Conclusions from the International Conference "Lucian of Samosata, Greek writer and Roman citizen".

Pilar Gómez

The International Conference “Lucian of Samosata: Greek writer and Roman citizen”, organized by the research group GRAECIA CAPTA directed by Francesca Mestre, was held in the Ramón y Cajal room of the historic central building of the University of Barcelona on November 16, 17 and 18. The title of the conference, at which 14 papers were presented, is a general reflection of the two main currents of study of Lucian’s oeuvre: one focused on the discovery of his literary value, and another dedicated to situating Lucian in the world in which he lived and to examining his relationship with contemporary writers.

The inaugural talk was given by Carles Miralles, whose paper entitled "Del meu tracte amb Llucià" described the commitment of the Department of Greek Philology at the University of Barcelona to the study of Lucian and his work.

Lucian: the writer

In an era of applied rhetoric – to use the words of Reardon – Lucian appears as a far more flexible writer than his Greek contemporaries in his simultaneous use of literature from the past and the scholarly methods of the present, his writing always the product of complex literary construction.

The work of Jesús Ureña (Luciano y los ejercicios de preparación retórica) showed us how Lucian was trained in Greek paideia and how he used the rhetorical techniques learned during his schooling to develop and shape his own work. The presentation offered a general vision of Lucian’s techniques in preparing his work, paying particular attention to how these were applied in his literary creations and focusing above all on the use of humour as an important characteristic, how this was achieved and the public for whom his work was intended. This explains Lucian’s insistence that the use of techniques characteristic of a grammarian in his declamations and, as he claimed, in the dialogues, was a technique aimed at bringing his work as a writer closer to a wider public who lacked his high degree of training as a rhetorician.

Manuela García Valdés (Luciano: diálogo y compromiso intelectual), who also situated Lucian in his socio-cultural-educational context, devoted her presentation to defending Lucian’s ongoing pursuit of literary innovation, far from being a mere imitator, and to explaining how this search guides him towards other genres, particularly dialogue, which Lucian reworks in his own manner to express social commitment, his vision of the world. The hypothesis presented here is that of Lucian’s movement towards this new style in order to get closer to truth, to simplicity, to direct his work to a broader and less select public, justifying this change in literary direction as a product of cultural factors, rooted in popular, anthropological ideas closely related to comedy, which would account for his ludic, disrespectful style that can be seen as a direct expression of a world vision that went against the thinking of his time.

Mauro Bonazzi (Luciano e lo scetticismo del suo tempo), in his analysis of the view taken by Lucian of the scepticism of his time, also spoke of the adaptation shown by Lucian who, throughout his work, moves between periods which focus greatly on the doctrine of the sceptics and others in which his approach is altogether more generalist. Bonazzi gave a clear explanation of how misinterpretations are to an extent due to the position of scepticism during the first age of the Roman Empire, of associating the Greek Academy with Pyrrhonism; errors also arise from the fact that the apparent influence of contemporary thinkers in Lucian’s work does not necessarily reflect his adherence to any particular doctrine, but rather indicates a tone of general, restrained scepticism; a form of moderate, urbane scepticism given that Lucian generally criticises any form of dogmatism and, as a common man, seeks a philosophy that is more suited to life itself, to the needs of society.

In general terms, criticism of the attitude displayed by the philosophers was also the subject of the work presented by Pilar Gómez and Montserrat Jufresa (Llucià a taula: aliments i simposi), in this case focusing on his condemnation of the philosophers for their undignified behaviour at the banquet, described by Lycinus which is created in the literary tradition of the Socratic-Platonic symposium, and inspired by the mythical wedding feast of Pirithous attended by Centaurs and Lapiths. In his destructive depiction of the banquet in Symposium or The Lapiths, Lucian makes use of parody, which is why the paper focuses particularly on how he presents certain key figures in the symposium tradition, while also analysing this work as one more example of the fusion of philosophy and comedy, given the way in which this genre deals with the desire to satisfy basic needs, among which sustenance is of particular importance.

