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The Roman Sense of Humor

Cicero, who was considered a jokester, explained that humor is based on “ambiguity, the unexpected, wordplay, understatement, irony, ridicule, silliness, and pratfalls.” Moreover, he said jokes focus on selected character types, such as stereotypes, foreigners, and celebrities known in the communities. In fact, Romans loved to laugh and looked for opportunities to watch comedies or mimes in their theaters.

In The Deadliest Lie, Miriam explains how their tutor, Hector, made Phoebe laugh:

When Phoebe would botch a recitation of Homer, which she often did, the veins on his forehead would stand out like the tributaries of the Nile. He would stab the air with his cane while the iris of his right eye would spin in an orbit of its own, and she would collapse in a fit of contagious giggles.

But did the Romans smile? As in English, with many word for to laugh such as to giggle, guffaw, chuckle, and titter, there are many words in Latin as well. But Latin scholars say that during Miriam’s time there were no such words for to smile. Those words came later.

Still, I hope you’ll smile as you relate to the characters in the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series. To be sure, many are scoundrels, but others like Phoebe will amuse you. To take a look at the books in the series—and most are award winners—click here.


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