Difference between revisions of "Talk:Essay:Greatest Mysteries of World History"

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I don't know what the literacy level is in the USA but let's guess at 98-99%. In ancient Greece, the people who were able to read were free, male city dwellers - and by no means all of them. Perhaps 1% of the population could read. Not sure why this one is on the list of mysteries, because it isn't one. [[User:FredFerguson|FredFerguson]] 19:11, 8 March 2009 (EDT)
I don't know what the literacy level is in the USA but let's guess at 98-99%. In ancient Greece, the people who were able to read were free, male city dwellers - and by no means all of them. Perhaps 1% of the population could read. Not sure why this one is on the list of mysteries, because it isn't one. [[User:FredFerguson|FredFerguson]] 19:11, 8 March 2009 (EDT)
:These are really only mysteries to Andy. He just wants people who don't know the answers to think about it. Anyone who wants to open their mind up can do the research and figure it out. I hope Andy has. [[User:SallyT|SallyT]] 19:15, 8 March 2009 (EDT)

Revision as of 23:34, 8 March 2009

Dark Ages

I have to ask: does this really qualify as a "mystery?" Most people who have actually taken the time to study European history, I would suggest, would say that there's a clear and simple answer: "No, the so-called "Dark Ages" weren't really so backwards." Significant advances were made during the period generally termed the "Dark Ages" in many fields: music, agriculture, metallurgy, and philosophy spring to mind immediately. Historians today generally avoid using the term "Dark Ages" for precisely that reason.

Should it really be termed a "mystery" just because some people continue to hold misconceptions about it? --Benp 14:11, 28 December 2008 (EST)

Yes, it's not a mystery at all. Renaissance humanists hated the "dark ages" with a passion. Now we know just how much science and culture were developed during those centuries. Not so much a mystery as a myth, really (liberals love to claim early Christian Europe was fruitless) - Rod Weathers 14:14, 28 December 2008 (EST)
Perhaps a better question would be "Why are the advances of the early Middle Ages frequently overlooked or dismissed?" --Benp 14:19, 28 December 2008 (EST)
My question is: What specific non-warfare scientific/technological advances were made in Christian Western Europe between the fall of Rome and AD1000? AlanE 15:36, 9 February 2009 (EST)
There were some important scholars, notably Isidore of Seville (6th century Spain), Bede (7th century England) and Alcuin of York (8th century England). But, with these possible exceptions, European scholarship is overshadowed by India, China and the Muslim Caliphate in this period. The first European renaissance started when Christian scholars visited Spain and Sicily to benefit from Arab learning.
However, the so-called Dark Ages weren't nearly as obscure are the name suggests. There was significant trade with Byzantium and the Caliphate and the most important monasteries had access to classical Latin texts. There were major building projects, especially of monasteries, particularly from the late 8th century onwards. The standard of craftsmanship was exceptional - you couldn't say it declined at all during the "Dark Ages". Witness the jewelry at Sutton Hoo or the illustrated manuscripts produced by Anglo-Saxon scriptoria. The Anglo-Saxon kings, notably Alfred, Athelstan and Edgar, laid the basis of English government which was formalised by the coronation oath of Henry I.
Bear in mind that the setback to civilisation was only in Western Europe. Culture flourished in the Eastern Empire, also in the Arab Caliphate, while the Tang and Song Dynasties represent in many ways the peak of Chinese culture. Also, much of the foundations of mathematics were discovered in India in this period. Universities were first founded in Arab lands (Fez was the first, I think) in the 10th century, before spreading to Spain and thence to Christian Europe. FredFerguson 20:23, 9 February 2009 (EST)
The operative words in my question above were scientific/technological. I know of Bede and Alcuin and have had occasion to look into Isadore in the last few months. Yes they were scholars, and they shine like beacons. I am also aware of the "Benedictine reformation" and the wonders done by St. Dunstan. But these are beacons in the gloom. Was it Dunstan who had the Benedictine rules translated into "English" because Latin had been largely forgotten? And I love the jewellery of that age. I have had occasion to read much of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle a number of times last year...and it really was a dark and dangerous age. Only Christianity kept western society together (and I know of no historian that denies the good the Church did in those times) but as for science and technological advances, really there was very little, if any at all.

In another context the age is also called the great interruption. Cheers AlanE 23:19, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Science and technology: almost nothing, I think. The great advances in science during the so-called Dark Ages were in India and the Muslim countries. The West only started to turn the corner in terms of scientific learning when Gerbert (Pope Sylvester II) visited the Muslim universities in Spain, c.1000 (see R.W. Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages). FredFerguson 17:59, 10 February 2009 (EST)
Yes! Now all we have to do is get people to agree to it on Essay:Liberal Denials about History item (10) under "Specific truths that history books deny".AlanE 18:57, 10 February 2009 (EST)


Perhaps this entry could be clarified: is there a particular form of humor that the author had in mind? There are examples of jokes, riddles, puns, comic figurines/images, anthropoligical notes of humorous conversations, etc. from both pre-Christian times and from post-Christian 'first contacts' with cultures that had had no previous exposure to Christianity.--Brossa 09:37, 8 February 2009 (EST)

