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Greek Laughter and TearsAntiquity and After$
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Margaret Alexiou and Douglas Cairns

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781474403795

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474403795.001.0001

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Imagining Divine Laughter in Homer and Lucian

Imagining Divine Laughter in Homer and Lucian

Chapter:
(p.36) 3 Imagining Divine Laughter in Homer and Lucian
Source:
Greek Laughter and Tears
Author(s):

Stephen Halliwell

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9781474403795.003.0003

This chapter employs a historicising approach to laughter, of the kind elaborated in the same author’s Greek Laughter: a Study of Cultural Psychology from Homer to Early Christianity, in order to investigate some important but elusive aspects of the Greek mythico-religious imagination. Its central focus is on depictions of divine laughter at opposite ends of the spectrum of ancient Greek culture, in Homeric epic and Lucianic satire. What does it mean to imagine gods who can laugh at and/or with one another, as well as at and/or with humans? Is such laughter a marker of distance between divine and human conditions of existence, or does the idea of laughter serve to limit the gods by subjecting them to inescapably human evaluation? The chapter rejects models of explanation (both ancient and modern) which treat the laughter of the Olympians either as a contamination of an originally purer conception of the gods or as consistently expressing a serenely detached state of immortality. It argues, instead, that divine laughter reflects tensions between the literal and the symbolic which are intrinsic to anthropomorphising Greek religious sensibilities, and that far from conveying blissful detachment divine laughter characterises gods who are heavily invested in the conflicts of the human world.

Keywords:   Anthropomorphism, Homer, Laughter, Lucian, Menippean satire, Olympian gods

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