Lucian’s meeting with Homer (or at least, “Lucian” the actor-narrator persona) in book 2 of the Verae Historiae is a satirical paradigm of the fantasy that all interpreters and allegorists of Homer from the earliest post-Homeric age sought: to ask Homer himself what the answers were to the famous, vexed, Homeric problems. Kim’s recent book (2010) successfully discusses the narrative and meta-literary concerns in this ideal meeting with Homer. In this paper I will focus instead on the very idea of textual control of original literary works by authors. This control versus the fluidity of post-Homeric interpretation is exemplified in the idea of a search for positivist meaning by the actor-narrator Lucian and his meeting with Homer in the Isles of the Blessed. I will suggest that Lucian, long before the post-modernists of the twentieth century, raises the spectre of the death of the author, and that the meaning of any given text is not controlled by, and should not be sought from, the author.
This paper will begin by focusing on the meeting with Homer in Lucian’s Verae Historiae. I will argue that the key purpose behind the encounter is to allow Lucian to call attention to the nature of literary discourse and literary scholarship. Who controls meaning? Who controls interpretation? What is the truth value behind scholarly questions? The very fact that Lucian locates these answers to the Homeric Questions within a work that is fictional as well as meta-fictional brings this idea of the author and the control of meaning even closer to the fore. Throughout the Verae Historiae Lucian is consistently challenging the reader to assess the truthfulness of his narrative, even at one stage inviting readers to participate in the journey of discovery to the moon themselves to test the validity of his assertions about the mirror on the moon (VH 1.26). By transferring this narratological framework, constructed by Lucian himself, to the readerly-authorial dialogue between Lucian imitator and Homer imitandus, Lucian creates an ideal locus to exemplify the process of reading and interpretation in a general sense, but also for his own narrative. I will seek to show that Lucian identifies interpretation as fluid and unfixable, even in the face of the historical person Homer, and behaves as his own readers should behave with his own text.
The paper will use as a comparandum Lucian’s short Dialogue with Hesiod, where Lucian / Lycinus challenges Hesiod on his unfulfilled claims to speak of the future in his works. Hesiod avers responsibility to the Muses, and by doing so, removes himself from the challenges of the insightful reader. This dialogue mimics the discussion in Lucian’s The Ignorant Book-Collector, which focuses on the problems on the origins and practicalities of ignorance in the construction of knowledge. This search for authorial authority, beyond inspiration, rehearses the challenge to Homeric and Classical authority, as typified by Dio Chrysostom’s Trojan Oration (discussed too, by Kim 2010 pp. 85-139). I will also raise the example of Lucian’s The Dance, in which the cynic Crato upbraids Lycinus (a potential pseudonym for Lucian) for backsliding away from the received norms of the Classical tradition, and therefore from traditional authority.
The paper will conclude by suggesting that Lucian highlights the process of interpretation as something slippery. As a symbolic fantasy for ancient readers, Lucian creates lies in search for the truth in the Verae Historiae, and finally comes to the greatest author of all, only to parody the long tradition of Homeric scholarship by having Homer himself parody the Homer constructed by those very critics.