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How to be sarcastic in Greek: Typical means of signaling sarcasm in the New Testament and Lucian

  • Matthew C. Pawlak

    Matthew C. Pawlak is a PhD candidate in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Cambridge, where he is writing a dissertation on the use of sarcasm in the New Testament letters attributed to Paul. He is interested more broadly in the application of humour-studies methodologies to ancient texts and has published work in New Testament and Jewish Studies.

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From the journal HUMOR


While significant debates are still ongoing, modern scholarship has made great strides in describing the nature of verbal irony and the sorts of markers that signal its use. Much of this research, however, has focused on the English language, leaving significant linguistic and historical data untouched. This study aims to fill a portion of this lacuna by investigating the typical cues for indicating sarcastic irony amongst those who invented it—or at least the term—the ancient Greeks. To this end, taking modern scholarship as our starting point, we shall proceed by investigating the extent to which various cues discussed in the literature are also present in ancient sarcasm, while taking note of cases where certain markers are more idiomatic to the ancient world. Our dataset for this task will be drawn from two diverse corpora, the writings of Lucian—arguably one of antiquity’s most prolific sarcasts—and the New Testament. While the cues that signal sarcastic intent across these texts share many similarities to those discussed in modern research, significant differences attest to the impact of both cultural and linguistic forces on the ways in which the ancient Greeks went about being sarcastic.

About the author

Matthew C. Pawlak

Matthew C. Pawlak is a PhD candidate in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Cambridge, where he is writing a dissertation on the use of sarcasm in the New Testament letters attributed to Paul. He is interested more broadly in the application of humour-studies methodologies to ancient texts and has published work in New Testament and Jewish Studies.


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Published Online: 2019-08-28
Published in Print: 2019-10-25

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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