4 NOVEMBER 1905, Page 13

THE two names which for ordinary students close the great

eanon of Greek literature are those of Marcue Aurelius and Lucian of Samosata. A Roman Emperor • and an obscure Syrian are the last writers in the tongue of Homer who rank among the immortals. In time they stand side by side, but in style and temper they are as separate as in station. The one is as solemn as a Puritan divine ; the other is as witty as Heine or Voltaire. The Greek of Marcus may perplex even a schoolmaster ; the Greek of Lucian is not beyond candidates for "Little-Go" ; and while the Meditations are adapted for the closet, the Dialogues are designed for the recitation-room. The Emperor esteems philosophy above the purple; to his subject philosophers seem mostly either fools or knaves ; and if posterity almost ranks the one writer as a saint, it has more usually called the other a scoffer and a sceptic. No doubt few now would go so far as Suidas, writer of the twelfth century, who consigns Lucian "to ever- lasting fire along with Satan "; but he has always suffered from that not unnatural prejudice which attends those who, in referring to subjects connected with either religion or philosophy, deliberately refuse to wear a grave face. Truth, indeed, and the problems which meet us in the search for it are such serious things that they seem to exclude humour, and to make even a smile criminal. And yet it is exactly around such problems that folly, absurdity, and fraud con- gregate most securely. They take sanctuary, as it were, within the solemn precincts of religion or philosophy, and there claim inviolability from their foes, of which humour is perhaps the deadliest. For humour, though impotent against truth and reality, has power to prick, as with Ithuriel's spear, whatever is hollow and pretentious. Empty shows and inflated phrases collapse when it touches them, and in

• Will increase to E50 if necessary.

t The Works of Lucian. Translated by H. W. and F. G. Fowler. 4 cols. Oxford: at the Clarendon Press. LIU. net,/ tucian's day the need for it was real. The old religion had become a sham, and philosophy for the most part a fashion- able jargon. There were still rites and ceremonies ; but augur winked at augur more boldly than in the time of Cicero ; and although the dogmas of the Porch, the Garden, or the Academy were still debated with ostentatious rhetoric, yet except in some few cases where the old Roman spirit survived under the guise of Stoicism, philosophy had ceased to be a living force. It was an age of practical scepticism, in which miracle-mongers, phrase-makers, and impostors plied every- where a profitable trade, and which wanted nothing more sorely than to have its own insincerity and foolishness set visibly before it.

The task, in fact, which Lucian made his own was, we think, a wholly necessary one, and he had certainly a singular capacity for accomplishing it. Having been up to the age of forty a Professor of Rhetoric, he is a master of words, but he is never their slave. As many of his pieces show, he can compose beautiful declamations about nothing after the pro- fessorial fashion of his day, while he writes Greek which, to all but a few pedantic purists, seems to possess almost Attic grace. With him, however, the style, though admirable, is certainly not the man, nor does his humour consist chiefly in mere verbal quips, even though these are sometimes as perfect as the untranslateable Z,L'eapes eint, with which Zeus in Council begins a Demosthenic address, or that famous frag- ment—" What are the gods ? Immortal men. What are men ? Mortal gods." His power is rather that of a great caricaturist who, stripping off all the trappings that disguise reality, first forms in his own mind a clear, simple, impressive image, and then reproduces it in the most vivid and dramatic shape. To portray and, as it were, visualise even such a mysterious subject as the relation of "Fate" to a divine will is not beyond his graphic skill. He first gently extracts from Zeus an admission that "the Fates control the Gods," and then reminds him of "that bit of Homer" where he brags of "suspending all the world to a golden cord" and hauling it up at his pleasure, though "all the gods and goddesses" tug against him; "whereas," remarks the satirist, "Clotho should be the one to boast, for she has you dangling from her distaff like a sprat at the end of a fishing-line." Or take the passage in which Heracleitus states how he "weeps to see all things whirled together in confusion up and down, the playthings of time," and then, on being asked "What is Time F " replies : "A child : and plays at draughts and blind- man's buff," or as it is in the matchless Greek, rrais cattail% irecrtreisaw, Ittaghepliketvos. The image here is, we think, as brilliant as that under which Huxley once presented Nature as a chess-player, always observing the rules, but never taking back a move in her great game with man ; and "The Sale of Creeds" in which it occurs is throughout full of fancies almost as vivid. In it Lucian, instead of discussing the various creeds, simply puts them up to auction : Zeus is in the rostrum and puffs the goods, the human purchasers criticise or cross-examine, and the hammer decides. The Cynic, tub, wallet, cloak, and all, fetches exactly threepence ; the Cyrenaic voluptuary has to be passed because the would-be buyer finds "his purse not equal to such a festive creed." Epicurus, as a "laughing drunken creed with one extra accomplishment—impiety," sells readily, his purchaser, how- ever, first receiving a warranty "that he will eat anything sweet"; but the perfect Stoic has to be taken by a syndicate, for no individual dare tackle a being who is "sole king, sole orator, and sole millionaire," patentee of "the insoluble syllogism," and owner of the proof that "in a world made up of accumulation and diffusion " it is his duty to accumulate while other people diffuse. The whole dialogue, in fact, is an epitome of wit and wisdom, and contains in its dozen easy pages as much matter for thought as many a ponderous volume. For Lucian is not an empty humourist, but one who can also make his readers think. He does not collect copy- book maxims, or send us to sleep with sermonising, but, as it were, tickles the torpid imagination until stupidity itself begins, if not to love wisdom, at least to deride folly. He does not lecture on human vanities, but he brings Charon into the upper world, and lets us hear how those human oddities he only knows as ghosts strike the old ferryman in actual life, and how he thinks little of Homer, but is curiously anxious to see Troy, because he recalls "shipping such numbers from there that for ten years running he had no time

