The Lover of Lies, or the Doubter

A conversation dealing with the supernatural, recently held at the house of Eucrates, is recounted by one of the chief participants, Tychiades, to his friend Philocles, to show how mendacious and how credulous people are.

To put ourselves in tune with Lucian and his audience requires very little effort, now that we too are inclined to believe in supernatural manifestations. To be sure, the other world manifested itself to men in those days through somewhat different channels; but the phenomena, then as now, were considered extremely well authenticated, and were credited by men of high standing. Take but one example, the younger Pliny. In a famous letter, which should be read in full (7, 27), he asks Licinius Sura for his opinion about phantasmata, citing as well vouched for by others the story of Curtius Rufus (told also by Tacitus: Annals 11, 21) and that of the haunted house, which we find in Lucian, and then relating two incidents that happened in his own family: in both cases a boy dreamed that his hair was being cut, and awoke in the morning to find it lying on the pillow beside him. Pliny does not seek a rationalistic explanation in the pranks of pages; he takes the incidents very seriously, and surely does not expect either Sura or the general public to do otherwise. Eucrates is Pliny’s spiritual grandson.

Lucian’s auditors, too, were credulous, and whether they fully believed such tales or not, anyhow they were eager to listen to them. Lucian for his part was uncommonly eager to repeat them because he was quite aware that he could do it very well. Was he to be debarred from that privilege simply because he did not believe in them? Not he! He could kill two birds with a single lucky stone, for he could tell what his audience craved to hear, and at the same time he and they could laugh at those who liked to tell and hear such stories. The inclusiveness of the satire is clearly shown in its last words. Both Tychiades and Philocles confess that they have been bitten with the prevailing mania.

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.lucian-lover_lies_doubter.1921