6 Jun 2021 sye   » (Apprentice)


Jeffrey Ingber liked Rob Sean Wilson's post: ""In this elegant, smallish book [How to Tell a Joke], just slightly larger than the Loeb Classic Library volumes, with left-hand-pages given over to Latin text, editor Michael Fontaine, a professor of classics at Cornell University, combines the extant writings on humor in public speaking of Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.) and of Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (ca. A.D. 35-99). Mr. Fontaine calls Cicero’s “On the Ideal Orator” a “masterpiece” and Quintilian’s “The Education of the Orator” “a master textbook on public speaking.” Neither is an understatement. In a loose, one is inclined to say a swinging, translation, Mr. Fontaine makes use of such words as “zingers,” “badmouthing,” “shtick” and “chutzpah.” (Bet you didn’t know the Romans knew Yiddish.) He also employs such contemporary phrases as “virtue-signaling,” “metrosexual” and “politically incorrect.” To enjoy his translation, one must smother the pedant in oneself and recall that there is no such thing as the perfect translation; only more or less inaccurate ones. I have myself long owed a debt of hearty laughter to a French translator who rendered “Englishmen always love an underdog” as “Les Anglais aiment toujours le ventre du chien,” or Englishmen love the belly of the dog. Oratory is the art of persuasion, and in “How to Tell a Joke” humor is considered chiefly for its value in defeating a rhetorical opponent. Cicero and Quintilian are interested, as Mr. Fontaine writes, “not in jokes as entertainment, but as weapons of war.” Yet even war has rules. Cicero sets out some of them. Foul language is barred. Mimicry is considered beneath a gentleman. Obscenity is “not only inappropriate to public life, but it should hardly be heard even at private parties.” Even “jokes that call out and stigmatize some disgrace [should be done] in a graceful way.” Cicero was the first intellectual to rise to prominence in politics, and his life offers perhaps the best warning on record to intellectuals to steer clear of politics. A novus homo, or new man, which is to say a man born without a distinguished lineage, the first of his family to enter public life, Cicero, through talent and cunning, achieved the office of consul, the highest in the Roman Republic. But, owing to thugs employed by Mark Antony, he ended with his decapitated head and hands nailed above the rostrums in the Forum.""

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