- Eight great lives. The Dryden translation
- Textes théoriques sur la traduction
- Poem of the week: Horace: The Odes, Book One, IX, translated by John Dryden
- CHARACTER OF POLYBIUS.
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There was another, priest of the church of Antioch, who, as Suidas assures us, reviewed, corrected, and restored to its primitive purity, the Hebrew Bible; and afterward suffered martyrdom, at Nicomedia, under Maximilian. But none of this name has met with the general applause of so many ages, as Lucian the philosopher and eminent sophist, who was author of the following Dialogues, of whose birth, life, and death, I shall give you all I could collect of any certain and historical credit. He had not the good fortune to be born of illustrious or wealthy parents, which give a man a very advantageous rise on his first appearance in the world; but the father of our Lucian laboured under so great a straitness of estate, that he was fain to put his son apprentice to a statuary, whose genius for the finer studies was so extraordinary and so rare; because he hoped from that business, not only a speedy supply to his own wants, but was secure that his education in that art would be much less expensive to him.
Eight great lives. The Dryden translation
He was born in Samosata, a city of Syria, not far from the river Euphrates; and for this reason, he calls himself more than once an Assyrian, and a Syrian; but he was derived from a Greek original, his forefathers having been citizens of Patras in Achaia. We have nothing certain as to the exact time of his birth. Suidas confirms his flourishing under the Emperor Trajan; but then he was likewise before 60 him. Some mention the reign of Adrian; but it cannot be fixed to any year or consulate.
Textes théoriques sur la traduction
But it happened, in the very beginning of his time, he broke a model, and was very severely called to account for it by his master. He, not liking this treatment, and having a soul and genius above any mechanic trade, ran away home. After which, in his sleep, there appeared to him two young women, or rather the tutelar goddesses of the statuary art, and of the liberal sciences, hotly disputing of their preference to each other; and on a full hearing of both sides, he bids adieu to statuary, and entirely surrenders himself to the conduct of virtue and learning.
And as his desires of improvement were great, and the instructions he had, very good, the progress he made was as considerable, till, by the maturity of his age and his study, he made his appearance in the world.
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Though it is not to be supposed, that there is any thing of reality in this dream, or vision, of Lucian, which he treats of in his works, yet this may be gathered from it,—that Lucian himself, having consulted his genius, and the nature of the study his father had allotted him, and that to which he found a propensity in himself, he quitted the former, and 61 pursued the latter, choosing rather to form the minds of men than their statues. In his youth, he taught rhetoric in Gaul, and in several other places.
He pleaded likewise at the bar in Antioch, the capital of Syria; but the noise of the bar disgusting, and his ill success in causes disheartening him, he quitted the practice of rhetoric and the law, and applied himself to writing. He was forty years old, when he first took to philosophy. Having a mind to make himself known in Macedon, he took the opportunity of speaking in the public assembly of all that region. In his old age, he was received into the imperial family, and had the place of intendant of Egypt, 36 after he had travelled through almost all the known countries of that age to improve his knowledge in men, manners, and arts; for some writers make this particular observation on his travel into Gaul, and residence in that country, that he gained there the greatest part of his knowledge in rhetoric, that region being in his age, and also before it, a nursery of eloquence and oratory, as Juvenal, Martial, and others, sufficiently witness.
The manner of his death is obscure to us, though it is most probable he died of the gout. Suidas alone tells a story of his being worried to death, and devoured by dogs, returning from a feast; which being so uncommon a death, so very improbable, and attested only by one author, has found little credit with posterity. If it be true, that he was once a Christian, and afterwards became a renegade to our belief, perhaps some zealots may have invented 62 this tale of his death, as a just and signal punishment for his apostacy.
All men are willing to have the miracle, or at least the wonderful providence, go on their side, and will be teaching God Almighty what he ought to do in this world, as well as in the next; as if they were proper judges of his decrees, and for what end he prospers some, or punishes others, in this life. Ablancourt, and our learned countryman Dr Mayne, 38 look on the story as a fiction: and, for my part, I can see no reason either to believe he ever professed Christianity, or, if he did, why he might 39 not more probably die in his bed at so great an age as fourscore and ten, than be torn in pieces and devoured by dogs, when he was too feeble to defend himself.
