Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Lucian's True History

Lucian of Samosata was anything but a stodgy old classical Greek writer. In fact, he made a living making fun of stodgy old classical Greek writers; one can think of him as a very early stand-up comic. He knew that his listeners were familiar with Homer and the other great Greek authors, and he used the classics as fodder for irreverent freestyles that brought him fame (and money) all over the eastern Mediterranean.

One of his styles was what was known as "Menippean" satire, which involved parodying men, ideas, and other styles of writing, often all at once. He was a particular master of one sub-genre of this kind, the so-called "Dialogues with the Dead." Here, Lucian, like an ancient version of Father Guido Sarducci, made mock visits to dead celebrities and conducted farcical interviews with them (you can see something of this in his interview with Homer in Book II of The True History). Menippean satire has had, largely because of Lucian, a lasting influence on English fiction, from Chaucer to Swift to Carlyle; more recent practitioners include the Irish novelist Flann O'Brien and the American Thomas Pynchon.

But what Lucian excelled at was, in a word, sheer invention. While loudly proclaiming that everything in his story was false, he set out a "true history" that opened the floodgates of fantasy and science fiction long before those genres came into their modern existence. 

You'll see Lucian's influence as well in the films of Terry Gilliam, especially in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The idea of a "King of the Moon" who rides on a three-headed vulture and casts asparagus-stalk spears is right out of the True History -- in part, this is Gilliam's fancy, but it's also because the original tales of Baron Münchausen penned by Raspé in the Eighteenth Century were richly plagiarized from other authors, Lucian chief among them.

So plunge in! Have fun! And remember, not a word of this is true!

23 comments:

  1. True History by Lucian is a satirical comedy about ancient stories. Lucian wrote this story so over the top that it is poking fun at ancient tales such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. From plot lines that lead to wine rivers and acorn dogs, the stories are incredibly extravagant. Lucian has this group of adventurers wandering into fantastical circumstances that could never be taken as fact by a reader. This immediate dismissal of truth I felt reading this story was something I believe Lucian felt as he read the Iliad or the Odyssey. Lucian wanted to create a story that was undeniably full of falsifications and then compare it to the aforementioned stories thus making it clear to his audience that he did not believe those stories to be factual. Through expressing his ideas and critique of those tales, Lucian created an entertaining comedic satire that is wrought with early ideals of science fiction.

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  2. I've never been someone to be drawn to reading the science fiction/fantasy books but I found Lucian’s True History very intriguing. It created a sense of possibilities in my mind and really helped me be reminded of the power of an imagination. The authors of these types of stories can include all of their favorite things in a remarkable way, such as the river of wine, and create their own little perfect world. It was very obvious to tell that this story is fiction because it is so fantastical. I enjoyed how the story keeps the readers engaged because just about anything could happen, such as, the enormous water creatures or the people with half a cat’s body. There was also a very interesting concept presented on how reproduction would occur if males were only with males; even though this is a very old story it still relates to big issues today (like gay marriage). I found this story fun and easier to read than I expected because there is still conflict and emotions that exist just like in real life. For example, they were fearing death when they saw the giant monster in the water. I look forward to the different stories we will explore this semester! (Victoria Costello)

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  3. Lucian’s True History is a book I probably would never pick up to read in my free time. It was a fiction story that took the reader for a fantastic journey. For example there were times when they dealt with moon soldiers who replaced handcuffs with cobwebs and building walls to block the sun (pg 26). All the way to life inside a whale that opened his mouth to tell time (pg 53). This book is without a doubt one of the most far fetched books I have read, the author has an imagination that I could only dream of. I imagine that many authors of sci-fi/fantasy books have large imaginations and that plays a huge role in the success of their stories. Some interesting points were brought up and at times I would pause and think if there was a bigger meaning and how this fantasy book could relate to modern life. I also enjoyed how he poked fun at other stories such as the Iliad and the Odyssey on page 81. This is something that I think reflects on the confidence of the author. Moments like the one found on page 115 where the woman is half donkey really kept my attention and reminded me just how out-there this story truly is. Overall I did enjoy reading this book, it made me think and read in a very unique way. I look forward to what the rest of the semester holds!
    (Gabrielle Demers)

