Classic Gags Discovered in Ancient Roman Joke Book

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We
may admire the satires of Horace and Lucilius, but the ancient Romans
haven’t hitherto been thought of as masters of the one-liner. This
could be about to change, however, after the discovery of a classical
joke book.

Celebrated
classics professor Mary Beard has brought to light a volume more
than 1,600 years old, which she says shows the Romans not to be
the "pompous, bridge-building toga wearers" they’re often
seen as, but rather a race ready to laugh at themselves.

Written in
Greek, Philogelos, or The Laughter Lover, dates to
the third or fourth century AD, and contains some 260 jokes which
Beard said are "very similar" to the jokes we have today,
although peopled with different stereotypes – the "egghead",
or absent-minded professor, is a particular figure of fun, along
with the eunuch, and people with hernias or bad breath.

"They’re
also poking fun at certain types of foreigners – people from
Abdera, a city in Thrace, were very, very stupid, almost as stupid
as [they thought] eggheads [were]," said Beard.

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the rest of the article

March
14, 2009

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