Of his posterity we know nothing more, than that he left a son behind him, who was as much in favour with the Emperor Julian, as his father had been with Aurelius the philosopher. This son became in time a famous sophist; and among the works of Julian we find an epistle of that great person to him. I find that I have mingled, before I was aware, some things which are doubtful with some which are certain; forced indeed by the narrowness of the subject, which affords very little of undisputed 63 truth.
He concludes it, however, to be a calumny, perhaps a charitable kind of lie, to deter others from satirizing the new dogmas of Christianity, by the judgment shown on Lucian. We find nothing in his writings, which gives any hint of his professing our belief; but being naturally curious, and living not only amongst Christians, but in the neighbourhood of Judea, he might reasonably be supposed to be knowing in our points of faith, without believing them.
He ran a muck, and laid about him on all sides with more fury on the heathens, whose religion he professed; he struck at ours but casually, as it came in his way, rather than as he sought it; he contemned it too much to write in earnest against it. We have indeed the highest probabilities for our revealed religion; arguments which will preponderate with a reasonable man, upon a long and careful disquisition; but I have always been of opinion, that we can demonstrate nothing, because the subject-matter is not capable of a demonstration. It is the particular grace of God, that any man believes the mysteries of our faith; which I think a conclusive argument against the doctrine of persecution in any church.
And though I am absolutely convinced, as I heartily thank God I am, not only 64 of the general principles of Christianity, but of all truths necessary to salvation in the Roman church, yet I cannot but detest our inquisition, as it is practised in some foreign parts, particularly in Spain and in the Indies. Those reasons, which are cogent to me, may not prevail with others, who bear the denomination of Christians; and those which are prevalent with all Christians, in regard of their birth and education, may find no force, when they are used against Mahometans or heathens.
To instruct is a charitable duty; to compel, by threatenings and punishment, is the office of a hangman, and the principle of a tyrant. But my zeal in a good cause, as I believe, has transported me beyond the limits of my subject.
I was endeavouring to prove, that Lucian had never been a member of the Christian church; and methinks it makes for my opinion, that, in relating the death of Peregrinus, who, being born a Pagan, pretended afterwards to turn Christian, and turned himself publicly at the Olympic games, at his death professing himself a cynic philosopher, it seems, I say, to me, that Lucian would not have so severely declaimed against this Proteus, which was another of Peregrinus his names, if he himself had been guilty of that apostacy. I know not that this passage has been observed by any man before me; 42 and yet in this very place it is, that this author has more severely handled our belief, and more at large, than in any other part of all his writings, excepting only the Dialogue of 65 Triephon and Critias, 43 wherein he lashes his own false gods with more severity than the true; and where the first Christians, with their cropped hair, their whining voices, melancholy faces, mournful discourses, and nasty habits, are described with a greater air of Calvinists or Quakers, than of Roman Catholics or Church of England men.
I doubt not but the same people, who broached the story of his being once a Christian, followed their blow upon him in this second accusation. There are several sorts of Christians at this day reigning in the world, who will not allow any man to believe in the Son of God, whose other articles of faith are not in all things conformable to theirs.
Some of these exercise this rigid and severe kind of charity, with a good intent of reducing several sects into one common church; but the spirit of others is evidently seen by their detraction, their malice, their spitting venom, their raising false reports of 66 those who are not of their communion. I wish the ancientness of these censorious principles may be proved by better arguments, than by any near resemblance they have with the primitive believers.
But till I am convinced that Lucian has been charged with atheism of old, I shall be apt to think that this accusation is very modern. But this argument, I confess, is of little weight to prove him a deist, only because he was no polytheist.
Poem of the week: Horace: The Odes, Book One, IX, translated by John Dryden
He might as well believe in none, as in many gods; and on the other side, he might believe in many, as Julian did, and not in one. For my own part, I think it is not proved that either of them were apostates, though one of them, in hopes of an empire, might temporize, while Christianity was the mode at court. Neither is our author cleared any thing the more, because his writings have served, in the times of the heathens, to destroy that vain, unreasonable, and impious religion; that was an oblique service, which Lucian never intended us; for his business, like that of some modern polemics, was rather to pull down every thing, than to set up any thing.
