A fictionalized portrait of Lucian taken from a seventeenth century engraving by William Faithorne
Born About 125 AD
Samosata, Roman Empire (modern-day Turkey)
Died After 180 AD
probably Athens
Occupation Novelist, rhetorician
Notable works True History,
Dialogues of the Dead, Dialogues of the Gods,
Dialogues of the Courtesans,
Alexander the False Prophet,
Sale of Creeds,
The Lover of Lies

Lucian of Samosata ( ən/; Ancient Greek: Λουκιανὸς ὁ Σαμοσατεύς, Latin: Lucianus Samosatensis; about 125 AD – after 180 AD) was a satirist and rhetorician [1] who wrote exclusively in the Greek language during the Second Sophistic. Most of his works are written in the Attic dialect, but On the Syrian Goddess, which is attributed to him, is written in a faux- Ionic dialect.

Noted for his witty and scoffing nature, Lucian frequently poked fun at superstition, religious practices, and belief in the paranormal. He admired the philosophers Democritus and Epicurus, both of whom advocated naturalistic worldviews. His works were wildly popular in antiquity and more than eighty works attributed to him have survived to the present day, a considerably higher quantity than for most other classical writers. His reception among modern scholars has been overwhelmingly positive.

His most famous work is A True Story, a tongue-in-cheek satire against authors who tell incredible tales, which is regarded by some as the earliest known work of science fiction. His framing story The Lover of Lies makes fun of people who believe in the supernatural and contains the oldest known version of " The Sorcerer's Apprentice". Lucian often ridicules public figures, such as the Cynic philosopher Peregrinus Proteus in his letter The Passing of Peregrinus and the fraudulent oracle Alexander of Abonoteichus in his treatise Alexander the False Prophet.

Lucian wrote numerous satires making fun of traditional stories about the gods including The Dialogues of the Gods, Zeus Rants, Zeus Catechized, and The Parliament of the Gods. His Dialogues of the Dead focuses on the Cynic philosophers Diogenes and Menippus. Lucian had an enormous, wide-ranging impact on western literature and works inspired by his writings include Sir Thomas More's Utopia, William Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.


Few details of Lucian's life can be verified with any degree of accuracy, though clues can be found in writings attributed to him. In several works he claims to have been born in Samosata, in the former kingdom of Commagene, which had been absorbed by the Roman Empire and made part of the province of Syria.

Language and background

A Nabataean depiction of the goddess Atargatis dating from sometime around 100 CE, roughly seventy years before Lucian (or possibly Pseudo-Lucian) wrote The Syrian Goddess, currently housed in the Jordan Archaeological Museum

Almost everything that is known about Lucian comes from his own writings. The most important source is Lucian's narrative The Vision, [2] which was probably delivered as an address when Lucian returned to his hometown of Samosata at the age of thirty-five or forty after having already made a name for himself as a great orator. [3] In it, Lucian tells how, as a young man, his family lacked the money and resources to afford him an education, so his uncle took him on as an apprentice and began teaching him how to sculpt. Lucian, however, soon proved to be poor at sculpting and ruined the statue he had been working on. His uncle beat him, causing him to run off. Lucian fell asleep and experienced a dream in which he was being fought over by the personifications of Statuary and of Culture. He decided to listen to Culture and thus became a rhetorician. [4]

In On the Syrian Goddess, which may or may not have been written by Lucian, [5] the anonymous author claims to be a native Assyrian. Throughout the same work, the author uses the words "Assyrian" and "Syrian" interchangeably. [6] [7] [8] In the final paragraph of the work, he describes a ritual in which initiates would dedicate a lock of their hair to Hippolytus as part of a pre-marital coming-of-age ritual. The narrator comments, "I performed this act myself when a youth, and my hair remains still in the temple, with my name on the vessel." [9]

In the dialogue Double Indictment, Lucian claims to be a native speaker of a "barbarian tongue", which has been suggested to refer to Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic. [10] A more likely interpretation is that he is referring to speaking an unpolished variety of Greek, considering that there is no evidence Aramaic was spoken in Samosata or Commagene in general. [11] It has been suggested that in referring to himself as a " barbarian", [12] Lucian meant that "he was from the Semitic and not the imported Greek population" of Samosata. [13]

Lucian wrote exclusively in Ancient Greek, mainly in the Atticized dialect popular during the Second Sophistic, but On the Syrian Goddess, which is attributed to Lucian, is written in a highly successful imitation of Herodotus's Ionic dialect, leading some scholars to believe that Lucian may not be the real author. [14]


There are eighty-two surviving works attributed to him (though several are doubtful): [12] declamations, essays both laudatory and sarcastic, satiric epigrams, and comic dialogues and symposia with a satirical cast, studded with quotations in alarming contexts and allusions set in an unusual light, designed to be surprising and provocative. His name added lustre to any entertaining and sarcastic essay: more than 150 surviving manuscripts [12] attest to his continued popularity.

During the Renaissance, western scholars rediscovered Lucian's writings, which almost instantly became wildly popular, especially amongst the Renaissance Humanists. By 1440, there were just as many Latin translations of Lucian's writings as there were for the writings of authors such as Plato and Plutarch. [15] The first printed edition of a selection of his works was issued at Florence in 1499.

Lucian was trained as a rhetorician, a vocation whose practitioners pleaded in court, composed pleas for others, and taught the art of pleading. Lucian's practice was to travel about, giving amusing discourses and witty lectures improvised on the spot, somewhat as a rhapsode had done in declaiming poetry at an earlier period. In this way Lucian travelled through Ionia and mainland Greece, to Italy and even to Gaul, and won much wealth and fame.

Philosophical and religious affiliations

Bust of Epicurus, an Athenian philosopher whom Lucian greatly admired

Lucian admired the works of Epicurus; he breaks off a satire against Alexander of Abonoteichus, who burned a book of Epicurus, to exclaim:

What blessings that book creates for its readers and what peace, tranquillity, and freedom it engenders in them, liberating them as it does from terrors and apparitions and portents, from vain hopes and extravagant cravings, developing in them intelligence and truth, and truly purifying their understanding, not with torches and squills [i. e. sea onions] and that sort of foolery, but with straight thinking, truthfulness and frankness. [16]

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Lukian von Samosata
تۆرکجه: لوثین
беларуская: Лукіян з Самасаты
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Люкіян з Самасаты
brezhoneg: Lukian Samosata
català: Llucià
čeština: Lúkianos
dansk: Lukian
eesti: Lukianos
Ελληνικά: Λουκιανός
Esperanto: Lukiano
فارسی: لوثین
한국어: 루키아노스
Հայերեն: Լուկիանոս
हिन्दी: लुसियन
hrvatski: Lukijan
Bahasa Indonesia: Lukianos
íslenska: Lúkíanos
қазақша: Лукиан
lietuvių: Lukianas
Limburgs: Lucianus
magyar: Lukianosz
مازِرونی: لوکیان
日本語: ルキアノス
norsk: Lukian
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Lukian
Scots: Lucian
shqip: Lukiani
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Lukijan
suomi: Lukianos
svenska: Lukianos
українська: Лукіан
Tiếng Việt: Lukianos của Samosata
中文: 琉善