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In John Wick, you can see a tattoo on the main character which reads: “Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat” (Fortune comes to the aid of the strong). This phrase, taken from a play titled Phormio (written in 161) may have inspired Virgil to write in his Aeneid “Audentis Fortuna Iuvat” (Fortune helps the daring) some 130 years later (29-19 BCE). The funny thing is that “Phormio” is a comedy.

So John Wick does not have a tattoo of the quintessential Aeneid phrase, but of a Roman comedy? Why? You might ask. The reason is that comedy, in the sense understood by the ancients, was full-blown irony. Irony was the inevitable end of the play written by Terence, as much as it was the end of the film directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. Consider Dante’s Divine comedy. The irony of the entire experience lies in our inability to escape our end. Dante cannot but go to Hell in order to ascend to Heaven; as much the sufferers of his version of Hades cannot escape their punishment. No matter how good Dante’s enemies had it in life, the irony was they would suffer as much as they had enjoyed.

John Wick, due to the irony of his life, cannot escape the world of which he was once part and, in the end, he is forced to return to it. Both Romans and Greeks understood this sense of comedy. A genre in which, more so than in drama, the person watching could escape the evil of reality, if only for a moment, to be happy; however, life always came back, sometimes worse than before. The irony of comedy is that it is only momentarily liberating; thus also its darkness. John Wick, thus, is a comedy; the protagonist escapes the evils of his previous life only to be forced to return to it.

Irony, then, was the first form of comedy.