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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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Philogelos: An Anti-Intellectual Joke-Book

Philogelos: An Anti-Intellectual Joke-Book

(p.104) 7 Philogelos: An Anti-Intellectual Joke-Book
Greek Laughter and Tears

Stephanie West

Edinburgh University Press

The ancient compilation Philogelos (Laughter-lover), attributed to two unknowns, Hierocles and Philagrios, deserves to be better known; notwithstanding many references to joke-books, both Greek and Latin, this is the only surviving example. Many of its jokes are funny enough to fulfil an important social function of such silly stories in deflecting ill-feeling and embarrassment. They should be treated selectively; a series of jokes rapidly loses its force. The collection seems to have been largely assembled before the christianisation of the empire, but the only securely datable element is a reference (in joke 62) to the celebration of the games marking Rome’s millennium in April 248. Linguistic features, most strikingly the relatively large number of latinisms, provide little help in attempt to date the collection’s formation; fidelity to the transmitted wording was not a high priority for the copyists of such subliterary texts. The oldest MS is dated to the late 10th or early 11th century, but four important 15th century MSS indicate that it remained popular over a long period. The milieu implied is urban, politically Roman but culturally hellenised. Its values and concerns are middle-brow and middle-class. Folly and pretentiousness are its most prominent targets.

Keywords:   Astrologer, Joke-book, Latinism, Physician, Scholastikos

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