Send your Call or Congress to

Trifling Matters: Nugatory Poetics and Comic Seriousness - 02-03/05/2017, Exeter (England)


The defence of a comment that causes injury or offence with the response "it's just a joke" is commonplace and widespread. In a sense, it is derived from, or a development of, the plea made in antiquity towards the freedom of speech granted at certain religious festivals (i.e. παρρησία or licentia). How problematic, however, are such claims? Is a joke really ever just a joke? Part of the difficulty lies in the traditionally marginal position of genres that employ jokes and humour. Whether categorized asnugae or παίγνια (with its associations of inconsequential play), ancient authors had a set of terms that could be used to sideline a work as bad or "non-serious", or define their own work as reveling in such an estimation. Most strikingly of all, these texts can even use their inherent self-deprecation to insist (however paradoxically) a level of (self-)importance and relevance at the expense of traditional Great Works.

Our conference seeks to explore this innate tension within nugatory works in Graeco-Roman literature and their reception, and to examine what it means to write (and read) the comic seriously. So when Catullus, Martial, or Persius (for instance) describe their work as little more than trifling matters, are they actually signaling that trifling matters, that the nugatory somehow bears significance? Similarly, when Dicaeopolis claims that even comedy knows what is just (τὸ γὰρ δίκαιον οἶδε καὶ τρυγῳδία – Ar.Ach. 500), how paradoxical is this statement meant to appear and why? Scholars have long grappled with questions of "comic seriousness", with the frequent use of inverted commas marking our concerns at fulling committing to the idea that the comic can be serious at all. We aim to use a theoretically informed approach to humour and the construction of meaning to examine the broader concerns of nugatory literature across the full geographic and temporal range of our discipline. In particular, we seek to establish how trifling literature promotes itself, reveling in its own perceived frivolity, and how the comic reconstructs our view of the serious.


LUGAR/LOCATION/LUOGO: University of Exeter (Exeter, England)


INFO: web - - -


Please note that attendance by postgraduate delegates and delegates without an academic position is being subsidised by the conference budget. The organisers also hope to offer travel bursaries to these groups at a later date to encourage wider participation, although this is dependent on funding.

Please note that spaces are limited, especially for the conference dinner on the 2nd May. If you find the conference booked up, or have any other questions, please email the organisers – Sam Hayes ( and Paul Martin ( – who will try to accommodate you.


Tuesday 2nd May

9:00 – Registration/Coffee.

9:30 – Welcome Address.

9:45 – Keynote Address 1

Ian Ruffell (Glasgow) – Sounds a Bit Hard to Swallow: Irony, Self-Deprecation and the Limits of Cynicism.

10:30 – Coffee Break.

11:00 – Panel 1: Populism & Popularity

Andrew Worley (Exeter) – Jests and Idle Speeches for the New-guy: Nugatory Vocalisation in Historiographical Texts.

Andreas Gavrielatos (Edinburgh) – The Popularity of nugae in Persius’ Literary Criticism.

12:30 – Lunch.

1:30 – Panel 2: Literary Worth (Greek)

Paul Martin (Exeter) – ‘The Day the Judge Acquitted my Aunt Hortense’: Sex, Smut, and Social Value.

John Wilkins (Exeter) – Getting the Recipe Right: Good and Bad Cooking in the Kitchen and on the Comic Stage.

3:00 – Coffee Break.

3:30 – Panel 3: Martial’s nugae

Robert Cowan (Sydney) – Trivial Reality: Martial’s Callimachus and the Paradoxes of the Nugatory.

Martin Dinter (KCL) – Epigram and Epic.

5:00 – Wine Reception.

7:00 – Conference Dinner.

Wednesday 3rd May

9:00 – Registration/Coffee.

9:45 – Keynote Address 2

William Fitzgerald (KCL) – Anacreontics: the Classicism of Triviality and the Triviality of Classicism.

10:30 – Coffee Break.

11:00 – Panel 4: Political Uses of nugae

Max Leventhal (Cambridge) – Playthings of the Gods: Toying with Astronomical ‘Accounts’ in Imperial Poetry.

Olga Śmiechowicz (Jagiellonian University, Krakow) – If Cloud Cuckoo Land were Conquered by the Nazis…

12:30 – Lunch.

1:30 – Panel 5: nugae Against/Across Genres

Ben Cartlidge (Oxford) – Athenaeus and Petronius, or How to Enjoy Slices of nuga.

Boris Kayachev (Trinity College Dublin) – The ‘Primitive’ Poetics of Virgil, Eclogues and Horace, Satires 1.

3:00 – Coffee Break.

3:30 – Panel 6 Literary Worth (Latin)

Sam Hayes (Exeter) – Making Trifling Matter: Prosaic Views on Versification in Pliny the Younger, Quintilian, and Tacitus.

Marco Onorato (Università degli Studi di Messina) – The Pride of a Late Antique Trifler: Literary Ambitions and the Cultural Project of Sidonius Apollinaris’ nugae.

5:00 – Closing Remarks.

categorías / tags / categorie

Fasti Congressuum is licensed under a Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 4.0 Internacional License
© 2014 by Fasti Congressuum. Proudly created by M. Cristina de la Escosura