Page images
PDF
EPUB

and style alike there is a sort of sameness which is rather wearisome to the reader; the same old simile quotation and even turn of phrase reappear more often than is palatable. As to his reading, he seems to have studied carefully most of the works of the old classical Greek authors, especially the Homeric poems, the plays of Euripides and Aristophanes, the histories of Herodotus Thucydides and Xenophon, and the dialogues of Plato.

[blocks in formation]

(8) The short piece known as the Dream must have been written by Lucian in his later middle age, when he revisited? his native town. He had left it poor and unknown; he came back rich and famous: and it is very likely that he may have been asked to address his fellow townsmen in public shortly after his arrival. Being struck with the deadness of provincial life and the want of enterprise in the youths of Samosata, he would probably think that he could not do better than give them a short view of his own rise, and stir their ambition by the force of his example. We may then suppose him to have told them the story of his dream, which may have been true or fictitious: it matters not. Afterwardswhether by request or not—he would write a report of his address for publication. This view of the origin of the paper before us is borne out by the direct appeal « ävdpes in § 5, un áncothonte in § 14, and by the whole sense and phraseology of SS 17, 18.

(9) On a careful examination of the piece I find little in it to praise. It is simple and easy to understand ; but the machinery of the dream is clumsy, and not even original, being evidently modelled on the famous fable of Prodikus called the choice of Herakles.' We may well believe that the remark

I See above $ 4.

put into the mouth of a bystander in § 17 may be not a mere fiction of the author but a plain report. To what a depth literary taste had sunk is well shewn by the allegorical description of his own travels in $$ 15, 16. When an eminent man, among the first writers of the age, could compose a passage so teeming with affectation and vanity, and then point complacently to his own superiority as compared with contemporary sculptors, we are sharply reminded of the intellectual dreariness of those days, of the barrenness of Philosophy and the degradation of Art. The modern reader will also be struck by another thing in connexion with the work; I mean the want of a sound core of facts bearing upon Lucian's life. We learn that he was destined to follow his uncle's trade or profession of Statuary; but that he abandoned this career at a very early stage and took to Liberal Education or Culture, and that through this latter he somehow rose to distinction and affluence. Little more is to be gathered as to the history of our author; and we can take but a very faint interest in the tedious details of the dream.

C. Charon.

(10) In order to give opportunity for setting forth in the form of a dialogue the views of a cynical observer concerning the world of men (ó Bios), their vain hopes and endeavours, their pride and inconsistency, their blindness to the doom that surely awaits all-death-, Charon the ferryman of souls is introduced to us as on a short furlough, paying a visit to the earth. And since the legends represented him as always present in the nether world, and by consequence strange to the earth, it was necessary to provide him with a guide, that he might be able ($$ 1-3, 24) to spend his time to advantage. Now dramatic propriety at once pointed to Hermes the guide of souls as the proper person to undertake this duty. Not only would his wide acquaintance with life on earth make him a valuable guide to any wanderer, but being also familiar with the world below he would be especially useful to Charon, seeing at once the point of his allusions and comparisons, and entering into his difficulties. Again, time being short, Charon must be placed where he may be supposed able to see both far and clearly. This apparently insuperable difficulty is overcome by the application of the Homeric mythology: Hermes soon finds out how to raise a scaffold of mountains, and charms away the mist from Charon's eyes by a timely quotation. Unless I am greatly mistaken, this introduction of the Homeric poems has its meaning. Lucian is really saying 'if you can accept the marvels of mythology, you can accept anything; hence if I come to a difficulty I have only to work in some of the myths with plenty of quotations from the Iliad and Odyssey, and you cannot complain of any absurdity.' In fact our author, while making the ridicule of human follies his main object in this dialogue, has a fling by the way at the popular religious conceptions. These latter are among the most common themes for his satirical pen.