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  4. Ever since I was a young girl, I have always been drawn to science fiction/fantasy literary works, and the reason why is because the imaginations that the authors of these works possess astound me. It is such an enjoyment to observe how their creative minds ran wild over the course of the text. This is exactly why I had enjoyed reading Lucian of Samosata’s True History so much; as the text is an example not only of science fiction/fantasy, but also an example of literary comedic satire. The novel is a fictional parody with plot lines revolving around outer space travel, fantastical journeys, extraterrestrial life forms, and interplanetary warfare. You may wonder about these authors; how did they ever come up with these ideas? Were they just merely born with such creativity and intellect, or were they perhaps influenced by an event, an experience, or an individual in their lifetime? Lucian’s work shows that he was influenced by different sources; one of which appears to be philosophy, as the text reveals that he portrays falsehood but simultaneously his own personal ideas and beliefs as well. The result of this technique has Lucian poking fun at famous ancient works such as the Iliad or the Odyssey (pg. 81), as evidenced by similar plot lines between the literary works in question such as enormous water monsters, a fantastical journey, a group of adventurers, and conflicts they faced along the way. While Lucian clearly had wanted to show his audience that he too did not believe that any of these events or stories were factual or accurate, he wanted to encourage the importance of imagination and creativity one could possess as long as they have confidence in themselves. Overall, I felt that Lucian’s True History was very interesting and enjoyable to read and I can’t wait to see what other literary works will be explored as we continue to move forward over the course of this semester!

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  5. At first glance this book seems to be just another history book, but once I started reading it I found that it is quite satirical. Lucian’s A True History is anything but true and it kept me on my toes throughout. I found it outrageously interesting, and I found myself laughing at some of the whimsical narratives. Lucian’s use of imagery was very creative and it was easy to visualize what was happening within the story, and that kept me hooked and wondering what would happen next. Lucian’s imagination is vast and unfathomable; I was immersed within the story after the first few pages. This book was a unique, utterly ridiculous, piece of work that takes the reader through a surreal adventure full of possibilities. I can definitely see how people of his times might have been shocked or even put off by a story like this, because of the way he used satire to make fun of the odyssey and the Iliad, but it opened up a new genre of literature and allowed people to use their imaginations with future stories. I enjoyed reading it, and I am excited to read other works of science fiction this semester. (Elizabeth Cook)

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  6. Lucian’s True History is a satire that makes fun of such stories as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey by taking the reader on a journey through a tale of lies. This book was definitely entertaining at some points because the author’s imagination is so over the top you cannot help but get lured into wondering what he is going to come up with next. While reading I could not help but wonder how he got some of some of his ideas, because they were very creative, such as getting involved in a war between the moon and the morning star, getting swallowed by a whale and finding an entire city inside it, sailing through a sea made of milk and finding an island made of cheese where the grapes had milk inside, and landing on an island that had so many famous people on it including Homer, and that is just to name a few of his adventures. I did like how Lucian and Homer had a conversation and the Iliad and Odyssey were mentioned, because this is a satire on both. However, there were some points which I did not enjoy. For example, while on this journey he met many different races of people, but he gave too much detail about each one of them. Although some details were interesting and gave me a clear picture of the people, some were just too much. I wanted to continue with the actual story to see where he was going to end up or whom he was going to get involved with next. I would have rather read about how the characters were going to finish the battles they were fighting in and how they escaped from tough situations. I did enjoy this book for the most part because I have always preferred books that are not based on reality. I find stories along this line are just more enjoyable to read as it gives the reader a chance to escape from reality. (Amanda Lussier)

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  7. When I started reading Lucian’s True History, I thought it was going to be a boring read until I kept reading. It kept me on my toes wanting to know what was going to happen next. It had me using my imagination while reading. I felt that I can actually picture what was going on as if I were there. I do like science fiction, but I am more of a movie person than actually reading stories that are fiction. To read this book it is everything but a true story but it was very interesting to read the creativity. Lucian’s imagination is very intriguing to think this way for that time must have been fun entertainment. I enjoyed reading this book, it really did open my imagination. I look forward to this semester and the interesting stories that we will be reading.

