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?
From the front Cover
Laughter in Ancient Rome is a masterwork, simultaneously a sophisticated work of historical and literary scholarship and an unputdownable read. Beard never loses sight of the specificities of Roman culture, yet she encompasses an extraordinary range of ancient and modern theorizing. Her book will appeal to psychologists and anthropologists, as well as to classicists and indeed anyone who has ever thought about the much-debated question of why we laugh. --William V. Harris, William R. Shepherd Professor of History at Columbia University, and author of Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity With a bounty of suggestive and unfailingly intelligent conclusions about the situation of laughter within ancient Roman culture, Beard's remarkable learning is displayed on every page. Laughter in Ancient Rome is unmistakably a work of scholarship, but it is also an unpretentious and inviting exploration available to anyone who is interested. As a literary attainment, this book is marvelous. --Dylan Sailor, Associate Professor of Classics at University of California, Berkeley