Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.01.24

Manuel Baumbach, Lukian in Deutschland. Eine forschungs- und rezeptionsgeschichtliche Analyse vom Humanismus bis zur Gegenwart.   München:  Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2002.  Pp. 320.  ISBN 3-7705-3597-9.  EUR 34.90.  

Reviewed by Heinz-Guenther Nesselrath, Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen (
Word count: 2355 words

While being snubbed in his lifetime and almost totally ignored by Philostratus and other worthies of the Second Sophistic High Church, Lucian got his own sweet revenge later on, for not only in Byzantium but also in Western Europe he became one of the most widely read -- and often very much admired -- Greek authors of Roman Imperial times. In the last few decades, Lucian's impressive Fortleben in various epochs and regions has been the subject of a number of major studies.1 Now Manuel Baumbach (henceforth B.) has closed the gap which still existed with regard to German; he covers the fortunes (and ups and downs) which Lucian's reputation enjoyed (or suffered) in German culture and scholarship from the late fourteen hundreds to the 1980s.

A short introductory chapter (11-19) gives a survey of what is to come; a second short chapter, after outlining what we know (or assume we know2) about Lucian's life and career (19-21), concentrates on some main features of his writing, i.e. his use (or re-use) of Menippean Satire and his conception of satirical dialogue (22-25).3 Hereafter, B. enters the book's real theme and in a first major chapter looks into "Lucian's renaissance" in the works of the Humanists of the 15th and 16th century (27-51). After a brief survey of Lucian's fortunes in Byzantium (27f.) we get an outline of how Lucian entered the horizon of scholars and intellectuals in Western Europe. Already before 1500, there were not only many Latin, but also several German translations of Lucianic works; Lucian was acclaimed both for his humor and the moral lessons his writings seemed to convey, and not only did he inspire the production of satires, but his texts were also introduced into schools. To show Lucian's pervasive influence in 16th Century Germany, B. chooses three examples: Erasmus of Rotterdam (33-42),4 Melanchthon (42-45), and Ulrich von Hutten (45-48). Erasmus is the greatest Lucianist of his age, and some of his most famous works, Moriae Encomium and Colloquia Familiaria, are unthinkable without Lucian's influence.5 Melanchthon favored Lucian most of all for his usefulness in school; and von Hutten turned Lucian's satirical writing into a weapon of his own (both in Latin and in German writings) to attack backward-looking religious and political forces. B. concludes with some remarks about Lucian's reception by Zwingli and Hans Sachs, about the great importance of the Dialogues of the Dead both in literature and in art (Holbein) in the 16th century, and about the reception of Lucian's numerous descriptions of works of art, which inspired a host of contemporary drawings and pictures.

The next chapter deals with Lucian's fortunes in the 17th century; it is somewhat shorter (53-64) because interest in Lucian flagged, and his works became rather more controversial in the prolonged conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism. Even before the end of the 16th century, the Catholic Church put Lucian's works on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum,6 and the Jesuits started to banish Lucian from their schools (54). Other reasons for the waning interest in Lucian were a relative lack of philological productivity and an increasing replacement of prose satire by satire in verse. Still. Protestant schools in Germany kept Lucian in their curricula, especially his Dialogues of the Gods and Dialogues of the Dead. The Lucianic dialogue of the dead became a contemporary literary form, and the True Stories likewise provided a model for literary imitation (61). Contemporary France was even more interested in these Lucianic works (Cyrano de Bergerac, Fontenelle), and that in turn added to their importance in Germany (62-64).

