Greek Laughter

Greek Laughter : A Study of Cultural Psychology from Homer to Early Christianity

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The first book to offer an integrated reading of ancient Greek attitudes to laughter. Taking material from various genres and contexts, the book analyses both the theory and the practice of laughter as a revealing expression of Greek values and mentalities. Greek society developed distinctive institutions for the celebration of laughter as a capacity which could bridge the gap between humans and gods; but it also feared laughter for its power to expose individuals and groups to shame and even violence. Caught between ideas of pleasure and pain, friendship and enmity, laughter became a theme of recurrent interest in various contexts. Employing a sophisticated model of cultural history, Stephen Halliwell traces elaborations of the theme in a series of important texts: ranging far beyond modern accounts of 'humour', he shows how perceptions of laughter helped to shape Greek conceptions of the body, the mind and the meaning of more

Product details

  • Hardback | 632 pages
  • 156 x 232 x 42mm | 1,079.54g
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • English
  • black & white illustrations
  • 0521889006
  • 9780521889001
  • 1,946,860

Review quote

'... a wide survey of Greek laughter from Homer to the early Christians ... the introduction is quite the best brief overview of the role of laughter in any historical period that I have ever read ... some of [Halliwell's] discussions are brilliant ... The highlight is his discussion of Democritus, the fifth-century philosopher and atomist ...' Mary Beard, The Times Literary Supplement '... a book of great originality as well as immense range ... it is remarkable how a chronological treatment also has a compelling thematic momentum: this is an exhilarating read.' Anglo-Hellenic Review 'Stephen Halliwell has written a monumental book on the notoriously volatile and elusive phenomenon of laughter. This book is an extraordinary resource. The trouble with laughter - and the delight of it - is that it impinges on practically every socio-cultural dynamic imaginable. Halliwell has given us a rich and remarkable starting point for thinking about such dynamics. That is why every student of the ancient world should attend this book.' Bryn Mawr Classical Reviewshow more

Table of contents

1. Introduction; 2. Inside and outside morality: the laughter of Homeric gods and men; 3. Sympotic elation and resistance to death; 4. Ritual laughter and the renewal of life; 5. Aischrology, shame and Old Comedy; 6. Greek philosophy and the ethics of ridicule; 7. Greek laughter and the problem of the absurd; 8. The intermittencies of laughter in Menander's social world; 9. Lucian and the laughter of life and death; 10. Laughter denied, laughter deferred: the antigelastic tendencies of early Christianity; Appendix 1. The Greek (body) language of laughter and smiles; Appendix 2. Gelastic faces in visual more

About Stephen Halliwell

Stephen Halliwell is Professor of Greek at the University of St Andrews. His most recent book, The Aesthetics of Mimesis: Ancient Texts and Modern Problems (2002), has been awarded an international prize, the 'Premio Europeo d'Estetica' for more