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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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‘Tantalus ever in Tears’: The Greek Anthology as a Source of Emotions in Late Antiquity

‘Tantalus ever in Tears’: The Greek Anthology as a Source of Emotions in Late Antiquity

Chapter:
(p.75) 5 ‘Tantalus ever in Tears’: The Greek Anthology as a Source of Emotions in Late Antiquity
Source:
Greek Laughter and Tears
Author(s):

Judith Herrin

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9781474403795.003.0005

During the period of Late Antiquity (AD c. 300-600) few texts are preserved that were intended to make the reader laugh. The Greek Anthology, however, provides an unusually rich source for late antique attitudes to both laughter and tears. As Agathias, a lawyer and historian, explains when putting together his Garland of epigrams he followed and quoted the wise model of the ancients, and added sixth-century topics that illustrate ‘the devious paths of life’, ‘scurrilous rhyme’, ‘sweet love’ and ‘the joys of Bacchus’. He also describes the collection as a literary feast with different new flavourings, the kneading of fresh poetical dough by many skilled cooks. Their ‘dishes’, read aloud at real banquets, reveal a persistent devotion to Aphrodite/Cypris and all the passions that love brings. Yet the ancient gods and the wheel of Fortune that frustrates human endeavour appear side by side with Christian heroes, the martyrs of the early church, bishops and pious virgins, who overcame pagan disdain and persecution. The collection therefore captures the representation of emotions between two distinct worlds: the inheritance of Greek antiquity as it was being accommodated and restricted in the emergent world of Christian dominion.

Keywords:   Greek Anthology, Paul the silentiary, Agathias, late antique epigrams on laughter and tears

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