The longest chapter of the book covers Lucian's influence in 18th century Germany (65-119); towards the end of that period Lucian reached his highest acclaim ever. B. sets out his material very clearly by dividing it into several subchapters. The enormous success of the dialogue of the dead (65-74) was partly due to an analogous earlier development in France (see above). In the two decades between 1718 and 1739 David Fassmann alone composed 240 dialogues of that kind, claiming Fontenelle as his inspiration, while Gottsched went back to Lucian himself, and other German authors followed him. This 'explosion' of dialogues of the dead in Germany (more than 500 were written in the 18th century) also led to a more general rediscovery of the dialogue as literary form (75-81), promoted again by Gottsched. Concomitant with this was the discovery of Lucian's works as models for a new form of witty journalistic writing and the return of prose satire to literary prominence (81-89). The longest part of the chapter, however, is naturally devoted to Wieland, the greatest German Lucianist ever (89-113). In a way comparable to Erasmus, Wieland discovered many parallels between the age of Lucian and his own, so that in his eyes what Lucian had to say could immediately be applied to the later 18th century. This was the main reason for Wieland's enormously successful (and widely acclaimed) efforts to render almost all of Lucian's works into German. B. gives a detailed account of Wieland's maxims for this translation (94-97) and the philosophic principles and intentions behind it (97-101); he also describes Wieland's extensive introduction to the translation, which became enormously important for the way Lucian was perceived by German intellectuals in the early 19th century (102-111) and last but not least draws our attention to works by Wieland himself that were influenced by his intimate familiarity with his Greek model (111-13). The rest of this chapter is devoted to another great admirer of Lucian in this time, David Christoph Seybold (114f.), and the first important philological contributions to Lucian since Erasmus by Johann Matthias Gesner, who was the first to demonstrate that the Philopatris had not been written by Lucian (116-118).

The next chapter deals with Lucianic studies in early 19th century Germany (121-149). At first Wieland's translation did much to enhance Lucian's reputation (p. 121-124 describe the effect on Schiller and Goethe). The reform of high school ("Gymnasium") education in Prussia in 1812 provided ample scope for the reading of Latin and Greek authors in the schools, and, in the first decades of the 19th century, Lucian's writings (especially the Dialogues of the Gods and the Dialogues of the Dead) were widely taught (124-128). But when Wieland's reputation waned, Lucian's became endangered, too. Wieland had meant to do Lucian a favor when he compared him to Voltaire; but this comparison came back to haunt Lucian, as it increasingly contributed to depict his wit as negative and destructive (130-137). A new German translation of the whole oeuvre by August Pauly in the late 1820s remained more or less true to the spirit (if not the wording) of his great predecessor (137-139), while a new monographical introduction (Karl Georg Jacob, Characteristik Lucians von Samosata, 1832) actually tried to defend Lucian against the slowly increasing ranks of his detractors and even credited Lucian with undertaking something like 'educational reform' in his age (139-144). Jacob's picture of Lucian, however, was strongly called into question by Karl Friedrich Hermann,7 who still appreciated Lucian's entertaining and witty qualities but at the same time saw him as part of an age of decline; and a similar judgment was expressed by A. Wissowa (144-149).8

Having described the slowly rising controversy within the Classics about Lucian's worth, M. then turns to the debate that developed between Classics and Theology in the 19th century (151-200), which had repercussions for Lucian's place in the school curriculum. Interestingly, there were theologians like Johann Christian Tiemann,9 who strongly recommended reading Lucian (including even the more frivolous passages as being conducive to the sexual enlightenment of young people), and August Kestner,10 who interpreted Lucian's satirical attacks against the traditional gods as preparing the way for Christianity (he even attributes some crypto-Christian tendencies to Lucian); but others11 stuck to more traditional interpretations of Lucian as an anti-Christian and mainly destructive voice (and found material for this even beyond De morte Peregrini). Still others12 tried to mediate between these two camps, characterizing Lucian's satire as mostly harmless joking and seeing him earnestly attached to bringing out the truth; but this line of interpretation could also stress the destructive side of his writing.13 And still the debate went on. In the 1870s new defenders appeared to absolve De morte Peregrini from its presumed anti-Christian bias14 or at least play down its ridiculing tendency.15 All this, however, could not stop the slow erosion of Lucian's position in the schools, although this development was not linear and there were temporary reverses (181-187; 193-200). While losing ground in the Gymnasium, Lucian enjoyed increasing interest in university research, but this, alas, in the long run contributed to his declining reputation. B. rightly stresses the importance of Jacob Bernays' book 'Lucian und die Kyniker' (188-193); Bernays more or less ended the controversy about De morte Peregrini, but at the same time he put forward -- in strong and very persuasive terms -- such a dismissive judgment of Lucian's intellectual qualities that the target of this judgment would not recover from this condemnation for a hundred years.