philosopher imitate Icarus, and, after due experiment with his wings, "first jumping up and helping the jump by flapping my hands, or imitating the way a goose raises itself without leaving the ground and combines running , With flight," ultimately reach the moon, from which with eagle vision he contemplates the " ants " or insects called men bustling about a Greece which "may measure some four inches," and where "the widest-acred inhabitant seems the proud possessor

of 'an Epicurean atom." And finally, let our readers turn for

themselves to those "Dialogues of the Dead" to which so many writers have paid the supreme tribute-of imitation. Let them visit with Lucian the land of shadows and listen at his side to what the ghosts say. Let them walk with him in Hades, and, when they ask to see "all the beauties," mark how their guide turns to a heap of bones and answers : "This skull is Helen." Or let them see with him how tyrants cringe and cower in that other world while " Micyllus the cobbler" rejoices to find a realm in which "there is no collecting of debts and no taxes ; better still, no shivering in winter, no sickness, no hard knocks from one's betters, but all is peace ; the tables are turned, and the laugh is with the poor man."

There is, however, one occasional defect in Lucian's humour which calls for brief notice. The true humourist must also be touched with sensibility, and some of Lucia,n's gibes would often be more telling if their author appeared to be less cold-blooded ; while at times his hatred of fraud makes him harsh, and even inhuman. His description, for instance, of the death of Peregrinus, a fanatic or a madman who threw himself into a blazing pyre at the Olympic games, is horrible in its total want of natural sympathy. The folly or vanity which can tempt a man thus "to die like Heracles " in order to "set a golden crown on a golden life" deserves rather pity than a jest, while to speak of being "half-dead with suppressed laughter" at the sight of "an old man roasted" is not wit but ribaldry ; and there are several passages in which Lucian seems justly to incur the charge of being un- feeling. But such passages are few, and they are certainly balanced by others which suggest a very different view of their writer. For this busy mocker, as many count him, this master of flouting, is yet one who beneath the jester's mask conceals a certain real sincerity and earnestness. Much that he meets in life seems to him mere sham and mummery, but yet he also has dreamed dreams, he also has had visions as of a "Celestial City" in which 'Virtue sits enthroned. Unhappily, he has sought, but not found, the guide who shall lead him thither. Could we find such a guide, he writes, "we need pay little heed to any claims of our earthly country; _we should steel our hearts against the clingings and cryings of children or parents ; it is well if we can induce them to go with us ; but, if they will not, shake them off and. march straight for the city of bliss, leaving your coat in their hands, if they lay hold of it to keep you back. What matter for a coat? You will be admitted there without one." Those are words not unworthy of Bunyan, and with them we must end. What has been said is only a scanty portion of what might well be said, for Lucian touched on so many topics, he lived at such a critical period in human history, and in literature he ranks so closely at once with the classics and the moderns, that he would form a subject for many articles. And yet what has been said will be enough if it induces some readers to study for themselves these happy volumes, in which the translators have with admirable fidelity, vigour, and vivacity reproduced the writings of one whom such a critic as Erasmus reckoned not only among the most entertaining, but also the most instructive, of ancient authors.