Lucian 's Lychnopolis And The Problems Of Slave Surveillance Essay

Lucian 's Lychnopolis And The Problems Of Slave Surveillance Essay

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Sonia Sabnis article, “Lucian’s Lychnopolis and the Problems of Slave Surveillance” explores the connection to slavery found in the Lychnopolis scene of Lucian’s True Histories. The article builds on Sabnis’ main points: that lamps are a symbol for slaves, that lamps and slaves are witnesses to their master’s private affairs, and that the freedom allowed to the lamps in Lychnopolis means they can express their own morals. In all but one case, Sabnis was able to create a convincing argument for these points.
She begins by making the claim that lamps are a symbol for slaves throughout the section “Lamps and Slaves”. Her assertion is supported by the association of slaves and lamps through language, both in other texts and within the True Histories, as well as in Aristotle’s views on slavery. The most compelling portion of Sabnis’ article is found within this the section because it she gives examples of language that show a close connection between slaves and lamps from both outside literature and from within the True Histories. Sabnis, by using examples from both sources, is able to demonstrate that there is a precedent for lamps being used as a symbol for slaves in other works and that Lucian was aware of this and chose to include a similar comparison in his own work. Initially, she shows the reader the intentional juxtaposition of the words “lamp” and “slave” in Athenaeus ' Deipnosophistae, immediately demonstrating that there was a close association between slave and lamps in other Greek texts (Sabnis, 207). Without making a comparison of their association with other literature, Sabnis would not be able to argue that lamps can be used to symbolize slaves and she would have no support for the rest of her argument, which relies on...


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...one does not read what the lamp told Lucian is an indication that the lamp is guided by its own morals instead of its master’s wishes (Sabnis, 236). This seems contradictory to the idea that this conversation represents lychnomancy since lamp owners were free to interpret the “signs” of their lamps as they saw fit (Sabnis, 236). Instead, this seems to indicate that the lamps is free from the control of its master and able to express itself based on its own morals
While Sabnis’ section on lychnomancy is less than convincing, the arguments supported by literary evidence as well as by the Lychnopolis scene helped to shape an overall compelling argument. Sabnis was able to show that Lucian’s city of lamps was meant to symbolize a city of slaves that were extremely knowledgeable about the lives of their masters and were able to live in accordance with their own morals.

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