WHAT made Antinous laugh?
Was ancient Rome a carnival, filled with practical jokes and hearty chuckles?
Or was it a carefully regulated culture in which excessive laughter was a force to fear … a world of wit, irony, and knowing smiles?
How did Romans make sense of laughter? What role did it play in the world of the law courts, the imperial palace, or the spectacles of the arena?
Mary Beard, professor of ancient history at the University of Cambridge ... and star blogger … has bravely taken on the challenge of discussing Roman humor.
We say "bravely" because it is a hard task to translate humor from one language to another … let alone from an ancient culture to the 21st Century.
But Professor Beard tackles it with wit in her new book LAUGHTER IN ANCIENT ROME.
Drawing on a wide range of Roman writing … from essays on rhetoric to a surviving Roman Joke Book … Mary Beard tracks down the giggles, smirks, and guffaws of the ancient Romans themselves.
From ancient "monkey business" to the role of a chuckle in a culture of tyranny, she explores Roman humor from the hilarious, to the momentous, to the surprising.
But she also reflects on even bigger historical questions. What kind of history of laughter can we possibly tell?
Can we ever really "get" the Romans' jokes? Will we ever know what made Antinous laugh?