The force of laughter

The first century Roman writer Quintilian acknowledges the power of laughter, even while corraling it as the province of ‘buffoons, actors or fools’.

Now, though laughter may be regarded as a trivial matter, and an emotion frequently awakened by buffoons, actors or fools, it has a certain imperious force of its own which it is very hard to resist … it frequently turns the scale in matters of great importance.


Cum videatur autem res levis et quae ab scurris, mimis, insipientibus denique saepe moveatur, tamen habet vim nescio an imperiosissimam et cui repugnari minime potest … Rerum autem saepe … maximarum momenta vertit.

Note that closing clause, asserting that humour can turn around ‘matters of great importance’.  Now, about that climate crisis we’re trying to turn around…

Source: Quintilian (c. 35-100), The “Institutio Oratorio” of Quintilian, trans. H.E. Butler, Loeb Classical Library (London: Heinemann; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953), 6.3.8-9


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