previous next
and a certain propriety in the sort of things we say and in our manner of saying them, and also in the sort of things we allow to be said to us; and it will also concern us whether those in whose company we speak or to whom we listen conform to the same rules of propriety. [2] And it is clear that in these matters too it is possible either to exceed or to fall short of the mean. [3]

Those then who go to excess in ridicule are thought to be buffoons and vulgar fellows, who itch to have their joke at all costs, and are more concerned to raise a laugh than to keep within the bounds of decorum and avoid giving pain to the object of their raillery. Those on the other hand who never by any chance say anything funny themselves and take offence at those who do, are considered boorish and morose. Those who jest with good taste are called witty1 or versatile—that is to say, full of good turns; for such sallies seem to spring from the character, and we judge men's characters, like their bodies, by their movements. [4] But as matter for ridicule is always ready to hand, and as most men are only too fond of fun and raillery, even buffoons are called witty and pass for clever fellows; though it is clear from what has been said that Wit is different, and widely different, from Buffoonery. [5] The middle disposition is further characterized by the quality of tact, the possessor of which will say, and allow to be said to him, only the sort of things that are suitable to a virtuous man and a gentleman: since there is a certain propriety in what such a man will say and hear in jest, and the jesting of a gentleman differs from that of a person of servile nature, as does that of an educated from that of an uneducated man. [6] The difference may be seen by comparing the old and the modern comedies; the earlier dramatists found their fun in obscenity, the moderns prefer innuendo, which marks a great advance in decorum. [7] Can we then define proper raillery by saying that its jests are never unbecoming to gentlemen, or that it avoids giving pain or indeed actually gives pleasure to its object? Or is it impossible to define anything so elusive? for tastes differ as to what is offensive and what amusing. [8] Whatever rule we lay down, the same will apply to the things that a man should allow to be said to him, since we feel that deeds which a man permits to be ascribed to him he would not stop at actually doing. [9] Hence a man will draw the line at some jokes; for raillery is a sort of vilification, and some forms of vilification are forbidden by law; perhaps some forms of raillery ought to be prohibited also. [10] The cultivated gentleman will therefore regulate his wit, and will be as it were a law to himself.

Such then is the middle character, whether he be called ‘tactful’ or ‘witty.’ The buffoon is one who cannot resist a joke; he will not keep his tongue off himself or anyone else, if he can raise a laugh, and will say things

1 εὐτράπελοι, lit. ‘turning well,’ nimble-witted.

load focus Greek (J. Bywater)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: