Belief vs. Skepticism
Lucian’s most famous work Alexander: The False Prophet tells the story of Alexander, who employs false magic to trick his believers and manipulate their ignorance to his advantage. Luciana, a philosopher and a skeptic of magic, exemplifies how Alexander’s magic is flawed despite the apparent miracles he performs. In Alexander: The False Prophet, Lucian satirizes individuals like Alexander, whom people call prophets and saints. He finds fault in the manner Alexander’s believers worship false prophets. He goes ahead portraying false prophets as magicians, prostitutes, and scammers, or scam artists, who use the pretence of religious power to exploit ignorant masses and manipulate them at their own benefit. The paper depicts how Lucian uses several examples of the way Alexander manipulated people by means of magic in order to receive power and fulfill his own desires, even to the degree of an attempted murder. Lucian’s sharp, unkind, and satirical writing conveys his disgust at how false prophets like Alexander used religion as a form of business – selling oracles to grant individuals “Christian image” for a charge. His skepticism toward false prophets selling written scripts that grant “a seat in heaven” manifests itself in his satirical writings. The adherence of some regions such as Galatia, Thrace, and Bithynia and their peoples’ lack of education made it easier for Alexander to prosper with his false magic. For example, most people from these regions desperately searched for answers to their misfortunes and turned to Alexander who could fabricate answers to help them alleviate their insecurities about the unknown and their futures.
Lucian satirically utilizes examples that give us a clear view of how every ancient man believes Apollonius through Alexander’s false magic that makes it difficult for individuals to draw the line between superstition and rationality. In addition, Lucian provides a rationalist explanation for each of Alexander’s miracles, which makes it easier to draw inferences about the gullibility of Alexander’s victims believing Apollonius.
Lucian’s description of Alexander as an “ordinary, typical man with mediocre origin who creates a sense of superstition among his followers” helps us draw an easy inference that were it not for fake miracles, not every ancient man would have been made to believe Apollonius. He “calls Alexander’s parents insignificant,” as they belong to low social class, and explains that Alexander is made to seem holy by his manipulation of religious superstition and belief (Lucian). This relates to the connection between rationality and superstition in the way it reveals Alexander’s unworthy background and the false influence he creates on his victims through superstitions. Lucian explains Alexander’s use of false magic by telling the story of when he worked under the supervision of a doctor and studied medicine. In illustrating the ungodly nature of Alexander’s oracles, Lucian opines that, “Alexander’s answers were sometimes ambiguous and unintelligible….though to medical questions he gave replies that amazed everyone including Lucian.” Costa also refers to Alexander as an, “unworthy magician,” hence paying much attention to this point (Costa). This is to highlight the fact that Alexander’s miracles and magic did not have anything to do with god’s power but medicine knowledge. These frauds, as Lucian names them, are the so-called “miracles” that easily bring about the belief in Apollonius.
Lucian’s ascription to Alexander with the assertion, “I am Glycon, the third in descent from Zacheus, a light to mankind,” illustrates Alexander’s biggest “miracle” that infers that every ancient man’s belief in Apollonius was actually programmed. In Lucian’s view, these are common religious formulas used to fool people in order to embrace cults in the society. Lucian challenges Alexander’s claim that the snake with a human head hatched from a goose egg, which represents the rebirth of Apollonius, arguing this is simply Alexander’s highly praised and “cunning” creation. Lucian points out that the goose egg in which the snake was found could have been broken and emptied, replaced by a snake, and once again sealed up to make the illusion of a snake hatched from an egg. In explaining the failure of Alexander’s victims to draw the line between superstition and rationality, Lucian refers to Glycon as “at god’s behest”. Lendering supports this view by admitting that “people warned him about this magical snake” while he hunted in the hills near Inebolu (Lendering). Lucian explains that this miracle simply gives the snake a linen mask that appears to be a human face. For the snake to have human speech, Lucian suggests that Alexander could have attached a tube made of windpipes fastened together and attached it to the snake in order to create a sense of superstition as opposed to rational judgment. In this way, the snake (Glycon) could serve as a puppet with which Alexander would manipulate his victims. This example helps us infer that the ancient man’s belief in Apollonius was programmed by using Alexander’s magical formulas. Lucian highlights Alexander’s influence on powerful people, such as consular P. Mummius Sisenna Rutilianus with the assertion, “One of Glycon’s oracles influenced Rutilianus to marry Alexander’s daughter whom he allegedly had with a Moon-goddesses” (Lucian). This is to emphasize the advantage that Alexander took over his people using the snake puppet (Glycon), which people vowed to.
