The Liar in History (part I)

The Liar, not a mere fabricator of tall tales but a skilled professional who raised falsehood to an art form, is a figure who has been all but forgotten by history.  Still, as late as 1900, trained Liars were plying their trade from central Europe to the Near East, from the Mediterranean to parts of Russia.

The role of the professional Liar was, in the words of one anonymous 17th century writer, “to lye so convinsinglye that God Himself might be deseeved.”  Though few first-hand accounts exist concerning the actual theory behind the art of Lying (if indeed any theory was involved) , the idea seems to have prevailed that if God could be tricked into believing a given proposition, He would thereafter behave as though it was true, and so it would become true.  Some ethnologists have described the Liar as a sort of specialized storyteller, but as Eliade has noted:

The Liar is in fact the exact opposite of the storyteller, for where the latter arranges truths to produce a falsehood, the Liar seeks to transmute falsehood into truth.  [from Myth, History, Lie – 1936]

Lying was held to be a difficult and indeed dangerous profession.  Spontaneity was of the essence, since if God caught one preparing his Lies ahead of time, He would recognize the deception and turn his gaze away from the would-be Liar, ignoring him for all time.  Hence, it was necessary for the Liar to deceive God not only about the falsity of the lie, but about his own identity as a Liar.  To this end, apprentice Liars were required by their masters to spend their apprenticeship speaking only the truth.  They would cultivate a reputation, in the eyes of society and God alike, of assiduous honesty in all things.  And every night they would sit in pitch-black rooms, devoid of light so that God would not see them, reading and writing extravagant falsehoods in a special raised text known only to practitioners of their craft.

(part II)

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