BMCR 2008.04.28

In Search of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice: The Traditional Tales of Lucian’s Lover of Lies

, In search of the sorcerer's apprentice : the traditional tales of Lucian's Lover of lies. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2007. ix, 310 pages ; 24 cm. ISBN 9781905125166 $69.50.

In the present volume Daniel Ogden offers a study of Lucian’s Philopseudes that focuses upon the (mostly) fantastic narratives with which the interlocutors earnestly regale one another. Since the dialogue is rich in traditional stories and since no English-language commentary on it was previously available, the study fills a gap in the literature on Lucian and on ancient traditional narratives.

Ogden addresses the most important stories in the Philopseudes individually, allotting each narrative a chapter of its own (pp. 65-270). The immediate sources of the tales are generally unknown, but most of them have ancient analogues or near-analogues, suggesting in any case that they were traditional, although Lucian’s versions usually constitute the earliest attestations that we have. Ogden largely builds upon the foundational researches of earlier scholars here, especially upon the work of Ludwig Radermacher, but he not infrequently reaches conclusions different from those of his predecessors or broadens the discussion by adducing additional materials. The ten little studies are preceded by a general introduction (pp. 1-44) and, conveniently, by a rendering of the Philopseudes into English (pp. 45-64). A brief conclusion (pp. 271-273) sums up the author’s principal findings.

The Philopseudes is, Ogden argues, essentially ironic and ludic. With its tales and its literary allusions it is intended principally to entertain. Overall the dialogue mimics “natural and organic conversation,” so that some narratives are embedded within others, others are unfinished, and so on, without a grand design. The characters are almost without exception Lucianic stock-types. The host Eukrates resembles characters of this name in other works by Lucian in being a “rich, generous and salon-keeping elderly man.” His philosophic guests tend to be characterized by their schools: Ion the Platonist, Kleodemos the Peripatetic, Arignotos the Pythagorean. But there are exceptions, for Deinomachos the Stoic contributes no story to the conversation and does not resemble Lucian’s other Stoics, nor is Antigonos the Hippocratic a character-type. As for the skeptical Tychiades, Ogden gently rejects the usual identification of this figure wholly with Lucian as being too unsophisticated a stance, preferring to characterize Tychiades rather as one of Lucian’s types who is Epicurean-like and Lucian-like. What Ogden finds missing in this cast is a Cynic philosopher, Lucian’s favorite and certainly a handy sort of character for a satirist. Ogden argues that Lucian chooses rather to saturate much of the dialogue with Cynic imagery: if a Cynic spokesman is not present in the form of a character, Cynic references are sprinkled throughout the dialogue.

Although the chapters on the individual stories are too detailed to be summarized adequately, I attempt to convey some sense of their content.

Chapter 1, The Chaldaean Snake-Blaster (11-13), deals with Ion’s report of a Chaldaean who cured an agricultural worker of a serious snake-bite, after which the Chaldaean summoned together the vipers in the vicinity and blew upon them, destroying them. Ogden cites a passage in Lucan about the African Psylli, who cure snakebites by means of saliva, incantations, and sucking, but most of his proposed analogues are later hagiographic legends that feature the slaying of a dragon and the revivification of a person whom the dragon had overcome. He also examines still later Tyrolean legends of a snake-charmer who rids a region of a plague of snakes.

The next chapter, The Hyperborean Mage (13-15), investigates Kleodemos’ story of a magician whose erotic magic caused a particular married woman to rush into the arms of the youth Glaukias, who desired her. Ogden’s comparanda include the story of St. Cyprian and St. Justina, in which erotic magic is unsuccessful, as well as erotic-attraction texts found in the Greek magical papyri (PGM) that amount to implied narratives. He also takes up other details in the Lucianic story. For example, since Hyperboreans were not especially associated with magic, why is the magician a Hyperborean?

The third study, The Syro-Palestinian Exorcist (16), concerns a particular exorcist whom Ion witnessed in action, along with the exodus of the demon. The scene matches recurrent features of other ancient exorcisms, which appear mostly in Judaeo-Christian contexts.

Chapter 4, The Animated Statue of Pellichus (18-20), has to do with Eukrates’ account of a particular statue in his house that becomes animated at night, touring the house on its own. The statue also cures illnesses, in connection with which people leave him coins. Once when a Libyan slave stole the coins, the statue punished him severely. Ogden shows that Lucian’s account of the statue that comes to life parodies in part a cliché of ancient ekphrasis, which in the case of statues emphasizes their lifelikeness.

