BMCR 2005.11.16

Lukian: Der Tod des Peregrinos. SAPERE IX

, Lukian, Der Tod des Peregrinos : ein Scharlatan auf dem Scheiterhaufen. Texte zur Forschung. Darmstadt: Wiss. Buchges. [Abt. Verl.], 2005. x, 257 Seiten ; 22 cm.. ISBN 3534158202 €29.90.

Some years ago, a group of young German classical philologists and scholars of ancient Christianity launched the new series SAPERE (= Scripta Antiquitatis Posterioris ad Ethicam et Religionem pertinentia) in which now some 10 volumes have appeared (speeches of Dio Chrysostom, treatises of Apuleius, Lucian etc.). The present volume has the same format as the others: an introduction; the original text with German translation at facing pages followed by a concise commentary; a series of essays on various aspects of the document; finally a bibliography and indexes. In the Introduction Baumbach and Pilhofer discuss standard matters such as the genre of De morte Peregrini, its place within Lucian’s oeuvre, and the principles underlying the text edition and translation. Hansen prepared the Greek text which is essentially identical to Macleod’s OCT and Harmon’s Loeb (the few deviations from the text in these editions are listed at pp. 12-13). The edition has no critical apparatus, but text-critical matters are discussed in the notes when they affect the translation and interpretation.

Pilhofer’s explanatory notes are concise but helpful for the beginning student or reader. In the first essay, Pilhofer sketches Lucian’s portrayal of the Christian communities in Palestine of which Peregrinus is said to have been a temporary member and even leader, before embracing Cynicism. Then Baumbach and Hansen describe Peregrinus’ career — that is at least what the title claims, but their contribution is more an analysis of the literary structure and qualities of Lucian’s treatise than a historical reconstruction of Peregrinus’ life, which they believe is made impossible due to the satyrical and polemical nature of the text. Hansen compares Peregrinus’ public suicide with other ‘Enszenierungen eines Selbstmordes’, especially that of Lucian’s own teacher Demonax, and argues that Lucian has turned Peregrinus’ tragedy into a Lucianic comedy. Gerlach writes at length on the various types of charlatan in Lucian’s works, and finally Baumbach sketches the reception history of De morte Peregrini from the Byzantine scholiasts through the curious work of Christoph Martin Wieland (1788) to our own time. This is a useful book that will certainly enable students who can read German to become better acquainted with a bizarre but fascinating work by a great satirist.

Nevertheless there are several points of criticism to be raised. In the commentary, Pilhofer very often offers nothing but long quotations from works by other scholars, especially from a work cited as “Nestle 1925”, though nowhere in the book (not even in the bibliography) is the reader informed which work by Nestle is referred to. In the commentary on Sect. 6 (by committing suicide Peregrinus “will leave us orphaned”) Pilhofer says that the striking parallel in John 14:18 (Jesus says that after his death “I will not leave you orphaned”) is “nicht nahe liegend”. Why not? In Sect. 11 Peregrinus is dubbed the ‘prostats’ of the Christians in Palestine; Pilhofer comments that this term is not found elsewhere in Jewish or Christian sources (61); in fact it is found several times in inscriptions as a designation of the leader of Jewish communities. Cobet’s conjecture ‘meta’ for the mss.’ ‘ton megan’ in Sect. 11 should not have been adopted (62) for it hardly makes sense in this context. In note 60 to Sect. 16, where Peregrinus is said to have been excommunicated because he ate forbidden food, Pilhofer suggests (with Nestle) that the reference is to sacrificial meat offered to idols, but it seems much more probable that it is to non-kosher food, the more so since the Christians he had been in contact with in Palestine may well have been Judaeo-Christians who kept the Jewish laws, a phenomenon that was still very common in the second century. The note on ‘adiaphora’ in Sect. 17 is much too short (69 n. 64). And why is there no commentary at all to the passage in Sect. 36 where Lucian says that Peregrinus, just before his death, “looked to the south, exactly as in a tragedy,” and said a prayer?

In his essay on the image of the early Christians in De Morte Peregrini, Pilhofer does his utmost to demonstrate (105-7) that in Sect. 14 ‘their first lawgiver’ is the apostle Paul, whereas the immediately following ‘crucified sophist’ is Jesus. I find this utterly unconvincing, for the idea that Jesus gave his followers laws is very common in early Christianity, but the idea that Paul did so is not. In their essay on the life of Peregrinus, Baumbach and Hansen remark that Lucian’s report that after his career as a Christian leader Peregrinus became a Cynic but did not stop playing the role of a Christian, cannot be a historical fact since “eine solche Doppelmitgliedschaft war in Wirklichkeit nicht möglich” (120). This is an unwarranted statement since we simply do not know what was possible and what was impossible in late antique religiosity; we are beginning to learn, however, that much more was possible in this sphere than we have been inclined to believe. Never say that something was ‘impossible’ in the religious world of late antiquity (as the late Morton Smith repeatedly warned me). But in spite of these critical remarks this book is very welcome.