Brossa: Can you provide some? --AbnerY 21:51, 8 February 2009 (EST)
I'd like to see Brossa's alleged examples also.--Andy Schlafly 23:49, 8 February 2009 (EST)
How about Greek and Roman comedy? that way predated Christianity. Andy, what kind of claim are you making here? on what basis would you allege that humor does not predate Christianity? it seems pretty far-fetched. I'd like to see some evidence. --DaveClark
You misunderstand what a Greek "comedy" was. It was not a humorous performance as meant by the term today (after the onset of Christianity).--Andy Schlafly 08:32, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Yes. It was. The intention was to make people laugh. Otherwise, what on earth do you mean by "humor"? Also.. news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7536918.stm KimSell 09:02, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Aschlafly is right in saying that the term "comedy" did not mean exactly what it does today, but KimSell is right that the works of playwrights such as Aristophanes certainly included humorous elements such as wordplay, farce and grotesque exaggeration (often surprisingly coarse by our standards). I'd also cite the episode where the children mocked Elisha in 2 Kings 2:23-24 as an example, albeit fairly base, of pre-Christian humor.--CPalmer 09:10, 9 February 2009 (EST)
As a side-note, in the past there have been bitter disputes where people have taken the polar opposite position to Mr Schlafly, ie that all humor is un-Christian. This is touched on in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, which I recommend.--CPalmer 09:21, 9 February 2009 (EST)
The pre-Christian examples don't withstand scrutiny. Mockery or crude comments are not quality humor, and may not be humor at all.--Andy Schlafly 09:23, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Sorry Mr. Schlafly. While you may not consider crude comments humorous, it is still defined as humor. you are yet to back up the claim you're making with any specific evidense. even if greek comedy didn't qualify as humor (and it does) there would still be no evidence that the advent of christianity brought the advent of humor.

This will be easier if you define precisely what you mean by 'humor' or 'comedy' so that we can determine if in fact it did or did not exist before Christianity. As the essay stands now, it implies that there was no humor before Christianity, not that, say, stand-up comedy as practiced in the United States today did not exist in the ancient world. The Greek comedy tradition was well-established by the sixth century BC and contains aspects of sexual farce, parody of 'serious' literary styles, and mockery of specific political and public figures. Comic performers wore characteristic costumes that included fat suits, huge genitalia, and grotesque masks that are still in use in modern comic performances. Greek vases depict these comic characters engaged in antics; I recall in particular a vase depicting two grotesque dwarves helping a third dwarf up a ladder or ramp - Three Stooges level humor.
Isaac in the Bible got his name from the laughter of Abraham and Sarah; does this not indicate a sense of humor? Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal, including the suggestion that Baal cannot hear his priests because he is on the toilet.
Egyptian papyri show exaggerated caricatures of dishevelled older men engaged in sexual relations with young women, including humorous captions (in heiroglyphics!) detailing the women's commentary on the situation. Other examples of Egyptian pictorial humor include depictions of animals engaged in human activities - like cats herding geese and goats and lions playing board games - juxtaposed with humans engaged in animal activity. A foreign queen is depicted as being so fat that she stands next to an ass with the caption 'the ass needed to carry the queen'.
Sumerian scatological humor is recorded (in cuneiform) on a tablet dated to 1900 BC.
Many Native American groups had oral traditions that include the 'Trickster' figure, who gets involved in humorous scrapes and mocks authority figures. Many of these stories also include punning wordplay and practical jokes; another dimension of humor.
Nineteenth century Australian ethnographers, coming into first contact with an isolated Aboriginal group, noted that the Aboriginals told stories among themselves and laughed during an otherwise stressful time - in this case, a terrible thunderstorm.
I'm sure that others could contribute examples from Sanskrit or Asian cultures.
So scatological humor, sexual humor, puns, riddles, slapstick, political satire, parody of 'serious' art forms, practical jokes, and others are all documented in pre-Christian or non-Christian cultures.--Brossa 09:40, 9 February 2009 (EST)
To one with an open mind, your vulgar "examples" tend to reinforce the basic observation: (real) humor was lacking before Christianity. Crudeness or vulgarity or mockery is not true humor, and Greek "comedies" were not attempts at humor in today's sense.
If you had evidence of writings about humor itself, or books of humor, or truly comedic performances, or anything remotely similar to quality humor today, then that could help your argument. But the above examples, if they are the best you have, simply underscore the insight in this essay.--Andy Schlafly 09:54, 9 February 2009 (EST)
It would have been simpler for you to have simply started with the statement that no 'true humor' existed before Christianity, so that we would have known what sort of Scotsman we were dealing with in the first place. At any rate, the Japanese had mature forms of theater designed to "draw rich laughter from the audience" before Christianity was introduced to Japan.--Brossa 11:02, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Have you ever watched an ancient Greek comedy? Because I have, and in parts, they are downright hilarious. As people keep saying, you have not explained what you mean by "humor" and so, this conversation would seem to be pointless. However, Aristotle speaks of the history of Greek comedy, including the fact that it was funny! KimSell 10:39, 9 February 2009 (EST)
May I ask what is the earliest example of true humor that you know of? While I respect the viewpoint that the above examples are not real humor, I don't know of any new form that emerged very soon after the establishment of Christianity.--CPalmer 10:30, 9 February 2009 (EST)
If you are so adament about so called "genuine humor" mr. Schlafly, then please define it for us.
Clearly there is a distinction to be made between things that are funny and things that are 'humor'. If it was intended to make people laugh, it qualifies as humor, whether it was funny or not. No doubt plenty of movies made by the Zuckers and the Farrelly brothers aren't funny, but they're still comedies. I don't find Groucho Marx very funny but he still counts as a comedian. What you seem to mean is that you don't find pre-Christian humor amusing. That's fine but it hardly counts as one of the 'greatest mysteries of world history'.Sam99foster 12:09, 9 February 2009 (EST)
I agree with Mr Achalfly in that for something to be humorous it needs to have a certain amount of taste and refinement. For example, the article mentions a man getting hit in the crotch by a ball. While some people may find this funny, I daresay there are very few people in the world whi would call this humor. The article also mentions the Jackass movie; again, while a few people may find it amusing, I doubt very many people would define it as humorous. What do these two examples have in common? A lack of taste and refinement. ETrundel 13:26, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Surely someone with an open mind would find such taste and refinement in ancient Greco-Roman political satire (e.g. from Aristophanes). Humor undeniably existed before Christianity. Let's just put this behind us as a misunderstanding (or even a disagreement over personal preference). FundieMath 13:41, 9 February 2009 (EST)

