Theatrum Vitae et Mortis

Posted on August 30, 2013, 8:19 am
6 mins


A friend of mine is selling her house and her beautiful collection of objects. Each objects has been described by the owner with sentimental warmth and emotions. Her emotions and her collection reminded me and inspired to present an anonymous text, “Clearance Sale of a Theater.”

I am fascinated by the lives of objects—something distinct from but intimately connected to the lives around those objects—but these lives are increasingly hidden as objects become more plentiful and ephemeral. I was therefore quite taken with this odd eighteenth (or possibly nineteenth) century prose poem, whose every line conjures an entire story around a somewhat fatigued object. Ten years ago, a couple friends of mine and I worked zealously on its translation. We tried to convey in English the theatrical trumpery of the nostalgic, almost tragic, autumnal text. Nothing there seems to be real except the tiredness of the director after of years of drudgery and labors—and the small green case listed at the very end. It is real.

Some connoisseurs among us highly valued it, claiming that the green little case was the most valuable possession of the aging man. Some wanted to acquire it, offering a fair price. Unfortunately, “the renowned city of N.” and the name of the theatre remain a mystery.

Some suspicions were also born within the labour on the translation—whether it was an ordinary theatre or none other than the Theatrum Vitae et Mortis, in its glory. It is possible.

I am the one to solve the mystery. I am delighted to leave this answer for you to answer, as I leave the translators—even the original language of the text—anonymous. I will allow the text itself to take on this air of mystery, let you imagine how it came to me, the book or scroll or unsent letter in which it was discovered. I include but a few photos, which—in the spirit of illusionary theatricality—might be some of those items in the text. And as I am only the one who is playing sincerely the role of the emcee, I am honored to present:


Clearance Sale of a Theater

The Director of the theater of the renowned city of N. begs to inform you that after years of drudgery and labours he is depleted and intends to take a rest.


Therefore, he wants to sell

his gorgeous castles,

his comfortable gardens and his defensive fortresses,

his beautiful, bosky forest,

a couple of meadows strewn with flowers and a handsome number of summerhouses located in charming settings.

Setting sun in Venice

“a setting sun”


He wants to sell

a sea composed of twelve large breaking waves (Unfortunately, the tenth of them suffered a little damage.),

a dozen-and-a-half dark cloudlets, well preserved,

moreover a cloud pierced with a thunderbolt,

some snow, beautifully white, made of the highest-quality post paper.


He wants to sell

three bottles of lightning,

a setting sun, somewhat already frayed and a moon a bit old,

a victory cart, almost new, harnessed with two dragons,

a purple coat, for Semiramis, which later, wore well Agamemnon and Menelaus and other heroes.

Two dragons in Venice

“harnessed with two dragons”


He wants to sell

attire for a phantom. This is: a sanguinary shirt, a torn overcoat with two red patches, displaying mortal wounds.


He wants to sell

a feather for a helmet of the Virgin of Orleans, used only once,

a handkerchief for Othello’s pocket,

Cleopatra’s chariot,

a small flask with vinegar in it to be useful in summoning spirits, as it renders a superb blue flame,

some rouge for actors and actress to use,

three steep rocks—stuffed well with horse hair,

a grand stake ablaze from all sides, which has been already burning for some years.

Well of truth?

Well of truth?

He wants to sell a beautiful bear, clothed with a canvas—newly dyed and two sheep stuffed with wood shavings,a complete collection of masks, trapdoors, ladders made of cords.A cradle,gallows,

Jupiter’s sacrifice,

a well of truth,

a head of a lion, that can still roar,

a throne whereon its steps still lies congealed blood and a small green case,

inside of which, one may still find a little laudanum.



If you liked this text read it then again. If you did not like it, share it with the others (via FB), anyway.

Anna Skibksa, Seattle, 2013 AD