Helios, Volume 38, Number 1, Spring 2011
E-ISSN: 1935-0228 Print ISSN: 0160-0923
Interpretation and Authenticity of the Lucianic Erotes
James Jope

Numbers in square brackets refer to notes, which can be seen by scrolling down to the end of the document. Numbers in rounded parentheses refer to the Greek text in the Loeb edition.

In Greek literature under the Roman  Empire, a number of works debated the merits of women versus boys as objects of desire (Fleury 2007, 776). The Erotes contains such a debate between two characters named Charicles and  Callicratidas, framed within a discussion between two  others named Lycinus and Theomnestus. This dialogue has come to us among Lucian’s  works, where Lycinus  would, at  least initially,  represent  the authorial persona, and Lycinus in this work does seem to have  that role. However, the Erotes, regarded as inauthentic, was neglected through most of the twentieth century until  Michel Foucault  (1984) examined it as a document for  the  history of  sexuality. Following Foucault, David  M. Halperin (1992) argued that even though Charicles pursues only women and Callicratidas only boys, the argument  is about not heterosexuality versus homosexuality, but a difference of taste.[1] To trivialize the  ancient debate  as a question of taste or,  at the  other extreme, to  denounce the Erotes as simply a defense of pederasty  involves a loss of historical perspective. In  Charicles’ discourse, the  issue of same- versus  opposite-sex relations does assume serious importance, but the modern obsession over ‘intergenerational’ sex is strikingly absent in the ancient debate.

It is true that Callicratidas and Charicles both assume bisexual attraction. Indeed, Charicles, who represents the ‘heterosexual’ preference, condemns same-sex relations as overindulgence in pleasure; similarly, Plutarch (Erotikos 766E), who also championed women, felt obliged to assert that women  are just as desirable as boys.  Still, Charicles wishes to ban all same-sex relations, regardless of age. The only mention of age in the Erotes occurs when he asserts the conventional Greek view that adult males are no longer desirable. Callicratidas envisions man-boy romances as evolving into equal relationships lasting to old age—a less conventional vision that, however, is also evidenced by, e.g., Plato’s Symposium and the early Stoic view of eros (love/desire) leading to philia (love/friendship).

Whereas Foucault and Halperin were concerned more with sexuality than with a literary  interpretation of the Erotes,  Simon Goldhill  (1995,102–11) and Michael Klabunde (2001) compared the debate here with women versus boys arguments in Plutarch  and Achilles  Tatius.  While this comparative method is a logical approach to the highly mimetic literature of the Second Sophistic, a full appreciation of the Erotes has actually been impaired by the  habitual desire to contextualize it within that debate without first understanding its internal dynamics.

Plutarch’s Erotikos was  an  innovative essay,  a  major  station in an apparent shift of Greek sexual interest from boys to women in the imperial age;  and the Erotes too certainly was a response to that shift. However, the  Erotes does not advance the  philosophical debate—Lycinus and Theomnestus share  conventional values, and  the  position that is ultimately affirmed is traditional.  Rather,  the  Erotes is a sophisticated literary  composition that must be  understood rhetorically  and  dramatically as well as philosophically. In the present paper I begin with a closer reading of the Erotes in order to isolate what is unique about this work, which turns out to be  remarkably Lucianic in content and values. Then I will demonstrate its authenticity by reexamining the key issue of its style.


As  stated above, the  debate here is not a philosophical dialogue, it is an amusingly formal rhetorical  contest—amusing because it is held in private, as a kind of duel to settle a grudge. Both speakers have some rhetorical background,[2]  and they each have one turn to speak. When Lycinus is obliged to pick a winner, he assesses  their rhetorical skill, and even credits them for covering all of the topical arguments (50)—which would hardly distinguish them philosophically. Lycinus congratulates Charicles for his brave defense of  what Lycinus  considers the weaker case (52), praise that a philosopher would not appreciate. Callicratidas goes so far as to blame Charicles for making their argument far  more serious by unexpectedly “philosophizing” (31). Evidently it was not the  purpose of the  Erotes to advance the philosophical debate. But neither does Lycinus take the  rhetorical  contest seriously.  The  two speakers are not seeking truth, but opposing each other;  both, with their exclusive preference for women or  boys, are extremists, and Lycinus, who expected a  playful diversion, is annoyed by their mutual hostility (17).

The  Erotes,  like many  Lucianic dialogues, is a satirical seriocomedy.  The shallow, self-indulgent lifestyles of both speakers contrast pointedly with their  idealistic speeches. ‘Hypocrisy’  may  be  too strong  a  word, since rhetoricians were expected to be able to argue any position (5); but irony is certainly intended.

Details of the  lifestyles of Charicles and Callicratidas show their shallow extremism. Callicratidas is a gymnast, an occupation that was stereotyped as an ideal niche for a pederast. Strato (Anth. Pal. 12.34) enviously pictures a gymnast  enjoying the favors of several boys simultaneously in a scene reminiscent of the modern pornographic stereotype of the virile coach  frolicking with his  athletic admirers.  Lycinus  suspects that pederastic activity is Callicratidas’s  real  reason for loving gymnastics (9). [3] Callicratidas keeps  himself surrounded  by  boys, but  as  soon  as  their youth fades, they  are packed off to work on his  rural estates. As  for Charicles, he comes from Corinth, the proverbial capital of courtesans, where he surrounds himself with women and excludes all male servants other than eunuchs and old men. He is handsome, foppish, and effeminate—traits commonly ascribed to womanizers and adulterers. Notably, Theomnestus, who is an eager and successful bisexual Casanova, also dresses foppishly, although he too frequents the gym (3).

