David Konstan

in The Oxford Handbook of Hellenic Studies

Published in print August 2009 | ISBN: 9780199286140
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History


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  • Classical Drama
  • Ancient Greek History



Aristotle remarks in The Parts of Animals that ‘man is the only animal that laughs’, and comedy, the object of which is to produce laughter, is a particularly human phenomenon. As such, it is also deeply conditioned by culture: who laughs, what is laughed at, and why. These questions take on a special saliency, moreover, in the unusual context of a state-sponsored institution of comic drama that existed in classical Athens. This article suggests that interpreting these works may shed light on ancient Greek ideology and society. Modern performances, for example, may inform people not only about problems of staging, in itself an important and still-open area for scholarship, but also about the reception of ancient comedy, which in turn has very largely conditioned how the genre is perceived today, despite the ostensibly objective methods of modern philology.

Keywords: laughter; Aristotle; comic drama; classical Athens; Greek comedy; modern performance; modern philology

Article.  4822 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Drama ; Ancient Greek History

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