The portrayal of Socrates by his student Plato creates one of the most controversial characters of all time. There are few other personalities in history that have drawn criticism and praise from the furthest ends of each spectrum. Socrates has been called the inventor of reason and logic, and at the same time has been condemned as a corruptor and a flake. Perhaps he was all of these. Despite this disagreement, one is a certainty: Socrates had a very interesting and active sense of humor.
In order to successfully demonstrate Socrates’ sense of humor, it is necessary to define a few terms. To begin, we must define “comedy” as it was looked upon in the time of Socrates, Plato, and the Greek playwrights. Greek comedy comes in many different shades depending on both the author and the subject matter. There are two types of comedy that emerge as the most common when dealing with Socrates, slapstick and intellectual humor. Aristophanes uses the former as slapstick fart jokes and the like in Clouds. In an exchange with Socrates, Strepsiades exclaims, “Yes, I revere you, much honored ones, and wish to fart in response.” (Aristophanes, Clouds, 2931). On the other hand, Plato displays comedy as a more intellectual concept dealing quite a lot with puns and especially politics during Socrates’ trial. Socrates has been found guilty of impiety and corrupting the youth and the penalty of death has been suggested. Socrates uses his opportunity to suggest an alternative punishment and suggests “to be given [my] meals in the Prytaneum2,” (Plato, Apology of Socrates, 36d3). This ridiculous “hubristic and boastful”4 proposal can only be taken as comedy because having already been found guilty, Socrates...
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...ophical Perspectives, Section 4: Sixth Handout.”
Aristophanes. Clouds. Translated by Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West in Four Texts on Socrates. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.
Euripides. Bacchae. Translated by Paul Woodruff. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1998.
Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.
Plato. Apology of Socrates. Translated by Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West in Four Texts on Socrates. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Plato. Euthyphro. Translated by Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West in Four Texts on Socrates. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Sennet, Richard. Flesh and Stone, the Body and the City in Western Civilization. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994.
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