There  are touches of humor and witty mots  justes  throughout  the Erotes. Even Callicratidas’s misogynist discourse, though drawing on stock material, exhibits both rhetorical skill and fresh flashes of humor, such as the  exaggerated assortment  of  concoctions, powders, and boxes  at  the lady’s dresser filled with materials like “mischief ” (κακοδαιμονία, 39). But other parts of Callicratidas’s discourse seem extreme even by ancient standards. Men who, like him, preferred to discontinue sexual relations with their  wives as  soon as  they  had children must have  been  exceptional. And his  spiteful wish that women’s serpentine bracelets were real snakes contrasts sharply with, for example, the attitude of Lucretius, who, albeit equally cynical about cosmetics, dismissed  it as  folly because men can appreciate women of character regardless of their appearance (4.1174–91). Rhetorically, however, Callicratidas’s version is effective, because it follows the  decadent women step by step through their daily activities, building a rhythmical contrast with the parallel steps in the daily routine of wholesome young men which follows.

Here,  rather than relying  solely on the  standard  Platonic  model of pederasty, our gymnast draws his material largely from the poets: Homer, Euripides, Callimachus, even Sappho.[4]  Euripides’ model of lifelong companionship between  Orestes  and Pylades  inspires  Callicratidas, who works himself up to a climax by asserting his  desire for an exclusive relationship with  one young man  lasting to old age  (46)—this from  a man who  banishes his minions to the  countryside  at the first  appearance of the dreaded whiskers. The ideal that Callicratidas advocates sounds surprisingly ascetic, since intercourse with women is limited to reproductive activity and physical intercourse with the boys seems to be implicitly denied. Or  is it? Callicratidas is cagy about this. He cites approvingly the Platonic story that Socrates would not have  sex with Alcibiades (54), yet he boasts that his  own ideal combines virtue with pleasure (37). There is a telling allusion to Aristophanes’ Clouds  (975–6), where modest boys are said to erase traces of their bottoms in the sand when leaving the  gym. This  is from  the  Just Argument’s  idealized Archaic  model of pederasty, with which  Aristophanes apparently sympathized, but which he found hypocritical because of the sexual nature of the relationship [5] —just as, in the Erotes, Theomnestus does humorously, and Charicles does scornfully, and as Lucian does in other works where he satirizes pederastic philosophers (e.g., in the  tenth Dialogue of the Courtesans).

Charicles may  have   more  initial  appeal for some  modern  readers. When   Robert Bloch  (1907)  wrote  the   study  chiefly responsible  for rejecting the  authenticity of the Erotes, he was responding to an oversimplified interpretation that equated Charicles with Stoicism and Callicratidas with  Epicureanism; thus, he deployed Quellenforschung to demonstrate that both speakers drew on various sources. Nonetheless, Charicles’ core position is  recognizably  Stoic. His commendation of mutual  affection between  husband and wife echoes the  Roman Stoic Musonius (Skinner 2005, 244) as well as Plutarch. His insistence that  Nature  dictates, for the purpose of reproduction, a rigid differentiation of gender roles can be traced to Plato’s Laws, but Charicles’ identification of Nature with “Providence” (πρόνοια) is Stoic.
Kathy Gaca   (2003) has  traced the   doctrine  of  “procreationism,” which specified  reproduction  as  the  only proper  function of sex, from Plato and the Pythagoreans to the  later Stoics and ultimately to Christi- anity.  Although Zeno’s sexual ethics were progressive,  later  Stoics, particularly Roman  Stoics, became increasingly obsessed with the repression of all  nonreproductive  sex as  illicit pursuit of pleasure. [6]   Charicles’ rant against same-sex relations as unrestrained indulgence (τρυφή) echoes the abusive homophobic rhetoric  that is often affected by Roman  authors (e.g., Seneca; cf. Hubbard 2003, 392–5) and is much less prominent in, e.g., Plutarch. For Charicles, the  history of civilization is one of increasing indulgence, and this must be  stopped. In this respect  he, just like Callicratidas, advocates an austere ideal, in amusing contradistinction to what we know of his  own lifestyle.

As   the  frame narrative suggests, emotion is just as important as doctrine here.  Callicratidas’s misogyny is matched by  Charicles’ homophobia. Predictably, both of them manipulate the  Platonic differentiation of two kinds of love, physical and noble, to claim the  noble type as exclusively their own, and ascribe the physical to their opponent.

At the climax of the dialogue, Lycinus reluctantly chooses a winner by asserting that everyone should marry, but pederasty should be  reserved for wise men only  (51). This  sounds like victory  for Callicratidas, yet there is irony. Lycinus’s judgment directs some sarcasm at both speakers: he  sets  marriage in the  real  world, as  a  boon “if you are lucky,”  and deliberately accepts Callicratidas’s “high-blown talk” (σφόδρα νεανικῶς σεμνολογησαμένου, 50) at face value by agreeing  that same-sex relations “respecting the  ties of friendship” are possible only for philosophers. For if Callicratidas’s “high-blown talk” be  taken at face value, then  his  position, too, is in effect procreationist and calls for abstinence from nonre- productive  sex. Of  course,  the  irony  is lost on  Callicratidas, whose unbounded  joy  at the  result  suggests that he  classes himself among  the “wise” who will be  allowed to indulge.

