BMCR 2005.09.50

Loukianos: Satira philosophias kai philosophounton. Arkhaioi Syggraphes 65

, , Loukianos. Archaioi syngrapheis ; 33, 65, 156. Thessalonike: Ekdoseis Zētros, 2002-. volumes ; 20 cm.. ISBN 9607760816 €21.00.

This second contribution to the publication of Lucian’s works taken in hand by Ekdoseis Zetros provides readers with the ancient texts and modern Greek translations of the Vitarum auctio, Piscator, Convivium, Fugitivi and several sections of the Dialogi mortuorum. A beautifully produced book, it offers general and specific introductions and abundant explanatory notes to an undergraduate or motivated general reader first looking into Lucian’s cornucopia.

Zetros, whose spirited mission-statement can be read at its bright web-site (search using “zitros”), has already brought out a number of Classical texts in its dual-language series Arkhaioi Syngrapheis; that Sextus Empiricus, Demosthenes, Iamblichus, Hippocrates and Plutarch are holding their own against the more textbook-oriented drama and epic makes the series one deserving of attention. This latest volume is the second devoted to Lucian. It is a pleasing object: a little larger than a Loeb, a little smaller than an I Tatti or Budé, it has a satisfying heft, a sturdy scarlet binding lettered in gold. Thomas Gkinoudes’ carefully designed dust-jacket is elegantly simple and gracefully free from the usual promotional clutter. These are books which are sweet to the touch and rest pleasantly in the hand.

Demetrios Chrestides edited and annotated this and Zetros’ first volume of Lucian.1 Although he does not specifically define his intended reader, clearly he has in mind someone who has not previously studied Lucian or very much ancient philosophy, for he has taken pains to ease the reader into the texts through introductions both general and specific. In this new volume Chrestides has prefaced Lucian’s five works with a general description of the status of the study of classical philosophy in the early imperial centuries. Lucian’s was an age of scholasticism: Athens had become the omphalos of the four great schools of the Platonists, Peripatetics, Stoics and Epicureans, whose organization is coming to look mighty like the modern academic department. Every intellectual has studied a little philosophy, if not at school then through the handbooks of doxography. Chrestides outlines the historical situation with a light hand, then approaches with some discretion Lucian’s personal stance toward philosophy and its ideal role in life. The issue is a disputed one. After reviewing some of the scholarly positions which have surfaced in the twentieth century concerning Lucian’s own beliefs, Chrestides concludes with the observation that no matter what Lucian personally accepted as true, what we can most clearly observe in his work is the extent of his reading in philosophy and his facile manipulation of the dialogue format. A fairly brief bibliography of works dealing with Lucian and philosophy is appended to this general introduction. For more broadly ranging material, the reader is referred to the general introduction in Chrestides’ first Lucian volume in the Zetros series, where much more attention has been paid to the biography and intellectual development of Lucian, and where more information on the manuscript tradition can be found, including broader studies of imperial literature such as those of Bompaire and Reardon and well back into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition to the general introductions, readers of both volumes of Lucian will find shorter and more specific introductions with relevant bibliography immediately preceding each of the featured works. Chrestides includes scholarship in German, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin and Greek, even a few things in English; it pleases me to imagine the linguistic flexibility of his intended reader, given the tendency of the North American and British academic presses to mainstream English-language studies in introductory-level texts.

Like those from the Loeb, Budé, and I Tatti libraries, the Zetros editions present the ancient text double-spaced on the left-hand page, the translation more closely spaced on the right. The former appears here in italics, doubtless to offer a contrast with the modern Greek version. Palaeographic considerations and textual details are not given very much attention here, once again as one would expect given the intended market. Chrestides candidly states that his text represents “a personal selection made from among the various readings of the MSS, consonant with the testimonies of C. Jacobitz, A. M. Harmon, T. Beaupere, M. D. Macleod, J. B. Itzkowitz, and J. Bompaire.”2 That is, this text is constructed from the readings found in the old and new Teubners, the Loeb, the OCT , the Budé and the text of Itzkowitz’ edition of the Vitarum auctio and Piscator 3 Consequently there is no apparatus in the Zetros volume. At those points in Lucian’s prose where Chrestides has made a selection among readings which he feels deserves the reader’s attention,4 he discusses the reasons behind his choice in an end-note.

While these features of Chrestides’ work may seem to limit its usefulness to the undergraduate and generalist, what is going to keep it within reach on my bookshelf is the abundance and detail of its end-notes. These fall thick in all five sections of the work: 222 notes for the Vitarum auctio, 159 for the Piscator, 112 for Convivium, and 120 for Fugitivi; the pair of snippets from the Dialogi mortuorum come equipped with fifty. By way of contrast, I totaled up Harmon’s explanatory footnotes from the Loeb: Vitarum auctio has thirty-seven, Fugitivi only twenty-one. Clearly Chrestides is working much harder to help the reader through Lucian’s prose. What does he have in mind?

He is, in fact, taking seriously the complexity of imperial sophistic prose. Harmon’s off-the-cuff statement in 1913, that “rightly to understand and appreciate Lucian, we must recognize that … his mission in life was not to reform society, nor to chastise it, but simply to amuse it,”5 will not do. I do not mean to argue here for Lucian the social reformer, but I am quite certain that there is nothing simple about the fabric of Lucian’s text and that his exquisitely educated audience demanded something beyond the knock-knock joke. The intellectual sophistication of Lucian’s audience has been the subject of investigation for a number of decades now, at least since Marrou; and Lucian’s position within that milieu continues to generate such interesting discussions as that of Simon Goldhill in his recent study of the reception of Hellenism in Western Europe.6 And I would not be turning upon Harmon now to illustrate this old and simplistic picture of Lucian-as-Benny-Hill if it were not for the fact that Harmon’s Loebs are still so readily accessible on library shelves.