The occasional good which he has done, is not to be imputed to him. St Chrysostom, St Augustin, and many others, have applied his arguments on better motives than their author proposed to himself in framing them. These reasons therefore, as they make nothing 67 against his being an atheist, so they prove nothing of his believing one God; but only leave him as they found him, and leave us in as great an obscurity concerning his religion as before. I may be as much mistaken in my opinion as these great men have been before me; and this is very probable, because I know less of him than they; yet I have read him over more than once, and therefore will presume to say, that I think him either one of the Eclectic 45 school, or else a Sceptic: I mean, that he either formed a body of philosophy for his own use out of the opinions and dogmas of several heathen philosophers, disagreeing amongst themselves, or that he doubted of every thing; weighed all opinions, and adhered to none of them; only used them as they served his occasion for the present dialogue, and perhaps rejected them in the next.
And indeed this last opinion is the more probable of the two, if we consider the genius of the man, whose image we may clearly see in the glass which he holds before us of his writings, which reflects him to our sight. Not to dwell on examples, with which his works are amply furnished, I will only mention two. In another, he confutes Jupiter, and pulls him down from heaven to earth, by his own Homerical chain; and makes him only a subservient slave to blind eternal fate.
CHARACTER OF POLYBIUS.
I might add, that he is, in one half of his book, a Stoic, in the other an Epicurean; never constant to himself in any scheme of divinity, unless it be in 68 despising his gentile gods. And this derision, as it shews the man himself, so it gives us an idea of the age in which he lived; for if that had been devout or ignorant, his scoffing humour would either have been restrained, or had not passed unpunished; all knowing ages being naturally sceptic, and not at all bigotted; which, if I am not much deceived, is the proper character of our own.
As for his morals, they are spoken of as variously as his opinions. Some are for decrying him more than he deserves; his defenders themselves dare not set him up for a pattern of severe virtue. No man is so profligate, as openly to profess vice; and therefore it is no wonder, if under the reign of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines, of which the last was his patron and benefactor, he lived not so much a libertine as he had it to be in his nature. He is more accused for his love of boys than of women.
Not that we have any particular story to convince us of this detestable passion in him; but his own writings bear this record against him, that he speaks often of it, and I know not that ever he condemns it. Repeated expressions, as well as repeated actions, witness some secret pleasure in the deed, or at least some secret inclination to it. But as we pass over a foul way as hastily as we can, so I will leave this abominable subject, which strikes me with horror when I name it. If there be any who are guilty of this sin, we may assure ourselves they will never stop at any other; for when they have overleaped the bounds of nature, they run so fast to all other immoralities, that the grace of God, without a miracle, can never overtake them.
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If he had been, he would certainly have answered for himself, as he did to those who accused him for exposing Socrates, Plato, Diogenes, and other great philosophers, to the laughter of the people, when Jupiter sold them by an inch of candle. But, to confess the truth, [as] I am of their opinion, who think that answer of his not over-ingenuous, viz.
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I find him not charged with any other faults, than what I have already mentioned. He was otherwise of a life as unblameable as any man, for aught we find to the contrary: and I have this probable inducement to believe it, because he had so honourable an employment under Marcus Aurelius, an emperor as clear-sighted as he was truly virtuous; for both which qualities we need not quote Lucian, who was so much obliged to him, but may securely appeal to Herodian, and to all the historians who have written of him,—besides the testimony of his own admirable works, which are yet in the hands of all the learned.
As for those who condemn our author for the too much gall and virulency of his satires, it is to be suspected, says Dr Mayne, that they themselves are guilty of those hypocrisies, crimes, and follies, which he so sharply exposes, and at the same time endeavours to reform. I may add, that, for the most part, he rather laughs like Horace, than bites like Juvenal.
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Indeed his genius was of kin to both, but more nearly related to the former. Some diseases are curable by lenitives; to others corrosives are necessary. Excepting what already is excepted, he seems to me to be an enemy to nothing but to vice and folly.