18 February 2009

An Abderite and an Egghead walk into a bar

Mary Beard has an amusing piece in The Times today. It's a review of a new book on humour in ancient Greece, and Professor Beard naturally enough takes this opportunity to expound on the perverse delight that is To Philogelos, or The Laughter-Lover to the likes of you and me.

To Philogelos is basically a bumper fun joke book from the Fourth Century AD, and is strewn with such gems as:
“An Abderite saw a eunuch talking to a woman and asked if she was his wife. When he replied that eunuchs can’t have wives, the Abderite asked, ‘So is she your daughter then?’”
“An egg-head doctor was seeing a patient. ‘Doctor’, he said, ‘when I get up in the morning I feel dizzy for 20 minutes.’ ‘Get up 20 minutes later, then’”
I know, hilarious, eh? Actually, these are just about the best jokes of the lot, despite Mary B's observation that many of gags in the book 'still seem vaguely funny'. If you have it in your university library, though, it's certainly well worth a gander, not so much for the jokes as for the commentary, which generally relates how some rather dusty-sounding German academics disagree about wherein the humour in certain jokes might lie.

You know, 'Delbrück 1902 believes this is a play on thyreos, but Wilamowitz 1906 and Teichner 1917 argue that the joke depends rather on a stereotypical contentiousness among Thyreans. Hall 1974 points out that references to mushrooms and wines are topoi in jokes of this sort. For a detailed study, see Gewürz 1979 .'

That sort of thing.

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