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Lucian, epainos, and the Model Historian

Stamatia Dova

Recent scholarship on Lucian has revisited his reception of Thucydides and Homer with particular emphasis on his treatment of history and fiction (Ligota 2007, Kim 2010). Contributing to this discussion, this paper examines Lucian's discourse on the function of epainos in poetry, rhetoric, and historiography with the intention of shedding new light on his multifaceted appreciation of archaic and classical Greek literature.

Focusing on Quomodo historia conscribenda sit, my analysis views Lucian 's literary criticism through the lens of his metaphoricity and enargeia. Further, I illustrate how Lucian makes a compelling statement on literary style through his vivid imagery and paradigmatic juxtaposition of prose as a negotiator of truth to poetry as a vehicle for fiction; by studying this juxtaposition, I also identify the multiple levels of intertext operating in his references to the ongoing Parthian war and its attendant challenge of recording contemporary history.

Occupying a unique place in extant Greek literature, Lucian's essay Πῶς δεῖ ἱστορίαν συγγράφειν addresses questions of historiographical methodology and authorial intention with disarming forthrightness. Though encompassing a wide theoretical territory, Lucian's advice on how (or how not) to write history concentrates on the relationship between historia and epainos and, by extension, on their mutually exclusive functions. Lucian's rationale for the separation of praise and historiography also reveals his views on the latter's purpose, which he defines as the objective and thorough exposition (ὡς ἐπράχθη εἰπεῖν, 39.1) of useful information (τὸ χρήσιμον, 9.13, 42.8). This intended intellectual expediency of historia, Lucian argues, is inherently irreconcilable with the pragmatism of enkomion, a genre designed (and limited) to earn favor through praise. In order to prevent aspiring historians from giving in to encomiastic practices, Lucian employs distinctly dramatic metaphors and similes, evocative of the enargeia-infused historiographical writing that he promotes in his essay.

This metaphoricity, I argue, also constitutes Lucian's commentary on imitation and originality (15.1, 26.2); his stern disapproval of genre overlap invites us to revisit his use of technical terms such as ποιητική, ἔπαινος, and ἐγκώμιον with the purpose of expounding the literary boundaries of each (7.14, 8.1, 26, 9.9, 22.1). His passionate (and amusing) discourse on literary theory, aimed at warning against epainos as an unsuitable means of presenting historical data, combines elements from tragedy and comedy with a broader discourse on aesthetics and artistic authenticity (1.20, 2.3, 5.28, 22.14). Linked to concerns of temporality and historical accuracy, this discourse encompasses the diachronic trials of the model historian: how to write history that is pleasurable and beneficial (9.8), in a style that echoes, but does not misappropriate, distant literary traditions (15.2)? How to balance objectivity and historical conceptualization? And most of all, how to earn a place in the pantheon of model historians, among whom Thucydides holds the seat of honor, in Lucian's eyes, at least?

Lucian's solution to all of the above problems is the decontamination of historiography from praise (6.4, 33.2). This paper re-examines how this dissuasive rhetoric develops into a negative model of historical poetics, which, I submit, is particularly preoccupied with questions of historicity and heroic characterization. This can also be seen, I argue, through the essay's references to Thucydides and Homeric epic: while the former, according to Lucian, sets and maintains a very high standard of historiographical competency (5.10), the latter, poetics notwithstanding, commands the dynamics of well-balanced and potentially objective praise (14.11, 40.17) and successful narrative technique (57.10). Finally, this paper shows how Lucian's genuine frustration with the tasteless reproduction of classical models provides further evidence of his ability to successfully negotiate the boundaries between literature and history, thus validating his profile as literary theorist.

Word count: 603, excluding bibliography

Session/Panel Title

Historical Poetics and the Intertext

Session/Paper Number

17.2

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