pp. 222-234.
  13. ^ Grewell, Greg: "Colonizing the Universe: Science Fictions Then, Now, and in the (Imagined) Future", Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, Vol. 55, No. 2 (2001), pp. 25-47 (30f.)
  14. ^ Fredericks, S.C.: “Lucian's True History as SF”, Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1 (March 1976), pp. 49-60
  15. ^ Swanson, Roy Arthur: "The True, the False, and the Truly False: Lucian's Philosophical Science Fiction", Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Nov. 1976), pp. 227-239
  16. ^ Georgiadou, Aristoula & Larmour, David H.J.: "Lucian's Science Fiction Novel True Histories. Interpretation and Commentary", Mnemosyne Supplement 179, Leiden 1998, ISBN 90-04-10667-7, Introduction
  17. ^ Gunn, James E.: The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Publisher: Viking 1988, ISBN 978-0-670-81041-3, p.249
  18. ^ Passing of Peregrinus at
  19. ^ Long Lives (macrobii), translated by A.M. Harmon (1913).
  20. ^ For discussion, see Babich, Babette: “Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and Parodic Style: On Lucian’s Hyperanthropos and Nietzsche’s Übermensch.” 58, 4 (November 2011 [March 2013]): 58-74.
  21. ^ Eerdmans commentary on the Bible By James D. G. Dunn, John William Rogerson Page 1105 ISBN 0-8028-3711-5