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ROMAN PERIOD. 479
able passions and quarrels of men. Hence he proceeds to Olympus, and is introduced to the Thunderer himself Here he is witness of the manner in which human prayers are received in heaven. They ascend by enormous vent-holes, and become audible when Jupiter removes the covers. Jupiter himself is represented as a partial judge, and as influenced by the largeness of the rewards promised to him. At the end he pronounces judgment against the philosophers, and threatens in four days to destroy them all. Charon is a very elegant dialogue, but of a graver turn than the preceding. Charon visits the earth, to see the course of life there, and what it is which always makes men weep when they enter his boat. Mercury acts as his cicerone. In this piece, however, Lucian has not been very scrupulous about chronology. The whole is a picture of the smallness of mankind when viewed from a philosophic as well as a physical height.1
Lucian's rhetorical pieces were no doubt, for the most part, the first productions of his pen ; for we have already seen that he did not lay aside that profession and apply himself to a different style of writing till he had reached the age of forty. Of all his pieces they are the most unimportant, and betray least of his real character and genius. The pieces, again, which entitle Lucian to be called a biographer, are rather anecdotical memoirs, like Xenophon's Memorabilia, than regular biographies. Under the head of Romances may be classed the tale entitled Lucius, or the Ass, from which Appuleius is thought to have drawn his story of the Golden Ass. Under this same head may be ranked the Verce Histories, written to ridicule the authors of extravagant tales, and which would appear to have furnished hints to Rabelais and Swift in modern times, not only from the nature and extravagance of the fiction, but from the lurking satire. We have also some Poems by Lucian. These consist of two mock tragedies and about fifty epigrams.2
Lucian's merits as a writer consist in his knowledge of human nature, which, however, he generally viewed on its worst side ; his strong common sense ; the fertility of his invention ; the raciness of his humor; and the simplicity arid Attic grace of his diction. His knowledge was probably not very profound, and it may be suspected that he was not always master of the philosophy which he attacked. His writings have a more modern air than those of any other classic author; and the keenness of his wit, the richness and extravagance of his humor, the fertility and liveliness of his fancy, his proneness to skepticism, and the clearness and simplicity of his style, present us with a kind of compound between Swift and Voltaire. There was abundance to justify his attacks in the systems against which they were directed. Yet he establishes nothing in their stead. His aim is only to pull down; to spread a universal skepticism. Nor were his assaults confined to religion and philosophy, but extended to every thing old and venerated—the poems of Homer and Hesiod, and the history of Herodotus. Yet writing, as he did, amid the doomed idols of an absurd superstition, and the contradictory tenets of an almost equally
* Smith, I.e. » «, ib.