Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
The conversation started off harmlessly enough. In fact, it was more of a joke than anything else...
But eventually, it started to get very serious indeed.
Which, of course, is ironic when talking about humor.
But more on that in a second.
You see, I thought that perhaps I should take a quick break from the serious topics I’ve been addressing of late. These days it seems the world is complicated enough...sometimes it’s worth contemplating - nay enjoying - the lighter things in life.
What’s that thing one of those old guys always talked about? Moderation is the key to happiness...?
So today we’ll take look at the ancient art of comedy.
The idea came to me while I was knee deep in discourse on the aforementioned topic. The question, as you may have already gathered from today’s subject line, was if the ‘fairer sex’ were, in general, capable of producing the laughs.
Depending on who you are, you might have very different, immediate reactions.
Perhaps you are conjuring up the late Christopher Hitchens’ controversial column titled (wait for it) “Why Women Aren’t Funny”.
His theory, if one may call it that, was that men had to evolve to be funny in order to seduce women, who only had to be good looking.
Obviously we classicists are laughing. Did men use comedy to impress women??? Hmm... I suspect not.
It seems to me that the only women men were working hard to make laugh back in the ancient days were hetairai (a sort of Ancient Geisha, who were expected to be witty as well as sexually available).
But obviously their amusement had nothing to do with evolution.
No, it seems to me that both men and women ‘evolved’ to be funny for their own genders, rather than each other. Let’s call it ‘social survival’.
Imagine the following scenario, common throughout high schools around the globe: The girls are gathered around a table somewhere, giggling away. Obviously they find each other’s remarks hilarious.
The boys, meanwhile, are snapping jockstraps or punching each other to great amusement and delight.
At no point do either of them find each other funny.
But then again, comedy does appear to be one of those things that is hard to ‘translate’, whether between genders, languages, cultures or, indeed time.
Now imagine when all the above is combined!
This brings me to this week’s mailbag question… indeed it was one I asked our Classical Wisdom Members this week with the most recent E-book on Roman Comedy (including Plautus and Terence). Essentially, when considering the translating and historical contexts that have to be done, one has to ask the value of reading ancient comedy in the first place. So I ask you dear reader:
Can the Ancients be Funny?
As always you can write me at email@example.com or reply to this email.
Now, onto a short mailbag edition on the conscience. A difficult topic to investigate to be sure, and a multi-faceted question on top of that, we asked:
What is the “conscience”? Does it guide our morality... or just make us feel bad if we don’t do the right thing? Are these moral judgements based on reason... or should they be? And where does it come from?
Your fellow Classics lovers’ responses below.
All the best,
Founder and Director
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Since I was raised and educated as a Roman Catholic, the answer to the question of morality for me is that it is learned and ingrained. Yes, I know right from wrong by my belief that our one God sees all and everything that we do, think or say. Acting in a moral manner gives deep satisfaction that helping others is satisfying and joyful. If we stray and do not act morally, then it haunts us that we failed to do right. There it is from my point of view. Thanks for insight from the Wise men past.
Thank you for your excellent website and discourses. This question does give me cause to suggest that you mean values rather than morals?
Our ‘values’ are created in our early middle adolescence-12-16. Our ‘morals’ alter with time and place, our ‘values’ never change. Indeed, we go to the grave with our values.
If you cross your values, the internal pain is not worth the thought and or deed. These values are why it is so important for young people to gather together away from their peers and parents to learn how to become adults. I also believe this is why generations share, show and have a common understanding, that passes other generations either side of them by.
Nick T, UK
Humans absolutely are born with a conscience. People say the morals of religion kept us in line and built modern civilization, but that was through fear if our conscience.
Your gut, your inner voice, the thing in your mind that makes doing the wrong thing feel like shit. Ignore it if you want, but it's still there.
Good morning; it was a delight to read your email message this morning — and to know you truly are a loving human being that has made it so easy to read something of the classics… Thank you! I furiously delete financial and boondoggle yuck trying hard to keep my email load down— but no way I delete yours. I always find you leaving me with a feeling of richer, clearer, more awareness. I keenly appreciate what you provide. Blessings and let those cascade all around you,
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This is great.. I literally have been promoting 2023 as the year of laughter #2023yearoflaughter
For all the preening about morality, and how “pagans” lacked it, I refer to the “Meditations” by fellow Stoic Marcus Aurelius. To me, “morality “ is a “do” - not a “say.” Even Jesus said similarly. What the World made of his teachings is of course a different matter. I am a free Spirit; unshackled by Time or doctrine; yet I recognize kindred spirits. I salute all who genuinely want to know “the truth” - if it exists!