In the 20th Book of the Odyssey there is a fair amount of laughter and none of it good-natured. First there is the giggling laughter of the less than faithful serving women going to rendezvous with the suitors:
ἀλλήλῃσι γέλω τε καὶ εὐφροσύνην παρέχουσαι.Then there is the unique and macabre laughter inspired by the goddess that led the seer Theocylmenus to leave the premises. Athena inspires this laughter in her attempts to build up the pressure.
providing merriment and laughter for each other.
Chicago Homer OD.20.8
OD.20.345 ὣς φάτο Τηλέμαχος: μνηστῆρσι δὲ Παλλὰς ἈθήνηPerhaps the explanation for this lies in the opening of the book, when Odysseus expresses to Athena concern not for his strength or ability to slaughter the evil-doers, but for the repercussions of the coming slaughter. While Athena attempts to allay his worries, she doesn't say how she'll make it all right.
ἄσβεστον γέλω ὦρσε, παρέπλαγξεν δὲ νόημα.
οἱ δ' ἤδη γναθμοῖσι γελώων ἀλλοτρίοισιν,
αἱμοφόρυκτα δὲ δὴ κρέα ἤσθιον: ὄσσε δ' ἄρα σφέων
δακρυόφιν πίμπλαντο, γόον δ' ὠΐετο θυμός.
Minerva now made the suitors fall to laughing immoderately, and set their wits wandering; but they were laughing with a forced laughter. Their meat became smeared with blood; their eyes filled with tears, and their hearts were heavy with forebodings.
There are three sets of omens in this book: the ones that Odysseus asked Zeus for, the eagle, and the bloody weeping that Theoclymenus interprets.
It is also worth noting that all the meat providers gather together for this fateful feast - the named swineherd, goatherd, and cowherd, and two unnamed shepherds who accompany the wicked goatherd (Eumaeus).
- "Homeric Laughter," by Joseph William Hewitt. The Classical Journal, Vol. 23, No. 6 (Mar., 1928), pp. 436-447.
- "Omens in the 'Odyssey'," by Anthony J. Podlecki. Greece & Rome, 2nd Ser., Vol. 14, No. 1. (Apr., 1967), pp. 12-23.
- "Odysseus' Livestock," by F. P. Johnson. Classical Philology, Vol. 36, No. 3. (Jul., 1941), pp. 273-274.
- "Theoklymenos and the Apocalypse," by Daniel B. Levine. The Classical Journal, Vol. 79, No. 1 (Oct., 1983), pp. 1-7.