For the elucidation of all: "The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature" describes Aristophanes as an "Athenian comic poet". Eleven of his plays survive. I know of at least one that has been performed in modern times - "The Wasps". I have a CD of it (2 CD set actually) Originally, it was produced in 422 B.C. and is a satirical comedy, poking fun at the Athenian jury system of the time and the state of contemporary politics. It is a comedy of manners, with elements of parody, occasional crudity and slapstick. Sounds like the Restoration writers to me. Or Voltaire. Even Shakespeare indulged in a bit of crudity at times. Modern productions, of course, update some of the scenes.

Aristophanes, who is still read and studied, is only one of many writers of comedies in those times. There was an annual competition for comedy. (The Wasps came 2nd in its year.) Aristophanes' style has been copied by classically trained playwrights since...the Frenchman, Racine, for instance.

The above Oxford Companion devotes over 3 tightly printed pages to ancient Greek and Roman comedy, as well as many mentioned writers getting their own articles. Perhaps we today would not find as funny, but scenes in Shakespeare that had them rolling around in the aisles in 1600 do not quite have that power today. AlanE 14:40, 9 February 2009 (EST)

remove indent) ETundel, you are confusing "I find it funny" with "it is intended as Humor." I don't find Jackass funny myself, but it is still considered humour. It may be very low comedy, which it is and not everyone will like it, but the fact remains that something does not cease to be "humour" just because X amount of people don't find it funny. StephenK 16:25, 9 February 2009 (EST)

The above discussion is interesting, and I'd like to learn more about "The Wasps." But certainly much of the above, such as vulgarity, is not "humor" as defined primarily by the dictionary: the "ludicrous" or (more importantly) the "absurdly incongruous."

There are dim-witted people who are amused by compulsive profanity or, as on this site, by mindless vandalism. Parody and sarcasm is also immensely entertaining to the easily amused. But this is not "humor" as defined by the dictionary, and I still haven't seen any compelling examples of pre-Christian humor. A performance like "Trading Places" would qualify, but it didn't exist.

