Dialogue and didacticism : the influence of Lucian on the fictional works of Sir Thomas More and Erasmus
The literary debt which Erasmus and Thomas More owed to Lucian has been often acknowleged, and its influence on their major fictional writings has been explored. Too often, however, it has been assumed that the nature of his influence was the same in both cases. This thesis argues that, in spite of the evident similarities between the writings of the two men, they ultimately had radically different approaches to literature, and that these can be seen in their differing responses to Lucian. Chapter One argues that Lucian's most characteristic works exhibit the sly irony with which he is usually credited, but possess also a form of structural irony which has not had the attention it deserves, and which affects the way in which we read him. Chapter Two deals with the translations which More and Erasmus made from Lucian, and shows that they were responding to different elements of his work. Erasmus responds first of all to his humour, and sees in him a model for using satirical fiction as a means of teaching. More sees the implications of Lucian's structural ironies and the subtlety of his use of the Menippean persona more clearly than does Erasmus. Chapter Three looks at Erasmus' Colloquies, and argues that the influence of Lucian is confined to the use of comic and satirical dialogue as a way of exposing the folly and vice of the age. Chapter Four examines The Praise of Folly, and suggests that while the influence of Lucian may lie behind Erasmus' use of complex irony, this type of irony is not employed consistently. It gradually gives way to satire, first of all, and then to an appeal to the philosophia Christi which, while expressed ironically, is more reminiscent of the Enchiridion than of the work of Lucian. Chapter Five turns to More's History of King Richard III, and argues that the form of that work owes much to More's attempt to develop a complex irony which would allow him to explore the meaning of historical events without committing himself to a definite statement of his views. Many elements of the work are derived, directly and indirectly from his reading of Lucian, although the process of composition did not allow him to realise fully his apparent intention. Chapter Five argues that Utopia is a work of Menippean satire which fully utilises the lessons learned from Lucian. Hythloday is a Lucianic persona who cannot be taken at face value, and More has used this and other devices of complex irony to prevent Utopia being read principally as a work of prescriptive political theory. Both More and Erasmus created fictional works which far surpass Lucian in their intellectual scope and literary value. For both, however, in their different ways, their encounter with Lucian was of importance in determining the form and content of those works .
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: English
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis