Review of the midterm material

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Topic 1 Homeric Laughter
Homeric reasons to laugh

• Physical handicap

• Defeat in battle

• Public humiliation

Topic 2 Demeter’s laughter
Demeter & ritual obscenities

• Insults and dirty jokes exchanged

• Nocturnal mockery, insults and blasphemies

• Jokes & representations of male and female genitals carried in a solemn procession; a feast celebrated only by women (cakes in the shape of genitals were on the menu).

Topic 3: The early history of Greek comedy
1. Prehistory of drama

Greek proto-dramatic rituals

Komoi = wild celebrative processions, frequently with the bearing of phallus as a symbol of fertility, accompanied by heavy wine drinking;

The oldest Attic festivals celebrating Dionysos were the Rural Dionysia. Their faces painted or masked, chanting obscene refrains, the farmers carried the phallos, the ultimate symbol of fertility.

The word ‘comedy’ is derived from the name of this procession, komos, and the word for song, ode.
Pharmakos: a human scapegoat

During the festival of Thargelia and in adverse periods such as plague and famine, the Athenians and Ionians chose a scapegoat from among the poor and ugly. He obtained a special treatment in the pritaneion, then was led in a procession around the city to the sound of unharmonious music, beaten on the penis with wild or infertile plants and finally pelted with stones and chased over the border.

2. The festival during which literary comedy was performed was the Great Dionysia introduced by the tyrant PEISISTRATOS
3. Organization of the Great Dionysia

a. The festivities were presided over by the state official called “archon” the ruler

b. The Dionysia lasted three to five days and involved four kinds of theatrical performances
4. ‘Literary’ dramatic genres performed at the Dionysia

a. Serious drama: tragedy and dithyramb

b. Comic drama satyr plays (featuring mythological characters) and comedy (featuring fictional characters)
Topic 4: ARISTOPHANES (5th-4th BCE)
1. Aristophanic laughter

a. By Aristophanes’ time, the comic theater is already an independent institution

b. Nevertheless, comedy is still deeply rooted in festive humor.

c. His carnival representations mock a world upside-down, thus reinforcing the pre-existing order.

4. Aristophanes and the City

a. Concern for the welfare of his POLIS, the city-state, dominates all comedies by Aristophanes.

b. Sexual metaphors and obscenities are primarily a means for denouncing the degradation of political life.
Topic 5: Lysistrata 411 BCE
1. Plot

a. Women go on sex strike and occupy the Acropolis

b. Old men try to defeat them, with no success

c. The play ends with the restoration of love and marriage

2. Gender

a. Athenian theater was created by men and for men, yet it is generally believed to contain some of the best female roles in the world repertory.

b. It was state-sponsored and attended only by men.

c. All actors were men.

d. Athenian women

• were legal non-entities.

• did not take part in any public events, except for certain religious activities


Means: ‘comedy in Greek mantle’ used the scripts of Greek New Comedy (which developed after Aristophanes and had more realistic plots) and adapted them to suit the taste of Roman audiences, often combining several plays into one.

Predictable plots can be reduced to a few simple models, mostly:

Boy wants girl BUT Rival/pimp has girl

Boy with the help of slave overcomes obstacles

Boy acquires girl

Two houses

No indoor scenes, everything happens on the street

Distant actions narrated


Dialogues: take place in the street

Monologues: characters offer reflections, deliberate what will happen

Asides: eavesdropping asides, asides in conversations, addressed to nobody, another character, or the audience

Dramatis personae

  • Boy: a bit dumb

  • Girl: clever or innocent

  • Old man: does not want to share

  • Matron: owns husband or serves him

  • Slave: foolish or clever

  • Maid: devoted to mistress

Slave, trickster, and director

Often referring to himself as imperator, architect, engineer

The poet’s self-centered and conceited alter-ego

Indulges in meta-theatrical dialogues with the audience

Fortuna reigns supreme over all comic plots

While the efforts of the slaves provide the playwrights with the material for action, the final solution is usually the result of a lucky coincidence

Full name: Titus Macc(i)us Plautus = Dick Clowns’son Flatfooted
• Facts

Was active between towards the end of the third and the beginning of the second century BCE

We have the dates of two plays.

Cicero gives us the date of Plautus’ death.

• Times

Contemporary of Cato The Censor (3rd-2nd BCE)

Stood for moral, social and economic reconstruction.

Cultivated a rustic and conservative pose, and was strongly against everything Greek.

Taxed luxury and spent money on building a sewerage system.
The Punic Wars: 3rd century BCE
I Control of Sicily; The Romans occupy Sicily

II Italy attacked by Hannibal Hannibal is defeated

Theater at the time of Plautus

Temporary stages

Troupes consisting mostly of slaves under the direction of domini gregis

Possibly officials were approached by the domini of various troupes in search of contract for performances

Actors slaves, yet organized into a guild
• Possibilities

Ethnic Identity? Gellius (NA, 3.3) claims that Plautus was an Umbrian from Sarsina

The Umbrians…

• Spoke a language closely related to Latin

• Were conquered by the Romans at the beginning of the third century BCE

Topic 2 PLAUTUS PLAUTUS’ BACCHIDES = Wild, Wild Women (?)
1) A summary

• A young Athenian goes to Asia to collect a debt for his father and asks his friend to take care of his courtesan girlfriend Bacchis.

• Meanwhile, with the help of his slave Nugget, he manages to use a large part of the collected money to buy his girl’s freedom.

• Upon coming back home, he hears that his friend has an affair with Bacchis and gives the money back to his father.

• Too late, he realizes that his faithful friend was kissing the twin sister of his beloved.

• The clever slave manages to steal the money form the old father twice more.

• The two reunited couples are soon threatened by the visit of the fathers of both young men.

• However, the girls manage to find a peaceful solution: the fathers join the party.

2) Bacchiac laughter and Roman attitudes towards homosexuality

• The original title of the Wild, Wild Women, BACCHIDES was reminiscent of Bacchae and Bacchanalia

• In Greece Dionysus = Bacchus was the official patron of theater

Guild of actors = Artisans of Dionysus

• Roman actors were probably worshipers of Bacchus

• This is problematic because the worship of Bacchus (=Bacchanalia) was prohibited by the Roman senate by a decree from 186 BCE and those involved were punished by death

This cult of Bacchus

• Was originally attended only by women

• Some time in the 3rd century admission to Bacchae (‘Wild Women’) was extended to men.

• From Livy’s description we conclude that homosexuality was one of the issues that cause the prosecutions.


Romans had a complex set of moral restrictions designed to protect children from abuse or any citizens from force or duress in sexual relations.

Plautus’ plays show a similarly tolerant attitude towards homosexuality as Bacchic cult.

Bacchides (190) Suppression of Bacchanalia (186)

Male actors wearing women’s clothing Male worshipers wearing women’s clothing

Old and young mixing together Old and young mixing together

In a “temple of Bacchus” In a temple of Bacchus

Criticized by severe moralist (Zeugma). Criticized by severe moralists (the senate)

When he shows the triumph of the Bacchides as the (originally severe) fathers join their sons, Plautus may be voicing his opinion on a hot social and political issue.

Topic 3 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
The play opened on Brodway on May 8 1962 at the Alvin Theater and ran 964 performances.

In 1966 the play was made into a film, directed by Richard Lester with Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford.

Plautus often used many plays by Greek playwrights in order to create one of his most hilariously complex comedies.

This is precisely what Stephen Sondheim did to Plautus...


Name: Publius Terentius Afer


• Born in Cartage

• Educated by Terentius Lucanus

• Part of Scipio’s circle of intellectuals

• At the age of leaves Rome setting out for Greece, and never comes back.

• In the second half of the second century BCE, Lucius Aemilius Paulus wins the decisive battle of the Third Macedonian War and Greek art becomes fashionable among aristocracy

• But not without opposition:

Worship of Bacchus suppressed

Epicurean philosophers banished from Rome

Plans to build a stone theater thwarted

• Patterns typical for Terence

Young man falls in love but cannot marry until obstacles are overcome + a side-plot

Focus on relationships & misunderstandings

Interest in human nature; homo sum humani nil a me alienum puto.

Topic 5 TERENCE’s Mother-in-Law

The first dialogue introduces the theme of loyalty. Contrary to the standard complaints about feminine infidelity, Terence has two women complain about male infidelity.

The theme is developed as we see that…

• Pamphilus was indeed disloyal to Bacchis

• His father mistrusts his wife Sostrata

• His father-in-law mistrusts his wife—Myrrina

• Philumena has left Pamphilus’ house without explanation

• Philumena has given birth to an illegitimate child

• Both patriarchs go inside to vent their anger on their wives…

• Myrrina lies to her husband about the child

• Pamphilus lies to his parents about the reason for his rejection of Philumena
The most loyal and honest figure in this play is the prostitute, the traditional champion of mendacity (recall the women in Major Blowhard and Wild, Wild Women).
Other characters also act against the stereotypes:

The clever slave is unable to fulfill the simplest task

The mother-in-law loves her daughter

The selfish lover shows compassion.

Topic 6 SATIRE

Satyrus may be associated with Greek satyr plays

Lanx satura = a full dish, an offering at a harvest home including a variety of fruit = pot pourri




Improvised Versus Fescennini
Satire and ritual

Public ritualized blame used to enforce community values and punish transgressions

Akin to, but more aggressive than, carnivalesque laughter
Greek precedents


Mime (sketches depicting scenes from everyday life)

Diatribe (ethical sermon preached by a philosopher)

Menippus of Gadara (3rd BCE) a Cynic philosopher writing diatribes in a mixture of prose and poetry.
Roman Satire
Quintus Ennius (3rd-2nd BCE) four books in a variety of meters.

Lucilius (2nd BCE)

Inventor of the genre

Specialized in personal invective naming the victim

Varro (1st BCE) volumes of satire imitating Menippus
Horace (1st BCE)

Born at Venusia in 65 BCE

Son of a freedman, educated in Rome and Athens.

40 – 30 BCE Epodes and Satires

Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis

1st to 2nd CE

• Writing after the death of DOMITIAN

• Good rhetorical training

• Little interest in philosophy

Sixteen satires in hexameter, subdivided into five books.

Horace’s Satires

Book I 35 BCE

Book II 30 BCE
Themes of Horace’s Satires

Literary & programmatic

Human vices: greed, adultery, indulgence


Tableaux: traveling, struggling with a bore

Impersonations: e.g., Davus the Philosophizing Slave

Horace, Satire 1.1
• Why are people unhappy about their fate? Why do they envy others?
• Answers explored and rejected
People want a change, BUT they do nothing to change

People save up money for old age, BUT they do stop when they have enough.

• We constantly seek wealth? Why do we never stop?

Because money is easily spent, BUT one could simply spend less.

Because having a lot feels good; BUT having a little may be enough to feel good.

Because the rich are respected, BUT they are not happy.

Because rich people are loved, BUT this is not true love.
•So we are unhappy, because we are unable to be satisfied with what is necessary

Reading Satire 1.1

• Images of people who envy each other

Soldier and merchant

Lawyer and farmer

• In making provisions we behave like ants mindful of our future.

But ants are wiser than people; they know when to stop.

• To be happy we need to control our desires, satisfying them only as far as it is absolutely necessary… .

• References to writing satire

Teachers coaxing children to learn the alphabet

“Let us explore serious matters while joking”

Horace Satire 1.2
• Some people spend too much

• Others spend too little

Conclusion: nil est medium

There is no moderation, or: no one is moderate

• Examples of excess

a. Some men prefer to have affairs with society ladies

b. Others prefer the lowest prostitutes
• Adulterers often suffer

Jumping from the roof


Raped by slaves

• Freedwomen (and men) are safer, BUT can still be fairly expensive, especially when they happen to be actors or actresses
• Solution: Do not let your sexual desire disturb you

Aristocratic women have powerful relatives.

High-class prostitutes are expensive.

Ordinary prostitutes are the best bet:

‘You’ can inspect the woman.

‘You’ are sure to be served at your convenience.

• Horace suggests that simple prostitutes (as opposed to actresses) and household servants of both sexes can satisfy the Roman man’s desire when needed…

Horace’s Satires

• The narrator: an elite male

• His audience: elite males

• Women and slaves are represented as objects that can or cannot fulfill the narrators/listeners desire

• What about Horace the man? Son of freedman and freedwoman
• Moral Inquiry

Horace’s criticism is informed by a search for a new enlightened way of life.

Instead of attacking individuals, Horace focuses on typical figures, almost comic stock types

Horace says that satire is not true poetry, because it does not require inspiration.

Its style is close to everyday conversation in verse.
Background The Flavian dynasty

  • Titus Flavius Vespasianus

  • Suppressed the Jewish revolt 66 CE

  • Became emperor in 70 C.E.

  • His sons, Titus and Domitian followed him

Juvenal criticizes corruption of the political and social life in Rome BUT he does not believe that satire can help anyone become a better or happier person.

Tragic Satire

Juvenal’s Satires are inhabited by monstra (freaks) rather than by comic characters


  • Shocking contrasts between lofty and obscene

  • Surprising statements:

  • Ambiguity

  • Dense and memorable formulations

Satire 1


I have suffered listening to poor writing

It is now my turn to make others suffer (?)

• Exposition 1:

“This monstrous city” forces Juvenal to write satire

— Gallery of male freaks more astounding than mythological characters

Eunuch getting married

Foreigners who ‘made it’



— Gallery of female freaks


Incestuous Adulteresses

— Wealth comes from crime, so “Indignation would make me a poet, even if I have no talent.”

• Exposition 2: Main vices to be criticized in Juvenal’s Satires

— The rich who gamble their fortunes

— The poor watch magistrates and women in litters

— Dependants spend all days hanging around their patron
• Conclusion:

Should the crooks go free?

It is dangerous to write satire.

Attack Tigellinus (dead for 30 years) and you will be burned alive…

So I will attack the dead

Reading Satire 1

Symmetry versus chaos

Juvenal’s subject is life itself and life is chaotic

He makes his points covertly

Like a good teacher he comes back to the same topic several times

In doing so he also follows the principles of rhetoric

TERTULIAN (2nd -3rd CE)


• Well educated

• Wrote and lived in Carthage (a center of both Christianity and show-buisness)

• Published a book condemning theater entitled On Spectacles

• Christian women should wear veils

• Remarriage should be forbidden
Arguments against theater

• Idolatry—pagan religious origin of the games.

• Obscenity of Atellan farces, naked prostitutes, etc.

• Venus and Bacchus allied demons promoting immodesty of gestures and attire

• Pagan conspiracy (an attempt to jeopardize the Christian souls)

• A woman went to theater and came back possessed; during exorcism, the demon replied: ‘I found her in my domain.’

‘Our pleasures are yet to come’: The final judgment will be the true spectacle

Augustine (4th CE)

• Lived most of his life in Roman Africa

Christian mother:

Baptized Christian in 387

Bishop of Hippo and publishes Confessions
• Augustine on Theater

  • Theater as site of debauchery

  • Social practice inappropriate for Christians

  • An expression of polytheism

  • Theater as a language inappropriate for Christian contents

Medieval Comedy

No scripts of medieval comedy or references to comic performances survive.

There is hardly such a thing as a medieval drama…

Medieval drama originated from

Easter liturgy
• Works Legends of saints

Six comedies

Epic poems

• Life (based on prefaces)


exceptionally learned

• Gandersheim

Founded in ca. 850

Since a “free abbey” independent of the crown

An impressive library most likely including Terence, Virgil, and Ovid
• Religious feelings: “He has given me ability to learn—yet of myself I should know nothing. ”

• Hrotsvit and Terence

Hrotsvit wants her plays to be read (possibly aloud) instead of Terence, whose text was frequently used in school recitations

She considers her output to be morally superior to Terence from whom she borrows formal devices

Hrotsvit’s, concept of Contrasting World-views

Pagan Christian

Enjoyment of worldly beauty True beatitude possible after death

Contempt for spiritual values Contempt for physical pleasure and pain

Goal: enjoyment of life Goal: spiritual wedding with God

DULCITIUS dramatization of this contrast

First Confrontation: Power

Diocletian Virgins

I have power Power = corruption, idolatry

Ancient religion, the worship of the gods ‘demons’

Christianity is ‘a new superstition’ Deus omnipotens

Second Confrontation: Physical Love

Dulcitius Virgins

I have been captured by their appearance May God protect us

Flattery and threats Hymns at night prayer, privation
Humiliation of Dulcitius

In the eyes the girls who witness his rendezvous with pots and pans

In the eyes of his soldiers who take him for a demon

Beaten by the palace guards

Recognized and pitied by his wife

Pitied by Diocletianus

Third Confrontation: Pain & Death, Part 1: Agape (Love) & Chionia (Snow-white  Purity)
Sisennius Virgins A & Ch.

Forbids them to practice their religion Disobey

Sentences them to death Continuously ask for death
Miracle: Their bodies bear no trace of fire; their spirits ascend to heaven
Third Confrontation: Pain & Death, Part 2: Hirene (Peace)

Sisennius Virgin

Threatens her with a slow death and rape Hirene is eager to die (the more I suffer, the more I will triumph) and not afraid of rape (because she will not enjoy it)


Two strangers have placed Hirene on a top of a mountain

Sisennius and his soldiers quickly hurry up to see what happened;

They kill her with an arrow; dying Hirene speaks of her triumph

Is Dulcitius a comedy?
1) By ancient standards?

Aristotle on Comedy

“Comedy is, as we have said, an imitation of characters of a lower type, not, however, in the full sense of the word bad, the Ludicrous being merely a subdivision of the ugly. It consists in some defect or ugliness that is not painful or destructive. To take an obvious example, the comic mask is ugly and distorted, but does not imply pain.”
2) By modern standards?

From Wikipedia

Comedy is the use of humor in the form of theater, where it simply referred to a play with a happy ending, in contrast to a tragedy.

Mel Brooks on comedy and tragedy: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall down an elevator shaft and you die."

Characteristics of Comedy

• Play

• Humor (something some people find funny)

• Happy ending

• Shakespeare’s Education:

— 'The King's New School of Stratford-upon-Avon'.

— ‘Trivium' of grammar, logic, rhetoric, and the 'quadrivium' of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.

  • Latin strongly emphasized

  • Plays of Plautus and Terence studied and imitated

  • Declamation of Latin speeches

  • Laughter and Elizabethan Society

Shakespeare’s humor
• Renaissance perceptions of laughter

a) Theory

Joubert’s Treatise on Laughter (‘one of the most astounding actions of man’)

— Laughable in deed (accidental versus deliberate)

Accidental: body parts, fall (damage cannot be too serious)

Deliberate: practical jokes, imitation

— Laughable in word (stories, wordplay)
b) Folk Practice: Inversion and Laughter

• The Lord of Misrule (source Philip Stubbes)

— Election followed by a visit to the church during which religious ceremonies were parodied
• Today’s perceptions
Cultural Distance

  • Old jokes “signposts in foreign alphabet”

  • We often laugh for different reasons

  • Perceptions of laughter change

  • Constant: laughter as a form of coping with anxiety, embarrassment, etc.


Freud: laughter is an expression of the unconscious

Bakhtin: carnival spirit was separate from official celebrations; it offered ‘a second world outside officialdom’

Carnival laughter attacks all people, including the participants of the carnival; it often brought things to the materialistic and bodily levels.

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