It's interesting how strenuously some people object to the proposition that humor did not predate Christianity. Surely your minds are not so closed as to think the proposition to be automatically impossible.--Andy Schlafly 17:48, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Here you go Andy, here is the full text of "The Wasps" for you to read at your leisure here[1]. You can judge for yourself if you find it humorous. Honestly, I'm surprised that you're surprised; you throw out a proposition that runs counter to even the most basic understanding of behavior and psychology, basically saying that before Christ nobody knew how to be genuinely funny, and are surprised when people question that? Having an open mind doesn't mean you accept everything to be true. --ShawnJ 18:19, 9 February 2009 (EST)
(EC)"But certainly much of the above, such as vulgarity, is not "humor" as defined primarily by the dictionary"
Presumably if ANY of the above is humor as defined by the dictionary, then there was humor that pre-dated Christianity. If Aristophanes wrote a political satire ("a satirical comedy, poking fun ... at the state of contemporary politics"), would that not make it a humorous piece of work by any normal definition?Sam99foster 18:28, 9 February 2009 (EST)
ShawnJ and Sam99foster, please answer my question: are you saying that you believe the proposition to be automatically impossible??? It sure sounds that way from some of the closed-minded postings above. Note, by the way, that satire is not "humor" per its primary dictionary definition.--Andy Schlafly 18:42, 9 February 2009 (EST)
No Andy, I don't find it automatically impossible, I find it impossible after brief consideration. That means I gave your question thought, and found its position to be ludicrous. The question infers that somehow, before Christ, humans did not have access to the full range of their emotions. You can argue over how humor, like ethics and morality, have changed over the years, but it doesn't stop them from existing. Rejecting the notion that humor didn't exist before Christ is not an example of closed-mindedness any more than rejecting the notion that 2+2=76 is. --ShawnJ 23:22, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Andy, why do you assume that we're automatically dismissing the notion? We are using historical facts and examples which you yourself seem to be dismissing out of hand without giving them any thought. Case in point, your two line rebuttal to a whole list of examples on the grounds that they are all "vulgar." Well, what's vulgar about this? "Other examples of Egyptian pictorial humor include depictions of animals engaged in human activities - like cats herding geese and goats and lions playing board games - juxtaposed with humans engaged in animal activity." Nothing sexual, crude, or otherwise off-color here, just a ludicrous and absurdly incongruous situation that could only be intended as humorous, and yet you, without apparently even reading what the user posted, flippantly dismiss it for some reason unbeknownst to the rest of us.
Now, although you are somewhat correct in saying that comedy did not mean the same thing to the ancient Greeks that it does to a modern audience, you blindly overlook two other important points. First, that ancient definition of comedy--or a version of it (Boethian, to be exact)--lasted long past the birth of Christianity. Dante and Shakespeare both wrote their comedies under this ancient definition, which is why something like the The Divine Comedy is called, well, a comedy, despite the fact that the first third of it details brutal torture and punishment without any humor whatsoever, or at least none that I can recall off the top of my head. In essence, to credit Christianity with the rise of modern "comedy" simply because of the history of that word and the genre it represents misses the mark by at least 1500-1600 years.
More importantly, you ignore the fact that Greeks also had a third dramatic form, the satyr play (from which we derive the English word "satire"), which was very close to what we mean by modern comedy. Fewer of these have survived, but the express purpose of these plays was to generate laughter, which is why they were named after satyrs, who were presumed to be pranksters in Greek myth. Very often, these plays simply relied on ludicrous and absurd situations to get the audience laughing. Often these were crude, yes, but not exclusively so.
We aren't automatically dismissing the idea. We're dismissing the idea because it is objectively wrong and every single shred of evidence indicates the exact opposite, even when working within your incredibly limited definition of "humor." --Jake Lassiter 10:10, 12 February 2009 (EST)

Sir, since you say parody is not humor, is this, therefore, not funny?

ArthurA 19:57, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Do you often speak in non sequiturs?--Andy Schlafly 20:00, 9 February 2009 (EST)
How is that a non-sequitur? You argue that parody and satire are not humor, so I point you to something that you presumably wrote as a humorous piece. You certainly didn't reject the accolades that termed it funny.
You argue, "Note, by the way, that satire is not "humor" per its primary dictionary definition." What dictionary are you using? According to Merriam-Webster's on-line dictionary, this is the definition of humor in the context with which we are concerned (the others definitions concern the dated usage referring to the human body):
  • that quality which appeals to a sense of the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous
  • the mental faculty of discovering, expressing, or appreciating the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous
  • something that is or is designed to be comical or amusing

Parody and satire seem to fit both the first and third. If you disagree, please explain why.

So, what is your definition? You've not provided one yet; you've merely said "humor is not (fill in the blank)".

I view humor as a gift from God. It allows us to get through our most troubling times. The idea that humor only existed after Christ is as alien to me as the idea that romantic love only existed after Christ. ArthurA 20:19, 9 February 2009 (EST)

I apologize to Mr. Schlafly in that I charged that he had not provided a definition of humor -- he had, and it was, embarrassingly enough, the same one I cited. This topic has become long, and I missed his definition.
However, I still ask this: how do parody and satire not fit that definition?
Mr. Schlafly also cites the film Trading Places as an example of humor. Well, Eddie Murphy was never one of my favorites, since, particularly during the time he made that movie, he was extraordinarily foul-mouthed. But... as I understand it, plot of the movie is two people from different worlds trade lives, and we see how they both handle it, or fail to do so.
That strikes me as something that has to be one of the oldest jokes imaginable -- laughing at the "fish out of water" concept. I can easily imagine two Egyptian peasants, toiling down in the Nile Delta, lightening their day by laughing at the thought of the Pharaoh having to do their jobs for a while. "He'd be worried about getting his robes dirty!" "He probably couldn't even fill ten bushels of reeds!" (Of course, "ten bushels of reeds" isn't funny to us, but it might be hilarious to the guy who could pick thirty bushels before a lunch break.)
Now, admittedly, I'm speculating, but so is Mr. Schlafly. And I think my speculation is quite reasonable -- ancient people laughing at a concept we still find funny. He, by contrast, apparently imagines humanity consisted of a collection of dour sourpusses and/or vulgarians who couldn't appreciate anything beyond a flatulence joke until somewhere between 1 and 30 AD.
He also charges those of us who don't see his viewpoint of being close-minded. Sorry, no -- it is not close-minded to expect extraordinary proof for an extraordinary claim. If I said, "perhaps, until Christ was born, the sky was green and the grass was blue", you'd be justified in taking that with a huge grain of salt -- particularly if you presented me with some evidence that, in 200 BC, the sky was blue and the grass was green, and I responded with "well, that's not really blue and green, that's cobalt and emerald." ArthurA 08:47, 10 February 2009 (EST)

