Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.3.8

Odile Zink (ed., trans.), Lucien: Philosophes à vendre suivi de Le Pêcheur ou les ressuscités. Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1996. Pp. 123. ISBN 2-253-13991-2 (pb).

Reviewed by Heinz-Gunther Nesselrath, Institut für klassische Philologie, University of Bern.

This attractive little book forms part of a series called "Les Classiques d'aujourd'hui", which is described (on the back cover) as "un choix de textes courts, retenus pour leur intensité narrative ou pour l'exemplaire qualité de leur langue". The collection covers literatures of differentages and nationalities (two other anicent specimens are Longus' Daphnis and Chloe and Suetonius' Nero). The series is rather modest about its aims, trying to offer "une présentation réduite à l'essentiel -- sens des mots, des allusions et des références culturelles" (back cover, again). Within this frame, however, the present book succeeds rather well; indeed, one might call it a model for similar presentations of ancient texts in other modern languages for the Greekless and Latinless reader.

First, we get a crisp and clear introduction about "Lucien et son temps"(p. 9-18), giving a well-written and in general very reliable picture about Lucian's times and his achievements. One might raise a very few quibbles (on p. 10, Koine is not sufficiently distinguished from the Atticising Greek of Imperial times; p. 11 goes a bit far in asserting "A partir d'Hadrien, l'Empire à deux capitales: en face de Rome ... Athènes est celle de la culture"; again, on p. 13, it may be a bit one-sided to state that sophists dealt in their speeches with contemporary problems "en les dissimulant sous l'histoire de la Grèce" -- apart from Lucian's own forays against charlatans, what about e.g. Dio's Bithynian Speeches and Aristides' Against the dancers?; on p. 15, Zink may still believe too much the Suda's allegations about Lucian's failures as a lawyer at Antioch; and to call him a "moralist" [p. 16] may put him on too high a pedestal), but all in all the non-specialist will profit very much from these pages.

Next, more specific remarks about the two Lucianic pieces in this book (p. 19-30), again giving the reader a clear idea of what they are about. Whether, though, they form a "trilogie" (p. 19) together with Bis Accusatus, is questionable (Zink may have been led to think this, because the three follow each other in a number of manuscripts and editions -- which, however, tell us nothing about Lucian's original conception). On p. 24, the statement that Lucian in Pisc. 29 talks about "l'abandonde son métier d'avocat" (so, too in the translation itself, p. 82) seems a bit inaccurate; Lucian may just as well be asserting that he left sophistic rhetoric in general.

The translations themselves follow on p. 35-59 (Vitarum auctio) and p. 63-99 (Piscator); they are accompanied by explanatory footnotes which -- in case of bigger topics -- refer to a "Glossaire" (p. 101-114) where mainly the single philosophical schools and their founders (plus a few other terms like "comédie", "dialogue" etc.) are treated (the cross-referencing is rather good). The translation seems sufficiently accurate and readable at the same time1 (sometimes a slight colloquiality is discernible); the notes will be very helpful for the non-specialist and contain only few instances where they might have given a better reference or have got something wrong: p. 41, n. 3: The main reference for the confrontation between Solon and Croesus is surely Hdt.1,30-33 and not Plut. Sol. 27,1-5; p. 64, n. 3: the tragic fragment cited here is not from a Euripidean play, but already in Nauck an adespoton (now TrGF Adesp. 291); p. 78, n. 3: one might today rather shrink from calling Antisthenes the "founder" of the "Cynic school" (the same happens in the Glossaire, p. 103).

After the Glossaire, there is a "chronologie" (p. 117-120) in the form of four columns, placing side by side "événements", "philosophie", "rhétorique" and "littérature". With regard to the time-scale, a few items have been slightly misplaced ("La conquête romaine" is signalled a bit above the year-number 300; the famous Philosopher's Embassy of 155 is called "ambassade stoïcienne" and put next to the year 146; "naissance de Diogéne Laërce" is put between 200 and 250 A.D., which remains a debatable guess at best), but otherwise this chronology is a very helpful thing, again for the uninitiated. Last not least a short "bibliographie" (p.121-123) names a few editions and translations (in French and English) of the two Lucianic pieces and a smattering of secondary literature, mostly in French. The two German titles included (Lesky's Geschichte der griechischen Literatur and Der Kleine Pauly) suffer from a bit of dyslexia; Der Kleine Pauly is rather misleadingly called "Pauly-Wissowa (Kleine RealEncyclopaedie)" (the same happens on p. 17, n.3).

The attractiveness of the volume is considerably enhanced by some illustrations (in loose connection with the surrounding text); the wittiest of them (on p. 31) gives a picture of all the philosophers put on auction in Vit. Auct. plus the price they fetch. One map (p. 8) shows the Eastern Mediterranean and all the places of origin of the various philosophers treated in the two pieces; another map (p. 71) gives a map of Athens which helps the reader localize the various places of action in Pisc. In it, there is only one little blemish: Stoa Poikile is wrongly located to the north-east of the Stoa of Attalos; it is actually a bit to the north-west.2

Misprints are few.3 All in all -- discounting the few minor inaccuracies --, it is to be hoped that this presentation of two delightful Greek texts will waken the interest of many modern readers for the culture they came from; and may this volume see many sequels of its kind, not only in French, but in other modern languages as well.


1. With a few exceptions: In Vit. auct. 25 (p. 55, l. 7 from bottom) "pas du tout" does not render the note of alarm and dismay present in the Greek MHDAMW=S; in Pisc. 33 (p. 85, below the middle) "danser hors du temple" does not catch the right nuance of E)CORXOU/MENON, which rather means "giving away by dancing" ("trahiren dansant"?); Pisc. 48 (96, middle) LIXNEU/WN PERI\ TA\S PE/TRAS: perhaps "léchant les pierres" doesn't convey the right meaning here, either ("gormandizing about the rocks" Harmon).

2. See, e.g., The Athenian Agora. A guide to the excavation and museum, Athens 1990, p. 29 (map).

3. The most serious ones: p. 52, n. 1, l. 3 read "Icaroménippe, 24 (not: 311); p. 57, n. 2, l. 2 read "Aristote, Ethique à Nicomaque, 1177b31-34" instead of "1177b, 303"; in the "chronologie" on p. 118, read "Aigospotamoi" instead of "Aigos-Potamos".