“Your toil will become light and amusing and your progress sure, if you will only read a little Lucian every day”*…
Lucian of Samosata, who lived from ca. 125AD to ca. 200AD, was an Assyrian writer and satirist who today is perhaps best remembered for his Vera Historia, or A True Story — a fantastical tale which not only has the distinction of being one of the first science-fiction stories ever written, but is also a contender for one of the first novels.
A True Story is a stylish and brilliantly conceived work of the imagination, and readers may still delight in its descriptions of lunar life forms and interplanetary warfare, its islands of cheese and rivers of wine, and its modernistic use of celebrity cameos. But by the time of its writing Lucian was already several years into a period of literary adventurism that had brought him considerable fame — and infamy — as one of the sharpest, funniest, and most original comic writers of the age. With the quartet of works consisting of Dialogues of the Courtesans, Dialogues of the Dead, Dialogues of the Gods, and Dialogues of the Sea-Gods, Lucian would not only scandalise some of the most influential and celebrated figures of the empire, but in what is perhaps the best-known of these, Dialogues of the Gods, he would also furnish the permanent decline of belief in the gods themselves…
Nicholas Jeeves tells the story behind the twenty-six short comic dialogues that made up Dialogues of the Gods– in which Lucian took the popular images of the Greek gods and re-drew them as greedy, sex-obsessed, power-mad despots– and their reception in the English speaking world: “Divine Comedy: Lucian Versus The Gods.” (Check out Jeeves’ new edition of the Dialogues here.)
* Thomas Linacre, Humanist scholar and teacher of Thomas More and Erasmus (who shared their mentor’s advice by leading the resurgence of interest in Lucian in the 16th century)
As we titter, we might recall that it was on this date in 1828 that Noah Webster copyrighted the first edition of his American Dictionary of the English Language. Published in two quarto volumes, it contained 70,000 entries, as against the high of 58,000 of any previous dictionary. Webster, who was 70 at the time, had published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, in 1806, and had begun then the campaign of language reform (motivated by both nationalistic and philological concerns) that initiated the formal shift of American English spelling (center rather than centre, honor rather than honour, program rather than programme, etc.). His 1828 dictionary cemented those changes, and continued his efforts to include technical and scientific (not just literary) terms.
With apologies, your correspondent will again be away for a few days, this time, to a connectivity- free precinct. (Who knew such a thing survives?) With luck, regular service should resume in about a week.