I'm new here but I don't understand this one. What has Christianity got to do with humour? In any case, the answer is "yes" - as contributors above suggest, go and read (or even better, watch) Aristophanes. FredFerguson 20:10, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Whilst shopping just now I nicked into my local newsagency-cum-bookshop. There were Penguin Classics editions on the shelf of Aristophanes' Frogs, The Birds, Lysistrata and The Clouds. This not a big shop....so it seems old Aristophanes is alive and kicking, if only as part of a subject at university. (I must admit that I only have the Wasps CDs because of the wonderful RVW incidental music written for a Cambridge Uni dramatic society performance in 1909, but it shows that he is not completely out of date and that his wit can be applied to modern circumstance.) The word wit is what I keep coming across regards his plays.AlanE 20:40, 9 February 2009 (EST)

"Ancient humor"

One thing I think many of Mr. Schlafay's detractors are overlooking is the possibility that the works we refer to as "comedies" today might not have been intended as comedies in their own time. The word "comedy" is English (as are all the other words used to describe Aristophanes' work: joke, humor, etc.), so we are in effect relying on modern translators of Ancient Greek to tell us what the Ancient Greeks thought about their own literary works.

The other day I was looking out my window and saw two squirrels chasing each other up and down a tree trunk. Suddenly the lead squirrel stopped and turned around so suddenly that the other squirrel bumped into its head and fell off the tree! (It was only six feet or so off the ground, so the squirrel was unharmed.) I laughed at this funny occurrence — but of course the two squirrels weren't trying to put on a funny show for me; they were just doing what comes naturally to animals. Perhaps when we look into our history books and see the funny things that were done by Aristophanes, we should keep these two squirrels in mind. I think Mr. Schlafay was speaking particularly about the conscious exercise of humor — the intention to do funny things, not simply the fact of having done funny things. Nobody can seriously argue that nothing funny ever happened in antiquity... but why did it happen? that's the question. --GarthA 21:48, 9 February 2009 (EST)

