Tag Archives: Socrates

This Is The End: Old Comedy makes its return!

This is the End is closer to an ancient comedy than a modern one.  When I think about Greek and Roman comedy I think of things playing out just like This is the End.  First, let me say this is a hilarious movie and is incredibly well done. There are so many good jokes as well as situational comedy so it doesn’t rely entirely on the jokes. Go see it, especially if you grew up in the 90s with all of the love for 90s things. If you haven’t seen it there are some slight spoilers in this post, so beware moving on.  Anyway, back to the ancients. I hope in this post to spread a little knowledge about ancient comedy while showing how This is the End is very similar to these plays.

There are two categories in which ancient comedies are usually classified. Those are Old Comedy and New Comedy; there is also Middle Comedy, but it is a confusing subject and is really just used to talk about some works which bridge Old and New and therefore are hard to define. Old comedy is mostly talked about with Aristophanes.  Old Comedy is mainly seen as political satire. Aristophanes wrote comedies which were social commentaries on Socrates (The Clouds), war (Lysistrata), overuse of the justice system (The Wasps), etc.  This is the End fits into this style as it discusses some political issues like legalizing marijuana as well as being centered on an apocalyptic event which has been in people’s minds recently with the passing of the year 2012, but I would not consider it a political satire. It does, however, have many of the farcical aspects of Old Comedy.

Another characteristic of Aristophanes’ comedy was the use of the phallus. To put it bluntly there were penises everywhere. Actors wore giant penises, some scholars say it was to be sure that the audience did not mistake the gender of the character, however I think it was more of a comedic device than anything. Watch the scene in HBO’s Rome where there is a play going on in a the background to see this; that’s New Comedy, but that’s okay because this is an aspect they share. This is actually what gave me the idea for this post because as soon as the demon is shown we see that he has been given a giant penis. The idea was probably to be equally scary and hilarious; it succeeded. This immediately struck me as ancient comedy, though.  This movie had more penis jokes than, I think, any other movie I have watched. Craig Robinson trying to pick up the giant penis art is probably my favorite. In this way I say that This is the End was very similar to Aristophanes and Old Comedy.

New Comedy is situational comedy at its earliest beginnings. This comedy is considered shallower and doesn’t take many risks as far as political commentary goes. The best known Ancient Greek writer of New Comedy is Menander. This was also the genre of comedy which was adapted in Rome by playwrights Plautus and Terence.   New Comedy is based more on stock characters and depictions of daily life. In this way it is very much like our modern sitcoms such as Friends, How I Met Your Mother, or Modern Family.  The way This is the End fits into New Comedy is that in the beginning we are getting a glimpse of the daily life of these people we see as actors so often.

I see This is the End as very close to Old Comedy. In fact if Aristophanes were alive today it wouldn’t surprise me to see his name scrolling through the credits as a writer. The penis jokes really stand out to me as a reference to antiquity; they probably did this without even realizing it. There are, of course, many things I didn’t touch on in this post like the religious aspects, the fact that these characters are over-exaggerated versions of themselves, and the use of small role female characters (something that is huge in ancient comedy). Please leave a comment and I will be happy to chat about these things in the comments section.

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Criminal Minds quotes Plato, or do they?

Criminal Minds was definitely one of my favorite shows for a while and sadly I only stopped watching new seasons because of time issues; unfortunately I can’t schedule my life around the TV schedule. I still watch the reruns every time I notice one is on, which is about every hour of the day if you use enough channels. I saw a rerun not too long ago and knew I had to write a post about it. It was season 2 episode 6 The Boogeyman. This is the episode after Elle gets shot and she misses her psych evaluation. The team is after someone who is murdering children in Texas.

One of my favorite parts about Criminal Minds is the quotation at the beginning and end of the show. I always try to catch these and I (nerdy, I know) would actually get mad if I turned the TV on just a minute too late. The quotation at the beginning of The Boogeyman episode is, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” The narrator, Hotch, attributes it to Plato. This like many other quotations said to be from Plato is a misattribution. While the phrase is all over the internet and can be found on T-shirts, there is not one site that gives evidence of where the quotation came from. No one can state the book and line of Plato’s works from which this quotation was pulled. Don’t get me wrong I love the phrase and I think it has so many great meanings in it, but it is not from Plato. If anyone has or can find it, please let me know, but I have been over all of the works I have (which is most of them) and I have searched a lot of scholarly discourse and I still have not found it. Some sites attribute it to Socrates which would mean it is attributed to Plato since all of Socrates’ words are written by Plato.

Criminal Minds is a great show and the quotations add intelligence and depth to many of the episodes which aren’t exactly lacking in those categories anyway. You just missed the boat on this one, Criminal Minds. Research would have allowed you to step further into the light on this one and learned that it is a statement without a source.

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Cicero, Socrates, and YOLO in Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

                I just finished reading the New York Times Bestseller Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer. I picked this book up with no knowledge of the fact that it was rife with classical references. I should have known that it would have to be, but honestly in my time studying classics I had never even heard of the Ad Herennium. The book is about memory. Joshua travels through a grueling training regiment in order to compete in the USA Memory Championship; another thing I didn’t know existed. Throughout this journey the book explains the way memory works and how memory has changed from an internal process to an external process.

                When the ancients were telling stories and giving speeches they had no choice but to memorize large amounts of information. Books took a long time to compose and weren’t readily available to most of the population which was illiterate anyway. The Ad Herennium is a treatise on how to remember. There has been much debate about who wrote this mysterious work. Cicero was originally thought to be the author of this work because of his other extensive work on memorizing speeches, but this has since become commonly seen as untrue.

                The importance of the book is not in its author. Foer points out that the memory techniques in the ancient text are the same techniques used by professional mnemonists today. Yet in classrooms we avoid these techniques and choose rote memorization instead. I have read various reports and definitely heard many times (mostly from my grandparents) that each generation is getting dumber. This statistically does not seem to be the case, but I believe as far as critical thinking is concerned the difference between us and the ancients is stark. Foer makes a point that in order for connections to be made in the brain there has to be a memory of the two points being connected. This connection cannot occur when using external memory like books, internet, etc.  While he agrees that his party-trick memory skills are not really that convenient for remembering his friends’ phone numbers and keeping his to-do list, he makes it clear that there is a different way of thinking that comes with increasing the ability of one’s memory.

                This book is filled with great classical references from Cicero’s memory of speeches to Socrates’ disdain for the written word to the reason ancient epics were more epic,  and everyone should read it for that fact alone, but everyone should also read it because it shows a different way of approaching the world. In order for things to stick in our minds they must have meaning and therefore (since we are in the fad of YOLO) every second should be lived with meaning. If one fully experiences every aspect of every situation one will be a better thinker, mnemonist, and possibly the next USA champion. So to use an expression I loathe simply for the fact that it is an unnecessary acronym, YOLO, and another which is so commonly misused (post to come later), Carpe Diem. Experience everything to the fullest and remember it all at its ripest.

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