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  8. When it was the first day of class and I found out the novels we were going to be reading were going to be science fiction books, I was not looking forward to that at all. Actually picking up the book and reading a couple of pages I came to find out this was actually a good read! I enjoyed how creative everything was and how his sense of humor interacted with the book. Going from his amazing journeys and movement in outer space and urged me to always want to continue reading and to see what happened next! This book was definitely a good choice to start off the semester because now I am looking forward to what the rest of the semester has in store for us!

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  9. To be completely honest, I had a hard time understanding Lucian's True History; not because I do not understand the stories he is talking about, but because of the way it was written. Because I had a hard time understanding the story, I had a hard time enjoying the story. It was not till the middle of the book that I began to like the story. I enjoyed the many adventures and humorous moments throughout. I was very impressed by the creativity and imagination in the story. It is hard to take such amazing stories and put your on thoughts into them and have the stories still interesting. The Odyssey and Iliad are two very well known stories and have a lot meaning to them. Lucian was very brave using satire toward these stories because it was unknown how the people during that time would have reacted. Even though I did not enjoy the book as much as everyone has seemed to, I do believe that it is a well written story!

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  10. Learning the first that the novels we were going to read were science fiction I was none to pleased, but Lucian’s True History changed my outlook. Looking at the book first glance I thought boring and an unenjoyable read, but as I opened the book and started reading my opinion changed. The book turned out to be a good read! At first I had a hard time understanding Lucian’s writing and what he was saying but as I continued reading I began to understand what was being said. I found I was using my imagination to picture what was being described in a creative way. After figuring out what the book was saying I was able to enjoy the book and keep reading. The book kept me wanting to read and not take a break from it, the saying never judge a book from its cover comes into play for this book, looking at the cover it looks old and boring, but opening it and reading what it says is enjoyable and a good read. I look forward to the rest of the semester and the books that are left to be read. (Kelsey Wood)

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  11. When I first started reading Lucian's True History, I honestly had a hard time really understanding what it was about. I've never been into anything science fiction related, so it was hard for me to really get into the book. After getting into the story a little bit I started to enjoy it a bit more .After finishing the story it turned out to be a pretty good read. Although i say I've never been interested in science fiction, I've never actually given it a try. I thought the book was very creative and i feel that was probably hard to to write a book about your own opinion and still be creative with it. Overall it was very well written and i think ill enjoy the rest of the semesters reading for this class. (Mikayla Wood)

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  12. A few weeks ago I would've never picked up a Science Fiction book but after reading Lucian's True History, I opened my mind to the possibility of other Science Fiction books I might enjoy. At first I had a hard time understanding what Lucian was trying to say just because everything seemed crazy and wasn't realistic but after I realized that humor and impossible things was the whole concept of the novel.

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  13. Lucian to me creates a world that is so creative and mystical, that one can only get lost in the fantasies he describes. To me science fiction has always played an interest in my life so reading this novel sparked an interest in my imagination. though he uses complex language and concepts, his idea still shows throughout what he is trying to convey to the reader. Lucian could be named one of the pioneers of this genre and was really able to make me think and use my imagination towards his writing style. this piece has furthered my curiosity into his other works and ideas. His ability to use satire effectively at this time period was unheard of, his ability to make these concepts seem real is also probably a good window into who he was as a person at the time. this piece truly sparked my imagination

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  14. I can truly say that I was never really into Science Fiction. At first I was a little nervous to start reading science fiction in this class because sometimes it can be a little difficult to read because it's never really that clear and for some reason I have a hard time understanding. The story was a little hard to understand in the beginning because of how it was written. However, eventually Lucian's "True Story" made it really enjoyable for me because there ended up being so much creativity. It really allows you to imagine what's going on like a little comic movie playing in your head. There was so much going on and it was funny to read because none of it was true but it had so much humor to it. None of the stories are real, yet he relates it to our real world which makes it more understandable and that's what makes it so funny cause he's joking about what really goes on and makes it so fictional. When he has something to say about all races and things that actually happen in real life. All I can say is wow this guy has a real imagination! I never expected these things. Can't wait to see what the rest of the semester holds for us!
    -Samantha Nunes