That's an excellent point. Some of the ancient vulgarity, for example, was probably not intended to be "funny" any more than compulsive profanity today is intended to be funny. Someone 1000 years from now may look at dialog between two public school students today as being absolutely hilarious, even though the students are not trying to be funny now.--Andy Schlafly 22:24, 9 February 2009 (EST)
The City Dionysia, which is the festival where these plays were preformed had several highly established conventions, including that four plays were to be preformed by each group: three tragedies and then a comedy. Comedies by nature are funny. While vulgar humor was indeed used, they still fit the definition of comedy ("a drama of light and amusing character and typically with a happy ending" according to Merriam-Webster). Whether people find them funny is up to them (I happen to like Scrubs, while my brother despises the show. However, he likes Family Guy, which I dislike). But the original intent of the comedies was to make people laugh, which qualifies it as humor ENorman 22:45, 9 February 2009 (EST)
That's very clever thinking, Garth. Fortunately, we have contemporary reviews of the work of authors like Aristophanes, which described them as being humorous (or in some cases not humorous enough!).
I suspect that this debate might be in order to get people thinking outside the box while at the same time testing their composure. Of course, humor could have not predated Christianity and of course, that is not the case. But how are you going to react when someone doggedly pursues the contrary? How are you going to react when someone refuses to define their terms or moves the goalpost or shifts ground? Will you calmly research and respond? Or will you resort to liberal deceit and condescend to them. Not only should you survey the responses you see here, you should also be doing research of your own before you form your conclusions.
If you do your research, you will probably find the evidence for pre-Christian humor that you find compelling. Either way, come back here and attempt to argue your point. Remember to stay calm, approachable and accommodating. I urge you to engage in this exercise and wish you the best. FundieMath 22:53, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Garth, there were no "funny things done by Aristophanes" any more than there were funny things done by humorous writers of modern times. He wrote plays, in verse, using the formal dramatic restraints of his day. In 5th century Athens there were two distinct forms of stage performances. There were the Tragedies, the most famed writers of which are Euripides and Aeschylus; and the Comedies, represented today by our mate Aristophanes. Never the twain did meet. They probably both developed out of pre-Classical Dionysian ritual, but by Classical times they were distinct from each other. Unlike the tragedians, Aristophanes set out to make people laugh; and to do this he used many of the forms used today - funny or fantastical situations, plays on words, ridicule of people in power, etc., He is supposed to have been very witty. He had a way with words. He was also a serious man who was concerned at perceived faults in the society he lived in, and used humor as a weapon against these things. He is recorded as saying "comedy knows what is right." He brought the powerful down a peg or two. My "Dictionary of Greek Civilisation", a book set for university courses during the 1970s, called him "a comic genius". AlanE 22:57, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Mr. Schlafay: Thank you. ENorman and "Fundie": It sounds like you are resorting to appeal to authority in this case. Remember that we do not actually have "contemporary reviews" of Aristophanes; what we have are modern translations of those works. I'm not even sure we would be justified in calling them "reviews", as you did, since I doubt the Ancient Greeks had anything like the modern conception of a film review or book review. "Fundie", I'm glad we agree about the value of exercise. AlanE: If Aristophanes never did anything funny, then in what sense was he a comedian? You describe him as a "serious man" who "ridicule[d] people in power"; this Aristophanes sounds like something of a liberal radical! :) --GarthA 23:10, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Who were the "liberals" - those in power or Aristophanes? Let's not bring today's concepts into describing someone who lived 2500years ago. He was not a comedian any more than Jonathan Swift was when he used Gulliver's Travels to lampoon the foibles of his age. Have you read him? The use of comedy to prick the inflated egos of the powerful, whether they be politicians, judges, or whatever, has a long and noble history, both for those on the left and on the right. AlanE 23:49, 9 February 2009 (EST)
This is so ignorant it's just adorable:
"I'm not even sure we would be justified in calling them "reviews", as you did, since I doubt the Ancient Greeks had anything like the modern conception of a film review or book review."
What in the wide wide world of sports do you think Aristotle's Poetics was? --Jake Lassiter 10:33 12 February 2009
Remember to do a little research! The first line of Aristophanes' The Frogs:
Shall I crack any of those old jokes, master,
At which the audience never fail to laugh?
I'm almost positive there is some implication of humor somewhere in there! Form your own conclusions! FundieMath 23:32, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Well done, Fundie! AlanE 23:51, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Having read this controversy with interest, I am forced to agree with Mr Schalfly. There is a difference between the theatre of cruelty - sarcasm and cruel raillery - that was the hallmark of the pagan Greeks, and true humour, which to be effective needs access to the depths of ones heart and soul, a perspective that only became real through the incarnation and suffering of Christ. Similarly, the coarseness of peasant nonsense such as was available to primitive peoples - the ancient equivalent of gurning through horse collars - has no right to be defined as humour. What Mr Schlafly is attempting to describe (albeit to a deliberately unreceptive audience) is something wiser, something altogether more refined and insightful. I wish him luck in persuading the unpersuadable. RegalBruin 14:25, 10 February 2009 (EST)
Hi and welcome to CP, Regal! I'm interested in your view of my quote from The Frogs (above) in light of CP's definition of Humor:
Humor is an act, statement, or other form of communication done to invoke laughter, amusement, or happiness in the audience.
If you agree that Xanthias intended to invoke laughter by cracking jokes and continue to believe that this is not humor, please explain how you would like to see our definition of 'humor' changed. MattL 14:41, 10 February 2009 (EST)
And G'day from me, Regal. Can you tell us what dictionary you use? All of mine say more or less the same things. What is refined humour,? Wise humour. Insightful humour. Can we have examples? BTW, all the things you find detestable in so-called pagan humour is found unabated in Chaucer and the Decamaron and the other medieval story-tellers. Shakespeare used it. Scatalogical humour was the rage through most of the reformation times and later. Mozart wrote scatalogical songs. The bedroom farce has always been popular - we had no senior churchmen refusing to go to The Marriage of Figaro. The Greeks laughed at the dolt and so do we - hence the undying popularity of the Inspector Clouseau type character through history. Nothing changed. No one is denying that much pagan humour was coarse; but what I am saying is that it has never stopped being coarse, and I am also saying that before Christ there was humour of the kind that we find in Wodehouse or Wilde, and the one-liners of Groucho Marx or Dorothy Parker, which are clever because they manage to nail an aspect of the human condition in so few words. Aristophanes could do that.(Unlike I, who go on and on...:))AlanE 15:58, 10 February 2009 (EST)
It appears that discussing humor with atheists is a fool's errand because they, like the ancient Greeks, are unable (or refuse) to open their minds to what real humor is. I've defined it several times, as does the dictionary; it is something "ludicrous" or "absurdly incongruous." Vulgarities may amuse the simple-minded to no end, and so may slapstick comedy (which is all the "Frogs" is referencing in its opening line), but it's not humor.
We've learned something from this discussion. It's not just the pre-Christians who were without humor, but so are atheists today. It's unfortunate.--Andy Schlafly 16:57, 10 February 2009 (EST)
"Ludicrous": amusing or laughable through obvious absurdity, incongruity, exaggeration, or eccentricity; causing laughter because of absurdity; broadly or extravagantly humorous, resembling farce. All of these definitions are fulfilled in the examples that have already been stated in this discussion. For that matter, they are all fulfilled by the image on this vase in the British Museum from the fourth century BC.
If your second paragraph is meant to imply that your whole premise behind claiming that there was no humor before Christianity was to poke fun of atheists - since only atheists are so humorless as to take such a ludicrous proposition seriously - then I am afraid that your Modest Proposal has been found lacking.--Brossa 18:48, 10 February 2009 (EST)
Now that we've established that humor is a post-Christian phenomenon, we would do well to explore it's origins within Christianity. Do you have early Christian examples? MattL 17:03, 10 February 2009 (EST)
In regards to something ludicrous or absurdly incongruous, from Plutarch's The Comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero:
So also we are told that when Cicero, being consul, undertook the defence of Murena against Cato's prosecution, by way of bantering Cato, he made a long series of jokes upon the absurd paradoxes, as they are called, of the Stoic set; so that a loud laughter passing from the crowd to the judges, Cato, with a quiet smile, said to those that sat next him, "My friends, what an amusing consul we have."
We can plainly see that this is absurd. Now for the incongruity - A paradox, as defined by MW, is "a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true". Incongruous, as defined by MW, describes "something inconsistent with itself". Could this possibly be an example of humor? MattL 17:11, 10 February 2009 (EST)

