Humor and ethnography in Herodotus' Histories Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Mash, Mark Christopher
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Classics
  • This dissertation examines the role of humor in Herodotus’ Histories. I argue that Herodotus’ humor is best understood in the context of his ethnography, and base my analyses on the thoughts of ancient and modern writers on humor. In particular, I incorporate anthropological perspectives on humor, and most notably ethnic humor. In chapter one, I establish the groundwork for later discussions by situating my work in the context of previous ancient and modern analyses of humor. In chapter two, I examine derision and witty retorts, starting first with Herodotus’ own ridicule of mapmakers in 4.36.2. In chapter three, I discuss the role of humorous deception in the Histories. In this interplay of humor and deception, I examine three main types: tricks that are reveled in by the instigator, tricks that are uncovered, and tricks that turn deadly. In chapter four, I take up the relationship between didacticism and humor, and show how it appears as an oblique tool by which wise advisors are able to challenge the rigidity of their recipient’s thinking. What is more, didactic humor sometimes appears by negative example, as when Cambyses laughs at Egyptian religious nomoi (3.29.1-2) or when Xerxes laughs at Spartan nomoi (7.101-105). Finally, in chapter five, I discuss memorializing humor, which I find in particular relation to monuments, battles and political disputes. In all, I argue that by situating humor in the context of ethnography and by recognizing that it usually refers to different people’s nomoi, we are able to understand better how Herodotus uses humor as part of his narrative technique. Moreover, I find that this same humor often reveals the influence of the current historical and cultural situation in which Herodotus was writing.
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  • Baragwanath, Emily
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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