Lycinus  himself does not  place  much value on  the  judgment; the rhetorical score, he  says, is really about equal, but he  is anxious for closure so that he  need no longer be  bothered with their annoying dispute (50). Nonetheless, Lycinus still reveals that he considers Charicles’ cause inherently  weaker (52); this means  that  he  must be  inclined to favor some element of  Callicratidas’s arguments.  It cannot be  the  extreme misogyny or the ideal of a lifelong same-sex relationship, for by Lycinus’s conventional standards  these are  extremist sentiments. As mentioned previously, Callicratidas’s position, at any rate as formulated by Lycinus, amounts to neither more  nor less than the  traditional Greek  attitude. But  that, precisely,  is the  point:  Callicratidas tells Charicles, “You seem almost ashamed  to  be  Greek”  (36). His own version of history is more positive, associating ‘nature’ with barbarian and  ‘culture’  with Greek. Philosophy, as an umbrella concept for wisdom as a guide to living, plays a  key  role  in this  Hellenism with which  our author  evidently sympathized. Yet  by  reverting  from  Plato to  the  poets, and  particularly to Aristophanes’ Just Argument, Callicratidas has affirmed the oldest classical stratum of the Greek pederastic tradition. Charicles, in contrast, with his  dogma of ‘natural law’  and his  emphasis on marital  companionship represents a relatively recent innovation  with Hellenistic and especially Roman  associations.

Charicles’ temper, which surprises the other interlocutors and changes a playful pastime into a serious dispute, reflects the  pompous moralism of the  Roman  Stoics, and foreshadows the  repressive implementation of their ideology under Christian  influence. Our  author,  as represented  by Lycinus, does not sympathize with this reformist strain of philosophical thought.  Indeed, although  he  does respect  philosophy  as  the   Greek approach to wisdom, he does not seem interested in sectarian philosophical disputes.  Pederasty  is simply accepted for its role  in  philosophy  as part  of the  Hellenic way  of life. This  final  affirmation of philosophical pederasty is not so much a theoretical refutation of the  reformist ideology as the down-to-earth—one might even say reactionary—response of an educated traditionalist. It was  the  swan  song of the  Greek pederastic tradition, and  from  its perspective the  question of women versus boys was, as  both Lycinus  and Theomnestus believed, trivial;  the  real  issue was affirming past centuries of intellectual culture against a rising tide of repression.

The  theme of  the   contestants’  temper and   Lycinus’s   impatience with it is  emphasized throughout  the  frame narrative.  Lycinus  warns Theomnestus that whereas he might expect a discussion of this subject to be a mere diversion, it was actually a serious clash (5). Charicles and Callicratidas are constantly bickering  until Lycinus  proposes  the  contest to stop  their  uncultured  noise (17).  Charicles ends his   speech  with  a “beastly glare” (29) ironically reminiscent of his admiration for animals as natural, while Callicratidas looks full of anger. But Lycinus only smiles (30) and comments that he feels as if Charicles has been addressing the Areopagus court rather than a couple of friends (29).[7]

One might think  that anger and righteous indignation would have  a legitimate role in oratory. But this particular kind of anger—loss of temper,  therefore loss of  self-control—was  not admired. Philostratus in his  Lives of the Sophists cites it as a fault of speakers more than once, referring to Antiochus (568) and Philagros (579–81), and even, in exceptional circumstances, Herodes  Atticus  (561). A   modern  term  roughly equivalent to this  uncontrolled anger towards  opposing views is  ‘fanaticism.’ Lycinus dislikes any kind of fanaticism on the  grounds that it is unbecoming a gentleman  (πεπαιδευμένος).  And while both speakers are fanatical in their  character,  Charicles’ fanaticism is intrinsic to his  reformist  views. The author expresses this through repeated references to Lycinus’s desire, and his  companions’ failure, to strike a proper balance between σπουδή (earnestness)  and παιδία (fun) (1, 4, 5, 7, 17, 53),  as  well as  through Lycinus’s surprise and annoyance at the vehemence of their emotion.

The contrast between Lycinus’s  equable restraint  and  the  irascibility of his  companions is developed throughout the  frame narrative. As  Lycinus narrates his  voyage to Cnidos with Charicles and  Callicratidas and then  gives an extensive description of the  temple precinct of Aphrodite, the  author  strives to  create  an  atmosphere  of cheerful reverence  and pleasant  dallying in lush and prosperous  surroundings.  There  are no storms at sea, and the  placid voyage reflects Lycinus’s attitude. The difficult passage of  the  Swallow Islands  is acknowledged only in passing, and even the  impoverished conditions along the  Lycian  coast serve  to elicit his  cultured  conviviality.  Lycinus’s  quietism is not founded upon ivory-tower illusions, but on a learned gentleman’s restraint. The temple precinct in particular is beautifully depicted, its luxuriant gardens teeming with flora  and  worshippers. All  of this creates  an  atmosphere  of placid reverence  leading up to the  viewing of the  statue  of  Aphrodite. Bloch (1907, 52), citing the  author’s  “Asianism” as  evidence of inauthenticity, singled out this portion as a specimen sermonis putidi atque ornati. But  these  scenes contribute to the  dramatic movement of the  Erotes,  as they  resonate  with the  peace and prosperity  that Lycinus  both desires and embodies, and which contrasts with his companions’ rage.

Scholars studying Lucian’s The Hall  have  shown how Second Sophistic authors were expected to criticize a work of art.[8] Vulgar art admirers would merely gape or express inarticulate enthusiasm, whereas a cultured viewer  would respond  with a verbal description of its  merits. From this point of view, the  performance of Charicles and Callicratidas in front of the  Aphrodite  is  laughable. Charicles, overcome by lust, gushes.  Callicratidas does a little better,  commenting  appropriately  on the  composi- tion, but only after gushing  even more foolishly at the back of the statue, which reminds him of boys.

The temple guide recites a story of an amorous  youth who embraced the statue, stained its thigh, and came to a bad end. This story was commonplace, but its treatment  here is hardly  merely  conventional. Apart from the  fact that it is engagingly narrated with a sensitive and realistic psychological analysis and a well-constructed  gradient of dramatic tension, it is a moving  reminder  of the  danger of obsessive eros.  Charicles and  Callicratidas, however,  each interpret it blindly in  support of their own type of erotic  interest. Indeed, the  champion of monogamous het- erosexual fidelity cannot  restrain  himself from  fondling the  statue, just like the young man  in the  story.

