Controlling Laughter: Political Humor in the Late Roman Republic

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Overview

Although numerous scholars have studied Late Republican humor, this is the first book to examine its social and political context. Anthony Corbeill maintains that political abuse exercised real powers of persuasion over Roman audiences and he demonstrates how public humor both creates and enforces a society's norms.

Previous scholarship has offered two explanations for why abusive language proliferated in Roman oratory. The first asserts that public rhetoric, filled with ...

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Overview

Although numerous scholars have studied Late Republican humor, this is the first book to examine its social and political context. Anthony Corbeill maintains that political abuse exercised real powers of persuasion over Roman audiences and he demonstrates how public humor both creates and enforces a society's norms.

Previous scholarship has offered two explanations for why abusive language proliferated in Roman oratory. The first asserts that public rhetoric, filled with extravagant lies, was unconstrained by strictures of propriety. The second contends that invective represents an artifice borrowed from the Greeks. After a fresh reading of all extant literary works from the period, Corbeill concludes that the topics exploited in political invective arise from biases already present in Roman society. The author assesses evidence outside political discourse--from prayer ritual to philosophical speculation to physiognomic texts--in order to locate independently the biases in Roman society that enabled an orator's jokes to persuade. Within each instance of abusive humor--a name pun, for example, or the mockery of a physical deformity--resided values and preconceptions that were essential to the way a Roman citizen of the Late Republic defined himself in relation to his community.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691027395
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 8/5/1996
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.45 (w) x 9.61 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Introduction 3
Ch. 1 Physical Peculiarities 14
Ch. 2 Names and Cognomina 57
Ch. 3 Moral Appearance in Action: Mouths 99
Ch. 4 Moral Appearance in Action: Effeminacy 128
Ch. 5 A Political History of Wit 174
Works Cited 219
Index Locorum et Iocorum 233
General Index 247
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2004

    Invective In Roman Society

    The people of the Roman Republic prized their freedom and were very active in the civic life that revolved around the forum. Rhetorical training was prized and political speeches were frequent in both assemblies and trials. Corbeil's book focuses on the function of invective in persuasive speeches during the Roman Republic. His primary reference materials are Cicero's trials and speeches. Corbeil shows that such invectives reinforced social norms and preconceptions Romans had about traits and behaviors. Corbeil demonstrates how humorous references to a person's name, appearance, or traits were used to support a conclusion about whether such a person was inclined to be dishonest, foolish, careless, etc. and thus disbelieved or shunned. An altogether innovative look into the cultural and political dynamics of ancient Rome.

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