“A Show of Confidence and Authority”: Irony and Interpretation in Three Lucianic Dialogues Translated by Thomas More

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In 1506, Thomas More published Latin translations of three comic dialogues ascribed to Lucian—the Cynicus, Menippus, and Philopseudes—along with an introductory dedication to his friend Thomas Ruthall. More’s selected dialogues reflect on stock themes such as luxury and hypocrisy, but since their characters are often liars, self-underminers, and self-deceivers, it is hard to say whom we are to trust, and what to read ironically. By presenting characters who speak sometimes in error, sometimes in deliberate falsehood, and sometimes in truth, the dialogues train readers not only to distinguish these, but also to distinguish direct from indirect truth-telling on the part of their author. Reading Lucian well is, then, a continuous exercise in prudent discrimination. Because Lucian’s own opinions are concealed rather than associated plainly with any particular character, the reader is forced to evaluate each argument on its own merits, instead of relying on the author for guidance. More’s Latin translations emphasize Lucian’s ironic strategies and humorously add to them. More’s own ironic hints and misinterpretations in the Letter to Ruthall encourage his readers to distinguish direct from ironic truth and accurate from inaccurate claims, preparing them to deal prudently with Lucian’s characters, and life’s.

Thomas More, Lucian, Cynic, Menippus, Philopseudes, Letter to Ruthall, irony, translation, reception, teaching