“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” - Mel Brooks
Does comedy have to have winners and losers? Does all comedy at all times have the same winners and losers? In this class we will read various kinds of comic texts from ancient Greece and Rome to explore the social and ethical aspects of comedy that may seem familiar even across cultures, but also to ask in what ways the work of comedy is culturally specific. We will pay special attention to comedy’s potential for harnessing rebellious energy and its potential for excluding the marginalized, such as women and slaves. After a few weeks spent getting acquainted with some of the most influential theories of comedy, we will spend the first half of the semester reading comic plays that were staged in democratic Athens and republican Rome. In the second half of the semester, we will turn to texts that readers of the Roman imperial period enjoyed in privacy rather than as part of a communal festival performance (especially satire and novels).