(11) We now pass on to the panorama. First it is to be noted that the time chosen is somewhere in the sixth century BC, but strict chronology is set at defiance. Our attention is claimed by the figures, with the story and moral reflection attached to each : Milon (§ 8) the great athiete, glorying in his strength and forgetting that he must some day yield the victory to death : Croesus (S$ 10—12) the wealthy king of Lydia, claiming to have reached the summit of happiness, spurning the warning voice of Solonand unable to foresee the shameful end awaiting him : Cyrus and Cambyses ($ 13) either in his turn Great King of Persia, alike ignorant of the evil deaths in store for them: Polykrates (§ 14) tyrant of Samos in the height of his prosperity blind to his coming downfall. Charon remarks what fun it will be to see their humbled ghosts in the ferry-boat, stripped of all their splendour. Hermes then calls his attention to the common herd, the rank and file of mankind (8$ 15—20),

1 For a criticism of this story from Herodotus see Grote part II chapter 11.

the struggle and turmoil of their life ; how, blinded by ignorance and excited by a host of passions, wildly led on by fond hopes or depressed by unreasonable fears, they toil and fight, rob and swindle, buy land and build, marry and beget children, never giving a thought the while to the certain approach of death, nor heeding the inexorable Fates whose threads are surely spun to control the destinies of all. The higher men rise, the further have they to tumble : kings are no better off than cobblers : what then should make them fear death, their best friend ? Mankind, says old Charon, are even as the bubbles on a stream: soon or late all must burst and pass away. He is deeply moved by the spectacle, and proposes to cry aloud and testify against this foolish world. But his guide warns him that it is useless to preach to those who will not hear, and to tell an old story to those who know. And such is the case with men.

The philosopher has no choice but to withdraw in scorn from the thankless multitude ($ 21) and contemplate life from without. Charon now with a natural inquisitiveness desires to see ($22) the tombs in which men lay their dead. He is astounded at their funeral ceremonies and at the strange medley of inconsistent beliefs implied in them. Even the graves of Achilles and Aias are poor mounds of earth : cities too, the greatest of ancient times, have either disappeared (§ 23) already or are doomed soon to disappear. Spartans and Argives are fighting for a land which neither could though conquerors hold for long-but here we break off, with a parting comment from Charon and not a word about me!' This is in fact the keynote of the whole dialogue. Death and all that reminds us of death we set aside.

(12) The dialogue seems to me one of Lucian's best. Its literary merit is great, particularly in respect of the dramatic truth of the characters. Hermes and Charon are no lay-figures, but such as mythology painted them, and the ideas conveyed in their remarks are well suited to their supposed characters and ways of life. But the matter of the piece is singularly barren of any useful lesson.

The 'vanity of human wishes' is a theme which seems in all ages to call forth the sneers of the cynic or the commonplaces of the rhetorician. But in spite of sarcasms

a

and sermons we are much the same, for the plain reason that it is on a shortsighted hopefulness, a 'taking no thought for the morrow,' that most of the business of society depends for its performance : and this in turn rests upon our ignorance of the future, a failing which it is to be feared we shall never over.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

(13) The dialogue known as the Fisher is important to us chiefly as illustrating Lucian's attitude towards philosophy and especially towards the philosophers of his own day. In order to understand it we must give some account of the piece called Biwr apãous or the sale of the lives of the philosophers.' In that witty and interesting dialogue Hermes appears in the character of auctioneer, acting under the directions of Zeus, and disposes of seven philosophers like slaves by open sale: the principles and capabilities of each are of course sold with him, much in the same way as slaves were sold at prices varying according to their strength and accomplishments. Hence the name βίων πράσις, and the words of Hermes τον άριστον βίον two. Ten philosophers in all are put up, of whom Aristippus Democritus and Heraclitus remain unsold. The rest go off at very various prices : Socrates fetches two talents (nearly £490), Chrysippus 12 minae (nearly £50), Pythagoras 10 minae (over £40), Aristotle 20 minae (over £80), Epicurus 2 minae (over 2,8), Pyrrhon the Sceptic i mina (over £4), while Diogenes is taken almost as a favour at 2 obols (about 31d.). As each is being sold, his chief doctrines habits and personal peculiarities are broadly caricatured, and in fact the whole dialogue is apparently a piece of broad and unsparing satire on the old Greek philosophers.

(14) We must now suppose either that some readers had so understood the dialogue as to hold Lucian for an enemy of philosophy generally, or that Lucian himself conceived it to

« PreviousContinue »