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Figures of Speech: Texts, Bodies, and Performance in Lucian


This dissertation examines four texts of Lucian of Samosata (Fisherman, Apology, On Dancing, and Herakles), with a focus on the representation of bodies and embodiment and their relation to speech, writing and performance. I argue that the representation of bodies is an important metaphor for how Lucian’s texts imagine their own reception, and for how they imagine the possibilities and limitations of reading, writing, performing, and spectating. The first two chapters each discuss a text in which the author uses the control and punishment of bodies as a framework for engaging with the reception and criticism of his own texts. Chapter One shows how the comic dialogue Fisherman imagines the interpretation of texts as a contentious process of securing control in which authors, readers, and texts seem to be able to influence one another in an almost physical or material way. Chapter Two examines how the Apology confronts a lack of alignment between the author and views expressed in an earlier text. I argue that this misalignment is characterized as a disruption to the connection between the author and his text that has caused him to lose control over its interpretation. Like Fisherman, the Apology imagines a kind of material connection among texts, authors, and readers, but suggests that securing physical and interpretive control over them is not always possible. Chapter Three discusses the dialogue On Dancing, demonstrating how it depicts pantomime as a space in which bodies transform and where the fluidity of a body is one of its more significant attributes. I argue that a central concern of this text is how dancer and audience interact and the influence that one can have upon the other. This emphasis on fluidity and transformation complicates the standard model of interpretation as the province of an individual interpreter who asserts control over a performer or particular text, and problematizes the concept of a body as an object or agent that can be interpreted in isolation from other bodies to which it is connected. Chapter Four explores the intersection of language, bodies, interpretation, and control through the figure of Herakles in Lucian. I argue that this image of Herakles is used to represent both the possibility of multiple interpretative viewpoints, and also the power of language to constrain and control bodies, up to and including the speaker himself. These paradoxical threads are never fully resolved, but remain in unsettling tension, even in later reception and re-imaginings of this text.

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