Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up
What made the Romans laugh? Was ancient Rome a carnival, filled with practical jokes and hearty chuckles? Or was it a carefully regulated culture in which the uncontrollable excess of laughter was a force to fear—a world of wit, irony, and knowing smiles? How did Romans make sense of laughter? What role did it play in the world of the law courts, the imperial palace, or the spectacles of the arena?
Laughter in Ancient Rome explores one of the most intriguing, but also trickiest, of historical subjects. Drawing on a wide range of Roman writing—from essays on rhetoric to a surviving Roman joke book—Mary Beard tracks down the giggles, smirks, and guffaws of the ancient Romans themselves. From ancient “monkey business” to the role of a chuckle in a culture of tyranny, she explores Roman humor from the hilarious, to the momentous, to the surprising. But she also reflects on even bigger historical questions. What kind of history of laughter can we possibly tell? Can we ever really “get” the Romans’ jokes?
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Texts and Abbreviations
List of Illustrations and Credits
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Abdera Aesop ancient ancient Rome apes Apuleius Aristotle Aristotle’s Athenaeus audience Augustan History Augustus Bakhtin banter Caligula Catullus century BCE chapter character Cicero claims classical clear comedy comic Commodus context Crassus critics debate Deipnosophistae Democritus dinner Dio’s discussion egghead Elagabalus elite emperor Ennius example fact Freud funny gags Gnatho Greek Halliwell 2008 hint history of laughter human idea imagine imitation imperial Inst jester jocularity jokebooks joker jokes jokester Latin laughable literary Lucius Macrobius manuscript mime mime actor mimicry modern monkey orator oratorical parasite Parmeniscus particular passage Philogelos Plautus play Pliny Pliny’s Plutarch prompted question Quintilian quip raise a laugh reference reflect ridiculous risus role Roman culture Roman laughter Roman world Rome Saturnalia scholastikos scurra sense slave smile social sometimes story Strabo Suetonius suggest Terence’s theme theory of laughter Thraso tion tradition translation Vatinius witty words writing Zeuxis