A funny thing happened on the way to the Parthenon

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By a show of hands, how many of you have had someone tell you a joke or send you one via e-mail that you’ve heard before, maybe heard it many times before? By a show of hands, how many of you actually heard the joke a really l-o-n-g time ago, say like in 2nd grade? One more time, by a show of hands, how many of you roll your eyes and have a clever retort to let the teller/sender know it was old, like, “thanks for the moldy oldie”?

Here are a few I have heard:
“That joke was so old, the first time I heard it I broke the slats on my crib laughing!”
“That joke was so old, the Big Bang woke it up!”
“That joke is so old the dinosaurs were telling it.”
“That jokes is so old that Moses told it in the desert!”
“That joke is so old that Eve told it to Adam!”
“That joke is so old that the first time I heard it I fell off my dinosaur!”
OK, you get the idea. You can use the comment section of this blog to share your favorite moldy oldie-type of retort.

But did you know that many jokes being told today actually were told thousands of years ago? They just get updated with modern scenarios and up-to-date semantics & syntax. How do we know this? We know because we (well, archaeologists, anyway) have a copy of the first joke book: Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana*, more commonly known as Philogelos, a collection of 264 Greek jokes first complied in the fourth or fifth century BC, and considered to be the first known joke book.

Here are some of the jokes as translated by Professor William Berg**.

Any resemblance between these ancient jokes and anything you might have heard in your lifetime is purely, absolutely historically fascinating…and funny!

130. A Sidonian professor enters the public bath as soon as it opens. Finding no one else there, he comments to his slaves, ‘It looks to me as if the bath isn’t working.’ 

141. Steering his ship, a quick-witted captain is asked, ‘What kind of wind do we have today?’ ‘Beans and onions, I’d say,’  comes the response.

146. A sharper steals a pig and starts running with it When he’s caught, he sets the pig on the ground and thrashes it, declaring, ‘Do your digging here, not on my property!’

147. A quick study, coming upon a singer who’s both shrill and off-key, greets him with the words, ‘Hello there, Mr. Rooster!’ ‘Why do you call me that?,’ asks the singer. ‘Because whenever you crow, everybody gets up.’

148. When the garrulous barber asks him, ‘How shall l cut  your hair?,’ a quick wit answers, ‘Silently.’

160. A Kymaean goes to see a friend of his. He’s standing in front of the friend’s house, calling his name, when another voice answers, “Shout louder, so he can hear!” So the Kymaean shouts, “Hey, Louder!”  

170. Someone asks a Kymaean where the attorney Dracontides lives. The guy responds, ‘I’m all alone here,
but if you don’t mind, watch my workshop and I’ll go out and show you.’

228. A drunk is being railed at for losing touch with reality when he’s had a snootful. Barely able to see straight because of the wine, the drunk retorts, ‘Who’s the drunk here, you or me – you two-headed freak!’

263. Someone tries to needle a quick-witted man by telling him, ‘I had your wife for free.’ But he just says, ‘Me, I’m forced to put up with such an evil. What’s forcing you?’

264. A sharp lawyer is pleading a case before a judge. When the judge nods off, the lawyer shouts, ‘1 appeal!’ ‘To whom?’, asks the judge. ‘To you, to wake up!’

265. A student dunce asks how many pints a 9-gallon amphora holds. ‘Are we talking wine or water?’ is the
answer he gets.    

It has been said that there are two sure rules for making something funny; unfortunately, nobody knows what they are! But, somebody must know something because here you can see the ancestral heritage of material you’ve heard and enjoyed from Hope, Youngman, Dangerfield, Leno, Benny, Berle, and many others who entertain us in modern times.

This jester tips his hat to the humorists, comics, and comedians who keep us laughing, whether the jokes are 3,000 years old or fresh and original, whether they are delivered by professionals, traveling salesmen, class clowns, or the person in the cubicle next to yours. Hooray, for funny people and for jokes!

Now, let’s see, what would you imagine a 3,000 year-old joke might have sounded like?
“Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Euripides who?
“Euripides pants, you in big trouble!”

Try your hand (or funny-bone) at coming up with our own, then share in the comment section.

* Ed. R. Dawe (c)K.G. Saur Verlag, an imprint of Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG Munchen 2001
**YUDU Media, London, UK

About the Author

Steve Wilson

Award-winning psychologist, Steve Wilson, also known as The Joyologist and The Cheerman of the Bored, has spent 30 years specializing in applied and therapeutic humor with a humanitarian mission. As Director of National Humor Month, he intertwines science and ancient wisdom with substance and humor to create practical methods to lead the world to health, happiness and peace through laughter. More than six thousand people have completed his unique training in how to create therapeutic laughter, and tens of thousands more around the world have been uplifted by his talks, classes, books, and articles. He established the World Laughter Tour, Inc., in 1998, to be a rich resource and inspiration for improving productivity, health, and well being in business, healthcare and education. For more information https://www.worldlaughtertour.com and http://www.humormonth.com.