Volume 52, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 0165-8204
  • E-ISSN: 2667-1573



Humor, both verbal and visual, is culture-specific. This essay examines humorous visual representations in their original archaeological and social contexts to understand Roman attitude-formation, or acculturation. Social theories of humor that distinguish between humor meant for individuals within a group (intragroup humor) and humor targeting individuals outside one’s group (intergroup humor) help explain the dynamics of the humor in Roman visual culture. Pompeii offers two examples of intragroup humor: representations in the Tavern of Salvius make fun of the non-elite people who frequented the tavern; the parodies of Aeneas and Romulus from an elite house make fun of the cultural pretensions of other elites with regard to Augustus’ propaganda. The Tavern of the Seven Sages at Ostia uses intergroup humor, with non-elite men mocking the Seven Sages. In this case Mikhail Bakhtin’s hermeneutic of the carnivalesque enriches the analysis by revealing multiple strategies employed to elicit laughter, including the world-turned upside down, analogies between bodily and spatial representation, and oppositions between philosophical and colloquial speech. In both the Tavern of Salvius and that of the Seven Sages written texts, ranging from crude Latin speech-bubbles to elegant iambic , indicate the levels of literacy of the audiences.


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