who lived in the second century CE and wrote amusing dialogue
s and absurd
tales. He has been enormously influential
, with the tales of Swift
and Thomas Love Peacock
and even early science fiction
having much of Lucian about them. Born at Samosata in Syria
in about 115, he studied as a barrister
but, being greatly interested in literature
, turned his rhetorical
training to better use, went to Athens
, then toured the Roman Empire
giving readings. He was a constant mocker
of all forms of superstition
, and bad philosophy
, and was sympathetic to the Epicurean
His most famous work is probably the Vera Historia (True History), in which his ship travelling beyond the Pillars of Hercules is caught up in a whirlwind and deposited on the Moon. He then gives a detailed description of the inhabitants, culture, and warfare of the Moon. This probably influenced Rabelais, More's Utopia, Swift, and the moon voyages of Casanova, Baron Munchausen, Verne, and Wells. It is itself strongly influenced (as is much of Lucian's work) by the comic playwright Aristophanes, especially in this case The Birds.
Other works are short sketches in which the gods visit earth and are amazed at the foolery of mortals, or conversations in the underworld between Charon and the newly deceased, or his own capture and trial by philosophers enraged by his treatment of them. For a modern equivalent perhaps think of Bob Newhart crossed with Tom Lehrer.
Lucian was also the James Randi of his day. He wrote an extensive attack on a contemporary prophet called Alexander, exposing in detail all the tricks and dishonesty Alexander used to fool his clients, create sham oracles, and attract a following. Lucian himself made experiments to prove fraud by submitting questions to the oracle in false names. Alexander was quite comfortable with most of the philosophical schools, such as Stoics and Aristotelians, who were quite willing to believe in higher powers. But he was bitterly opposed by Epicureans, atheists, and scientists, in an odd collaboration with Christians. Lucian records that Alexander set up religious festivals to serve his oracular god, and brought down curses on his disbelieving opponents: he would cry "Out with all Christians!" and the congregation would reply "Out with all Epicureans!".