OUP (2021) 214pp £18.99 (ISBN 97801987899659)

James Brusuelas took over this work when †Diskin Clay (and his adjutrix, †Andrea Purvis) both died; the translation is by †C., the commentary by B.; the text and apparatus criticus are from that of M.D. Mcleod (OCT vol. I, 1972). As a whole, the book was designed to address the needs of students, especially first-year graduate students at Duke University, who wished to improve both their Greek and their general knowledge of Greek culture.

The Introduction is lengthy, at over 40 pages: a feature of it, not uncommon in a book of this kind from the USA, is the frequent reference to the work of other scholars, never unfavourable, e.g. ‘insightful analysis by (separate works of) Zeitlin, Kim, and ní Mhealleigh’. The three sections of the Introduction cover (1) ‘Lucian’s True History’ (four headings) (2) ‘The Anatomy of Fiction’ (three headings), (3) ‘Mimesis’ (three headings). Half of section (1) is devoted to Lucian’s ‘I’, not surprisingly, given L.’s penchant for remarking, e.g. ‘I will truthfully say that I am lying’ (the so-called ‘Cretan paradox’); accordingly, the ‘I’ of Lucian has been a ‘topic of great scholarly interest’. There are times, the reviewer notes, when one senses that the ‘real’ Lucian takes the stage, as when he discusses points of scholarly interest with Homer on the Island of the Blest (where it is pleasing to find that Helen has forgiven Stesichorus for his famous slander); similarly, B. adduces Dicaeopolis in Acharnians speaking of Cleon’s lawsuit against Aristophanes as his own. Yet is the problem a grave one? In the True History we may see Lucian’s ‘I’ and the ‘I’ of the Aristophanic parabasis both merging the real world with the fictional for self-conscious and metaleptic purposes. (Proust, in Remembrance of Things Past, refers to the problem incidentally, only to dismiss it.) B. concludes that Lucian’s ‘I’ is essentially a ‘vessel to be manipulated for comic, ironic and satiric purposes … (h)is “I” and his pseudonyms float like a mirage on the horizon’.

In section 1.4, ‘Lucian’s Afterlife’, we are told of L.’s troubles in Christian times, for mocking the Greek gods and—unforgivably—Jesus Christ; a kinder fate awaited him in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment—both Sir Thomas More and Erasmus translated him—and Cyrano de Bergerac’s Voyage dans la Lune can be thought of as a remote descendant; even more so Gulliver’s Travels and perhaps Alice in Wonderland: the ‘topic is very much an open field of research’. In section 2, the ‘Anatomy of Fiction’, B. tells us the True History is radically different from other first-person narratives in that it is an avowed fiction; here comes the Cretan paradox; and despite his frank confession that ‘those who encounter my tale should have no trust in them (i.e. his ‘experiences’)’, Lucian continually undermines his premise; there is a ‘metafictional’ dialogue with the reader—but are we, the readers, actually fooled?

In Section 3, ‘Mimesis’, it is suggested that Lucian is the greatest mimic and adaptor of his age, the first century BC, known as the Second Sophistic, in which Lucian’s talent in reproducing (Attic) Greek dialect and syntax is unparalleled. Lucian wrote in the loose eiromenê lexis, as opposed to the katestrammenê—Xenophon or Herodotus against Demosthenes or Thucydides—which is why his Greek is so easy to read. Yet koinê was by now the everyday language, and even Plutarch mocks speakers who insist on using strict attic Greek; hyperatticism might convey a lack of style or elegance or even pedantry. But perfect control of a language allows parody, and B. considers, for example, how Lucian’s visit to the Moon may have been parodying works of Ctesias and Iambulus—of whom however almost nothing survives: of course, on a larger scale, the entire work owes much to Homer’s Odyssey, with the episode of the time spent in the belly of a whale directly referencing Odysseus in the cave of the Cyclops.

For ní Mheallaigh, Lucian’s moon and its life forms exist on a mimetic level, the moon being a mirror reflexion of the earth. ‘Thus there is a self-reflexive engagement with the ideas of original and copy, the real and the fictional, reality and false reality, and for Lucian’s second century reality, the classical and the postclassical’; ní Mheallaigh reminds us of the metaleptic nature of Lucian’s work, in which the reader goes back and forth across the boundary between the real word and the world in the book. References to H. G. Wells and Jules Verne follow (‘science fiction is a hermeneutic approach to reading the True History’), before the excellent parallel of Odysseus’ account of his adventures to Alcinous is brought in. And when we learn that all our ideas about Homer are utterly wrong, is Lucian playing a game with the reader? Or is it simply that (per Branham) the scene on the Islands of the Blest is the ‘disconcerting babel of incompatible traditions that marks the postclassical form of Hellenic culture in the empire’?

The introduction is followed by a ‘Reader’s Guide’ (a bibliography). The text and accompanying (lively) translation (by †C.) take up the next 80 pages (though the apparatus criticus is unlikely to be of much use to the target audience), and then B. takes over with the Commentary. At 60 pages, it concentrates on what the student needs to know (including unfamiliar verb forms—Lucian was fond of the pluperfect) and tricky points of grammar or syntax, as well as explaining and (relevantly) illustrating the text: your reviewer found that reading the commentary was a pleasant experience, and the putative students can count themselves fortunate.

I noted a very small number of typos, and the reference 96.29 on p.54 is incorrect: read 84.29; rather surprising, though, to find the protagonist of The Birds named as Pisthetairos (p.4): the correct form is surely Peisetairos (as Dunbar’s commentary makes clear). Complete though the Introduction certainly is, it can also be a trifle indigestible in places, and it would have been welcome to have had more of B.’s views on the True History, even at the expense of the generous quotation of the views of other scholars. The cost of the paperback edition is in line with that of a volume in the Loeb Library; but how many buyers will there be for the hardback at £75?

Colin Leach