Additionally, Lucian’s example that refers to the superstitions that Alexander creates in the minds of common people helps us draw the inference that every ancient man’s gullibility would make him believe Apollonius as people are easily swayed by irrational beliefs. Lucian’s skepticism is obvious as he refers to Alexander’s fake miracles satirically as “cues given by the celebrated Oracle of Amphilochos in Cilia” (Lucian). In tandem with this assertion, he demonstrates how Alexander exploited people through the fake miracles that he performed. This brings out the view that the ancient man was extremely gullible and could not resist believing Apollonius as he searched for answers to the unknown. Again, Lucian exposes Alexander’s exploitation of his believers with the reiteration that, “Alexander made large sums of money as each oracle went for one drachma and two obols…..and there were seventy to eighty oracles submitted each year.” This shows how Alexander becomes rich by collecting money through performing “miracles” to blind the ancient man to believe Apollonius by giving oracular responses to worshippers’ questions.” Lucian is skeptical, because he believes that the sums of money were excessive for Alexander to perform miracles and questions his true motives. According to Lucian, this is a cover for robbing people of their money through religious lies. For example, Lucian expresses this skepticism with the emphasis that “the large sums collected amounted to about four hundred thousand Roman sesterces, enough to take care of hundred or more people in comfort.”
Moreover, the example of how Alexander took advantage of married women getting them to bear for him “immortal children” helps us draw the inference that unrealistic promises made every ancient believe. Alexander claimed that the god, Glycon, “granted women immortal children”. In his schemes, Alexander manipulated peoples’ religious beliefs, and they became easily superstitious failing to stick to rationality in believing Apollonius. This suggests that his goal was satisfying his lust rather than producing “immortal babies”. The ancient man is able to believe in Apollonius easily basing on unrealistic promises. The most surprising thing is that both men and women fail to draw the line between rationality and superstitions before giving Alexander the chance to exploit them in this direction.
In resenting the answers presented by Alexander, Lucian helps us understand the view that the ancient man’s lack of education made everyone vulnerable to believing in Apollonius to get answers to their problems without a consideration of superstitions vs. rationality. During this era, the society turned to Alexander who could fabricate answers to help them alleviate their insecurities about the unknown and their future. Lucian sees a problem in the fact that the ignorant Paphlagonans are all too united in their trust for Alexander and subsequent belief in Apollonius (Lucian). This is mainly because Alexander’s society lacked education and social prestige that made people gullible to trickery from false magicians such as Alexander through his “miracles.” Therefore, they turned to magic and superstitious beliefs to explain the reasons for the occurrence of misfortunes in their lives.
Lucian’s examples of the use of secret rites or mysteries help in understanding of the view that it was not actually the mistake of the ancient men to fail to draw a line between rationality and superstition in the belief for Apollonius. In reference to the “new device” of mysteries used by Alexander to pacify individuals and succeed, Lucian reverts back to the Abonuteichos, where he believes these mysteries pullulated. Furthermore, Lucian describes the mysteries that took place during the Eleusis as “Alexander’s chief model” in propagating his trickery and magic hence earning people’s trust. The translation by Cancik and Scheider on miracles supports this view as it points to the manner in which people were blinded through such miracles to easily believe Apollonius (Hubert, Schenieder).
This indicates the view that Alexander’s mysteries were his main tool of attracting the attention of men and women in his empire and pacify them toward accepting his false magic that did not have anything to do with gods. Lucian discredits Alexander’s use of such mysteries to take advantage of people, especially his female admirers with the assertion that “they did not have any element of godliness.” The use of mysteries was aimed at fooling men and women in the empire about Alexander’s influence and his connection with gods hence creating senseless superstitions that made it difficult for them to draw a line between superstition and rationality.
