The following article was originally published on this website on February 17, 2009.

One of the most overlooked areas of theatrical study are the "closet dramas" or "dialogues" of writers such as Lucian of Samosata (c. 125-180 A.D.). An Assyrian satirist who wrote in the Greek language and was noted for his wit and humor, Lucian wrote dialogues, or collections of short scenes and conversations between characters. Though not intended for dramatic performance, Lucian's comic dialogues nonetheless employed a dramatic structure. As traditional theatre declined, the theatrical spirit lived on in these dialogues by Lucian and other writers, and this unique form of closet drama flourished for a time.

In Dialogues of the Gods, Lucian explores the absurd and immoral lives of ancient deities such as Zeus, Hera, Hermes, Aphrodite, Poseidon, and Athena, revealing them as complex, contradictory, sex-obsessed creatures that modern mortals can surely relate to. He adds nothing to the popular legends and beliefs to make them more grotesque than they already are, but deprives them of the sensational glamour of poetry in which they are usually presented, and gives them to us in a more revealing, matter-of-fact manner. He pulls the curtain aside, and exposes the scandals of Olympian life, with its private disputes, domestic brawls, love affairs, betrayals, jealousies and scandals, paltry strifes and petty motives. The lesson is simple: How can one reverence and worship beings with such weaknesses, such foibles, and such scandalous and immoral lives?

None of Lucian's writings have enjoyed or deserved greater popularity than the thirty short dramatic pieces known as the Dialogues of the Dead. Written at Athens during the latter half of the second century, the general subject of these dialogues is the vanity of human desire and the futility of human purposes and pursuits. It was only natural for Lucian to transfer this discussion to the regions of the dead, where it could be carried on free from the preconceptions and prejudices which influence and color all thinking upon earth. In the republican equality which reigns in the nether world, human distinctions and earth-born greatness could be seen in their true light and estimated at their real worth. In an interesting modern adaptation of Dialogues of the Dead, Baudelaire Jones remains true to the original spirit of Lucian's dialogues, while recasting many of the original characters with more modern counterparts such as Howard Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, Anna Nicole Smith, Clarence Darrow, Sigmund Freud, Michael Moore, Saddam Hussein, and Jack the Ripper.

Other dialogues by Lucian of Samosata include Dialogues of the Sea Gods, Timon the Misanthrope, Prometheus on Caucasus, Voyage to the Lower World, and Chattering Courtesans.


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