Ancient Humour

CLST 205/3.0

This course explores the techniques by which humour was created in literature and the visual arts in antiquity; social and psychological aspects of humour.

Learning Outcomes

  1. What is Humour?
  2. Why is it Funny?
  3. A Funny World
  4. The Earliest Humour
  5. Eccentrics Looking for a Story
  6. A Farmyard of Quacks
  7. A Sucker for Every Occasion
  8. Bursting the Bubble and Other Oddities
  9. The Sexual Dimension
  10. Epic Proportions
  11. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Agora
  12. The Roman Wit


To the best of my knowledge, this is the only course of its kind taught anywhere in the world (though you will find many courses on “ancient comedy”, which is a subset of drama). The course was put on the books in 1971 and actually taught for the first time in 1973-74. The original calendar entry for the course reads, “The Greeks and Romans were no less conscious than ourselves of the need to laugh at a world that offered all too much misery. This course will combine a series of readings (in translation) from ancient comedy, satire, romance, and literary parody, with discussions of the use of humour as relief in more serious genres such as epic, tragedy, and courtroom speeches.”

The objective of the course remains much as it was forty years ago, though perhaps with less emphasis on misery. I myself first taught this course to thirty-nine students in the fall of 1991. Eventually my students clamored for “web-notes” for the course, and these notes morphed in 2007 into the textbook I coauthored with Robert B. Marks (2nd revised edition, 2011), with illustrations by Laura E. Ludtke. In 2012 this became the first Humanities course at Queen’s to be reconfigured as a “blended-learning” course.


Summer 16: May - July
Course Dates: 
May 2 - July 22, 2016
Exam Dates: 


Online Quizzes50%
Online Participation in Activities and Discussions50%

** Evaluation Subject to Change **


Professor Drew Griffith (

Instructor message

Drew GriffithI studied Classics in Toronto and Athens, and have written books on Homer’s Odyssey and Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, and articles on many aspects of Greek and Latin literature. Although I have taught at Queen’s for twenty-five years, this is the first “blended-learning” course in which I have ever been involved. It’s been fun preparing this material for you; I hope you enjoy it as well.

Time Commitment

To complete the readings, assignments, and course activities, students can expect to spend, on average, about 9 hours per week (104 hours per term) on the course.

Course Resources


SOLUS is Queen’s Student On-Line University System. You’ll have access to a SOLUS account once you become a Queen’s student. You’ll use SOLUS to register for courses, add and drop courses, update your contact information, view financial and academic information, and pay your tuition.

About OnQ

OnQ is Queen's online learning platform. You'll log into Moodle to access your course. All materials related to your course—notes, readings, videos, recordings, discussion forums, assignments, quizzes, groupwork, tutorials, and help—will be on the OnQ site.

About Credit Units

Queen’s courses are weighted in credit units. A typical one-term course is worth 3.0 units, and a typical two-term course is worth 6.0 units. You combine these units to create your degree. A general (three-year) BA or BSc requires a total of 90 credit units.

Computer Requirements

To take an online course, you’ll need a high speed internet connection as well as a microphone and speakers to be able to watch videos, hear sounds, and participate in interactive online activities. A webcam is recommended but not necessary.

System Requirements:

  • Laptop or Desktop computer purchased within the last 5 years. (mobile devices are not supported)
  • Windows Vista SP2/Mac OSX 10.9 or higher
  • Up to date versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari. Please note that Google Chrome is not recommended for use in our courses.
  • Most recent version of Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash

 See also Getting Started.


The deadlines for new applications to Queen’s Arts and Science Online courses are in our Upcoming Application Dates section.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees vary depending when you start, your year, faculty, and program. Fees for 2016-17 first-year Distance Career Arts & Science Canadian students are as follows: for a 3.0-unit course, $648.40; for a 6.0-unit course, $1296.80. See also Tuition and Fees.

Grading Scheme

The information below is intended for undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Academic Regulations in other Faculties may differ.

Letter Grade Grade Point

GPA Calculators
Have your SOLUS grade report handy and then follow the link to the Arts and Science GPA calculators.

How does this affect my academics?
See the GPA and Academic Standing page.

Follow the link above for an explanation of how the GPA system affects such things as the Dean’s Honour List, requirements to graduate, and academic progression.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Grading Scheme
Please follow this link to the FAQ's

Campus Bookstore

All textbooks can be purchased at Queen’s Campus Bookstore.

Non-Queen’s Students

All Queen’s Arts and Science Online courses are open to students at other universities. Before applying as a visiting student, request a Letter of Permission from your home university that states that you have permission to take the course and apply it to your degree. See also Apply.

Academic Integrity

Please see Queen’s policy statement on academic integrity for information on how to complete an online course honestly.