Comedy & Classical Education

I’ll be speaking on comedy and classical education on July 24-26 in Houston at the annual conference of the CIRCE Institute[Consulting and Integrated Resources for Classical Education], led by my former student and now classical Christian education guru Andrew Kern. The whole conference is on that topic, actually, which will be addressed by a number of other speakers as well (or better). The event will be held at the architecturally and artistically rich Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.

Go here for details and registration information.

Can anyone come up with any of the connections between comedy, classical education, and Christianity?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.cumberlandisland.blogspot.com Adrian Keister

    Well, there’s always C. S. Lewis when he compared the Norse and Greek mythologies to the Christian “mythology.” Here he wasn’t using the term “myth” to mean something that was not true; instead, he was referring to a style of writing.

    His conclusion was that Christianity failed to be a tragedy, like the Norse myths (and this was one reason why, before he was converted, he didn’t like Christianity). Lewis was using the terms comedy and tragedy in their Greek sense; I believe he was referring to Aristotle or Plato for the definitions of those categories. I’m trying to remember where he wrote about this; I think it might have been Surprised by Joy, but I could be wrong. In any case, a classical Christian education would certainly be a big help in understanding these categories.

  • http://www.cumberlandisland.blogspot.com Adrian Keister

    Well, there’s always C. S. Lewis when he compared the Norse and Greek mythologies to the Christian “mythology.” Here he wasn’t using the term “myth” to mean something that was not true; instead, he was referring to a style of writing.

    His conclusion was that Christianity failed to be a tragedy, like the Norse myths (and this was one reason why, before he was converted, he didn’t like Christianity). Lewis was using the terms comedy and tragedy in their Greek sense; I believe he was referring to Aristotle or Plato for the definitions of those categories. I’m trying to remember where he wrote about this; I think it might have been Surprised by Joy, but I could be wrong. In any case, a classical Christian education would certainly be a big help in understanding these categories.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Well, if good comedy is linked to appreciation of the surreal and absurd, understanding it is helped by knowing what is real and true, no?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Well, if good comedy is linked to appreciation of the surreal and absurd, understanding it is helped by knowing what is real and true, no?

  • Bruce

    I’d have to say THE LIFE OF BRIAN.

  • Bruce

    I’d have to say THE LIFE OF BRIAN.

  • FullTime

    Comedy in the Greek tradition was not only drama with a happy ending, although that is one primary descriptor.

    According to in his surviving Poetics (admittedly a treatise on Tragedy, though opinions concerning Comedy are offered as contrast) Comedy is drama concerning the Common Man rather than the kings and princes. It is written to appeal to them and many of the characters are slaves and peasants (though noblemen appeal as well) The stories are more “every day” if still often absurd and difficult to believe. Comedy effects individuals and families more than grand nations.

    Comedy was irreverent and often blasphemous. It was an equal opportunity offender, whether a man was a peasant or general, god or slave. Anyone could be cut down by the writing of a Comedian. In this way Comedians were freer to offer social commentary than Tragedians often were, though both genres certainly took up that gauntlet.

    To connect Comedy with Christianity is tricky.

    The problems I see comparing Comedy with Christianity are the sexual lewdness that is often prevalent in Ancient Greek Comedy. Comedy was bawdy, rowdy, slapstick, and crude (socially, not literarily. Much of what survives is beautifully written) Beyond those faults, though, a comparison is certainly possible.

    I suppose you could say that Christianity is and always has been a poor man’s religion. That it is an equalizer, being available to all social classes. It was also often seen as blasphemous in ancient times and subversive of the government, for which some Comedians were fined, jailed, or exiled from their cities.

    Comedy was a hard pill to swallow for city officials. let’s say that city officials did not always (read “rarely, if ever”) come out looking good in Comedic satire. The repercussions of such led to trials for treason and subversion. Eventually the genre moved away from political satire to family-oriented stories (that is, stories about a family and what happens to them rather than a whole city. New Comedy was still certainly not fit for children.)

    So, for comparisons between the two…
    In both Comedy and Christianity there is an appeal to the common man as well as the noble.

    In both Comedy and Christianity its early founders faced charges when the local authority did not approve.
    (Though in Comedy it was civil charges for speaking against the city or its leaders rather than blasphemy.)

    And, most importantly (even if I glossed over it since I thought it would be the feature everyone already knew) both Comedy and Christianity have a Happy Ending

    That’s all I can come up with on the spot. I guess being away from my Classics classes for a semester has taken it’s toll.

  • FullTime

    Comedy in the Greek tradition was not only drama with a happy ending, although that is one primary descriptor.

    According to in his surviving Poetics (admittedly a treatise on Tragedy, though opinions concerning Comedy are offered as contrast) Comedy is drama concerning the Common Man rather than the kings and princes. It is written to appeal to them and many of the characters are slaves and peasants (though noblemen appeal as well) The stories are more “every day” if still often absurd and difficult to believe. Comedy effects individuals and families more than grand nations.

    Comedy was irreverent and often blasphemous. It was an equal opportunity offender, whether a man was a peasant or general, god or slave. Anyone could be cut down by the writing of a Comedian. In this way Comedians were freer to offer social commentary than Tragedians often were, though both genres certainly took up that gauntlet.

    To connect Comedy with Christianity is tricky.

    The problems I see comparing Comedy with Christianity are the sexual lewdness that is often prevalent in Ancient Greek Comedy. Comedy was bawdy, rowdy, slapstick, and crude (socially, not literarily. Much of what survives is beautifully written) Beyond those faults, though, a comparison is certainly possible.

    I suppose you could say that Christianity is and always has been a poor man’s religion. That it is an equalizer, being available to all social classes. It was also often seen as blasphemous in ancient times and subversive of the government, for which some Comedians were fined, jailed, or exiled from their cities.

    Comedy was a hard pill to swallow for city officials. let’s say that city officials did not always (read “rarely, if ever”) come out looking good in Comedic satire. The repercussions of such led to trials for treason and subversion. Eventually the genre moved away from political satire to family-oriented stories (that is, stories about a family and what happens to them rather than a whole city. New Comedy was still certainly not fit for children.)

    So, for comparisons between the two…
    In both Comedy and Christianity there is an appeal to the common man as well as the noble.

    In both Comedy and Christianity its early founders faced charges when the local authority did not approve.
    (Though in Comedy it was civil charges for speaking against the city or its leaders rather than blasphemy.)

    And, most importantly (even if I glossed over it since I thought it would be the feature everyone already knew) both Comedy and Christianity have a Happy Ending

    That’s all I can come up with on the spot. I guess being away from my Classics classes for a semester has taken it’s toll.


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