Apuleiusâ€™ Golden Ass tells the story of a man who is magically transformed into an ass only to go through an odyssey of discovery and eventually find salvation in religion. Even before Luciusâ€™ transformation takes place, however, we are introduced to a God of Laughter, whom the people of Hypata â€œhold in the very greatest esteemâ€ (50).
In this essay, I will elaborate on the significance of Laughter to Hypatians as evidenced in the story of Thelyphron and the major role humor has played in my uncleâ€™s struggle with AIDS and thus in my own life, arguing that the power of laughter is incomparably greater in moments of grief than it is on purely happy occasions.This is somewhat the case in the magically distorted reality of The Golden Ass. In particular, the story of Thelyphronâ€™s unfortunate loss of eyes and ears is hilarious to the people at both the funeral procession and Byrrhaenaâ€™s supper party. Although they do not acknowledge Thelyphronâ€™s feelings and laugh shamelessly in his presence, this seems to be well-intentioned laughter. The truth is, the people of Hypata would whole-heartedly laugh at the most horrifyingly tragic of stories and would even invent one (as demonstrated by the huge public exhibit that follows in chapter four on the day of Laughterâ€™s Festival with Lucius taking center stage) for the sake of paying tribute to â€œtheir great local deityâ€ (51), the God of Laughter himself.
Quite the bizarre extreme, it is still a refreshing and important reminder to readers today, given how little we seem to acknowledge laughter in the insanely dynamic everyday life so typical of our modern age.There are times, however, when the cruel reality of lifeâ€™s unforgiving lessons hits us and we are taken out of the orbit of our lovely dynamics only to find ourselves the lead character of a surreal scenario. This is exactly what happened when my uncle was diagnosed with AIDS five years ago.
Always a workaholic, he was forced to slow down and re-evaluate his priorities. Obviously, there is nothing funny about getting AIDS, which is why most people's sense of humor evaporates instantaneously upon diagnosis. But, going through my uncle's experience with the disease, I can certainly say what is funny – life itself. From the moment we come to this world, screaming and covered in blood, to the moment we transform into our parents (whom we had promised ourselves we would never turn into) life is a wondrous, oftentimes ironic, comedy. The extremity of an AIDS diagnosis doesn't make our unpredictable journey any more different and humor any less essential.
On the contrary, I still remember the first time we all laughed during my uncleâ€™s first-year battle. It was after one of his chemo-therapy sessions when my grandfather, knowing it was a tense situation and that we were all in grief, leaned over to my uncle and whispered, with a smile on his face, â€œAnd you told me you've.