Saturday, May 27, 2006
Sins of the Tongue, III(a): Jesting
Εὐτραπελία, a finely selected word of the world's use, which, however, St. Paul uses not in the world's sense, like its synonyms, occurs only once in the N.T. (Ephes. v.4). Derived from εὖ and τρέπεσθαι (εὐτράπελοι, οἷον εὔτροποι, Aristotle, Eth. Nic. iv.8.4; cf. Pott, Etym. Forsch. vol. v p. 136), that which easily turns, and in this way adapts, itself to the shifting circumstances of the hour, to the moods and conditions of those with whom at the instant it may deal;1 it had very slightly and rarely, in classical use, that evil signification which, as used by St. Paul and the Greek Fathers, is the only one which it knows.
That St. Paul could be himself εὐτράπελος in the better sense of the word, he has given illustrious proof (Acts xxvi.29). Thucydides, in that panegyric of the Athenians which he puts into the mouth of Pericles, employs εὐτράπέλως (ii.41) as = εὐκινήτως, to characterize the 'versatile ingenium' of his countrymen; while Plato (Rep. viii.563 a) joins εὐτραπελία with χαριεντισμός, as do also Plutarch (De Adul. et Am. 7) and Josephus (Antt. xii.4.3); Isocrates (Or. xv.316) with φιλολογία; Philo (Leg. ad Cai. 45) with χάρις.
For Aristotle, also, the εὐτράπελος or ἐπιδέξιος (Ethic. Nic. ii.7; iv.8; compare Brandis, Aristoteles, p. 1415) is one who keeps the happy mean between the βωμολόχος and the ἄγριος, ἀγροῖκος, or σκληρός. He is no mere γελωτοποιός or buffoon; but, in whatever pleasantry or banter he may allow himself, still χαρίεις or refined, always restraining himself within the limits of becoming mirth (ἐμμελῶς παίζειν), never ceasing to be the gentleman.
Thus P. Volumnius, the friend or acquaintance of Cicero and of Atticus, bore the name 'Eutrapelus,' on the score of his festive wit and talent of society: though certainly there is nothing particularly amiable in the story which Horace (Epp. i.18.31-36) tells about him.
1Chrysostom, who, like most great teachers, often turns etymology into the materials of exhortation, does not fail to do so here. To other reasons why the Christians should renounce εὐτραπελία he adds this (Hom. 17 in Ephes.): Ὅρα καὶ τοὔναμα· εὐτράπελος λέγεται ὁ ποικίλος, ὁ παντοδαπὸς, ὁ ἄστατος, ὁ εὔκολος, ὁ πάντα γινόμενος· τοῦτο δὲ πόρρω τῶν τῇ Πέτρᾳ δουλευόντων. Ταχέως τρέπεται ὁ τοιοῦτος καὶ μεθίσταται. [tr. in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series: Look too at the very name. It means the versatile man, the man of all complexions, the unstable, the pliable, the man that can be anything and everything. But far is this from those who are servants to the Rock. Such a character quickly turns and changes.]
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 2.7.13 (tr. H. Rackham):
In respect of pleasantness in social amusement, the middle character is witty and the middle disposition Wittiness; the excess is Buffoonery and its possessor a buffoon; the deficient man may be called boorish, and his disposition Boorishness.Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 4.8.3 (tr. H. Rackham):
περὶ δὲ τὸ ἡδὺ τὸ μὲν ἐν παιδιᾷ ὁ μὲν μέσος εὐτράπελος καὶ ἡ διάθεσις εὐτραπελία, ἡ δ᾽ ὑπερβολὴ βωμολοχία καὶ ὁ ἔχων αὐτὴν βωμολόχος, ὁ δ᾽ ἐλλείπων ἄγροικός τις καὶ ἡ ἕξις ἀγροικία.
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 witty 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.
οἱ μὲν οὖν τῷ γελοίῳ ὑπερβάλλοντες βωμολόχοι δοκοῦσιν εἶναι καὶ φορτικοί, γλιχόμενοι πάντως τοῦ γελοίου, καὶ μᾶλλον στοχαζόμενοι τοῦ γέλωτα ποιῆσαι ἢ τοῦ λέγειν εὐσχήμονα καὶ μὴ λυπεῖν τὸν σκωπτόμενον· οἱ δὲ μήτ᾽ αὐτοὶ ἂν εἰπόντες μηδὲν γελοῖον τοῖς τε λέγουσι δυσχεραίνοντες ἄγροικοι καὶ σκληροὶ δοκοῦσιν εἶναι. οἱ δ᾽ ἐμμελῶς παίζοντες εὐτράπελοι προσαγορεύονται, οἷον εὔτροποι· τοῦ γὰρ ἤθους αἱ τοιαῦται δοκοῦσι κινήσεις εἶναι, ὥσπερ δὲ τὰ σώματα ἐκ τῶν κινήσεων κρίνεται, οὕτω καὶ τὰ ἤθη.