The last chapter (201-243, under the witty title "Lucianus quinquies accusatus") is devoted to Lucian's fortunes in 20th century Germany. B. distinguishes five reasons why those fortunes sank to their lowest ebb. In the wake of Bernays, German classicists like Wilamowitz, Hirzel, and Helm dismissed Lucian as a totally nihilistic author and a mere 'journalist' (201-206). It did not help that Lucian's age was considered -- even more now than had been the case earlier -- a period of ever increasing decline and that parallels between it and the age of Wieland (as a period markedly inferior to the following classicism of Schiller and Goethe) were very much stressed (206-209). Also satire, one of Lucian's principal modes of expression, was rejected as obsolete and not on a par with other literary genres, a development that had already begun in the 19th century (209-214). Related to this was an increasing tendency to compare Lucian to Heinrich Heine, whose satirical works did not enjoy much favor either (214-217), and at the end of the 19th century, anti-Semitic sentiments crept in, depicting Lucian as an 'Oriental' and 'Syrian' totally devoid of character and principles (217-219). Finally the last blow was dealt by Rudolf Helm (in: Lucian und Menipp, 1906), who tried to show that this author did not have even the slightest claim to literary merit and originality, having taken everything that is worthwhile in his writings out of the works of Menippus (220-224). Though this judgment was soon taken over by others, Lucian still enjoyed a certain reputation among the broader public, not least because Wieland's translation (and others) were republished, and there were even attempts to judge his 'journalistic' qualities positively (226-233); in 1918, the German satirist Tucholsky celebrated Lucian's irreverent humor and invective in a poem. The professional representatives of German Classical studies, however, were not impressed, and Helm's negative judgment continued to dominate their attitudes more or less until the 1980s (234-237). At last, however, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. In the last section of this chapter (238-243), B. shows how the dismissive attitude towards Lucian's age has given way to a fresh interest in this period and how at the same time Lucian himself is no longer seen as a bookish reworker of stale themes and motifs, but as a prominent -- and individualistic, at times even idiosyncratic -- representative of his times.

All these ups and downs in Lucian's fortunes are described by B. with a wealth of detail and in a clear and lively style that makes for an always pleasant, at times even entertaining read.16 He is very adroit, too, in interspersing his narrative with well-chosen quotations, although in these the greatest weakness of the book is found. In a high number of instances (as far as I was able to check), these quotations are full of inaccuracies, ranging from slight orthographical mistakes to rather more serious distortions of whole phrases. I give a few examples where I give (in abbreviated form) a quotation as B. presents it, adding the original and correct wording in double square brackets.

On p. 139f., he quotes from K. G. Jacob, Characteristik Lucians von Samosata, 1832, p. VI f. (not "VI" as he states in n. 71): "[...] man tadelt an ihm [Lukian] [...] seine Lebensansicht, die blos [[bloss]] zerstörende Richtung seiner schriftstellerischen Thätigkeit ... und vor allem der [[seinen]] Hass gegen Alles, was Glaube und Anbetung hiess, der ihn auch dazu trieb, ... einen kalten, trostlosen Atheismus an der [[die]] Stelle des religiösen Glaubens ... zu sehen [[setzen]]. ..."

