THESE JOKES HAD THEM LAUGHING
IN HADRIAN-ERA ROME
EVER HEAR the joke about the astrologer who predicted a sick boy would survive the night and get well? He wanted payment in advance ... just in case!
An English translation of PHILOGELOS (THE LAUGHTER LOVER) is a collection of jokes dating from the Hadrian Era and gives insights into Roman humor.
Take for example the joke in which a man complains that a slave he has just bought has died.
"By the gods," answers the slave's seller, "that's more than he ever did when he was with me."
Other jokes in the book show that sex, nagging wives and farting have formed the basis of humor for centuries.
One example is: "A misogynist is attending to the burial of his wife, who has just died. When a passerby asks, 'Pardon me, who is it who rests in peace here?', he answers, 'Me, now that I'm rid of her!'."
The 265 jokes in Philogelos are attributed to a pair of jokers called Hierocles and Philagrius. Little is known about them, except that they were more likely to have been the compilers of the jokes than the original writers of the gags.
The jokes have been published in a multimedia online book, which includes video of veteran British stand-up comedian JIM BOWEN performing the jokes for a 21st century audience.
Bowen said: "One or two of them are jokes I've seen in people's acts nowadays, slightly updated. They put in a motor car instead of a chariot."
The translator of the book, William Berg, a US professor of classics, said the Philogelos book was already a later version of jokes dating back to the 1st and 2nd Century AD.
HERE'S A SELECTION:
No. 187: An ill-tempered astrologer cast the horoscope of a sick boy, promised his mother that he would live for a long time, then demanded his fee. "Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you then," the worried mother said. "But what happens to my fee if he dies in the night?"
No. 201: A man consults a charlatan soothsayer and asks about the health of his family who live in a distant province. "They are all well, especially your father." "But my father’s been dead for ten years!" "Ah, clearly you do not know your REAL father."
No. 202: Having cast a boy’s horoscope, a charlatan prophet predicted that he would be first a lawyer, then a city prefect, and finally a provincial governor. But the boy died. His mother came back and remonstrated, "My son has died, the one you said would be a lawyer and prefect and governor." "I swear by his memory," responded the prophet, "he would have been all of those things had he lived!"
No. 203: Someone went to a charlatan prophet and inquired if his conniving rascal of a rival would come back from a voyage. The prophet promised that he would die at sea. But the man found out a few days later that his enemy had returned unharmed. "Well," said the prophet, "how shameless can you get? That man even goes so far as to cheat the Fates!"
No. 204: A charlatan prophet cast a client’s horoscope and told him he could never have children. "But I’ve already got seven!" "Then you’d better take good care of them!"
No. 205: A charlatan prophet was captured by the enemy, and confessed his trade. Now it so happened that they were about to fight a battle. "You’ll win it," he promised them, "as long as the enemy don't see the hairs on the back of your heads." (trans. B. Baldwin)