Merriam-Webster also says that humor is "something that is or is designed to be comical or amusing." Doesn't that describe Aristophanes? BenjaminC 17:38, 10 February 2009 (EST)

It seems that I go away an hour and suddenly I am "without humour" and an atheist,Andy. Why have you reverted to (a) being personal to someone whose sense of humour you know nothing about and who has based his arguments on basic well-documented scholarly texts in a generally polite manner and (b)decided on a definition of humour that is at odds with every dictionary and encyclopedia I can find? Whether I am a Methodist, atheist, Catholic or calathumpian has nothing to do with the my arguments which, like most of my words in this site, are based on a lifetime of reading the canon of western literature and about it. AlanE 20:20, 10 February 2009 (EST)
I don't know why Mr Schlafly should have to defend himself against such an intemperate passive-aggressive assault. And if, as you claim, you are an expert on the entire canon of western culture, I should expect to find you in concordance with his ideas. RegalBruin 11:50, 11 February 2009 (EST)
I didn't say, nor mean to imply, I was "an expert on the entire canon of western culture", Regal. What I can say is that that I, especially in this case, is that I am basing my statements on books (you know...those old fashioned things with pages that people used to read and geriatrics like me still do - I own thousands of them and have read untold thousands more.) So if I talk about the humour in Chaucer or Shakespeare, or mention Voltaire, or Beaumarchais (who? he says), Regal, it's because I've been there, mate, and done that, and have the tee shirt. (Even if, half the time now I have forgotten where I've put it!) Now, I assume you are being silly, perhaps "parodical", in your final phrase, but I am not in the mood. Andrew Schafly might be able to turn off severe sciatica with a quick prayer, but I can't; so I want to take it out on people: and seeing its not yet dawn and the rest of the family is still fast asleep, that means you! So do me one favour...go and find one reference - just one - from a reputable reference source, that "humour" started with Christianity. (And while you are at it, try and help Andrew by finding a reference for the Chinese inventing bamboo.)AlanE 14:03, 11 February 2009 (EST)
The assumption that anyone who disagrees with Mr. S must be an atheist is indeed a pretty flimsy deflecting tactic. The claim being debated is not quite as bizarre as saying that there was no epic poetry before Christ.
I'll chime in re the claim that the pagans had only farcical, bawdy, dirty type humor. I'm only familiar with 2 Aristophanes plays, Lysistrata and The Clouds. Lysistrata does have a bawdy premise - the women of Greece conspire to not go to bed with their husbands until they end their war - but the play's point was political, not sexual, and it spoke on a real contemporary topic (the Peloponessian War) and addressed leading politicians by name. Clouds is a purely intellectual satire, making fun of the sophists in general and Socrates in particular. (Soc. was not actually a sophist but was apparently identified with them.) There are also a few poop jokes thrown in there, but that's no different from a lot of intellectual comedy today: I think of Little Miss Sunshine, that had jokes about Proust and Nietzshe, but also jokes about the dirty old grandfather character.
My favorite thing about Clouds is that the main butt of the jokes, Socrates, was actually there in the audience watching it. The intro to my copy says that at the performance, the mask for the Socrates actor was such a good caricature, they had Socrates himself stand up so the audience could applaud the mask maker. Fishal 20:36, 10 February 2009 (EST)
A lot of this boils down to arguing definitions - a fruitless argument that could go on endlessly if we had nothing better to do. What does interest me is the idea of a new form of humor emerging during or after the life of Jesus. Does anyone have any examples of a first- or second-century shift towards more refined types of humor? Perhaps "What is the earliest example of genuine humor" could be added to the list of mysteries?--CPalmer 11:47, 11 February 2009 (EST)
I don't know if this has been brought up, but it appears that Mr. Schlafly doesn't find the "crude" humour entertaining (nothing wrong with that, it'd not everybody's thing) but what about wordplay and the double negative? I sumbit my favorite passage from Homer's Odyssey: When captured by the Cyclops, Odysseus tells him that his name is "Nobody." Later, after they attack the Cyclops and blind him, he storms around his cave in a rage screaming "Nobody will not get out alive" a double negative, and then calls to his brothers that "Nobody has blinded me, Nobody has blinded me." The Cyclops thinks he is calling for help, but not understanding what he is actually saying, his brothers misunderstand him and stay away... This type of humour leads directly to the modern examples of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine, as well as the Chico and Groucho's constant back and forth in their movies "Chico:(looking at a Contract) What'sa this?" "Groucho: That's just the standard Sanity Clause" "Chico:You can't fool me, there ain't no Sanity Claus." StephenK 12:15, 11 February 2009 (EST)

Who was right - Catholics or Protestants?