Baudouin Decharneux (Lucien de Samosate: un libre penseur avant l'heure?) also insisted on Lucian’s ferocious criticism of all schools of philosophy, given the contradiction he observes in all of them between “saying” and “doing”, an attitude that can be defined are purely sophistic. Lucian’s criticism, it was argued, contains an implicit outcry for the mos maiorum in the religious context of the time, characterised by an outburst of superstition and new religions – including Christianity – in a search for conscience, for introspection to provide answers to fundamental questions that are also undoubtedly the object of philosophy. It was also considered that in works whose authenticity is doubted by many, it is still possible to make out a far more radical and direct criticism of those trends of thought and action that diverged from a vision closer to the rationalism of other eras.

Lucian’s mocking of superstition and magical rituals is also apparent in Lucius, or the Ass. Tim Whitmarsh (Pleasures of the Ass) showed us some of the dangers entailed in such practices. Indeed, Lucius is particularly interested in the use of metamorphosis to assume different forms in order to learn about other ways of life. For Lucius, these new forms are the source of innumerable pleasures because the transformation is merely physical and his mind remains unaltered. However, Lucius wishes to recover his physical condition as a man when he discovers that the metamorphosis renders him unable to speak. At this point a duality emerges between the character who is unable to communicate and express himself and the narrator who, in the first person, recounts the events that unfold before him. The identity of the protagonist is linked to his name and it is therefore only when Lucius recovers the ability to utter his name correctly that he also recovers his identity as a man. The name of the first-person narrator – Lucius – creates the problem of to whom the work should be attributed, as shown in the text by Photius referred to by Whitmarsh at the beginning of his talk. We are once again witnesses of what could be a mask held up by the author, leading to the suspicion that Lucius could be another alter ego of Lucian-Lycinus.

The problem of how the author presents himself, the pseudonyms that are used, provided the central theme for the paper presented by Karen Ni-Mheallaigh (The game of the name: identity and fictionality in Lucian), who examined in detail Lucian’s skill in choosing the precise names of his different personae according to his own interest in disassociating and distancing himself as an author from the scenes of his own work; except for those cases – and the Verae Historiae are a characteristic example of this – in which it is openly recognised that the content of the narrative is entirely false, that is, when it falls into the category of ψεῦδος, so this “game of names” used by Lucian is a good illustration of the weight attached to the name of the author in the different types of discourse, whilst also emphasising the problematic role of the author in relation to works of fiction.

Lucian: the citizen

Catherine Darbo-Peschanski (Le genre historique selon Lucien: entre Grèce et Rome), who views the contrast of Lucian the writer and Lucian the citizen from the perspective of history as a literary genre, introduced us to the study of Lucian as a man of his time, as dealt with by the remaining papers presented at the conference. Initially from a diachronic perspective, the meaning of the different terms related to the semantic field of writing and history (συγγράφω, συγγραφεύς, ἱστορία…). Using the example of Lucian’s work How to Write History, she then presented the different classifications and extensions of the term "history" with respect to the influence of rhetoric and grammar, from which Lucian can be seen as an author whose great knowledge of the culture of rhetoric leads him to experiment with the use of rhetorical categories and to redefine genres. In a deliberate confusion between the term as a genre and as a type, Lucian creates the possibility of introducing imaginative works into historical accounts, whilst the appearance of eulogies in historical accounts can be attributed to his own stance on history and politics. Darbo-Peschanski uses Greek categories to provide a necessary specification of the importance of imagination in the literature of Lucian.

The theme of the journey was introduced by Javier Gómez Espelosín (Luciano y el viaje: una estrategia discursiva) as another form, a strategy used by Lucian to distance himself from the reality described in his works. The motive for the journeys does not therefore have a narrative function but rather a literary one, since Lucian in fact decried those authors that produced this type of work. This is not to say that Lucian’s work does not reveal some information relating to journeys that may be derived from his personal experience, and not merely from his wide reading, although Lucian appeared far more interested in fantastic, remote places (high in the air or deep underground) than in the mere description of the journey. Yet at the same time we must be able to justify the desire for a fabulous description of the journey found in the Verae Historiae. Again, this presentation dealt with the relationship between truth and invention in the work of Lucian.

