32. What made Greeks laugh?

Halliwell: Greek Laughter

“I’m trying to use laughter as a kind of prism, I suppose, through which to examine certain features of the broader culture…

“Greeks talk a lot about laughter and so there are a lot of perceptions and representations of laughter in prose texts and poetic texts… It’s used all over the place, it’s referred to, it’s discussed by philosophers and others.

“So I really wanted to use it as a prism through which to look at a wider range of Greek values and tensions with in the culture and ways in which Greeks think about many different aspects of life.”

My guest this week is Stephen Halliwell, Professor of Greek at St Andrews University and winner of this year’s Criticos Prize for the best book published on the subject of Greece, ancient or modern.

Stephen HalliwellStephen’s book, Greek Laughter, is a vast compendium of information of what made the Greeks laugh and how laughter functioned in ancient Greek society. As the book makes abundantly clear, laughter was far from unproblematic –  to be laughed down in Greek society was a deeply shameful experience – and laughter was a frequent subject of reflection for philosophers and other ancient Greek thinkers.

The book is also fascinating on the links between laughter and early Christianity (by and large, they weren’t in favour of it…) Click on the link above to hear the podcast, or subscribe at iTunes (link in right-hand column above).

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