Can you explain what you mean by this question? It's a bit like asking - who is right, Christians of Buddhists? Do you mean, regarding Transubstantiation? Or do you mean celibacy? Or the infallibility of the Pope? Maybe you could phrase it a little more clearly? Finally, do you think it's helpful to the world to see the world like this? Doesn't every faith believe it's 'right'? TadghOB 17:10, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Surely you don't think that just because different people hold different views that each think are right, truth therefore does not exist. If I told that some cultures believe that 2+2 equals infinity, and are convinced they are right, would that change your view that 2+2=4 and not infinity?--Andy Schlafly 17:50, 9 February 2009 (EST)
Well, yes, I do? Despite my own faith, I cannot in all sincerity tell a Buddhist that their faith is nonsense - I simply don't believe that's a way to get along with the rest of the planet, the pursuit of which is, after all, is our bounden duty here on this Earth. My own faith (Catholicism) has experienced many controversies, and although I hold fast to my faith, I acknowledge that it is not without its flaws and appalling mistakes. Jesus taught us to "love thy neighbour", after all. But to return to the question at hand - "who is right, Catholics or Protestants?". As an Irish Catholic married to an Irish Protestant, I'm sure you'll understand there's a great deal of sensitivity over this issue on our Island. And I'm certainly not about to tell my partner that her beliefs are 'wrong'. But what 'right' are you referring to? TadghOB 19:06, 9 February 2009 (EST)

To keep this conversation from devolving into an ideological argument, I thought I might try to clarify the original question: I interpret it as referring to the issues at the heart of the Protestant Reformation, namely the allegations of abuses of power within the Catholic Church, the selling of indulgences, the lack of reliance on Scripture, etc. Some of these are purely theological points, but I think historical discussion can bring light to the issue of whether or not the Protestants were justified in some of their more pragmatic claims. --Economist 19:13, 9 February 2009 (EST)

In reply to TadghOB, one thing about Jesus is indisputable: He did tell others they were wrong, and was very clear that He was divisive rather than uniting.
In reply to Economist, there is the issue of how to deal with the problems, and what the subsequent centuries and today illustrate. I'm not yet taking a position on the question, but am pointing out how your list is incomplete.--Andy Schlafly 19:25, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Why did Islam grow so rapidly?

Not sure there's a lot of mystery here. The rise of Islam is well documented in both Arab and Byzantine sources. The "mystery", if there is one, is how Mohammed managed to convert a sizeable number of followers in his lifetime and how they became organised into a small but effective military force. Thereafter, Islam spread for several reasons. Initially, it was confined to Arab soldiers and their families and was something of an elite religion. But the Arabs were generally welcomed by the common people in the Byzantine territories because they imposed lighter taxes, their military levies were less oppressive and they didn't cut people's heads off because they disagreed with the Emperor's theological opinions. The same factors are reflected in the decline of the Byzantine empire, to the benefit of the Arabs in West Asia and North Africa: excessive taxation, too many able-bodied men from wealthy families joining the priesthood to evade military service, and continuous demoralisation of the population through religious disputes. Added to that was the over-centralisation of power in the Byzantine Empire, with the result that when the Emperor was out of action, there were few men with both the authority and the competence to wield power effectively. Such was the situation at the decisive Battle of the Yarmouk, in what is now northern Jordan, when the Emperor Heraclius was ill and unable to take the field, resulting in a decisive victory for the Arabs.

Islam spread in the territories conquered by the Arabs for similar reasons to the spread of Christianity in Europe: local rulers ingratiating themselves with their overlord (the Arab Caliph in this case), the prestige of being part of the official religion, the apparent evidence that God must favour the Muslims because he enabled them to win battles, and lower taxation for Muslims.

It's much harder to understand why the Byzantine Empire lasted as long as it did. Also, why did the Arabs not conquer most of the West? The post-Roman kingdoms in the West seem to have been more organised and effective than historians gave them credit for until recently.

See e.g. John Julius Norwich's history of Byzantium (three volumes but extremely - even addictively - readable). Also 'The Formation of Christendom' by Judith Herrin, the standard modern work on the interplay of Church and State in the Byzantine Empire; she shows that the church wasn't always a negative influence, as Edward Gibbon supposed. FredFerguson 20:06, 9 February 2009 (EST)

In addition to Fred's information above, Islam burst out of Arabia at a time when both the Byzantines and the Persians were completely exhausted from fighting each other interminably. There is also talk of a plague epidemic that wasted the so-called civilised powers but had little effect in the sparcely populated Arabian desert. AlanE 20:52, 9 February 2009 (EST)


Did the Romans recognize or understand the concept of "truth"?

What reason do you have to think that they did not? We would surely disagree with any ancient people (not just the Romans) about whether certain ideas are true or false, but that would not mean that the people did not understand the concept of truth. What meaning do you think the word veritas had for the Romans?--Eoinc 07:18, 20 February 2009 (EST)

Literacy in Ancient Greece

I don't know what the literacy level is in the USA but let's guess at 98-99%. In ancient Greece, the people who were able to read were free, male city dwellers - and by no means all of them. Perhaps 1% of the population could read. Not sure why this one is on the list of mysteries, because it isn't one. FredFerguson 19:11, 8 March 2009 (EDT)