Lucian’s Nigrinus poses difficult questions of interpretation (Hall 1981, 157): is this work serious (Anderson 1978; Francis 1995; Whitmarsh 2001; Dillon 2002) or satirical? If Lucian is writing satire, what or whom exactly is he mocking—the city of Rome (Hall 1981; Jones 1986; Swain 1996; Nesselrath 2009), Nigrinus himself (Tarrant 1985), or the convert who listens to him (Tarrant 1985; Clay 1992; Paulsen 2009)? I believe that Lucian has given us linguistic clues about how to interpret the Nigrinus through his use of words related to the stage and theater and through his other philosophical lives. While others have explored the historical reality of the theater in the second century A.D. as reflected in Lucian (Tarrant 1985; Karavas 2005 and 2008), I argue that Lucian uses the language of the stage at key moments in the Alexander the False Prophet, the Peregrinus, and the Nigrinus to highlight fraud. By reading these works together (Anderson 1976 and 1994; Clay 1992; Georgiadou and Larmour 1994), we discover that Lucian employs theatrical language in the Nigrinus to expose and mock a variety of figures, including Nigrinus, the convert, false philosophers, and perhaps his readers as well.
Throughout the Alexander the False Prophet and the Peregrinus, two negative portraits of philosophers, language related to the stage and the theater appears at critical moments in order to highlight the superficial and fraudulent nature of these false philosophers (e.g. Alex. 12-35; Peregr. 36-45). The Nigrinus continues this trend and opens as the convert employs an extended theatrical metaphor to describe his conversion; unlike poor comic and tragic actors who get hissed off the stage (τραγικοá½ºς á¼¢ καá½¶ νá½´ ΔÎ¯α κωμικοá½ºς φαÏλους á¼‘ÏŽρακας á½‘ποκριτÎ¬ς, τá¿¶ν συριττομÎνων λÎγω, Nigr. 8), he does not wish to play his part in a laughable fashion (γελοÎ¯ως αá½τá½° μιμεá¿–σθαι, 8), nor does he wish for his ‘performance’ to be judged unfavorably (καταγνá¿¶ναι τοá¿¦ δρÎ¬ματος, 8). He continues to refer to his narrative as a performance and to himself as an actor in it (e.g. á½ποá¿–ÏŒς τÎ¯ς εá¼°μι τá½´ν μνÎ®μην á½‘ποκριτÎ®ς, οá½δá½²ν á¼€γγÎλου τá½° á¼„λλα τραγικοá¿¦ διαφÎρων, 9; á¼μá½² δá½² κá¼‚ν á¼κσυρÎ¯ττá¿ƒς, 9). Although the convert uses this metaphor in an attempt to legitimize his narrative and his conversion, in the world of Lucian’s religion and philosophy, to be a performer is a negative characteristic, as we know from reading the other philosophical lives. By creating an image of himself as a philosopher and performer, the convert reveals himself as a duplicitous character and as a target for Lucian’s satire.
In the course of these theatrical metaphors, the convert also creates an image of the playwright, unconcerned and not even himself a spectator in the theater, as the performers do a poor job of presenting his play (á½¡ς á½ μá½²ν ποιητá½´ς á¼¡μá¿–ν τá¿¶ν τοιοÏτων á¼μαρτημÎ¬των á¼€νεÏθυνος καá½¶ τá¿†ς σκηνá¿†ς πÏŒρρω ποι κÎ¬θηται, οá½δá½²ν αá½τá¿· μÎλον τá¿¶ν á¼ν θεÎ¬τρá¿³ πραγμÎ¬των, Nigr. 9). Following the implications of this metaphor, the ‘playwright’ is Nigrinus, and he is doing an unsatisfactory job of philosophical instruction. Nigrinus himself gives a similar picture of his disinterest in the theater of life a short while later (18), even taking pride in this distance, and thus exposes himself as a fraudulent philosopher. Additionally, if Nigrinus is a poor example of philosophical teaching, then the convert is perhaps to be mocked for being so easily converted.
Finally, it is possible that Lucian mocks us as his readers—will we see through the illusion of the theatrical language and notice that Nigrinus is a fraud, or will we, like the convert, be convinced that Nigrinus is a legitimate philosopher? Are we, as Lucian describes at the end of the Alexander, included in the group of sensible thinkers who are able to read and understand (all of) his works correctly (τá¿¶ν εá½– φρονοÏντων, Alex. 61)?