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73.2.Peterson

The Hermotimus has long been considered an anomaly for two main reasons: it is significantly longer than Lucian’s other texts and it offers a serious attack on philosophical dogmatism that has garnered it the label of Lucian’s most Platonic dialogue (Nesselrath 1992). Scholars have seized on this text as opportunity to pin down this literary Proteus and to examine both his philosophical leanings as a Skeptic (Nesselrath 1992) and his adaptation of Plato (Edwards 1993; Möllendorff 2000). But, as I will show, there is good reason to challenge the claim that the tone of the Hermotimus is, in fact, serious. The dialogue presents the attempts of Lucian’s persona, Lycinus, to persuade Hermotimus that his Stoic professor has swindled him by failing to deliver on the promise of knowledge given roughly twenty years earlier. While Hermotimus is initially hostile to this argument, Lycinus perseveres, imagining at one point a familiar Lucianic scenario: Plato, Aristotle, and the other philosophers from Greece’s past return from the dead to charge Lycinus with hybris for daring to choose one school over another. This scenario mirrors the dramatic setting of the Fisherman in which a similar list of philosophers rise from the dead to charge Lucian’s persona, ‘Parrhesiades,’ with the crime of portraying them comically. Lucian’s persona subsequently offers a searing apology for his own literary program. This paper argues that the Hermotimus presents Lycinus as an adaptation of Parrhesiades, who is in turn a reworking of Socrates, by restaging the “apology” for his union of comedy with philosophy found in the Fisherman. My paper thus seeks to redefine the Hermotimus as unique iteration of Lucian’s “comic dialogue,” in which Lucian’s own dialogues assume the philosophical valuable role ascribed to comedy in the Fisherman and consequently appear as the playful solution to the philosophical corruption Lucian sees as plaguing his own day.

I will begin my paper with a brief discussion of Lucian’s union of comedy and philosophy as presented in the Fisherman. In the context of this dialogue, the dead philosophers charge Lucian’s persona, Parrhesiades, with comically debasing philosophy. Parrhesiades, however, refutes this charge, by asserting that he did what was necessary, given the philosophical corruption plaguing Athens. At the heart of this dialogue is the so-called quarrel between comedy and philosophy initiated by Socrates in the Apology (17a-b) and reaffirmed in book ten of the Republic. As Macleod (1991) and Whitmarsh (2001) have shown, this tension appears in the very scenario and language of the dialogue: Lucian borrows the scenario of the dead returned to life from Eupolis’ Demesmen, the philosopher’s opening shouts of βαλλέ, βαλλέ from Aristophanes’ Acharnians, and Parrhesiades’ defense from Plato’s Apology. The Fisherman thus ironically dramatizes the very union that Parrhesiades has been charged with defending. Read in this way, it represents an important discussion and illustration of the comedic approach to philosophy that we find Lucian similarly asserting in the Double Indictment, Literary Prometheus, and, as I will argue, the Hermotimus.

The second part of this paper argues that the Hermotimus offers a comic reworking of the Gorgias, wherein Hermotimus, the student of a Stoic philosopher, plays the role of Callicles and Lycinus, ironically, of Socrates. The text, therefore, recasts the famous Socratic question: can virtue be taught? Read within this context, Lycinus’ invocation of the dead philosophers, as well as several other Lucianic allusions, thus assume the role played by Old Comedy in Fisherman. Whereas the dead philosophers of the Fisherman attacked Parrhesiades for using comedy, I will contend that they are here reinvented to assume a familiar and particularly Socratic purpose: to attack the presumption of knowledge. Read within the framework established by the references to the Gorgias, this reinvention of the Fisherman, as I will argue, enacts Lucian’s comic approach to philosophy and establishes his thinly veiled persona of Lycinus in the Socratic role.

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