This paper will attempt to identify the underlying joke about buying books which defines Lucian’s Sale of Lives (Auctio Vitarum) and to argue that the work is intended as a transformation of Plato’s image of the “emporium of polities” (Rep. 557D8). Lucian updates the language that Plato used to criticize classical Athens in order to satirize the overly bookish audience of his own day. I will argue that the Auc. Vit. should be read very closely not only with its sequel the Piscator but as importantly with the Adversus Indoctum, Lucian's criticism of someone better at buying books than reading them. The rationale for including the latter will depend heavily on a certain word-play explained by the following line from Plutarch's De Iside, a work describing a sequence of myths clearly familiar to Lucian (ex. Gallus 18; Navigium 5; Philopseudeis 34; Adversus Indoctum 34). Plutarch notes that, "we say buy Plato when we mean buy the books of Plato," and the context emphasizes the extraordinary confusion that occurs when people read too literally the metaphorical language of their predecessors (379A7). Thus, the satire of the Auc. Vit. is directed against characters like the dilettante book-buyer in Adv. Ind. -- against the idea that knowledge can be purchased and against those who try to sell it or believe they can usefully buy simplistic versions. The dialogue subverts dull, doctrinal, venal or authoritarian interpretations of philosophy but is not actually anti-philosophical (cf. Whitmarsh 2001: 258-65).
Plato of course paradoxically provides the image of the "παντοπÏŽλιον πολιτειá¿¶ν" describing democracy in the same work that suggests that his listeners imaginatively inhabit a politeia different from the one in which they actually live (592A-B). Strangely, it is thus only another step-- when other authors also write a Politeia and create schools-- to the world of the hairesis or "choice" of doctrines. Far from creating a closed society, Plato's work inaugurated a world where books of philosophy representing entire lifestyle choices or "lives" were on sale in the book market. The description of the now pretentiously philosophical audience for Lucian's second trial (Bis. Acc. 6) indicates Lucian was very aware of the way reading philosophy had transformed the Athenian audience. I will contrast the possibility of buying knowledge, "as though from the Agora" in the Adv. Ind. (4) with the dramatic movement upwards to the Acropolis in the Piscator, a movement clearly playing at every step with other famous literary trials and their locations (like Orestes on the Areopagus). I will connect this to the larger theme of Lucian's attempts to frame the actual choice of lives-- his answers to the old question πá¿¶ς βιωτÎον-- with a scene that mixes amusement, pleasure, novelty and even beauty to create a sense of thauma or wonder. Using Plutarch and the de Iside will thus be a step towards a better understanding of what Camerotto also notes-- some of Lucian's fundamental ideas, like that of the mixis, were "gia all'interno dell'ambito filosofico" (Camerotto 6).
The striking image of Lucian defending himself against these philosophers in the forecourt of the temple of Athena Polias, the Parthenon, is Lucian's dramatic answer to the dull, simplified and fruitless bibliophilia criticized in the Adv. Ind. and the Auc. Vit.; he literally brings the books to life and presents a vision of reading as creative confrontation rather than purchase. In offering a reading of the Piscator, I want to pay special attention to the way that Lucian's praise of Plato's prose sounds very much like praise of Lucian's own prose (22, 23; this observation supports the conclusions of Schlapbach 2010). The paper will focus on identifying the joke, connecting it with Plato’s image and showing how the dramatic movement of the dialogues invites the audience to imagine having to, like Lucian, defend their readings of ancient texts.