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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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Towards a Byzantine Theory of the Comic?

Towards a Byzantine Theory of the Comic?

(p.146) 9 Towards a Byzantine Theory of the Comic?
Greek Laughter and Tears

Aglae Pizzone

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter tackles the question of laughter and humour from a theoretical perspective. Rather than map out the Byzantine ‘comic landscape’ by resorting to modern theorisations, it looks at Greek medieval humour and laughter from within, in the attempt to single out elements of a Byzantine theory of the comic. Recent scholarship has gone some way towards dismantling the prejudice that there was no room for laughter in Byzantine society, combing the sources for tangible evidence of humour and jokes, or focusing on the scant traces for the survival of genres such as mimes and satires. Less reflection has been devoted to understanding how the Byzantines construed, conceptualised and justified comic features of discourse. Patristic and devotional texts, frowning upon laughter and humour, have taken the lion’s share of attention. This chapter sheds light on the other side of the coin, concentrating on secular texts used for educational purposes in middle Byzantine literature (rhetorical handbooks and commentaries), aiming to unravel the function that the Byzantines assigned to laughter, irony and humour in their literary production. Four major areas are explored, crucial to the deployment and legitimation of the comic in Byzantium: psychology, rhetorical display, didacticism and narrative.

Keywords:   Humour, Laughter, Comedy and the comic, Byzantine rhetoric, Byzantine education, Performance, Narrative, Psychology

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