Friday, June 27, 2008

Saunders, Timothy. "Review of R. Drew Griffith's A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE AGORA." BRYN MAWR CLASSICAL REVIEW (June 2008).

Griffith, R. Drew, and Robert B. Marks. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Agora: Ancient Greek and Roman Humour. Kingston: Legacy Books, 2007. As the subtitle suggests, the focus of this book is on humour. Humour is, of course, a far broader category than, say, comedy and the authors take full advantage of this as they encourage us to find examples of it not only in such comic playwrights as Aristophanes and Plautus (both of whom, and especially the former, are nonetheless reasonably well represented), or even in such evidently 'comic' texts as the Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice, Attic satyr plays, Roman satire, Apuleius' Metamorphoses and Petronius' Satyricon; but also in epics such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, in tragedies such as Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound and Euripides' Orestes, in philosophical dialogues such as Plato's, in public speeches such as Cicero's (see, for instance, p. 37, where he is said to represent the prosecution's account as a kind of 'Keystone Kops adventure') and in the, often vindictive, lyrics of a poet like Catullus. In order to explicate and, to some degree, contextualise these Ancient Greek and Roman examples, moreover, the authors employ a broadly conceived comparative approach, discussing the role and presence of humour in a wide variety of other times and places, which range from Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Hebrew Bible and the 'German barbarians' (there is a fine coda, entitled 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Longship', that surveys instances of wit in Anglo-Saxon and Norse culture) all the way up to such staple modern fare as The Simpsons, South Park and American Pie. Sharing elbow-room at this veritable feast of material, meanwhile, is an equally impressive roster of theorists, among whom one is just as likely to bump into the likes of St. Augustine, Charles Darwin, Mary Douglas, Freud, Hobbes, Kant and Pirandello, as one is to squeeze the grape with those ancient analysts of wit, Plato and Aristotle. . . . (Thanks to Ed Brandon for the link.) Read the rest here:

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