On p. 190, he quotes from J. Bernays, Lucian und die Kyniker, 1879, p. 2: "Vielleicht würde die gegen den [[die]] Kyniker gerichtete Haupttendenz der Schrift längst zu allgemeiner [[allgemeinerer]] Anerkennung gelangt sein ..." On p. 191f., he quotes from the same work, p. 43. "Kein Leser des Lucian hingegen wird es sich wohl je [[delete 'wohl je']] verhehlen können und hat es sich wohl je verhehlt, dass er eben so wenig die philosophischen Systeme, die er verspottet, wie das epikureische, das er schliesslich erwählte, jemals in ihrem organischen Zusammenhang zu ergründen auch nur Anstalt gemacht [[add: 'hat']]."

On p. 222, n. 93, he quotes from R. Helm, Lucian und Menipp, 1906, p. 7: "Er [Lukian] war kein Charakter, und das ... trägt auch heute noch dazu bei, das Urteil über ihn negativ zu beeinflussen [['negativ zu beeinflussen' is B.'s own replacement for the original 'niedrig zu stimmen']]." On p. 223, n. 97, he quotes from the same work, p. 16: "... Wer das betrachtet [[beachtet]], wird Lucians eigene Fähigkeiten [[Fähigkeit]] ... nicht gar zu hoch anschlagen."

One has to suspect that considerably more distorted quotations of this kind lurk in the book;17 so if there should be a second edition (which would be desirable, given the interesting and otherwise well-presented contents), the author must be strongly urged to check every quotation and restore it to its original form; then one would have a truly reliable history of Lucian's fortunes in Germany, something which the entertaining writer from Samosata clearly deserves.