Additionally, Lucian’s example on Alexander’s creation of “autophones” (oracles spoken by god himself) using hidden pipes helps us draw the inference that the belief of the ancient men in Apollonius came in line with hidden tricks. Hence, not everyone would easily believe Apollonius. In line with the use of autophones, Lucian affirms that, “Alexander used hidden pipes to trick his people on the power of Apollonius to help them.” This is to explain the view that Alexander did not have that god-given magic power, but tried to use his false tricks to convince people that he spoke directly with gods. The ancient men could be tricked into believing Apollonius and his ways. Alexander relied on trickeries, such as hidden pipes, to remain relevant and trick his people that he had direct links with the god. However, Lucia does not agree with this position as he emphasizes that “Alexander was a false prophet blinding uneducated people.” This is in reference to Alexander’s trickery that he possessed “autophones” (Lucian), which came directly from god.
Moreover, Lucian’s assertion of the fact that Alexander’s career as a magician was “a campaign of religious propaganda that embraced the established oracles of Ionia and Cilicia” helps us draw the inference that Alexander’s victims’ believed Apollonius based on established oracles. This is in reference to Alexander’s war against “atheists”, especially involving Christians and Epicureans. Alexander launches this war with the main aim of protecting his influence on people by ensuring that no outside forces interfere with the established belief in Apollonius. Lepidus of Amastris played an instrumental role in leading the Epicurean opposition against Alexander. Lucian terms both the Christian and Epicurean struggles against Alexander as “struggles involving intellectual issues and rivalries in the Greek states.” This is to justify the view that some rational groups, such as Epicureans, could not stand to be counted as Alexander’s victims by believing in Apollonius on established oracles. In dismissing the position of Alexander as a prophet, Lucian emphasizes that he mainly relied on “propaganda” emanating from Ionia and the Milesian colony. Alexander’s society becomes a victim of the belief in Apollonius based on established oracles.
Furthermore, we get the lesson that Alexander’s victims draw the line between rationality and superstition from a flawed source of false magic. Alexander believes that his victims are “easy masses, who are able to believe all that he says” hence illustrating the view that they are easily blinded by superstition accompanied by irrationality. In fact, he goes ahead to blind them by using “fake miracles” as described by Lucian (Hubert; Scheider). We also get the view that maybe one in ten of Alexander’s victims are able to draw some sensible line between rationality and superstition. These are mainly the “atheists” that Alexander was fighting for going against him and Apollonius. Overall, his victims are so gullible and they fail to draw a line as even women go ahead to believe that by sleeping with him they would have “immortal children.”
It is significant to note that Alexander’s victims draw a line between superstition and rationality from their fears of the unknown and the uninformed obsession with Apollonius. Lucian criticizes them of their “ease in being made to believe in fake miracles” hence illustrating their misinformed guide on finding similarities between superstition and rationality. Lucian opines that these victims are not keen to understand Alexander’s “miracles” and they easily become superstitious when warned about matters such as plagues. They actually believe that something unknown to them can be explained by superstitions. This explanation clearly suggests that all the victims of Apollonius fail to draw the line as they are easily lured into superstition by Alexander’s “miracles.” This is a phenomenon that Apollonius victims want to believe every day as they continue consulting Alexander on their matters in the society.
In conclusion, this essay explicates Lucian’s satirical portrayal of Alexander, a self-proclaimed prophet and saint of worship. In Alexander: The False Prophet, Lucian is determined to reveal the fact that Alexander’s flawed magic does not have anything to do with god, but his knowledge of medicine. According to Lucian, “Alexander uses his false magic to fool uneducated people at his own gain and the worship for Apollonius.” This is in reference to the large sums of money he collects from people to perform false miracles for them. Moreover, Lucian is not satisfied with the manner in which Alexander takes advantage of gullible women to sleep with them with the trick that they will bear immortal children. He is dissatisfied with the rise of the false prophet whom people tend to entrust with their lives and resources. Alexander’s war against “atheists” does not impress Lucian, and he is determined to dismiss “Alexander’s use of propaganda associated with the oracles of Ionia and Cilicia.” Lucian’s dismissal of Alexander’s flawed magic is highly depicted from the beginning when he asserts that “Alexander’s parents are insignificant” because of their status as low class individuals. All the above explanations represent Lucian’s detest for individuals who use the pretence of religion to take advantage of gullible masses making them believe in superstitions without adherence to rationality.