The  authorial response  is expressed more  through the  opening and closing conversations between Lycinus  and Theomnestus than through Lycinus’s  forced  and  qualified judgment.  Lycinus  is not  prudish—he delights in Theomnestus’s tales of his  many  affairs with boys and women alike. However,  he  orients his  own conduct on the  Greek  ideal of self- control.[9]  Lycinus can accept the judge’s role and make the proper choice. What  he cannot do is express the  comical aspect of this seriocomedy by duly debunking the  false idealism of the  two debaters.  This  is undertaken  by  Theomnestus, who charges both of  them with “high-blown talk” (σεμνολογία) and proceeds to bring us back down to earth  with an explicit step-by-step account of a typical sexual encounter.

This passage, while certainly amusing, is also serious. It is meaningful both for the history of sexuality and for understanding the Erotes. Unlike much of ancient philosophical discourse, Theomnestus’s discourse reflects experience, not ideology. That the  author was knowledgeable about such matters is shown by Theomnestus’s awareness of the  tactics of male-to-male lovemaking  and Charicles’ description of the  feelings associated with anal penetration (27).

Theomnestus’s discourse, like the  contemporary  poetry  of Strato,  is usually regarded as relating only to purely physical or recreational sex.[10] But  do Strato and Theomnestus merely  discuss more  openly  a type of relations  that  had long coexisted with  educational pederasty? Or   did Greek practice really change? Charicles apparently assumes that the  new interest  in  marital relationships  and the  professionalization  of  higher education reduced same-sex relations to purely physical liaisons. Yet the emphasis on  courtship,  seduction, and mutual enjoyment in Strato’s anthology  and in Theomnestus’s discourse suggests that same-sex  rela- tions may  have  become more equal and reciprocal outside of the  educational frame. Both  of these  sources  indicate, for example, that  men should expect boys to enjoy the  sex too.

To understand the  function of  Theomnestus’s  account within the Erotes, however, we should also remember that Aphrodite not only nominally presides  over this dialogue; her  presence  is salient. Theomnestus dismisses pretences of abstinence by emphasizing  the passivity of erotic arousal: If you look, you are overwhelmed with the  desire to kiss; if you kiss, you are overwhelmed with the  desire to touch; and the  hands seem to  move on  to  less innocent activities as  if of their own  volition.[11]
Theomnestus is reminding  us that eros is not exclusively  about  either reproduction or education; it is a power that commands respect and, as Theomnestus knows only too well, threatens self-control. This suggestion seriously undermines the position of Lycinus, who appears to be perhaps too much a gentleman.


Postmodern critics sensitive to irony, ambivalence, and different authorial personae have  a very  different  appreciation  of Lucian than Bloch’s generation, when it  was  fashionable to judge questions of authenticity on  tenuous grounds.[12]    If it is not  clear,  for example,  to  what  extent Theomnestus, as well as Lycinus, represents the  authorial point of view, we should more  likely regard  this as  characteristically Lucianic than as evidence of inauthenticity. Jas Elsner’s  (2001) essay on The Syrian Goddess is a fine  example of more current scholarship on Lucian. After analyzing the   sophisticated   layers  of  ambiguity in that   work, Elsner concludes it is hard to believe it is not by Lucian, although he  does not address the issue of authenticity directly (probably because of the numerous studies already on this topic).

The authenticity of the  Erotes  has received  scant attention;  however, some scholars betray discomfort with the dogma of inauthenticity. C. P. Jones (1984, 178) has  written that the  Erotes,  if not by Lucian, was  at least greatly influenced by him, while Simon Goldhill describes a remark by Lycinus as “a characteristic Lucianic [even if this is a pseudo-Lucianic dialogue] gesture” (1995, 102; original brackets) and refers to the speakers as  “the  Lucianic debaters” (1995, 104). If,  on the  other hand,  the Erotes  was  written by an  imitator,  he  was  a  skilled  rhetorician  able to compose a  satirical seriocomedy  of literary  merit that  reproduced  his  model’s attitudes and values surprisingly well. He was broadly acquainted with poetry  and philosophy,  and respectful  of philosophy  as  a general source  of wisdom, but  cynical regarding  philosophical posturing and innovations, and as sensitive to character as to theory. He could appreciate pleasure and comfort, but admired—and presented himself as a prac- titioner of—self-control.  He  was  a  man   ambivalent towards  Roman  influence, with a sentimental preference for Greek classical values; a man who could be  cynical about classical idealism yet fond of tradition, and who,  in this connection,  sympathized with Aristophanes. He could be both skeptical and respectful as regards religion;[13]  had a relaxed attitude towards sex, but could readily satirize pretentious or exploitative sexual ideologues; could tolerate differing views and tastes, but disliked fanaticism;  and above all, had a lively sense of irony  and  constantly targeted σεμνολογία.

