24 February 2010

4th century comedy hits!

William Gurstelle over at Boing Boing blogs today about the Philogelos ('lover of laughter'), which seems to be the oldest surviving joke book:
Like network television, Byzantine comedy is mostly based on the fortunes and foibles of a gallery of stock characters: the drunk, the miser, the braggart, the sex-starved woman, as well as a classic type known as the scholastikos, variously translated as "pedant," "absent-minded professor," or "egghead."
Having had an immodest love for real bad joke books as a young fellow, (especially if they involved cannibals), I'm charmed at how predictably bad the material is, e.g.:
#197. An incompetent schoolteacher was asked who the mother of Priam was. Not knowing the answer, he said: "It's polite to call her Ma'am."

#245A. A young man invited into his home frisky old women. He said to his servants: "Mix a drink for one, and have sex with the other, if she wants to." The women spoke up as one: "I'm not thirsty."
Yes, it's mostly raunchy. What did you expect of the people that made all those naked statues? Lots more translations here. If you're a nerd like me and want to check out the Greek, go here. Check out the professor jokes in particular.

Online publishing company Yudu has put out a translation by William Berg online, complete with video of old-school British comic Jim Bowen doing a bunch of the jokes (showing off his philogely?). The preface does a great job of evoking the social world of the fourth-century Greek city.

Here's Bowen's take on some of the jokes (much more video in the book!):

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