Cover image for Controlling laughter : political humor in the late Roman Republic
Controlling laughter : political humor in the late Roman Republic
Corbeill, Anthony, 1960-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1996]

Physical Description:
x, 251 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library DG82 .C67 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



With particular focus on a generation which enjoyed flourishing political rhetoric, this text argues that aggressive humour exercised real powers of persuasion over audiences, and that, naturally, this helped shape the ethical standards of the day. This book is the first of its kind to examine the topic in its social context, and Corbeill uses such chapter headings as: Physical Peculiarities; Names and Cognomina; Moral Appearance in Action; A Political History in Wit.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

History, philology, onomastics, and anthropology come together in this remarkable work. It starts from a Freudian premise: an opponent can be diminished by humor "to which the third person, who has made no efforts, bears witness by his laughter." But the "third person" can be a construct, a representative of the views and values of the society as a whole. And so Corbeill does two things no one has done before: he takes the gibes and jokes of Cicero et al. seriously, and he uses them as a guide to essential features of Roman culture. His argument is supported by an analysis of Roman cognomens, most of which are pejorative, e.g., Brutus=Stupid. It is astonishing that this aspect of Roman culture has never been studied, not even by I. Kajanto in The Latin Cognomina (Helsinki, 1965). Other chapters examine the genre of invective, and attacks on appearance, effeminacy, and feasting. The Second Philippic, already much admired in antiquity, emerges as the great document of these values. Originality and lucidity recommend the book, and an exhaustive index of sources increases its usefulness. All students of Cicero and the Late Republic will learn much from this fine work. Highly recommended. R. I. Frank University of California, Irvine

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 3
Ch. 1 Physical Peculiaritiesp. 14
Ch. 2 Names and Cognominap. 57
Ch. 3 Moral Appearance in Action: Mouthsp. 99
Ch. 4 Moral Appearance in Action: Effeminacyp. 128
Ch. 5 A Political History of Witp. 174
Works Citedp. 219
Index Locorum et Iocorump. 233
General Indexp. 247

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