Menippus or the Descent into Hades

Menippus, who in the Icaromenippus (II. 267) described his ascent to Heaven to discover the truth about the nature of the universe, now tells the story of his descent into Hades to find out the right way to live. Utterly perplexed by the philosophers, who neither agree in their doctrines nor practise what they preach, he goes below to consult Teiresias, who tells him to disregard them; that the ordinary man’s way of living is best.

The unity of the dialogue is badly marred because Lucian has given it a double point, aiming it not only at the philosophers but at the rich. Indeed, it is not the philosophers but the rich and powerful who are getting on badly in Hades, and against whom a decree is passed by the assembly of the dead.

This curious defect arises, I believe, from the way in which Lucian adapted his model, the Necyia of the real Menippus. Helm argues, to be sure, that the Menippus is a mere epitome and revision of the Necyia, but in my opinion the Necyia must have been a satire against wealth and power, in which Menippus told how he (or someone else) had learned, by his own observation and from the lips of Teiresias, that kings and millionaires fared ill in the hereafter, and that the life of the ordinary man was preferable to theirs. This Cynic sermon Lucian parodies and turns against the philosophers, retaining the response of Teiresias, but twisting its point so that the “ordinary man” is now contrasted, not with kings and plutocrats, but with philosophers. He ought to have carried out this idea by recasting the whole show in Hades; but he wanted to work in a decree of the dead, which could not be directed against the philosophers without stealing the thunder of Teiresias. So he aimed it at the rich, and retained the stage setting of Menippus to lead up to it.

The dialogue probably was written in a.d. 161–162 (p. 90, note). Helm’s discussion (Lucian und Menipp, 15 ff.) contains much valuable comment, especially upon the magic ritual.

On Menippus, see the Index.

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.lucian-menippus_descent_hades.1925