1.   Pride of place still belongs to Chr. Robinson, Lucian and his influence in Europe, London 1979; see also E. Mattioli, Luciano e l'umanesimo, Naples 1980; N. Holzberg, Willibald Pirckheimer: Griechischer Humanismus in Deutschland, Munich 1981; C. A. Mayer, Lucien de Samosate et la Renaissance française, Genève 1984; Chr. Lauvergnat-Gagnière, Lucien de Samosate et le Lucianisme en France au XVIe siècle: Athéisme et polémique, Genève 1988; M. O. Zappala, Lucian of Samosata in the two Hesperias, Potomac, Maryland 1990; D. Marsh, Lucian and the Latins: humor and humanism in the early Renaissance, Ann Arbor 1998.
2.   All in all, B.'s reconstruction of Lucian's life seems a bit too confident about the 'facts', because these 'facts' are mostly drawn from passages of Lucian's own work, in which a considerable amount of self-stylization must be assumed. To say, e.g., "at the age of forty Lucian turns away from the activities of a sophist" (21) gives too much credit to the statements found in Bis Acc. 32 (see also Pisc. 29, but contrast this, e.g., with Hermot. 13); in reality Lucian never stopped being a sophist, he only changed his literary means to attract attention. On the other hand, B. represents the one piece of evidence about Lucian's life not coming from himself too negatively (19): Galen (on Hipp. Epid. II 6,29) does not portray Lucian (if this Lucian really is our author) as a 'charlatan' but rather as a witty trickster who leads a pompous philosopher astray.
3.   B. regards this dialogue form as Lucian's own creation ("Eigenschöpfung", p. 22); a little later (p. 23 n. 17) he acknowledges that Plato and Dio of Prusa already employed comic elements in their dialogues but that Lucian did so "systematically". I am not sure that I know what that means; in any case Dio created a series of humorous dialogues centered around Diogenes the Cynic, and the relationship between them and Lucian's dialogues would surely merit further study.
4.   This section does not replace the substantial chapter in Robinson (above, n. 1), 165-197, where much more can be found on how Erasmus used Lucianic techniques of dialogue and satire to create his own works.
5.   B. also draws attention to the Latin translations of Lucianic works that were produced by Erasmus in cooperation with Thomas Morus (34f.); he does not mention, however, that these translations are now handily collected in the first volume of the new Dutch Opera omnia-edition of Erasmus' works: Opera Omnia Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami I, 1: Ordinis primi tomus primus. Edited and annotated by K. Kumaniecki (Warsaw), R.A.B. Mynors (Oxford), C. Robinson (Lancaster) and J.H. Waszink (Leyden), Amsterdam, 1969, containing (among other works) 'Luciani compluria opuscula ab Erasmo et Thoma Moro interpretibus optimis in Latinorum linguam traducta'.
6.   B. states (54) that only a small part of Lucian's oeuvre (namely De morte Peregrini and the Philopatris, then still considered Lucianic) was explicitly put on the Index, but he has apparently not read F. H. Reusch, Der Index der verbotenen Bücher, Vol. 1, p. 228 (whom he cites), carefully enough. Here is the relevant passage: "Im Röm.[ischen] Ind.[ex] steht seit P. [= the Index of Pope Paul IV of 1559] ... in der 2. Cl.[asse] Luciani Samos. Dialogi Mors Peregrini et Philopatris. S. [= Pope Sixtus V in his index of 1590] fügte: et ejusdem dialogi vernacula lingua impressi, und zu dem ganzen Artikel d.c. [= donec corrigatur] bei, was aber von Cl. [= Pope Clement VIII in his index of 1596] gestrichen wurde." So by 1590 the condemnation of the two works cited had been extended to all "dialogi vernacula lingua impressi", and in 1596 even the possibility of a sanitized edition (hinted at by the note "donec corrigatur") was abandoned. This basically confirms Robinson's statement (above n. 1, 98) that in 1590 Lucian's whole oeuvre was vetoed by the Index.
7.   K. F. Hermann, Zur Charakteristik Lucians und seiner Schriften, Gesammelte Abhandlungen ..., Göttingen 1849, 201-226.
8.   A. Wissowa, Beiträge zur innern Geschichte des zweiten nachchristlichen Jahrhunderts aus Lukians Schriften, Programm Breslau 1848, 3-18.
9.   J. C. Tiemann, Ein Versuch über Lucians Philosophie und Sprache, Zerbst 1804.
10.   A, Kestner, Die Agape oder der geheime Weltbund der Christen, Jena 1819.
11.   E. g. H. C. A. Eichstädt, Lucianus num scriptis suis adiuvare religionem Christianam voluerit, Jena 1820.
12.   E. Nordtmeyer, Num Lucianus in scholis legendis sit quaeritur, Celle 1845; A. Planck, Lucian und das Christenthum, in: Theologische Studien und Kritiken 24, 1851, 826-902.
13.   J. L. Hoffmann, Lucian der Satiriker im Hinblick auf Glauben und Leben der Gegenwart geschildert, Nürnberg 1857.
14.   C. Pohl, Ueber Lucian und seine Stellung zum Christenthume, Programm Breslau 1871.
15.   J. Sörgel, Lucians Stellung zum Christenthume, Programm Kempten 1875.
16.   The book is rounded off with a list of Lucian's writings, with titles given in Latin, Greek, and German (245-250); an appendix containing some examples of 18th century imitations of Lucian's Dialogues of the Dead by Fontenelle and Gottsched, a short 'Lucianic story' by G. W. Rabener (from 1755), and the beginning of Lucian's 'Cock' (Gallus) as translated by Waser, Wieland, and Pauly (251-266); an ample bibliography (267-309); and, finally, two indices of Lucian's writings and of persons cited in the text (311-320).
17.   On p. 207 B. manages to quote incorrectly a work in his text ("Steinbergers Wieland und Lukian), which he quotes correctly in a note on the same page ("Steinberger, Lucians Einfluss auf Wieland). On p. 213, he seriously misunderstands a Latin sentence he quotes in n. 54, stating that the author of this sentence "stellt Lukian ... qualitativ unter die römischen Satiriker", while he in fact does the opposite ("Neque vero his [Horace, Persius, Juvenal] longe superiorem esse urbanitate et amoenissima dicacitate Lucianum negabimus"). On p. 243 he misquotes a sentence from my book 'Lukians Parasitendialog, 1985, p. 1, replacing the original "wesentlicher Grund" bei "Hauptgrund" (which is not far off in meaning, but still not the same).

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