Human life is under the absolute dominion of two mighty principles, fear and hope. Any one who can make these serve his ends may be sure of rapid fortune. - Lucian, in his Alexander the Oracle Monger

Alexander is a work of secularist literature written by 2nd Century Roman satirist Lucian, who tells the story of a false prophet of Apollo. It depicts the false prophet who made a fortune giving oracles while wearing snakes on his body and foaming in the mouth to impress people, a device which Lucian easily explains by saying he chewed certain herbs. Not unlike Benny Hinn and other modern televangelists, he also conspires with assistants and spies who help him maintain the appearance of his miracles and knows herbs and natural medicines, which he recommends to his followers.

The work even contains the first historical reference to the notion of bull-shit, where the many antics of the prophet are literally compared to the manure of thousands of oxen.

I may not cleanse that Augean stable completely, but I will do my best, and fetch you out a few loads as samples of the unspeakable filth that three thousand oxen could produce in many years

As a side note, Lucian has many other great works. I enjoyed reading Sale of Creeds. One of my favorite ones is A True Story, which has been called the first work of science fiction ever written and is a bit reminiscent of Edgar Rice Borroughs' Barsoom (Mars) for its creatures, which inspired the film John Carter. The work is not just funny but so surreal that it reminds me of Guillermo del Toro's creativity in Pan's Labyrinth. There are rivers of wine whose fish get the characters drunk. These rivers originate in vineyards haunted by tree-damsels who seduce, then trap men in their arms.

I won't give more details, except to say that Lucian is a genius and one of the first writers who assumed a secular position and criticized superstition in the ancient world.

Alexander the Oracle Monger is available (free) online through epicurus.info.

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