The next study, Eucrates’ Vision of Hecate (17, 22-24), is a memorate concerning an experience that Eukrates recalls having one midday in the woods. He encountered a terrifying manifestation of Hekate but sent her back to the underworld by means of a magic ring, catching however a glimpse of the lower world when the earth briefly gaped to receive the goddess. A somewhat similar experience is described in a passage in Herakleides Pontikos, in which a man had a noontime vision of Plouton and Persephone, and both accounts share some features with the vision that, according to Pliny, Curtius Rufus had of Lady Africa. Other topics taken up in this chapter include the magic ring, the attributes of Hecate, the details of the underworld, and Cynic themes.

In Chapter 5, Cleodemus Dies Before his Time (25-26), the Peripatetic philosopher contributes a second story, according to which he died and was escorted to the underworld, but Plouton quickly perceived that a mistake had been made, so that Kleodemos rejoined the world of the living and his unfortunate neighbor Demylos died instead. The theme of anabiosis in this story prompts Ogden to consider some of the many ancient accounts of what are now called near-death experiences, wherein someone dies, or apparently dies, and revives again, often in possession of some information from or about the other world. The “mistaken escort,” as Ogden calls the narrative, is (or was) a stable international story-type, as is shown by clear and close analogues in Greek, Latin, and Indian authors.

Chapter 7, Eucrates and the Ghost of Demaenete (27-28), examines the third story narrated by the host, Eukrates. The ghost of his deceased wife once appeared to him with the complaint that she had been burned on the pyre without one of her sandals, which had been overlooked. Here the obvious analogue or perhaps even source is Herodotos’ story of Periander and the ghost of his wife, Melissa, who complained to him of her inadequate wardrobe in the other world.

The next chapter, Arignotus and the Haunted House (29-31), focuses upon a narrative for which, like the story of the near-death experience in Chapter 5, there is abundant comparative material. The earliest attestation is the fictive report in Plautus’ Mostellaria, but the best known variant is doubtless Pliny the Younger’s account of a haunted house in Athens.

Chapter 9, Democritus and the Wags (32), looks briefly at the only story contributed by the skeptical Tychiades, which is also the only realistic narrative of the lot. When the philosopher Demokritos shut himself up in a tomb to pursue his writing, some youths dressed themselves up as ghosts and tried to scare him, but without success. A similar anecdote was told of the imperturbable Sokrates.

The last chapter, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (33-37), takes as its subject the last, longest, and most famous story in the Lover of Lies. In opposition to scholars who claim that Eukrates’ account of his apprenticeship to a magician has no classical parallels, Ogden asserts that there are in fact several texts meriting comparison, including the prologue of Pseudo-Thessalos of Tralles and a fragment of Pseudo-Demokritos. Each of these texts tells of a youth who gains the confidence of a priest or magician and beseeches him to reveal his secrets. In light of the ancient parallels the author downplays the parallelism between Lucian’s story and the international tale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.1

Ogden concludes with a succinct summary of his observations about Lucian’s procedure in adapting his stories to the present work and his use of Cynic imagery.

Overall Ogden’s survey and evaluation of the scholarship on Philopseudes is careful, detailed, clearly set out, and backed up with generous reference to the scholarly literature, and his own frequently clever contributions to the discussion are founded upon impressively close observation of Lucian’s work and habits.

In many instances, however, I find the author’s identifications of tale-types not to be persuasive. Sometimes Ogden classifies together narratives that are not very similar; for example, in Chapter 2 a story of successful erotic magic and a story of unsuccessful erotic magic are said to belong to the same tale-type. Moreover, Ogden’s comparisons of texts typically mix together major and minor comparanda in a way that seems to me to obscure the comparisons. Some winnowing or hierarchical organizing would make the strengths and weaknesses of the comparisons easier to evaluate. Among smaller quibbles I mention only Ogden’s rendering (p. 59) of Lucian’s ἄνθρακες ἡμῖν ὁ θησαυρὸς πέφηνε as “. . .our treasure house has been shown to be coals,” in which “treasure house” surely should be rendered as “treasure,” reflecting the common folktale and legend motif in which an amount of gold acquired by the protagonist proves to be, or turns into, coal.

Overall Ogden’s In Search of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a very welcome contribution to the scholarly literature on Lucian’s Philopseudes and its tales.


1. The international tale is ATU 325* The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the most recent edition of the tale-type index: Hans-Jörg Uther, The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography, 3 vols. (Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2004). For Lucian’s haunted-house story see ATU 326α Soul Released from Torment.