GELOS was the god or personified spirit (daimon) of laughter. He was a companion of festive Dionysos.
The Roman writer Apuleius describes a Thessalian festival of the god. It is not known whether this was actual event or a mere literary invention.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1. 25 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"Dionysos sails to the revels of Andros and, his ship now moored in the harbour, he leads a mixed throng of Satyroi (Satyrs) and Bakkhantes (Bacchantes) and all the Seilenoi (Silens). He leads Gelos (Laughter) and Komos (Comus, Revel), two spirits most gay and most fond of the drinking-bout, that with the greatest delight he may reap the river's harvest."
Apuleius, The Golden Ass 2. 31, 3. 2 & 3. 11 ff (trans. Walsh) (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
"[Description of a Thessalian festival celebrating the god of laughter :] The drinkers, who were now well into their cups, renewed their guffaws. As they demanded their customary toast to the god Risus (Laughter) [Gelos], Byrrhena explained to me : ‘Tomorrow is a feast-day which was established in the early days of this city. We are the only people who on this day seek the benevolence of the god Risus (Laughter) in an amusing and joyful ritual. Your presence will make the day more pleasant for us. My wish is that you may devise some happy entertainment from your store of wit to honour the god, so that in this way our offering to the great deity may be enlarged and enhanced [the locals plan to play a practical joke Lucius a stranger to their town] . . .’
[The next day.] There was a banging on the door, and our portals echoed with the shouting of a crowd outside. At once the house was thrown open, and a great number burst in. the whole place was jammed with magistrates, their officials, and an assorted mob. Two attendants proceeded to lay hands on me on the instruction of the magistrates, and began to drag me off as I offered no resistance. As soon as we reached the nearest street, the whole township poured out and followed us in astounding numbers. As I walked along dejectedly with head bowed towards the ground (or rather, towards the denizens of hell), I observed from the corner of my eye a most surprising sight. Of the thousands of people milling about, there was not a single one who was not splitting his sides with laughter. After being paraded through all the streets--for they led me round from one corner to another, as if they were expiating the threat of portents by driving round sacrificial victims in ceremonies of purification--I was dragged before the tribunal in the forum.
[He was charged with killing some men--a practical joke as the men he had stabbed were just dummies.] . . .
[When the joke was revealed] at that moment the laughter which some had guilefully repressed for a short time now burst out without restraint to engulf the entire crowd. Some cackled in paraxysms of mirth, others pressed their hands to their stomachs to relive the pain. In one way or another the entire audience was overcome with hilarity, and as they quitted the theatre, they kept looking back at me [and Lucius in anger went back to the residence where he was staying] . . .
The magistrates in person clad in their robes of office entered our residence and sought to mollify me with an explanation on these lines : ‘Master Lucius, we are well aware of your high rank . . . We assure you that the humiliation which you so bitterly resent was not intended as an insult, and so you must banish all the melancholy which at present fills your heart, and dispel your mental anguish. This festival, which we regularly celebrate in public as each year comes round, in honour of Risus (Laughter) [Gelos], the most welcome of the gods, always owes its success to some novel subterfuge. This deity will favourably and affectionately accompany everywhere the person who arouses and enacts his laughter, and he will never allow you to grieve in mind, but will implant continual joy on your countenance with his sunny elegance. The whole community has now bestowed outstanding honours on you for the pleasure you have given them; for they have enrolled you as patron, and have decreed that your statue be set up in bronze.’"
- Philostratus the Elder, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
- Apuleius, The Golden Ass - Latin Novel C2nd A.D.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.