We have had a great Christmas, but not a huge holiday. Daughter and son working like devils, husband writing an article and Beard trying to write the first chapter of her Roman Laughter book, and a lecture for California.
The good news is that I met my resolution to have written the first page by Christmas Eve. Since then things haven't gone quite so smoothly (though I have been in the library plus laptop on every day except The Day itself). Let me explain a bit .... what follows may be a bit dull, but so few people ever try to share the PROCESS of writing academic books. So here goes.
I have more or less determined to keep the structure of the six lectures I gave in Berkeley last year as the basic structure of the book. But I still needed an introduction, to get readers interested -- and to give a first glimpse of the big issues coming up.
I had decided to start with a couple of scenes from the Roman comedy "The Eunuch", by Terence, first performed in 161 BCE. The are from the middle of the play (around lines 420-500), a patch of repartee between a "braggart soldier", Thraso and a professional sponger, Gnatho.
I chose this because on two occasions during these lines Gnatho ("Gnasher") actually laughs -"hahahae" (there are a dozen or so "hahahae"s in classical Latin literature). And it is a great couple of passages for showing just how slippery Roman laughter is.
Gnatho, as a professional sponger/flatterer, is bound to laugh at his patron's "jokes". So here we have two "jokes" that Gnatho cracks up about, but of course they are emphatically NOT funny. Lesson one: laughter doesnt always erupt at the funniest jokes (and you can see how the methodological line might go on from there).
So far, so good.