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  15. A few weeks ago I would've never picked up a Science Fiction book but after reading Lucian's True History, I opened my mind to the possibility of other Science Fiction books I might enjoy. At first I had a hard time understanding what Lucian was trying to say just because everything seemed crazy and wasn't realistic but after I realized that humor and impossible things was the whole concept of the novel.
    I found that the more dept and open minded you become the more understanding the stories are. Reading how they were trapped in the whale and all there solutions they try to come up with is suppose to be funny and get your attention.

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  16. At first while reading this I did not have much of an interest because I was never really into science-fiction stories, which is weird to me because I am a very creative person. Science- fiction and Lucions True History was very creative and fictional, the events that happened in the story was comedic and interesting to imagine what he was saying was true. For example when he said that one of the lady characters in the book was half donkey (pg,115) or when there was a sea made of milk and many more! This makes me realize that just because thins cannot really happen in real life, it can in our minds. This story was surprisingly enjoyable to read for me and I hope the other readings give me the same affect also!

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  17. When you first gave us the topic of science fiction and fantasy I wasn't so excited. I knew that this wasn't my kind of reading. After reading Lucian's True History I realized that even if you don't like it you should try it. The book was better than I expected. Yeah the story is fiction, but that's what makes the whole book interesting and creative." These Hippogypians are men riding upon monstrous vultures, which they use instead of horses" (pg15) I agree with Celeste on how the concept of the novel is humor and different scientific ways. Overall I enjoyed the book, and hope there are more humor ones along the way! (Jaimee Barrett)

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  18. As I read Lucian's True History all I could think was how random the story was. Lucian is commenting on the great epic stories of his days and their respective authors. At times it did feel a little like an inside joke when he would have interactions with famous ancient Greeks. However overall, as a story, it was fun to see how a man from that time period tried and out imagine other famous authors from his time. It's definitely one piece of literature that in order to best enjoy, you have to let yourself have fun with it. Cindy Xon

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  19. For me, this was weird to read. I'm not a very good reader and it takes me a while to get through books. This was pretty interesting though, I was surprised by the intense imagination Lucian had and it seems like for his time people wouldn't like to read this. For him, to mock the other books seems like a bit of a bold move to make, but it was funny and I couldn't imagine how he came up with all this. Also, I haven't read any of the other books so a parody on them makes me lost. I don't feel in on the jokes! Hopefully the other books are more simple.

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  20. Lucian’s True History is definitely one of the fist science-fiction books that I have read. I can say that it kept me pretty entertained when I read it. It had a lot of cool ideas and concepts that aren’t usually in other books. I like how the river had fish in it that could get you drunk when you eat them. What I am liking about this genre is that it has fantasy things like that, and like the island of cheese. We don’t often get exposed to ideas and fantasies like this in real life or in other forms of entertainment very much in the real world today, so it was nice to read something a little different.

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  21. Lucian's true history were written stories that were so ridiculous that it was more like punching fun instead of poking fun at ancient stories. These stories are just so extravagant that they could obviously never be taken seriously or taken as fact. Although, look how powerful our imaginations can be! I mean, fish that swim in a wine river that can get you drunk if you eat them!? LOVE IT!!! This seems to be one of those books that i'd probably never take my own free time to sit down at read it page by page but just skim through it occasionally to get a good laugh. This book is about as satirical as it gets but not without some whimsical notes here and there. I really did enjoy the fact that it was weird, but in a fun imaginative sort of way and not a creepy or awkwardly weird way. It was nice that this was a decently normal book. (K.Overly)

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  22. Lucien's True story is a science fiction novel that told of his adventures in outer space and his interactions with alien life forms. Lucien's true story had an interesting way of keeping me interested during the first few weeks of class even though usually I am not a fan of this type of novel. I found myself laughing at his crazy journeys and continued to read until I finished it.

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