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Lucian of Samosata

Lucian’s True History

Translations by Francis Hickes and A. M. Harmon

Introduction by Charles Wibley

Download PDF file – release 1.0 – 111 pages

Download plain text file – release 1.0

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Lucian’s satirical True History, written in the 2nd century CE, is said to be the first work of science fiction (actually, it could rather be called fantasy than science fiction, but this is a modern distinction) — while it draws on the works it parodies, it is indeed the first work that openly declares its fantastic content to be entirely made up. “If Utopia and its unnumbered rivals derive from Plato, there is not a single Imaginary Traveller that is not modelled upon Lucian,” writes Charles Whibley in 1894, and lists Rabelais, Cyrano de Bergerac, Jonathan Swift and Louis Holberg among the writers who were influenced by Lucian’s True History — but also the science fiction and fantasy books, films and TV series of the 20th and 21st century are still indebted to Lucian’s inventions.

The Dunyazad edition of the True History has both the translations by Francis Hickes from the early 17th century and the one by Austin Morris Harmon from 1913.


About the Author

Lucian of Samosata, born around 125 CE was a prolific and highly popular satirist author, who made fun of superstition, of those who told fantastic tales claiming them to be true, and of those who believed in them. He was critical of religion and often ridiculed well known philosophers and writers. Of the more than 80 works that are attributed to him, his True History has remained the most influential and popular. The Introduction by Charles Whibley gives an account of Lucian’s works and their influence on later writers, even if in 1894 he could not know how the sci-fi and fantasy genres would proliferate in the 20th and 21st century, still, at least indirectly, indebted to Lucian’s True History.

Samosata, where Lucian was born, on the banks of the Euphrates, near today’s city of Samsat in Turkey, was at that time part of the Roman province of Syria. Lucian called himself a Syrian, which was not in conflict with him being a Roman citizen, and having Greek as his native language. Little is known about his life, and what we do know we only now from his own writings, which may not be entirely reliable sources. He studied rhetoric and Greek literature in Ionia, visited universities throughout the Roman Empire as a travelling lecturer, gained some wealth and fame through his teachings, and settled in Athens for ten years, where he wrote most of his known works. In his fifties he may have been appointed a government official in Egypt. Since he mentioned the apotheosis of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who died in 180, we know that he was still alive at this time, but no further information about his life or his death have come down to us.


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