In spite of all this, most twentieth-century scholars endorsed the view that the  Erotes is not authentic after making only brief, vague references to its style. Although  Michael Klabunde (2001, 165) has been able to trace denials of authenticity to before the  twentieth  century,  the  last detailed presentation  of this view  was  put forth  by Bloch (1907) and Helm (1927), who disparaged the  style as “Asianist”  because it was  supposedly too ornate, pedantic, and marked by outlandish vocabulary similar to what Lucian condemned in his  Lexiphanes. The only aspect given further serious attention was  external evidence to corroborate the  presumption of  inauthenticity.  The  Erotes  states that the  statue is Parian marble,  while Lucian elsewhere (Zeus   Rants   10) says   it   is   Pentelic (although I would argue that an  author could  make  such a mistake in two of his  works). Jones (1984) dates the Erotes to the third century C.E. because it  describes  Cnidos as  prosperous  and the   Lydian  coast as depressed and fails to mention the  earthquakes that damaged Cnidos in Lucian’s time. The dramatic setting of the dialogue, however, can explain this apparent contradiction. Since the  travelers must go to Cnidos to see Aphrodite,  Cnidos must be  peaceful and thriving to reflect  the  atmosphere of their encounter,  and so any  mention  of  earthquakes would need to  be   omitted. In any  case,  Jones’s reasoning  depends on  the assumption that  the  dialogue must have  read  like plausible reportage.[14] Although much of Lucian’s  work did relate  to contemporary  events or persons, an author who wrote of trips to the  moon and the  underworld would not hesitate to fictionalize  aspects of the  real  world as  well if it suited his purpose. In support of authenticity, the  social and intellectual environment described in the  Erotes—the prosperity of the  High Empire, thriving sophists, safe  travel, and the   pagan   religious  revival—typify Lucian’s own time. The Stoic character of Charicles’ procreationist arguments is  significant in  this regard.  A  century  later,  with Stoicism in decline, one  might  have  expected a pagan  intellectual attacking fanaticism, especially as  regards  sex, to allude rather to  the  Neoplatonic or Christian doctrines prevalent at that time.

When  all is said, the  essential argument against  authenticity is the treatise’s  style. Lucian is known for  the  variety of his  writing, and the Erotes  does use more  complex, even difficult, sentence structures  and unusual  vocabulary  than  we usually  find in,  e.g.,  Lucian’s  dramatic sketches. The  style has  been  compared to Philostratus’s (Jones 1986, 178), although the  flow is smoother,  and the  syntax more  elegant. The core  of  Bloch’s  argument against  authenticity,  which has been docilely accepted now for a century, was the description of the voyage in sections 7–8; the  passage was  adduced as a self-evident example of the  pedantic affectation known as  “Asianism.”  Although  this  term  was  commonly used in the  ancient  world, it was  only vaguely defined; yet scholars of Bloch’s era surmised it readily. Bloch even regarded the fact that the passage conveys a vivid image of the narrated events and setting as Asianist. Now, this passage is among the  most ornate in the  Erotes and, taken out of context, might seem  needlessly detailed; however,  like the  encounter with the temple statue and the  story of the  statue’s pollution, it is well written, at least when read in connection with the  overall theme of the dialogue. If “Asianist”  is  well  written, graphic narrative,  then   Lucian indulged in this style on many  other occasions. For  example, the  function of the  seafaring narrative in  the  Erotes  is remarkably analogous to that of another seemingly gratuitous seafaring story reported in The Ship (7–9). In both  accounts, the   navigational details are expanded  with material chosen to set the  atmosphere of the  dialogue. In the Erotes, it is Lycinus’s calm, contrasted with his companions’ temper. In The Ship, an atmosphere of almost juvenile excitement begins with the  docking of an impressive cargo  ship and sweeps Lycinus’s  companions into ambitious fantasies of wealth and power, only to have  a cynical Lycinus eventually burst the  bubble and bring them back down to earth. The report of the voyage which, this time, does have  a storm and exciting heroics as well, contributes to the excitement.

If we examine the  supposed pedantic verbosity of  Bloch’s “Asianist” passage in this light, the  style actually is wholly appropriate.[15]   “Expedition”  (στρατεία)  is a  grandiose term  for this safe trip, apparently  said tongue-in-cheek to contribute to the  atmosphere  of  camaraderie. The breezes “shepherd” (ἐποίμαινον) their ship in response to Lycinus’s conventional piety. “Smooth” (ἠρέμα) sailing continues the  emphasis on the calmness of the  voyage. Lycinus’s  seemingly  fulsome statement that he will not give a detailed account of their conversations “serious and playful” (σπουδῆς ἤ παιδιᾶς) belongs to the  leitmotif contrasting  Lycinus’s expectation of playful diversion and his companions’ earnestness. And if I am  correct  in  arguing that Callicratidas’s Hellenism scores  points  for him in the  contest, the  patriotic reference to the shores of old Greece as εὐτυχεῖς (blessed) even when they  are not prosperous is not gratuitous.

An    argument against authenticity is the  number of  ‘non-Lucianic’ words in the treatise. For example, the vividness of the voyage account is artfully reinforced by invoking the sense of sound as well as sight: ῥόθιον for the  dashing of the  oars, and ὑποβρυχάομαι for the  subdued roar  of the  waves. The  latter word  is not found elsewhere in  Lucian. Notice, however,  that it is just the  right  touch  for the  waves. Other words  not found elsewhere in Lucian  occur here,  e.g., ἐπιχενόομαι for the  entertainment of the passengers on their stopovers occurs, but it fits Lycinus’s values nicely with its combined reference to entertainment and hospitality.  The  fact that  the  Erotes  has  hapax legomena (words  occurring  only once) is not relevant; other Lucianic works contain them—in fact, such words  are very  numerous.[16]    The  important  consideration is whether these words  are used in an  appropriate manner in context, especially when the word choice creates an ironic or comic effect, as it often does in Lucian’s writing.

Recent scholars, observing that word usages condemned by Lucian in the  Lexiphanes are employed  elsewhere by Lucian himself, have   transformed  our  understanding of the  Lexiphanes and of sophistic  stylistic criticism generally.[17]  Their criterion is not avoidance of obscure vocabulary, but using it  appropriately.  So Michel Casevitz (1994,  86): “Il semble que ce n’est  pas   tant   la création  de mots... que  raille  Lucien,  lui- même ayant  pratiqué le neologisme,  mais son indiscret  emploi.”[18]   This observation  certainly applies to the  Lexiphanes. What  strikes the  reader as  comical is not only Lexiphanes’  far-fetched  vocabulary,  but the  fact that he  recites a conspicuously banal narrative in which to scatter these words,  just like the  incompetent rhetorician  in  The Professional  Public Speaker who advises his  student to  memorize a  short list of pompous Attic  vocables and  pepper any  speech with them.  In the  Erotes,  to the contrary, such words are almost invariably mots justes eminently suited to their context.

