NeMLA 2016 Panel "Still Laughing: Ancient Comedy and Its Descendants"

full name / name of organization: 
Claire Sommers (the Graduate Center, CUNY) and Barry Spence (University of Massachusetts)
contact email: 

Please submit a 300 word abstract to by September 30, 2015

Aristotle in his Poetics outlines his theory of tragedy and gives readers a framework for assessing and understanding the genre; his treatise providing the equivalent analysis of comedy has sadly been lost, and as a result, it is difficult to find a unified theory of ancient comedy. Perhaps the closest we have is Democritus' statement that "Laughter is a complete conception of the world." Centuries later, Bakhtin would elaborate upon this sentiment by claiming that the carnivalesque comedy allows for dialogue between multiple genres and voices in order to create a world in which societal structures are upended. Though ancient comedy evolved from Aristophanes' examples to Menander's New Comedy and finally to the Roman comedies of Plautus and Terence, all of them borrow stylistically from contemporaneous works in order to create a world where traditional hierarchies are suspended and inverted.

This panel will explore the tropes of ancient comedy and their influence on more modern literature, drama, satire, film, and theory. Possible approaches include:

*analyzing comedy's relationship with other ancient genres

*examining ancient comedy's influence on post-Classical works

*using modern critical and humor theory to analyze classical comedy

*exploring the comic and satirical treatment of Greco-Roman subject matter in post-Classical literature

The goal of this session will be to understand humor through its Classical antecedents, tracing the evolution of comedy from its ancient origins to the present day. By contemplating the emergence of ancient comedy and its enduring effect on subsequent literature, drama, film, and theory, this panel will synthesize its own theory of ancient comedy and determine why we are still laughing so many centuries later.