Saturday, 11 April 2015

Joona Salminen: Clement of Alexandria on Laughter

Though laughter became an emergent theme in Christian asceticism one of the earliest systematic treatises on the topic was not written in a monastic context but for the city life in an Egyptian metropolis. The treatise was composed by Clement of Alexandria in his work Paedagogus (2.5) around the year 195 CE in order to instruct his students in their social setting. The immediate context for Clement's instruction were the symposia of the upper class; both the social and historical aspects of which have been carefully analysed by Stephen Halliwell in his book Greek Laughter (2008). However, Halliwell limits his discussion to partying and controlling the body. In my paper I will provide a context for Clement’s theory on laughter that goes beyond banquets and body. We should see Clement's view in the context of his theory of emotions and deification, themes that he elaborates extensively in his writing. Excessive laughter should be avoided (Paed. 2.7.56) whereas Clement considers moderate laughing to be a sign of self control (Paed. 2.5.46). This should be seen in the framework of his theory of controlling passions: “We become like God in relation to virtue” (Paed. 1.12.99). Clement sees Christ as the healer of unnatural passions that disturb the soul (Paed. 1.2.6). Thus within this framework Clement’s reflections on laughing should be seen as a part of his educational program which aims to achieve a respected social behaviour based on the likeness of God and freedom of emotions.

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