Contemporary Humour Theory and Classics

Hannah Baldwin

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


My thesis is designed to demonstrate the utility and relevance of contemporary humour theory to Classical texts. Humour theory as an area of study is relatively new, bringing together many disciplines from anthropology, psychology and neuroscience to literary and cultural specialists to provide valuable research on the cognitive processing of jokes as well as the psychological and sociological aspects of humour. However, this interdisciplinary approach has yet to be adopted or properly engaged with in Classical scholarship, which, with a handful of partial exceptions, remains anachronistically fixated on the seriously outdated ideas of Hobbes and Freud. Applying contemporary humour theories to Classical texts not only enables critique and refinement of the models themselves but also explores the cognitive process and social context of humour, which have not been properly addressed by existing scholarship.

The lack of a specific framework for evaluating humour in Classical texts also creates an uncertain vocabulary (e.g. “wit” versus “humour” versus “jokes”) and downplays the essential humorous quality of texts by adopting a solely literary or historical approach. Frameworks for discussing humour in Classical texts provide this essential additional perspective and, by tackling humour on its own terms and in its own texts, restore some measure of social context which by its nature has been lost.

My texts range from the self-contained, admirably concise jokes of the Philogelos to Lucian’s Icaromenippus in order to appraise the full range of humour theories and form frameworks for different types of narrative. In the case of the Philogelos, humour theory provides a comparative framework to supplement the jokebook’s lack of historical context and authorship; in Martial, his extended joke structures and prominent authorial persona illustrate his alignment with social groups; the Icaromenippus provides a case-study for humour theory over an extended narrative.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Lowe, Nick, Supervisor
Award date1 Jan 2022
Publication statusUnpublished - 2021


  • classical humour
  • humour studies
  • humor studies
  • ancient humour
  • martial
  • philogelos
  • lucian
  • Icaromenippus
  • Classics

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