The following is a sampling of several relatively unusual words in the text of the Erotes, with a notation of whether their use is appropriate and whether the word in question is cited elsewhere in Lucian by LSJ or Reitz (1765):

Βουκολέω (2): the  active means ‘to tend cattle,’ the  middle  and passive ‘to graze, feed on, or be  beguiled by’; a  picaresque description of Theomnestus’s passionate  career,  ruminating  on one lust after another; used in the  same way  in Lucian, Trag.  29. As  with ῥόθιον,  the  image is reiterated with a less common term:ἀποβουκολέω (16); the active means ‘to  lead astray,’  the  middle ‘to  go  astray’.  LSJ  also list  the  figurative meanings ‘beguile, seduce,’ and  'sooth,’  drawing citations for these figurative meanings exclusively from Lucian. LSJ translates the  word here as ‘sooth,’ but the connotation of self-deceit is clearly suited to the lovesick youth’s attempt to ‘sooth’ his  passion with a game equivalent to plucking daisy petals (“She  loves  me, she  loves me not”). Surely  this was ate (blasphemous recklessness) when directed at  a  goddess.  LSJ  cites five  texts altogether, two of them from Lucian.

Ἁπλοικός (10): Callicratidas is a plain, straightforward fellow (in contrast  to his  foppish opponent); two of the  six examples cited in LSJ are from Lucian, and Reitz cites four Lucianic texts.

Μαστροπός (16): ‘panderer’; once again, two of the four texts cited in LSJ are from Lucian, while Reitz found it four times.

Πρωτόρριζον  (19): ‘Ur-root’,  a  hapax  legomenon;  the  word  is neatly applied to Nature’s cosmogonic function.

Πασχητιᾶν (26): ‘unnatural lust.’ LSJ cites a few late authors, including Lucian.

(θηρία)  δυσκληδόνιστα (39): ‘inauspicious.’ Used  by  Lucian only here, but the reference is explained by Lucian in The Mistaken   Critic (17); the  word refers to monkeys, because they  were inauspicious to mention in the morning. Here applied to women rising with a hangover, the idea of the inauspicious morning humorously links the women and the monkeys.

Διαμαγεύω  (41): a hapax legomenon in Lucian, referring  to the  ‘smoke and mirrors’  of cosmetics. The  suggestion of  sorcery  is an  apt  comical exaggeration.

(Λόγοι)  καταφρυόμενοι  (52): the high-blown arguments  ‘frown’;  a striking and amusing metaphor also found in Philostratus.

In summary, four of the  above words occur only in the Erotes, but all  are used appropriately, even imaginatively; and five  words are attested in other works by Lucian.

The style of the  Erotes, with complex syntax and unusual vocabulary cleverly deployed, as  shown by  the  above  examples, for suitable and especially comical  effect [19]   is, as  mentioned previously,  less  common in Lucian’s  dramatic sketches  and  fantasies. It does appear in varying degrees,  though,  where the  discourse is that  of cultured  rhetoricians, whether they  are characters satirized by Lucian, or Lucian himself in his  more  academic essays.  In the  Erotes,  the  two debaters are rhetoricians, while Lycinus represents Lucian at the  height of his  activity as an itinerant speaker (6), and so polished speech should be expected.

Lucian’s  Nigrinus  is informative in this connection,  because in that dialogue the  author actually signals this  usage. The Nigrinus presents  a reported interview with a philosopher of that name within a frame dialogue between two unnamed interlocutors. The syntax is fairly complex throughout, but conspicuous vocabulary is more frequent in the opening part  of the  interlocutors’ dialogue. Here, the  speaker who will report on Nigrinus  is reluctant to start, and teases his  friend with verbose procrastinations until the other man tells him to leave off the rhetoric and go on (10); thereafter,  fewer  conspicuous words  are employed. Here are some interesting words from that dialogue:

Γαύρος (5): ‘haughty,’  which designates exultant  pride.  It is found only here in Lucian. In a comically exaggerated description of the elation that induced him to employ conspicuous rhetoric, the speaker says  that he was  γαύρος and μετέωρος (lofty); the  latter term is reminiscent of the Clouds. The Erotes, incidentally, uses μετεωρολέσχαι as a variant for high-blown talkers; LSJ gives four citations for this word, including one from Lucian’s Icaromenippus; Reitz also found it in Lucian’s Prometheus.

Ἀνατυλίττω (7): ‘to unroll’; LSJ cites only two instances of this word, both from Lucian.

Ἐνερείδω  (7): ‘to pressure’;  commonly used in a  physical sense, the figurative meaning used here is rarer; indeed, LSJ cites only Lucian.

Ἀνακρούομαι (8): ‘to back water’; another striking figurative use, referring to going back in a speech. It occurs several times in Lucian.

Μνησικακέω (10): ‘to bear a grudge.’ This word occurs three times in Lucian, but all of the  instances cited in LSJ are from classical authors; it is apparently an Atticism as well as a compound with graphic meaning.

Παραπαιδαγωγέω (12): ‘to help to train, to reform gradually.’ An   apt image for the  manipulative conditioning of crass Roman  visitors by the Athenians, the word occurs only here in Lucian, with only one other citation in LSJ (from Plutarch).