Nevertheless, beyond the use of the journey as a literary strategy, and despite that fact that this was of little importance in his writing, Lucian did in fact travel throughout the Empire and a number of works can be dated to the periods of his travels. For example, How to Write History was composed during his stay in Antioch accompanying the emperor Lucius Verus, as were On Dancing, Essays in Portraiture and Essays in Portraiture Defended. These works were dealt with by Alain Billault (Lucien, Lucius Verus et Marc Aurèle), who argued that they were written to honour and praise that emperor, a man with a particular interest in eloquence, to renounce the writing of history as a vulgar flatterer of imperial power. Similar thinking motivated Lucian to write the Apology, a work composed during the reign of Marcus Aurelius and during Lucian’s time spent in Egypt working as a civil servant of the empire. Billault defended the virtuosity of Lucian in being a writer who did not ignore imperial power without losing something of his own dignity. In Essays in Portraiture, Lucian again turns to his game of identities through the use of the narrator Lycinus.

On the Egyptian period, Alain Martin (Lucien et l'Egypte), supporting the hypothesis of Lucian’s position as an archistator, gave an illustrative and thought-provoking account in which he defended the importance of Lucian as a source of original and direct information about certain aspects of Egyptian civilisation and culture, such as the representation of the River Nile, the celebration of funerary banquets or the state of prisons in Egypt. His study not only referred to passages from works by Lucian but also made use of archaeological documents and papyri; this contribution of realia to the subject is particularly interesting when dealing with an author as difficult to categorise as Lucian, as far as creation, fiction, dissimulation and reality are concerned.

The contact with other peoples and his own identity as "Oriental" imbue Lucian’s work with a particular interest in linguistics, as was highlighted in two of the papers presented. Bruno Rochette (Lucien et la problématique des langues étrangères) explained the emergence of a linguistic consciousness in the work of a "foreigner" in which various attitudes can be detected: he is proud to be a barbarian; languages other that Greek, the indisputable language of civilisation, could also be considered; Latin is the other official language; there are languages that exist alongside one another. The theory proposed here is that the linguistic problem can be used to show how Lucian is again an innovator born of the school of paideia, since in dealing with language, he does not adopt that traditional disdain for the barbarians but rather shows a respectful and plural attitude to the great diversity of peoples in an ideal, cosmopolitan world.

Similarly, Francesca Mestre and Eulàlia Vintró (Lucien ne sait pas dire bonjour) looked at Lucian’s interest in the subject of language, using an anecdote about his period in Egypt referred to in prolalia Pro Lapsu which would be a tribute to the gods of health, Asclepius and Hygeia. This work describes a salutatio and a slip of the tongue when offering the greeting, particularly unfortunate under the established protocol of the time and which led Lucian to reflect, both comically and critically, on the mistakes that arise in the contact between two languages, in this case between the two "official" languages of the Empire – one cultural, the other political. This presentation also questioned whether establishing formulae is perhaps indicative of a Roman attitude to Greek tradition.

Finally, Professor David Konstan (Anacharsis the Roman, or Reality vs. Play) showed, from another perspective, the clash between Greek culture and Roman life, represented in this game of mirrors (so characteristic of Lucian) by a barbarian, Anacharsis. The example used here by Konstan is the value of physical preparation and athletic competition, prized by the Greeks as an artistic, even dramatic expression, in stark contrast to its utilitarian nature as a preparation for battle as conceived by the Romans, accustomed, as they were, to the bloody spectacle of gladiators.

Through its varied contributions, this conference has allowed us to review certain aspects of the work of Lucian of Samosata that had been studied previously, such as his bond with paideia and schooling, his literary innovations, the philosophical stance that he adopts, the relation between his writing and periods in his life or his vision of the world in which he lived and produced his work. We have, then, been able to develop a close understanding of an author who, as we saw so often during the conference, conceals within a single figure a complex game of masks and identities.