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Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up

by Mary Beard University of California Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 336 pages
AU$32.99 NZ$34.77
Product Status: In Stock Now
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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 humour 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?


1. Introducing Roman Laughter: Dio's "Giggle" and Gnatho's Two Laughs

2. Questions of Laughter, Ancient and Modern
3. The History of Laughter
4. Roman Laughter in Latin and Greek

5. The Orator
6. From Emperor to Jester
7. Between Human and Animal—Especially Monkeys and Asses
8. The Laughter Lover

Texts and Abbreviations
List of Illustrations and Credits

'Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up,' which has just been published, is an engaging exploration of what made the Romans laughbad breath, among other thingsbut it also explores dimensions of Roman sensibility that have become elusive to us.' Rebecca Mead New Yorker 'Few things are more tiresome than seeing a joke analyzed. . . . Beards book avoids pedantry but also its opposite, the archness that preens itself on 'not taking humor too seriously' and signals inane wordplays with 'pun intended!' More importantly, her treatment makes one look with new eyes . . . even at works she does not herself discuss . . .stimulating book.' Gregory Hays New York Review of Books ' makes the Romans come alive and through them, gets readers to ponder that most fundamental and uniquely human facilitylaughter. The phenomenal Ms. Beard has written another cracking book, one of her best, I think.' Yasmin Alibhai-Brown The Independent 'Expect to be engaged by an enthralling book.' Harry Mount The Spectator ' central question is simple: what made the Romans laugh? Her answers are pleasingly complex. . . . Beard is always enlightening, and writes with a perfect balance of forensic detail and wide-ranging intellect.' The Scotsman 'Superbly acute and unashamedly complex. . . . To our vision of the solemn grandeur that was Rome, she restores a raucous, ghostly laughter.' Iona McLaren The Telegraph 'Written in Beard's trademark combination of erudition and effortless prose, Laughter in Ancient Rome is a fascinating combination of history, psychology, linguistic exploration and humor. This is scholarly writing at its best.' Pamela Toler Shelf Awareness for Readers 'You can read hundreds of books on Roman emperors and conquests; this represents a valiant attempt to bring a little understanding of a smaller, but no less important, part of what made Rome run.' Rob Hardy Columbus Commercial Dispatch 'Rich and provocative.' Roy Gibson TLS 'Like a great piece of archaeology, 'Laughter in Ancient Rome' allows us to glimpse ourselves in the cracked mirror of a distant culture.' John Domini Washington Post 'What made the Romans laugh? Its an incredible, almost childlike thought to have. But in this characteristically brilliant book by Mary Beard, this simple thought becomes a mental projection that conjures up the world of Rome as well or better than any book in recent memory.' Jonathon Sturgeon Flavorwire
Mary Beard is Professor of Classics at Cambridge University. Her many books include The Roman Triumph and The Fires of Vesuvius.