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Lucian was born at Samosata, a city in the ancient kingdom of Commagene (present-day Turkey) some time around 125 AD. Trained as a sculptor, he later became a rhetorician, pleading legal cases in the courts. But Lucian's cynical turn of mind and biting wit made him popular with the region's intelligentsia and he was soon performing set-pieces in public. So successful was he, his skills brought both fame and fortune, and allowed him to travel extensively, through Greece and Italy and even as far as Gaul. In 'The Syrian Goddess' Lucian does more than merely entertain an audience. His essay on the worship of the goddess Atargatis (= Astarte) at Hierapolis ('Holy City') in northern Syria, gives an eye-witness account of a whole swathe of (to our eyes) outlandish pagan ceremonies: ritual prostitution, phallic worship, priestly self-castration, and human sacrifice are all recorded with meticulous care. 'The Syrian Goddess' remains one of the most important sources for 'oriental' religions under the Roman Empire, and is a classic read for all those interested in paganism and the cult of the Great Goddess.
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