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Laughter and the Moral Guide: Dio Chrysostom and Plutarch

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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLaughter, Humor, and Comedy in Ancient Philosophy
EditorsPierre Destrée, Franco Trivigno
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9780190460549
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sep 2019

King's Authors


Laughter is a powerful revealer of identity, self-image and values: who you laugh with, and who you laugh at, betrays for better or worse who you are, what you value and disvalue, and where you place yourself vis-à-vis your fellow humans. It is thus for the moral philosopher, particularly the moral philosopher with practical therapeutic ends, both a powerful weapon and an object of intense and loaded scrutiny. This chapter pursues this perception of laughter through the work of two contrasting, near-contemporary moral philosophers of the late first and early second centuries AD, Dio Chrysostom and Plutarch.
In the discussion of Dio, the main object of attention is the interplay between the enlightened, but sometimes shocking laughter of the Cynicizing social critic, and the ill-considered, derisive laughter directed by conventional society at the critic himself, as seen above all in the Euboean and Alexandrian Orations (Orr. 7 and 32). In the discussion of Plutarch, the focus is on his essays of practical moral and social advice, but the perceptions of laughter unfolded there are set against the background of his depiction of laughter as a social experience in his dialogues and biographies, in particular the Life of Antony. The conclusion asks how effectively the differing role of laughter in their works characterizes the difference between them as moral philosophers, and more generally the range of positions and strategies available to philosophers of their era.

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