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Greek Vase-Painting and the Origins of Visual Humour


  • 144 b/w illus. 12 tables
  • Page extent: 398 pages
  • Size: 253 x 215 mm
  • Weight: 1.02 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521513708)

This book is a comprehensive study of visual humour in ancient Greece, with special emphasis on works created in Athens and Boeotia. Alexandre G. Mitchell brings an interdisciplinary approach to this topic, combining theories and methods of art history, archaeology and classics with the anthropology of humour, and thereby establishing new ways of looking at art and visual humour in particular. Understanding what visual humour was to the ancients and how it functioned as a tool of social cohesion is only one facet of this study. Mitchell also focuses on the social truths that his study of humour unveils: democracy and freedom of expression; politics and religion; Greek vases and trends in fashion; market-driven production; proper and improper behaviour; popular versus elite culture; carnival in situ; and the place of women, foreigners, workers and labourers within the Greek city. Richly illustrated with more than 140 drawings and photographs, this study amply documents the comic representations that formed an important part of ancient Greek visual language from the sixth to the fourth centuries BC.

• A systematic study of Greek visual humour • Over 100 vectorised and accurate drawings of vases which took over one year to produce; the 'readability' of the images far exceeds many photographs • Includes analytical tables of comic representations according to different themes, painters and techniques


1. Introduction; 2. Humour in the city: the world of men, women and animals; 3. Humour in the city: gods, heroes and myth; 4. Satyrs and comic parody; 5. Caricatures in Athens and at the Kabirion sanctuary in Boeotia; 6. Conclusion: vases, humour and society.


Review of the hardback: 'The author is thorough and I can think of no genre of Greek humour which he has overlooked, and he has been as thorough with the relevant literary evidence as with the representational. The book is very fully illustrated.' Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Review of the hardback: 'Caricature, parody, overt sexual imagery, drunkenness, gender stereotyping, and the deconstruction of myths are investigated, categorized, and interpreted with exemplary thoroughness and psychological subtlety.' Columbia University: Choice Review

Review of the hardback: 'This broad survey of scenes of visual humor will serve as a valuable starting point for further research. The extensive lists and citations will make the book an aid for further work on humor and should encourage more synthesis and refinement of theoretical approaches to visual humor.' American Journal of Archaeology

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