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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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‘Messages of the Soul’: Tears, Smiles, Laughter and Emotions Expressed by them in Byzantine Literature

‘Messages of the Soul’: Tears, Smiles, Laughter and Emotions Expressed by them in Byzantine Literature

(p.125) 8 ‘Messages of the Soul’: Tears, Smiles, Laughter and Emotions Expressed by them in Byzantine Literature
Greek Laughter and Tears

Martin Hinterberger

Edinburgh University Press

Both in real life and in literature, tears and laughter only rarely carry an ambiguous message: usually tears express sorrow, and laughter joy. This chapter investigates whether this is also the case in Byzantine texts, focusing on texts where doubts about the emotional meaning of these bodily signs are explicitly voiced or where their ambiguity is exploited for literary aims. The emotions elicited in turn by these bodily signs as well as the relation of tears and laughter (usually but not always constituting opposite emotional states) are also explored. Apart from sorrow, Byzantine tears are primarily associated with the religious emotion ‘contrition’. Tears of contrition, however, may also be experienced as joyful, because of their cleansing effect. Not surprisingly, Byzantine tears arouse compassion, mercy and pity in the onlooker’s soul. Whereas laughter appears as generally negative and almost as the opposite of the highly valued contrition, it is also characteristic of kindness. Apart from joy, it often expresses contempt. Smiling, on the other hand, is the virtuous relative of the morally questionable laughter. It expresses a calm attitude and is related not so much to emotions as to their absence.

Keywords:   Tears, Laughter, Smiling, Byzantine literature, Contrition, Mixed emotions, Hagiography

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