How to Tell a Joke: An Ancient Guide to the Art of Humor
Read this exclusive excerpt from Michael Fontaine's upcoming book
Below you can read an exclusive excerpt courtesy of Princeton University Press from Michael Fontaine’s new book, How to Tell a Joke: An Ancient Guide to the Art of Humor.
Is it possible for jokes to win over a hostile room, a seemingly unwinnable argument, or even an election? According to Cicero, the answer is a resounding yes.
Cicero, one of Rome's most renowned politicians, orators, and lawyers, was also known for his comedic talents. In fact, his opponents even nicknamed him "the stand-up Consul" after he was elected commander-in-chief and head of state. How to Tell a Joke presents a lively new translation of Cicero's essential treatise on humor, as well as that of Quintilian, a later Roman orator and educator. The result is a timeless and practical guide on how to use humor effectively to win over any audience.
Author Michael Fontaine is a Professor of Classics at Cornell University, in the heart of the Finger Lakes wine region. He has published many books on the lighter side of ancient Greece and Rome. His latest is titled How to Grieve: An Ancient Guide to the Lost Art of Consolation.
He’s also one of our esteemed guest speakers at our Saturday, May 20th virtual event, Choose Not to Be Harmed: Philosophy & Resilience! Michael’s talk is titled “Beyond Stoicism: Plutarch on Never Getting Bullied Again”.
The theme of our book is How to Tell a Joke, but a parting word on How to Take a Joke is in order, too. What can you do if you find yourself the target of public ridicule, especially by a higher-up? Plutarch gives us an example from 43 BCE, the year Cicero held office as Consul. Toward the end of that year, Cicero gave a witty speech defending the incoming Consul, Lucius Licinius Murena, on a charge of electoral bribery.