Spring 2024

Comedy and Free Speech Throughout Ancient Greek History

Listed in: Classics, as CLAS-133


Niek Janssen (Section 01)


An introduction to the Ancient Greek world through the lens (or funhouse mirror) of comedy and free expression. Humorous writing is unusually suited to give us access to otherwise underlit areas of Greek history and culture. Through its transgressions of norms and taboos, comedy makes the contours of these often unspoken rules visible to us. In its rejection of literary decorum, comedy revels in the grittiness of everyday life and explores marginalized identities: of women, the enslaved, foreigners, prostitutes, and so on. And with its ambivalent relation to (people in) power—sometimes subversive, sometimes conservative—comedy forces us to interrogate the changing social structures and political institutions of the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, and Imperial Greek world. Even as the course draws on these frank, humorous accounts of Ancient Greek life, it also calls into question comedy’s self-image as a form of absolute free speech (“parrhesia”), a core democratic value in both Greek times and our own. What does it mean to speak freely under different kinds of regimes? Does comedy speak truth to power, or does it just reiterate received truths about ethnicity, gender, class, and slavery? 

Selections from Homer, Aesop, Archilochus and Hipponax, Aristophanes, Demosthenes and Aeschines, Hegemon and Matro, The Battle of Frogs and Mice, Theocritus, Machon and Herondas, Diogenes Läertius, the Laughter-Lover, the Palatine Anthology, Julian the Apostate, and—perhaps antiquity’s greatest satirist—Lucian. Three class hours per week.

Spring semester. Professor Janssen.

How to handle overenrollment: null

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Reading Greek source documents in translation; reading contemporary historical and theoretical scholarship; close reading; guided research; writing and revising papers; oral presentation; giving peer feedback.

CLAS 133 - LEC

Section 01
Tu 1:00 PM - 2:20 PM CHAP 201
Th 1:00 PM - 2:20 PM CHAP 201