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.
March 14, 2009