Theses Doctoral

Literary Laughter in Augustan Poetry: Vergil, Horace, and Ovid

Dance, Caleb

This dissertation examines literary laughter in Latin poetry and, specifically, the ways in which textually-witnessed laughter functions as a guide to reader response and as a genre marker in select Vergilian, Horatian, and Ovidian poems.
The introduction first describes the Latin vocabulary of laughter and the risible and then introduces the texts of Augustan poetry to be examined. The remainder of the introduction surveys theoretical treatments of laughter that appear in Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero and underlie three prevailing modern explanations of laughter: the superiority, relief, and incongruity theories.
My inquiry is divided into two complementary parts, to each of which I devote three chapters. Part I (Chapters 1, 2, and 3) explores laughter's function as text-directed literary criticism--what I call a textual laugh track. My approach emphasizes that the vocabulary of laughter and the risible as used by Vergil, Horace, and Ovid often functions metacommunicatively, offering to the reader a set of directions for how to respond to particular texts. Part 2 (Chapters 4, 5, and 6) considers laughter's role as a conspicuous piece in the assembling of specific generic puzzles. Horace's Satires, Vergil's Eclogues, and Ovid's Amores all feature the vocabulary of laughter and the risible in their verses, and they utilize this vocabulary to various genre-determined--and genre-determining--ends. My objective throughout the dissertation is to present laughter as a dynamic human behavior that, through its appearance in Augustan literature, not only offers inroads to a specific "cultural psychology" but also proves itself an illuminating point of contact between the ancient and modern world.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Volk, Katharina
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014