About the Work

Lucian's A True Story is an ideal text for intermediate readers. Its breathless narrative does not involve many complex sentences or constructions; there is some unusual vocabulary and a few departures from Attic Greek, but for the most part it is a straightforward narrative that is fun and interesting. Lucian of Samosata is one of antiquity's cleverest authors. Nearly everything we know about him is derived from his works, several of which have autobiographical material that is unable to be confirmed by other sources. He claims to have been trained in rhetoric and to be one of the many traveling professional speakers, or “sophists” of the Roman empire, who entertained audiences with amusing lectures on topics of all sorts. He is famous for his satirical sketches that often focus on hypocrisy and pedantry. In A True Story, he parodies accounts of fanciful adventures and travel to incredible places by authors such as Ctesias and Iambulus. The story's combination of mockery and learning makes it an excellent example of the Greek literature of the imperial period. The climax of the story is the visit to the Island of the Blessed, where many major figures from Greek literary history are presentedwith a mixture of humor and pride.

In addition the conspicuous absence of any reference to the Roman world in the work—the journey begins at the western margin of the Mediterranean and never returns—represents one frequent strategy of works of the so-called "second sophistic," which emphasized the importance of Greek learning (paideia) in a world dominated by Roman political power. A True Story is of course aimed at a readership of learned men (pepaideumenoi), who would recognize the many humorous allusions to the Greek cultural tradition, especially the Odyssey. The introductory paragraphs state that A True Story is meant to be a relaxation as a respite from more serious work, a respite that is clever and amusing in part because it makes hinting reference (ainissomai) to archaic poetry and history. Georgiadou and Larmour take the position that a more serious allegory about truth and experience can be deduced from this ainigma. Perhaps they are right, but A True Story has been admired for centuries as a lot of fun: the first example of science fiction, a utopian fantasy, and a gentle mockery of some of the most famous figures in the classical tradition.