In this sample, then, four words  occur elsewhere  in Lucian, but two are found solely in the Nigrinus.
The appearance of mots justes unique within the Lucianic corpus, therefore, is not an exceptional feature of the Erotes, and conversely, some cospicuous words encountered in the  Erotes are found elsewhere in Lucian, sometimes more  frequently than in other authors.  The style represents one extreme of a genuine Lucianic spectrum between rhetoric and drama. Given the  prevalence  of homophobia in most of the  twentieth century, both the  eager condemnation of the  intriguing Erotes and its subsequent neglect were symptomatic of the  climate of the  times. My   study of specific vocabulary,  however  small, far exceeds the  meager specifics  offered by opponents of authenticity, and my conclusion of authenticity is supported by the manuscript tradition.


The loyalty of Callicratidas and Lycinus to Greek tradition is consistent with the  predominant cultural trend of the Second Sophistic. The desire to revivify  Greek  self esteem  by reviving  aspects of classical culture  did not find its only expression in the  rhetoricians’ Atticism and their repertoire of themes for declamation. Bjoern Christian Ewald (2004, 242–7) discusses Attic  sarcophagi,  which  were  differentiated from  Roman  ones in several aspects reflecting Greek traditional values, including a greater emphasis on male nudity and the  gaze of older men  directed at young men. Perhaps  inevitably,  Second  Sophistic  attempts to revive  classical phenomena were sometimes artificial and unrealistic; after all, the excited audiences of the  pompous declaimers could not decide critical issues of the  Persian War. The text of the  Erotes strongly suggests that both Charicles and Callicratidas, as well as Theomnestus, are actually engaged only in casual, recreational love affairs. Lucian’s cynical realism may have  contributed to his  marginalization from the  ranks of the sophists. Philostratus implies that what rhetoricians disliked in some philosophers, too, was sarcasm and vulgarity (τὸ τῆς ἄλλης φιλοσοφίας ἦθος... κοινὸν... εἰρωνικόν [the usual ironic attitude of philosophy in general, 487]).

Much of the  evidence for same-sex relations in the imperial age  does describe recreational  sex. This  reality  is attested by Theomnestus’s discourse. Admittedly, any attempt to practice educational pederasty, whether chastely or not, must have  been problematized by the  fact that philosophers too had become paid professionals. The Erotes, however, shows that the  supposition  that same-sex relations  were purely  physical is a biased procreationist view, and there was still a serious awareness of the  educational paradigm, at least as an ideal.
Lucian evidently sympathized  with this traditional  ideal more  than with Stoic prudery, but he also acknowledged the  reservations expressed by Theomnestus.  Lycinus’s  receptive  (albeit distanced) attitude toward Theomnestus’s cynicism, and the  amusing  contradiction between the lifestyles of the  two ideologues and their ascetic doctrines, together suggest that the  author of the Erotes, though aware of the  dangers of unrestrained eros,  regarded  ideological calls  for  abstinence as  unrealistic. Thus, the  structure of the dialogue conforms to a characteristic Lucianic pattern in which Lucian’s own apparent spokesman is satirically undermined. Lucian mocks  extremist idealism,  unequivocally rejecting  the repressive  reformism  of  the  Stoics, but not without a sardonic  smile at Callicratidas’s pretensions of chastity. Still, he has Lycinus opt in favor of philosophical pederasty as  an  essential aspect of Hellenism; but at  the end of the  dialogue, he  allows Theomnestus to effectively question  the practicality of any chaste erotic relationship. We are left with a quandary between respected tradition and cynical realism. While the  value of this document for the history of sexuality is gradually being recognized today, part  of its message for Lucian’s  contemporaries was  an  endorsement of the  Second Sophistic revival of Hellenism—but with strong reservations regarding its practicality in the  imperial era. [20]

Works Cited

Billault, Alain, ed. 1994. Lucien de Samosate: Actes  du colloque international de Lyon organisé au Centre  d’Études Romaines et Gallo-romaines le 30 septembre-1er octobre 1993. Lyon.
Bloch, Robert. 1907. De Pseudo-Luciani Amoribus. Strassbourg.
Bompaire, Jacques. 1994. “L’Atticisme de Lucien.” In Billault 1994, 65–75.
Buffière, Félix. 1980. Eros adolescent: La pédérastie dans la Grèce  antique. Paris.
Casevitz, Michel. 1994. “La création verbale chez Lucien: Le Lexiphanes, Lexiphane et Lucien.” In Billault 1994, 77–86.
Dobrov, Gregory W. 2002. “The Sophist  and His Craft.” Helios 29.2: 173–92.
Elsner, Jas. 2001. “Describing Self in the Language of Other: Pseudo-(?) Lucian at the Temple of Hierapolis.” In Goldhill 2001a, 123–53.
Ewald, B.  C. 2004. “Men, Muscle and Myth.” In B.  Borg, ed., Paideia: The World of the
Second Sophistic. Berlin and NewYork. 229–67.
Fleury,  Pascale.  2007. “Eroticos:  Un  dialogue (amoureux)  entre Platon et la  Seconde
Sophistique?” REG 120.2: 776–87.
Foucault, Michel. 1984. Histoire de la Sexualité, vol. 3. Paris.
Gaca, Kathy L. 2003. The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek
Philosophy and Early Christianity. Berkeley.
Goldhill, Simon. 1995. Foucault’s Virginity: Ancient Erotic  Fiction and the History  of Sexuality. Cambridge.
———, ed. 2001a. Being  Greek  under Rome: Cultural  Identity, the Second Sophistic and the
Development of Empire. Cambridge.
———. 2001b. “The Erotic Eye: Visual Stimulation and Cultural Conflict.” In Goldhill 2001a, 154–94.
Halperin, David  M. 1992. “Historicizing the  Sexual Body.”  In Domna  Stanton,  ed., Discourses of Sexuality from Aristotle  to AIDS. Ann  Arbor. 236–61.
Helm, Rudolf. 1927. “Lukianos.” RE 13: 1725–78.
Henderson, Jeffrey. 1991. The Maculate Muse:   Obscene Language in Attic Comedy. Oxford.
Hubbard, Thomas K.  2003. Homosexuality in Greece  and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic  Documents. Berkeley.
Jones, C. P. 1984. “Tarsos in the  Amores Ascribed to Lucian.” GRBS 25: 177–81.
———. 1986. Culture  and Society in Lucian. Cambridge, MA.
Klabunde, Michael R. 2001. “Boys or Women? The Rhetoric of Sexual Preference in Achilles Tatius,  Plutarch,  and  Pseudo-Lucian.”  Ph.D. dissertation, University of Cincinnati.
Lear, Andrew. 2007. “Aristophanes’ Gentle Mockery of Pederasty.” Paper delivered at the  national meeting of the  American Philological Association.
Macleod, M. D. 1967. Lucian, vol. 8. Cambridge, MA  and London.
Reitz, C. C. 1965 [1765]. Index verborum ac phrasium Luciani. Amsterdam.
Schofield, M. 1999. The Stoic Idea of the City. Chicago.
Skinner, Marilyn B.  2005. Sexuality in Greek  and Roman Culture. Oxford.
Whitmarsh, Tim. 2005. The Second Sophistic. Oxford.