The images that imperial prose authors use of their own literary activities are drawn from industries and occupations which cunningly incorporate separate ingredients to make a heady blend; cookery, oenology, perfumery, the writing of choral music, tapestry-making are all drawn upon in their imagery. The literary results of such a blending of source materials and references is designed for the sophisticated connoisseur of books: one thinks immediately of the contrast in expectations between the consumers of cognac and Diet Coke, of Harper’s and Mad. When readers new to imperial Greek prose begin the reading of Lucian, they had better come to it with a substantial background in the Greek classics; second best would be to use a text equipped with adequate notes. Armed with the awareness of Lucian’s stylistic eclecticism,7 the reader should then be mindful of the fact that Lucian can and will parody the very eclectic style he practices.

Chrestides glosses practically everything glossable. In the case of these works from this author, I say this in admiration and appreciation. Let me give just one example. The Convivium is, of the five works presented in this volume, probably the most accessible to the general reader in terms of effect. Because Lucian is imitating pretty obviously the symposia of Plato and Xenophon in the opening scene, he gives a tip-o-the-hat to these authors at the beginning of his account of an evening which is going to be very different from Agathon’s swank victory celebration. The guests at Lucian’s symposium are a mix of posh society types and professors from the mainstream sects. There’s a Platonist in attendance, also a Stoic, an Epicurean, an Aristotelian; and then there’s Alcidamas, the Cynic, who behaves in a very impulsive manner: he crashes the gate, teases and badgers the other guests, strolls around the dining room eating and drinking whatever he likes, sits and lies on the floor, goes off half-cocked at the slightest provocation and must be placated from time to time with pastry and booze, exposes himself and urinates in front of the ladies, and feels up the musician when the lights go out. In literary terms, Alcidamas is something of a stock character; figures very like him wander through the banquets of Athenaeus, Alciphron and Macrobius, as Cynics acting out an extended etymological gag.8 To get Lucian’s gag the reader is going to have to be familiar with Diogenes Laertius or will need to be fortified with substantial notes. Harmon, presumably confident that his reader doesn’t need very much help at all, provides one brief note on the connection between dogs and Cynics, explaining why the professional comic hired for the party calls Alcidamas a “Melitaion kunidion.” Chrestides however does not let anything slip by the reader. In a quick survey I counted seven notes on Alcidamas’ doggy behavior alone, and they are notes of substance, packed with references both to ancient texts and modern studies relevant to the issue at hand.

Given the quantity, detail, and scholarly soundness of Chrestides’ annotations, we probably should categorize this and his preceding volume in the Zetros’ Lucian series more as commentary than translation. Chrestides, however, seems to be addressing his explanations to the reader of his translation; it is to the modern Greek version that he has applied his reference numbers, which may slightly disorient the reader working primarily with the ancient text. Once one grows accustomed to this format, however, the text is a pleasure to use. As a detailed commentary on these works of Lucian both volumes will be of great interest to North American scholars. For although Chrestides’ translations are both witty and sound, we are probably going to find that here the most attractive features are the ancient texts in a pleasing format at a very reasonable price, and equipped with a wealth of supplementary material.9

Demetrios Chrestides has published widely in Greek literature and the classical tradition and has contributed significantly to the scholarship of late antiquity and Byzantine intellectual history. He himself notes that one of the significant contributions he has sought to make in his editions of Lucian lies in his selection and arrangement of single works within individual volumes.10 Houses which publish the complete Lucianic corpus have tended to follow the order of the individual works as it appears in Vaticanus 90; this choice is not inappropriate, given imperial literature’s fondness for the non-structure of the miscellany. However, Chrestides’ aim is to group together works with similar themes, characters, and focus. The value of this approach to one preparing a class on Lucian is clear: discussions of genre and reception, techniques of characterization, stylistic analyses are all options when students have such companion pieces as the Vitarum auctio and the Piscator side by side in the same text, where Philosophy herself has a substantial speaking role, and where Cerberus the Dog can assess in company with Menippus the Dog the strengths and weaknesses of figures enshrined in the doxographic tradition.


1. Satira thanatou kai kato kosmou, containing the De luctu, Cataplus, Charon, Menippus and a number of the Dialogi mortuorum. This edition appeared in 2002 as volume 33 in Zetros’ Arkhaioi Syggrapheis collection.

2. Chrestides’ discussion of the choices made in constructing the text is found on page eleven of Satira thanatou kai kato kosmou.

3. J.B. Itzkowitz, A Critical Edition of Lucian’s Vitarum auctio and Piscator (Ann Arbor, 1974).

4. For example, in the distribution of lines of lamentation among the three naughty slaves at the end of Fugitivi.

5. A. M. Harmon, Lucian vol. 1 (London: Heinemann, 1913 [reprint 1979]), p. x.

6. The discussion of Lucian will be found in the second chapter and passim in Who Needs Greek? Contests in the Cultural History of Hellenism (Cambridge University Press, 2002).

7. The term is J. Bompaire’s; see the discussion on pp. 82 ff. of his Lucien écrivain: imitation et création (Paris: 1958).

8. We see the prototype in Xenophon and Plato as well, sans cynic tag; see Chrestides’ note 23 to Convivium, p. 378.

9. Sadly, neither of the Zetros texts of Lucian has an index, the presence of which would make them much more convenient for the scholar.

10. See his discussion on p. 10 ff. in Satira philosophias kai philosophounton.