1. Citing Callicratidas’s enthusiasm for the  rear view of the  statue of Aphrodite, he concluded that it is merely a question of taste for different body parts. But even in that scene gender is relevant, as the focus of Callicratidas’s interest is described as “the  boy part”  (τὰ παιδικὰ μέρη, 14). Section numbers of the  Greek texts of Lucian and Philostratus refer to the  Loeb  editions.
2. Callicratidas’s rhetorical  skill is mentioned explicitly in  section 9, and since Charicles is praised for his skilful speaking he too must have  been trained in rhetoric.
3. Lucian, incidentally, does not regard gymnasts  highly as cultural achievers. In his  On Salaried Posts in Great Houses   (4), he concedes that some other professions, such as rhetoricians, might press a claim to status  comparable to a philosopher’s, but he draws the  line at gymnasts.
4. Bloch 1907, 41; for Sappho, MacLeod 1967, 220.
5. Slightly differing views, both compatible with this, are expressed in Henderson 1991, 76–7 and Lear 2007.
6. Skinner 2005, 161–2 and Gaca  2003, 110–5. For Zeno, see esp. Schofield 1999, 22–56. Charicles’ procreationism is not fully articulated; however, he  does argue that sex must be for reproduction, and that sex for pleasure alone is wrong; and he not only condemns intercourse  between members of the  same sex, but even excludes women beyond reproductive age  (25).
7. Lycinus’s sarcasm is usually directed evenly at both speakers. This remark is balanced by his  assertion that Callicratidas’s joy over his  victory is as if he  had won the battle of Salamis (52).
8. Goldhill 2001 and esp. Dobrov 2002.
9.  Theomnestus regards  Lycinus  as  an  impartial  arbiter of women  versus boys “since I don’t see you more passionate either way”  (ἐπεὶ μηδ' εἰς ἓτερον σε τοῦ πάθους ῥέποντα ὁρῶ,  4). This  has been interpreted to mean  that  Lycinus  is ‘asexual.’ Apart from  the  questionable applicability of  ‘asexual’ as  an  ancient concept, it would be pointless to ask an individual who has experienced neither of two alternatives which is better. The key word is πάθος: Lycinus is not susceptible to either passion. He can judge fairly because he is not obsessed with either.
10. Foucault 1984, 245: “C’est le plaisir physique qui aura  le dernier mot et congédiera dans un éclat de rire les discours pudibonds”; cf. also 209, and Buffière 1980,
11. This passivity of desire may  reflect religious conceptions. The Greeks regarded sexual arousal not as a purely physiological phenomenon, but as the  expression of the spiritual power of  Aphrodite.  According  to Gaca, this applies even to Christians like Tatian  (2003, 228–39) and Clement of Alexandria (2003, 262–6);  these authors believed not that the  pagan  gods did not exist, but that they were demons. Gaca  traces the extreme valuation of abstinence in their ethics to a desire to avoid the influence of the  demon Aphrodite.
12. Even Helm (1927, 1729) wrote: “Die Frage der Echtheit der einzelnen Werke ist vielfach mit sehr  grosser Willkuer behandelt worden.”
13. Lycinus reverently observes ritual, for example, when embarking on the  voyage (6), but prefers to explain the  stain on the  statue by natural causes (15).
14. Jones (1986) made a  highly valuable  contribution by tracing  contemporary allusions wherever possible in Lucian’s corpus. Other Lucianic scholars, however, have  adopted more moderate positions.
15. I omit both the  technical terminology of navigation here and technical theatrical vocabulary in my discussion of the  Nigrinus below.
16. Bompaire (1994, 68), referring to an earlier study of Lucian’s language, writes: “Des hapax de Lucien et des mots qu’il est le premier à employer (plus de 600).”
17. See esp. Whitmarsh 2005, 41–56.
18. See also Whitmarsh 2005, 51.
19. An  interesting modern literary parallel is the  narrative style of Noel Coward.
20. Thanks to Bjoern Ewald and  Andreas Bendlin for valuable suggestions regarding the content of this article, to Denise  Hudson and A. P. Booth for stylistic improve- ments, and to C. P. Jones and Denise Hudson for guidance to acquire the dissertations by Bloch and  Klabunde. I am  especially thankful to David  Konstan,  the  late James Butrica, and Thomas Schmidt for their encouragement of my  independent scholarly research.

No comments: